25 College Football Players Set to Explode in 2013
Johnny Manziel certainly exploded onto the national scene in 2012.
By the end of Texas A&M's Cotton Bowl victory over Oklahoma, Manziel had accounted for 47 total touchdowns. He had won the Heisman Trophy, and he had beaten the eventual national champion, Alabama.
Simply put, he had become the phenomenon known as "Johnny Football."
But who is due to breakout in 2013?
Here are 25 candidates who could be set to explode on the score sheet and in terms of national recognition this season.
Amari Cooper, Alabama WR
Amari Cooper was a major contributor to Nick Saban's championship squad last season. With AJ McCarron returning to Tuscaloosa, Cooper should blossom into a national star.
Cooper excelled in big games last season. Three of his five 100-yard performances came against Texas A&M, Georgia and Notre Dame. This is pretty remarkable for a freshman, and that first year of experience should only make him better in 2013. His size and speed make him a dangerous weapon on every play.
Cooper has an elite quarterback by his side and plays on the best team in college football. He will put up huge numbers next season.
T.J. Yeldon, Alabama RB
Much like his teammate, T.J. Yeldon is another Alabama sophomore who should build upon a successful initial campaign.
Even with Eddie Lacy holding the role of primary back, Yeldon put up more than 1,200 yards of total offense. He has speed, but he is incredibly tough as a runner. Once he is in full gallop, he is incredibly hard to bring down.
In addition, the balance of Alabama's offense should open up plenty of gaps for Yeldon.
Alabama is a title favorite once again, and Yeldon is just one piece of the winning formula.
Will Sutton, Arizona State DT
Will Sutton will not necessarily explode in terms of production next season, but he should become a household name by the winter months.
Sutton won the Pac-12 Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year award for good reason. He had 13 sacks and 23.5 tackles for a loss. As if this was not enough, he even added five pass deflections.
Sutton is simply a beast.
A total of 15 sacks is not out of the question, and he would certainly begin to intrude on the Jadeveon Clowney hype with such numbers.
If you don't know a lot about Sutton, you will by the end of the Arizona State Sun Devils' 2013 lineup.
Sammy Watkins, Clemson WR
After an exceptional freshman season, Sammy Watkins fell off the map in 2012, thanks to the explosion of DeAndre Hopkins. With Hopkins gone, however, Watkins looks ready to join the list of elite college receivers.
One reason for this is his quarterback, Tajh Boyd. Boyd is an early Heisman contender after throwing for nearly 4,000 yards last season. He is not afraid to throw downfield, and Watkins is the best target he has in his arsenal.
Watkins has good size for a receiver, but he is exceptionally fast. He is a threat every time he touches the ball. He should be able to run around opposing defenders en route to around 1,500 yards and more than a dozen touchdowns.
Clemson's offense will be fun to watch next season, and Watkins should provide a lot of the entertainment.
Matt Jones, Florida RB
Mike Gillislee was a surprise in the SEC last season as he rushed for over 1,000 yards and led the Florida Gators' offense. His move to the NFL has left the door open for talented sophomore Matt Jones.
Jones is similar to Gillislee in size and style. He can pound his way through the offensive line and then has the speed to pull away once he is in the open field.
Because opposing defenses have to account for Jeff Driskel's running ability, there will be lanes that open up for Jones. He could very well eclipse the 1,000-yard mark as long as he stays healthy.
The Gators are on the upswing, and Jones will be a key component in their plans.
Rashad Greene, Florida State WR
Florida State does not have a definite replacement at quarterback quite yet. No matter who it is, however, he will benefit from having Rashad Greene on the outside.
As a sophomore, Greene led the Seminoles in receiving yardage, receptions and receiving touchdowns. As is the common theme with many on this list, much of that production came during the second half of the season. He has good hands and is simply an explosive threat in a variety of areas.
Even with a new quarterback delivering him the football, Greene should not skip a beat. He could easily hit 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdown numbers.
Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville QB
Teddy Bridgewater is garnering the most hype of any player entering the 2013 season. After a campaign that was inconsistent at times, Bridgewater could very well put together a full season in stellar fashion.
At times, his accuracy and poise made him look unstoppable. He torched Florida in the Sugar Bowl, and he was terrific against North Carolina. He is not afraid to make tough throws at any point, and he showed that.
However, he has also taken too many sacks in his career. He has been taken down 61 times in his career, and this does not take into consideration other hits he has received from opposing pass rushes. If he can lower this number and get rid of the ball in a quicker fashion, he will explode offensively.
A total tally of over 4,000 yards and around 35 touchdowns could be in order for Bridgewater.
Jeremy Hill, LSU RB
LSU has lost a good number of key contributors from last season, especially on defense. However, one important piece that has not left Baton Rouge is Jeremy Hill.
Seeing as though the jury is still out on Zach Mettenberger, we should see a heavy dose of Hill during his second season. He is a well-balanced back with a nose for the end zone. He should definitely put up more yardage, and I think he can better his 2012 mark of 12 touchdowns.
The Tigers offense will need to pick up the pace in order for the squad to be a legitimate contender. Hill should, therefore, be a major factor next season.
Craig Loston, LSU Safety
With all of the losses LSU has incurred on defense, it is important for Craig Loston to emerge as the best shutdown safety in the SEC.
He is certainly on the right track. He was named second-team All-SEC after recording four takeaways last season. He also beat his career tackle total by 19 tackles.
Loston's size makes him difficult to play against as a receiver. Perhaps most important, however, is his experience level. This will be his fifth year with the team, and the knowledge and experience over those four previous seasons are bound to come in handy for him.
If you are an SEC receiver, you do not want to see Loston on the other side of the ball. He could be a takeaway machine in 2013.
Stefon Diggs, Maryland WR
Maryland's offense managed only 3,417 total yards, the worst mark in college football. Yet, Stefon Diggs was able to put up nearly 1,800 yards as a receiver and return man. Because the Terps' offense can only get better, Diggs will likely explode during his sophomore season.
Diggs can truly do it all for Maryland. He has good hands, great speed and excellent downfield vision. He scored a memorable 56-yard touchdown against West Virginia during which all these qualities were on display. Because Maryland had a terrible season, his great season was overlooked.
However, there is no way that should happen again.
Diggs is one of the most exciting players in college football. If you haven't seen him, take a look for yourself. But look fast because you might miss him.
Stephen Morris, Miami (FL) QB
The once legendary Miami Hurricanes finally look to be returning to prominence. One reason is quarterback Stephen Morris.
Although his completion percentage was not great, he ended up with 3,345 passing yards and 22 total touchdowns. He also had to deal with a pedestrian rushing attack that certainly did not help his cause.
Aside from a trio of tough games against Florida, Virginia Tech and Florida State, the Hurricanes have a relatively favorable schedule in 2013. This should help Morris, and his vast amount of previous experience should also lend itself to an explosive season.
Not many people are talking about Morris, but that could change by the end of the season.
Duke Johnson, Miami (FL) RB
In order to open up their passing attack even more, the Hurricanes will need to get the ground game on track. This puts Duke Johnson in good position to explode offensively.
His stellar 6.8 yards per carry average as a freshman speaks to his potential. Furthermore, his best stretch of the season came in the final quarter of Miami's schedule. This suggests that he finally grasped the offense in its entirety and now only needs to execute.
He and Morris should form a formidable duo for the Hurricanes next season.
Venric Mark, Northwestern RB
Pat Fitzgerald is building up the Northwestern football program into a major contender. If he wants this trend to continue, he will have to extensively use his best offensive weapon: Venric Mark.
Mark is not a big player, but what he lacks in size is made up for with speed. He bolted his way to more than 100 yards in eight games, which is a testament to his quickness and his durability. He is extremely hard to plan against for these reasons.
Although it will be hard for Mark to drastically improve his numbers, he should be able to build on last season and become more prominent nationally. A big year looks very likely.
Louis Nix, Notre Dame DT
Manti Te'o was the star of Notre Dame's defense last season. One fake girlfriend saga and NFL draft selection later, Louis Nix is now a front-runner for that same role.
Nix is a behemoth of a nose tackle. His 6'3" frame is extremely hard for two opposing linemen to deal with, let alone one. For a player his size, he has good burst off the snap and can easily make his way into the backfield.
Despite this, Nix only had two sacks last season. However, that number could easily triple by the end of the Irish's 2013 schedule.
If I had to bet on the success of one Notre Dame player, I would pick Nix. He is on the right track to break out in a big way.
Damien Williams, Oklahoma RB
Oklahoma's offense has been grounded in the passing game with Landry Jones at quarterback. His departure could thus lead to bigger things from tailback Damien Williams.
Williams proved that he is capable of scoring on any play last season. He had runs of 89 and 95 yards, and he also was effective as a receiver out of the backfield. Once he is at full stride, he is extremely tough to catch.
Working in his favor is the lack of experience the Sooners now have to deal with at quarterback. His number of carries should increase until Bob Stoops knows he can field a reliable passing game.
Williams should easily break the 1,000-yard plateau and put up big numbers next season.
De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon RB
De'Anthony Thomas had to compete with Kenjon Barner for extensive offensive involvement in 2012. He still managed to score 16 touchdowns, and that number should rise next season.
Like Oregon's offense, Thomas has blazing speed. Adding to his stock, however, is his ability to catch passes. He can be used in so many different ways, opposing defenses struggle to know exactly where he is on the field. Because of this, I think he can put up numbers similar to Barner.
Marcus Mariota might get more attention, but Thomas will be just as important as his quarterback.
Brandin Cooks, Oregon State WR
After a productive sophomore campaign, Brandin Cooks is now viewed as one of the best receivers in the Pac-12. If he once again increases his production, he will be considered one of the best in the country.
Cooks more than doubled his reception total from 2011 and basically tripled his yardage total. He was still able to do this with four games of three or fewer catches.
He has terrific speed, and his route-running skills are above-average as well. These allow him to be a constant threat even though he is undersized.
Can Cooks reach 1,500 total offensive yards? All signs seem to indicate that he can.
Zach Zwinak, Penn State RB
Penn State put together a terrific season in the wake of adversity. One of the main reasons for this was Zach Zwinak.
As a sophomore, Zwinak rushed for exactly 1,000 yards and provided a much-needed spark in the wake of Silas Redd's departure. His style reminds me of Toby Gerhart, and he can also catch passes out of the backfield.
With Matt McGloin's graduation, the Lions should have to rely heavily on the running game in 2013. This means more opportunities for Zwinak and a chance to put up big numbers.
As long as his wrist is completely healed by the time the season starts, Zwinak is set up for big things in Happy Valley.
Rory Anderson, South Carolina TE
Although most people picture Jadeveon Clowney when they think of South Carolina, they should also be aware of the Gamecocks' offense. Particularly, they have one of the best tight end combos in football, and Rory Anderson is a major part of that equation.
Although he has not caught that many passes, he has shown he has a nose for the end zone. In fact, more than a third of his career receptions have been touchdowns.
His combination of size and athleticism makes him a perfect red-zone target. If Connor Shaw has the breakout season that he is capable of, Anderson should take advantage.
He should score plenty of touchdowns, and I think he can put up the yards to go with them in 2013.
Kevin Hogan, Stanford QB
Kevin Hogan took over at quarterback for the Cardinal and led the team to one of the most important upsets of the entire season over Oregon. Although he probably will not put up absurd numbers, he should emerge as a very good quarterback.
Hogan beat some of the best teams in college football. He led Stanford to victory over four ranked opponents during the regular season and Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. He only threw nine touchdowns, but he managed the ball and showed good athletic ability.
With a full offseason to improve and develop, Hogan should take big strides in 2013. Furthermore, he should become recognized as a skilled signal-caller on the national level.
Prince-Tyson Gulley, Syracuse RB
He does not play for an elite team, but Prince-Tyson Gulley began to emerge last season as a terrific running back. For this reason, he deserves much more national attention in 2013.
He has great speed that complements the bruising style of teammate Jerome Smith. In addition, Ryan Nassib's departure has made the quarterback situation a mess. Syracuse will have to rely heavily on the running game.
The conditions are perfect for Gulley to have a breakout season.
Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas DE
Even though Jackson Jeffcoat suffered a serious injury halfway through last season, the Texas Longhorns are counting on him to be a national star. With his talent, he should have no problem with this request.
With Alex Okafor and Kenny Vaccaro now off the team, Jeffcoat is the unquestioned defensive leader. His pass-rush skills are second to none, as he still managed four sacks last season before injuring his pectoral.
If he returns at full capacity, there is no reason why Jeffcoat cannot record 10 sacks or at least come close to that number.
If you are playing the Longhorns, you better keep an eye out for Jeffcoat. He should be a disruptive force on the defensive line.
Deshazor Everett, Texas A&M CB
With Johnny Manziel running around and making plays everywhere on offense, Texas A&M's defense has not gotten as much credit as it deserves. One player who will be getting more attention next season is Deshazor Everett.
Everett made tackles all over the field in the Cotton Bowl. In fact, he is as good a tackler in the secondary as you will find. He has good pursuit and can get to the runner quickly.
He only had two interceptions in 2012, but that number could very well rise. If opposing teams have to play from behind, they will have to throw the football. This means that Everett should get plenty of opportunities.
Look for a breakout season from Everett and a potential breakthrough season for the Aggies.
Bernard Reedy, Toledo WR
Toledo has a number of weapons that can do damage offensively. One of those is receiver Bernard Reedy.
The speedy Reedy (rhyme not intended) caught 1,120 yards' worth of passes last season despite inconsistent play from quarterback Terrance Owens, especially during the latter half. He obviously does not have the size to outreach defenders, so he uses his terrific quickness to create open space.
With David Fluellen demanding attention in the backfield, Reedy should be able to find even more open space than he did last season.
He may not get enough attention in the MAC, but Reedy could burst onto the scene in 2013.
Anthony Barr, UCLA LB
Anthony Barr had an excellent junior season at outside linebacker. He recorded 13.5 sacks and was named an AP second-team All-American.
The scary part is that he can be even better this season.
The original running back was able to do this in only his first season as a defender. He has great size and power, which make him one of the best hitters in college football. He also shows terrific pursuit to the ball-carrier.
These traits make him an immediate favorite for the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year award.
Can he approach 20 sacks? Common sense might say otherwise, but Barr is so talented that I wouldn't put it past him.