Big Ten Football: Early Projections for 2013 Breakout Stars
Barring injury, Ohio State QB Braxton Miller is going to be a star in 2013.
Anyone knows that. Everyone knows that.
Ah, but identifying who the next stars are, the ones who will rise from relative obscurity to dominate the Big Ten? Therein lies the real challenge.
Just like Iowa RB Mark Weisman came out of absolutely nowhere to lead the Hawkeye rushing attack in 2012, here are five Big Ten names you should know right now, because you'll be hearing them over and over in 2013.
5. Jamal Marcus, Ohio State LB
Jamal Marcus didn't see a lot of playing time this past season, but you can probably excuse him for that; he was a true freshman at a deep position, linebacker, and recorded eight tackles in limited minutes.
With Etienne Sabino departing, however, there's going to be some playing time available in 2013. So don't be surprised if Marcus grabs the starting bid and never lets go, because his talent level is sky high.
On national signing day last year, Urban Meyer called Marcus' highlight reel "borderline ridiculous," and he was right—Marcus' closing ability and raw athleticism are insane.
In August, Meyer said this, per ESPN: "There's a kid named Jamal Marcus, he doesn't know which way up is right now, but he knows from Point A to Point B, and he'll run over anything in his way to get to Point B. There's a good chance we'll find a way to get him on the field."
That was in 2012. In 2013, with a year of experience under his belt, Meyer may have trouble finding a way to get Marcus off the field.
4. Aaron Burbridge, Michigan State WR
Michigan State's receivers struggled mightily in 2012, and Aaron Burbridge was one of those receivers who had some rough weeks from time to time. When he was on, though, he flashed potential to be one of the top wideouts in the conference.
2013 may be when we see Burbridge shine.
Burbridge's 2012 totals were modest: 29 catches, 364 yards and two scores. But he was a go-to receiver at times, racking up eight catches for 134 yards as Michigan State came back against Indiana, and five grabs for 89 yards against Iowa the next week.
Burbridge has explosive agility and body control and arguably the best ability to get open of anyone on the team. His hands and consistency still need work, but he's got three more years of eligibility to work on that.
If he puts it together, we're talking about All-Big Ten status in 2013.
3. Ondre Pipkins, Michigan DT
Ondre Pipkins is an absolute Goliath, weighing in at 340 pounds at his nose tackle spot. He spent his true freshman season last year backing up fellow behemoth William Campbell, but he still saw time in all 13 games and registered seven total tackles.
Campbell is off to the NFL now, meaning the time is now for Pipkins to take over at tackle and make his presence known. He's got otherworldly athleticism for someone his size, and with a full season of experience and conditioning under his belt, he should be poised to become the next dominant defensive lineman in the Big Ten.
2. Imani Cross, Nebraska RB
Imani Cross was fifth on the Nebraska Cornhuskers in rushing yardage in 2012. That will not happen again in 2013.
The Huskers' stud running back worked his way into a crowded backfield from day one in his true freshman season, and with the departure of Rex Burkhead, Nebraska is going to need a hammer at running back. Cross, who is as physically impressive as any tailback in the entire Big Ten, could well be that guy.
Cross found a bit of a niche role as a short-yardage back for the Huskers, and the seven touchdowns he scored last year (five in Big Ten play) speak to his goal-line abilities. He's got the ability to be an every-down back, though, and with current starter-in-waiting Ameer Abdullah still suffering from a horrendous case of fumble-itis, Bo Pelini could well decide it's Cross' turn to carry the rock 20 times a game in 2013.
It would be a wise decision—and one that ends in Cross easily topping 1,000 yards and 10 TDs on the year. Look out for this guy; he's legit.
1. Adolphus Washington, Ohio State DT
It seems a bit unfair to single out DT Adolphus Washington and not hail fellow 2012 5-star true freshman DE Noah Spence as a breakout star in the making, but it would be equally unfair to cite Spence and not mention Washington.
At the very least, Spence lived up to the billing a little bit more last season and was a little higher on the radar, so a mammoth 2013 for him won't be so much of a "breakout."
Washington, on the other hand, was recruited as a 230-pound DE. By the start of the season, seven months after national signing day, he was nearly 290 pounds and playing inside. And the added weight was not bad weight.
As a result, Washington's got a defensive tackle's size and strength and a rush end's burst off the line. Ohio State can get situational with his alignment, moving him to the end spot in short-yardage situations to get the line bigger, and he's still enough of a disruptor in passing situations (nine tackles in 2012; three sacks) that opposing lines aren't going to be able to focus on securing the edges in pass protection.
Washington's likely to start in 2013, as the Buckeye defensive line suffered an exodus of its starting four. If he made even modest gains in skill over the offseason, he's going to be a force to be reckoned with this year.