Every year, college football fans are introduced to a handful of players that become household names by the end of the season. Predicting which players will breakout any year is never an easy task.
Defining what is a breakout player is nearly impossible. Everyone has a different perspective on how players are viewed around the conference and nationally. Athlon's list of breakout players for 2012 tries to take into account which names will be known nationally (not just within the conference) by the end of season.
Kiko Alonso, LB, Oregon – Alonso was mostly known around the Pac-12 before 2011 for his off-the-field incidents. However, all of that appears to be in the rearview mirror after his performance last season. Although Alonso recorded only 46 tackles, he earned Rose Bowl Defensive Player of the Game honors and finished the regular season on a high note with an interception in the win over Oregon State. If Alonso can build off the momentum from the Rose Bowl, he should be one of Oregon’s top defenders.
Dion Bailey, LB, USC – Fans around the Pac-12 are certainly familiar with Bailey, but expect him to emerge as a household name nationally in 2012. He redshirted in 2010 and moved from safety to linebacker in spring practice last season. The move paid big dividends for the defense, as Bailey’s emergence helped the Trojans rank 18th nationally against the run. He recorded 81 tackles, two sacks and two interceptions and earned Pac-12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year honors last season. Bailey doesn’t have prototypical linebacker size, but his speed will be valuable against all of the passing offenses in the Pac-12.
Ka’Deem Carey, RB, Arizona – It’s a loaded year for running backs in the Pac-12, but Carey could finish near the top of the Pac-12 in rushing yards. Arizona returns all five starters on the offensive line, and new coach Rich Rodriguez is implementing his spread attack, which has produced big rushing totals at West Virginia and Michigan. Carey rushed for 425 yards and six touchdowns last season, while also catching 15 passes for 203 yards and two scores. With a full complement of carries (200 or more), look for Carey to easily surpass 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Deandre Coleman, DE, California – The Golden Bears have produced two first-round picks on the defensive line in the NFL Draft in two out of the last three years. And all signs point to Coleman being the next standout California end. Playing in a 3-4 scheme won’t allow Coleman to post huge numbers, but in a backup role he recorded 19 tackles and two sacks last season. Look for the junior to emerge as one of the Golden Bears’ top defenders in 2012.
Michael Eubank, QB, Arizona State – Yes, Eubank has zero career starts, but it’s hard to ignore his talent and potential in Arizona State’s offense. At 6-foot-5 and 242 pounds, the redshirt freshman has the size to stand tall in the pocket but is also a terrific athlete to make plays on the move. Eubank will be asked to create plays with his feet, especially early in the year while he gets acclimated to life as a starting college football quarterback. Todd Graham’s high-octane offense was a bust at Pittsburgh, but the personnel is in place for Arizona State to score plenty of points in 2012 – provided the hype around Eubank is real.
Tony Jones, RB, Colorado – Rodney Stewart has expired his eligibility after four successful years as Colorado’s starting running back. Jones played sparingly as a redshirt freshman last season, recording 297 yards and two touchdowns on 78 attempts. He was also a factor in the passing game, catching 27 passes for 168 yards and two scores. At 5-foot-7 and 185 pounds, the sophomore doesn’t have prototypical size to be an every down back – but neither did Stewart. Expect Jones to record 175-200 carries and he may have to carry the offense early in the year with a new quarterback taking over under center.
Eric Kendricks, LB, UCLA – Not only is Kendricks under pressure to repeat last year’s impressive performance as a freshman, but he also has to pickup where his brother (Mychal) left off at California. Mychal was the Pac-12’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2011, and the Bruins certainly hope Eric can produce that type of season in 2012. He ranked second on the team with 77 tackles and recorded two sacks. Kendricks is expected to patrol the middle of UCLA’s new 3-4 scheme and will be one of the conference’s top breakout players.
Andrei Lintz, TE/WR, Washington State – With Mike Leach’s pass-first offense coming to Pullman, there should be plenty of receptions to go around in 2012. Marquess Wilson should be the go-to target for quarterback Jeff Tuel, but there’s plenty of room for Lintz to get involved. The senior has only eight receptions through the first three years of his career but could easily surpass those totals in the season opener. Lintz has spent his career in Pullman as a tight end but will slide to the slot receiver role in 2012. At 6-foot-5 and 249 pounds, the senior will be a nightmare matchup for opposing defenses.
Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon – Don’t look now, but the Ducks have another dangerous weapon ready to unleash on opposing defenses. Lyerla caught only seven passes for 147 yards and five touchdowns last season but will be a bigger part of the offense in 2012. The sophomore is a great athlete and is speed/size combination will be a difficult matchup for opposing linebackers and safeties – provided Marcus Mariota or Bryan Bennett pickup where Darron Thomas left off under center.
Wayne Lyons, CB, Stanford – The secondary was the weak link in the Cardinal’s defense last season. And the situation may not be much better in 2012, especially with safeties Delano Howell and Michael Thomas expiring their eligibility. Lyons was expected to play a key role in Stanford’s secondary last year but played in only two games due to a foot injury. At 6-foot-1 and 194 pounds, he has the size, speed and strength to matchup against some of the top receivers in the Pac-12.
Steven Manfro, RB, UCLA – The Bruins are set with Johnathan Franklin returning at running back, but Manfro created a buzz in UCLA’s spring practice. In the spring game, he rushed for 20 yards on two attempts but caught seven passes for 105 yards. Manfro likely won’t beat out Franklin for carries, but expect the redshirt freshman to play a significant role in the offense this season.
Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State – Mannion is a known commodity to fans around the Pac-12, but he’s not a household name around the nation. He wrestled the starting job away from Ryan Katz early last year and finished with 3,328 yards and 16 touchdowns. As expected with a redshirt freshman, Mannion made a few mistakes (18 interceptions), but also threw five touchdowns over the last two contests of 2012. With a full offseason to work as the No. 1 quarterback, Mannion should be more comfortable and all signs point to a much better sophomore season. Helping his cause will be a solid receiving corps, but the offensive line and rushing attack needs to be better in 2012.
Chris McCain, LB, California – With Mychal Kendricks playing in the NFL, the Golden Bears need a new standout at linebacker. Despite missing three games due to injury, he recorded 29 tackles, 1.5 sacks and six tackles for a loss as a freshman in 2011. McCain has intriguing size (6-foot-6) and after playing well in his debut season, the California coaching staff hopes he can kick that up a notch in 2012.
Ty Montgomery, WR, Stanford – There’s no question the Cardinal will miss quarterback Andrew Luck but enough pieces return to expect another run at a double-digit win season. Montgomery did most of his damage in the second half of last year, finishing with 24 receptions for 350 yards and two touchdowns. To help take the pressure off of new quarterback Brett Nottingham, Stanford will lean on its rushing attack but also needs to take some shots downfield. Montgomery is a big-play threat and his performance in the second half of 2012 suggests he could push for 50 receptions.
Eric Rowe, S, Utah – With an abundance of solid quarterbacks and receivers, it’s not easy starting as a freshman in the secondary in the Pac-12. Rowe did exactly that last year, recording 69 tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss and one interception. He will team with junior Brian Blechen to form one of the conference’s top safety combinations. Although Rowe likely won’t be a household name by the end of 2012, expect the sophomore to push for all-conference honors.
Matt Scott, QB, Arizona – With Nick Foles firmly entrenched as the starting quarterback last year, former coach Mike Stoops made the right decision to redshirt Scott. The senior has one more year of eligibility and should breakout with an opportunity to play in Rich Rodriguez’s spread offense. Scott has averaged 6.6 yards per carry on 99 career attempts and completed 114 of 176 throws for 1,301 yards and six touchdowns. With his experience and mobility, Scott should be a good fit in Arizona’s new offense.
Xavier Su’a-Filo, OT, UCLA – The Bruins have been struggling to find the right combination on the offensive line over the last few years but will get a boost with the return of Su’a-Filo from a two-year Mormon mission. As a true freshman in 2009, he started all 13 games and earned honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors. Su’a-Filo may need a few games to knock off the rust, but he should contend for a spot on the All-Pac-12 team by the end of the year.
Randall Telfer, TE, USC – With Robert Woods and Marqise Lee headlining the receiving corps, it’s not easy for Telfer to get much recognition. In his freshman campaign last year, he nabbed 26 receptions for 273 yards and five touchdowns. Telfer also earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors in 2011. It’s a good year for tight ends in the conference, as Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins and UCLA’s Joseph Fauira are All-American candidates, while there’s plenty of depth with Stanford’s Levine Toilolo and Zach Ertz returning. Telfer may not earn first-team all-conference honors but he will be a much bigger factor in USC’s offense in 2012.
Shaq Thompson, S, Washington – If Washington wants to have any shot at competing for the Pac-12 North title, the defense has to show major improvement from 2011. Although the Huskies probably aren’t ready to lean on their defense to win games, this unit should be much better in 2012. New coordinator Justin Wilcox is an improvement over Nick Holt, and Thompson’s arrival gives Washington a difference maker in the secondary. He ranked as the No. 6 overall recruit in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100 and will be expected to start from the opening snap.
George Uko, DT, USC – With the departures of Christian Tupou and DaJohn Harris at tackle, the interior of the line is a big concern for coordinator Monte Kiffin. Uko was a top 100 recruit coming out of high school and was a key member of the line rotation in 2011. He recorded 18 tackles and two starts, while also earning 1.5 sacks. Uko is expected to step in the starting lineup and will be a key cog in USC’s rush defense in 2012.
Kasen Williams, WR, Washington – With Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar expiring their eligibility, quarterback Keith Price will have a new No. 1 wide receiver. All signs point to Williams stepping into that role, especially after catching 36 passes for 427 yards and six touchdowns last season – as a true freshman. As a sophomore, Williams should have a much better grasp of the offense and should easily surpass last year’s totals.
by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
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