The SEC returns plenty of star power on the gridiron in 2013. Johnny Manziel, Aaron Murray, AJ McCarron, Jordan Matthews and TJ Yeldon are the biggest just to name a few. Even with so many returning the league did lose Jarvis Jones, Eddie Lacy, Sam Montgomery, Barrett Jones and SharrifFloyd among a group of talented pro players. These departures free up new spots for new super stars to emerge. Here is a list of possible players who could enjoy a “breakout” season.
Alabama - Geno Smith, cornerback. I watched him play nickel in person at the SEC title game and was impressed with his poise and discipline as a freshman. Georgia had one of the best passing offenses in the country, yet he showed good instincts and athleticism. I think he will grow in the next great corner at Bama.
Georgia -Tough call here because I think Jordan Jenkins will have a big season, however I will stay in the secondary with Damian Swann. He is a big physical cornerback who can run the with speed guys on the outside. He gave up the winning touchdown to Alabama, but should have had safety help over the top. He will be one of the league’s best corners when he is done.
Florida -The Gators will get huge years from guys on defense like Dante Fowler Jr. and Ronald Powell, but my breakout guy will be running back Matt Jones. The only question with him is can he stay healthy. That was the same question about Mike Gillislee and he ran for over 1,000 yards last year. Jones is bigger, stronger, and faster and possesses terrific hands out of the backfield.
Texas A&M - The Aggies will welcome in a strong group of receivers to the fold in August. I am confident one of the freshmen will have a good season; however I am going to the defensive side of the ball for a “breakout” player. DeShazor Everett is already a known commodity at corner and I think De’Vante Harris will be the next guy opposite him. He played a lot as a freshman and should be ready to take the next step to solidifying himself as a legit SEC defensive back.
South Carolina-Damiere Byrd will emerge as the number one receiving threat in Columbia this fall. I have a feeling the Gamecocks will have to throw more than year’s past without Marcus Lattimore in the lineup. The group is loaded with young talent, but Byrd did have three touchdowns receiving last year and he should be the next guy.
Vanderbilt-Brian Kimbrow may not be the starting running back for the Commodores in the season opener but his role will be increased in 2013. I could see him and Wesley Tate in the backfield at the same time and even Kimbrow running the “Wildcat” in that formation. Kimbrow was the first big recruit for James Franklin and it’s time he breakout and uses him.
LSU - Jalen Mills is my choice for the Tigers. This is a defense that lost their entire unit but always seems to stockpile talent, especially in the secondary. I think the offense will be better than people think but I also think the defense will struggle early. Look for teams to take some chances down the field and Mills to be the star in the secondary.
Ole Miss - DT Shackleford had a great freshman season and then spent two years on the sidelines with a knee injury. He is healthy and back at linebacker, giving the Rebels one of the most athletic units in the league. He will re-emerge as one of the best in the conference and help the Rebels improve on last year’s 7th best defense. In 2010 he recorded five sacks and nine tackles for loss as a freshman.
Mississippi State-Plenty of guys needed to step up on defense, but I am going with offense and juco transfer receiver Jeremy Chappelle. I get the sense Tyler Russell is going to have a big year and I think by week two Chappelle will be the feature receiver for the Bulldogs.
Missouri - This was an easy pick as Dorial Green-Beckham moves into a starting role as a true sophomore for the Tigers. He has all the physical tools and with last year’s experience he should be better suited to produce in the SEC. He had a terrific spring and the only thing holding him back is inconsistent play at the quarterback position.
Auburn- I think Cameron Artis-Payne will have a strong year for Gus Malzahn sharing time with Tre Mason at running back. He showed in the spring why he was a dominant runner in the Juco ranks and I think he will be a better option inside the tackles for the Tigers.
Tennessee-The Volunteers will have plenty of candidates but I am looking towards the defensive side of the ball and an improved pass rush under Butch Jones. Corey Vereen will play the weak side end as a freshman and showed in the spring he can get to the quarterback. The Vols have one of the best offensive lines in the country and he consistently made plays in scrimmages.
Arkansas-With a new coach and a new run-first system, you have to look at running back and true freshman Alex Collins. He has all the tools to have an impact for the Hogs just like Todd Gurley did last season for Georgia. I think he will share the load with Korliss Marshall another incoming freshman, but like Gurley I think Collins will be the guy.
Kentucky-The Wildcats are going air the ball out this fall so you have to look at offense and wide receiver. Sophomore AJ Legree had a huge spring and could be the top target in Neal Browns “Air Raid” attack. I would expect Kentucky to be much more proficient on offense in 2013.
This and That…
Five to watch: Chris Black, WR Alabama-Brian Randolph, DB Tennessee,Trovon Reed, WR Auburn, Josh Harvey Clemons, DB Georgia and Vernon Hargreaves ,DB Florida.
Florida starting linebacker Antonio Morrison was arrested for simple battery this past weekend. He could be out for the first game versus Toledo but I would think that would be the stiffest of the penalties. He needs the experience at middle though facing a good offense, because the Gators get a loaded Hurricanes offense in week two.
Johnny Manziel could use a little “away” time from the spotlight. While he has enjoyed it like no other college athlete ever, it seems to be getting to him. He works hard in the film room and with the players in off season workouts, but now is the time to focus on the upcoming season. Year two in the SEC will be tougher for the Aggies than last year and they can’t expect a cake walk.