SEC Football: Predicting 5 Breakout Stars for Bowl Season
During the season, it's difficult for players to come of nowhere to set the college football world on fire except when the door opens due to injury or another unforeseen circumstance.
Bowl games are a little bit different.
Players who have been buried on the depth chart while the starters prepare for each week's opponent get back into a camp-like setting for the start of bowl practices, which gives them an opportunity to show their skills against the starters and impress the coaching staff.
Who are some of the relatively unknown stars who will make names for themselves during bowl season in the SEC?
Our picks are in this slide show.
5. Alabama TE O.J. Howard
Alabama tight end O.J. Howard isn't exactly an unknown commodity in SEC circles. The 6'6", 237-pound true freshman arrived at Alabama with a ton of expectations.
The ultra-athletic Prattville, Ala. native made an impact in Tuscaloosa, catching 14 passes for 269 yards and two touchdowns—one of which was a 52-yarder against LSU where he galloped away from the Tiger defense.
He may be known regionally, but he's about to become known nationally against the Oklahoma Sooners.
Bob Stoops' crew has been pretty solid against the pass, giving up a Big 12-best 198.0 yards per game through the air. But the Sooners struggled against a big, athletic tight end when Texas Tech's Jace Amaro caught eight passes for 119 yards.
Is it fair to compare Howard to Amaro? No. But Howard can look like him at times, and with a month to prepare, expect Saban to find a way to get Howard into favorable matchups in the Sugar Bowl.
4. Auburn DL Elijah Daniel
Auburn runs eight or nine deep along the defensive line, and true freshman Elijah Daniel has established himself as a part of that rotation.
Daniel only has nine tackles for the season but has shown flashes of brilliance this season.
The 6'2", 264-pound true freshman from Avon, Ind., backs up senior Dee Ford at defensive end and can drop down to defensive tackle in passing situations. That was the case in the SEC Championship Game, when Daniel and Ford combined to sack Missouri quarterback James Franklin with Auburn up 10 with 10:30 left to play.
He'll now get the chance to get back into a camp setting a little bit and learn the intricacies of defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson's offense.
Auburn needs to get pressure with four in order to be successful against Florida State in the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game, and Daniel's versatility allows him to be a major piece of that puzzle.
3. Georgia QB Hutson Mason
Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason stepped in nicely for Aaron Murray against Georgia Tech in his first career start, completing 22 of 36 passes for 299 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
It wasn't without some speed bumps, though.
He threw a pick and was sacked twice in the first quarter against the Yellow Jackets before settling into a rhythm and leading the Bulldogs to the 41-34 double-overtime victory.
"He wasn't totally comfortable in the beginning," head coach Mark Richt said according to postgame quotes from Georgia. "Georgia Tech was running some twists and I think Hutson didn't feel real comfortable in the pocket. Later on, we had to keep the middle of that pocket safe for him he made some great throws and we had some guys make some great catches."
Instead of a one-week crash course, Mason has a month of preparation with a Georgia offense that has gotten healthier since the middle of the season.
Wide receiver Michael Bennett is back at 100 percent, as is fellow wide receiver Chris Conley and tight end Arthur Lynch. Toss in a healthy Todd Gurley at running back, and Mason will have weapons all over the place against Nebraska in the Gator Bowl.
2. Mississippi State RB Josh Robinson
Just one month ago, Mississippi State was below .500 and looking like it was going to be sitting at home during the holidays for the first time since 2009.
Then a funny thing happened. The Bulldogs reeled off back-to-back overtime victories—over Arkansas and Ole Miss, respectively—to push their record to 6-6 and secure a spot in the Liberty Bowl against Rice.
Quarterback Dak Prescott stole headlines thanks to his heroics in the Egg Bowl, but the Bulldogs likely wouldn't be practicing right now had it not been for sophomore running back Josh Robinson.
Robinson rushed for 101 yards against the Razorbacks and followed it up with seven carries for 38 yards and one touchdown against the Rebels. He has 75 carries for 414 yards and three touchdowns on the season, good enough for a 5.52 yards per carry.
Rice is giving up 155.38 yards per game on the ground. With head coach Dan Mullen having time to get creative with his offense, expect Robinson to factor in prominently to the game plan against the Owls.
1. LSU QB Anthony Jennings
The one glimpse we saw during the regular season of Anthony Jennings as a starting quarterback worked out well for the LSU Tigers.
Stepping in for injured starter Zach Mettenberger, all Jennings did was lead his team on a 99-yard, game-winning drive against Arkansas, culminating with a 49-yard touchdown pass to Travin Dural with 1:15 to play.
Not a bad debut as a starter.
But was it a glimpse of the future, or did head coach Les Miles just catch lighting in a bottle?
We'll find out on New Year's Day, when Jennings and the Tigers square off against the Big Ten's second-best pass defense and the Iowa Hawkeyes.
Not only will Jennings have the luxury of having superstar wide receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry outside, he also has an offensive coordinator in Cam Cameron who's willing to tweak the offense to match Jennings' dual-threat skills according to Ross Dellenger of the Baton Rouge Advocate.
Several #LSU players have said QB Anthony Jennings, in practice, is running a good amount of read-option/option.— Ross Dellenger (@DellengerAdv) December 18, 2013
In year's past, the words "flexibility" and "creativity" were never associated with LSU's offense. Not anymore.
Expect a new-look Tiger team and a dynamic performance from the true freshman Jennings in the Outback Bowl.
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