Spring is right around the corner, with several SEC programs gearing up to open spring practice, including Texas A&M, which gets things started on Friday, Feb. 28.
The spring is a glorious time when unknown stars become household names, and unrealistic expectations spread through the south like pollen.
But for some players, it's a chance to finally break through on the big stage. A chance to take advantage of holes in college rosters and grab hold of playing time heading into summer conditioning periods.
So who are some unknown players who could become household names this spring?
Auburn RB Peyton Barber
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn surprised the college football world in 2013, turning around the previously 3-9 Tigers into a 12-2 monster, complete with an SEC Championship and a berth in the BCS National Championship Game.
Part of that championships equation was junior running back Tre Mason, who rushed for 1,861 yards and 23 touchdowns for the Tigers. But Mason jumped to the NFL one year early, leaving a gaping hole in the Tigers' backfield.
Rising senior Cameron Artis-Payne is the likely front-runner to step in for Mason, but don't be surprised to see redshirt freshman Peyton Barber push for those carries this spring.
The 5'11", 217-pounder was only a 3-star prospect in the class of 2013, but he has the frame to be a star between the tackles and is dangerous in space. He impressed his teammates as a member of the scout team during the 2013 season, according to AL.com's Brandon Marcello.
"Me and Cam [Artis-Payne] talk about it all the time," Mason said prior to the BCS National Championship Game. "[Barber] is probably, skill wise, the best out of all of us. That guy is good. He's very consistent when he's scrimmaging. He's very consistent."
He'll have company coming this summer in the form of 4-star prospect "Roc" Thomas, so not only is the door open for Barber, it will close a little if he doesn't take advantage right now. As a result, expect big things from the Milton, Ga. native.
Georgia WR Jonathon Rumph
Rumph was recruited from junior college to be an instant-impact player last season for the Georgia Bulldogs, but a nagging hamstring injury limited his impact between the hedges until late in the season.
But when the 6'5", 208-pounder finally saw the field, he shone. Rumph caught four passes for 98 yards against Appalachian State and finished the season with seven catches for 121 yards.
With Michael Bennett, Justin Scott-Wesley, Chris Conley, Malcolm Mitchell and a host of other wide receivers in the mix for playing time, Rumph has plenty of competition on the depth chart. But a new quarterback in Hutson Mason, combined with the fact that Mitchell and Scott-Wesley are both coming off ACL injuries means that spring is Rumph's time to shine.
He did last year in Georgia's spring game, catching four passes for 98 yards and two touchdowns according to his bio on GeorgiaDogs.com.
LSU WR Avery Peterson
Peterson came to LSU with a ton of hype, but he seems to be the forgotten man in the LSU wide receiving corps.
The 6'2", 189-pounder from Pompano Beach, Fla. and younger brother of former LSU cornerback and current Arizona Cardinal Patrick Peterson, was a 4-star prospect coming out of Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va. in 2013.
My B/R colleague Jake Martin did a great job detailing why Peterson—who missed last season with an ankle injury—will be a breakout star for the Tigers in 2014 earlier this month, and I agree. He has the speed to be a deep threat, the size to create matchup problems against smaller defensive backs and the opportunity to make a name for himself this spring.
The combination of available playing time coupled with a quarterback battle that will include Anthony Jennings, Brandon Harris, Rob Bolden and Hayden Rettig will allow Peterson to work with a variety of signal-callers this spring.
If he establishes a connection with one or more, he could waltz right through the door and position himself nicely heading into fall camp.
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