10 College Football Seniors with Most to Prove in 2014
For several seniors across the nation, the 2014 college football season is especially important.
Some will look to prove that last season’s success was no fluke, while others will try to fill a void left behind by a departed teammate. And one rising senior will seek to make a successful transition into a new position.
All in all, there are a handful of players looking to make an impact in their final collegiate year.
Join B/R as we take a closer look at 10 seniors with the most to prove in 2014.
QB Sean Mannion (Oregon State)
After a great start in 2013, Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion collapsed.
Through his first seven games, the Pleasanton, Calif., native had thrown for 29 touchdowns and three interceptions, topping 365 yards in each game while leading the Beavers to a 6-1 record.
Over the final six games, Mannion tossed only eight touchdowns and a whopping 12 interceptions. He never topped more than 320 yards passing and Oregon State was 1-5 in that span.
Needless to say, if Mannion wants to play in the NFL, has a lot to prove in 2014.
Losing leading receiver Brandin Cooks certainly hurts. However, the Beavers will return their next four leading receivers next year. The opportunity to go out on a high note is there for Mannion.
WR Rashad Greene (Florida State)
Although wide receiver Rashad Greene finished as Florida State’s leading receiver in 2013, he has a lot to prove next season.
In 14 games, the Albany, Ga., native hauled in 76 catches for 1,128 yards, finding the end zone nine times. But while he led the team in receiving yards, he was second behind Kelvin Benjamin in touchdowns (15).
As a result, Benjamin was the name everyone raved about as the Seminoles' big-game receiver.
With Benjamin departed to the NFL, all the attention now falls on Greene. Can he prove he’s a true No. 1 receiver?
Greene stepped up in big games in 2013—he had stellar games against Auburn (9 REC, 147 YDS) and Clemson (8 REC, 146 YDS, 2 TD). But at the same time, Greene also failed to top 70 yards of receiving seven times.
It will be up to Greene to prove he can be a consistent threat in the passing attack this time around.
RB Ameer Abdullah (Nebraska)
In a year where nearly every eligible running back decided to declare for the NFL draft early, Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah chose to buck the trend.
Following a terrific 2013 campaign, the Homewood, Ala., native certainly had the talent to make the leap. In 13 games, he rushed for 1,690 yards and nine touchdowns on 281 carries while adding another 232 yards and two scores on 26 grabs.
If anything, it’s clear that Abdullah hopes to be considered the No. 1 running back in next year’s draft class.
To accomplish that feat, Abdullah will once again have to put up impressive numbers. It might be difficult as the Cornhuskers have to replace six starters on offense, including four on the line.
Still, if Abdullah can have the same amount of success and find the end zone a little more frequently, there’s no denying he’ll come off looking pretty good heading into the 2015 NFL Draft.
DB Jarrick Williams (Alabama)
Alabama defensive back Jarrick Williams will have some big holes to fill in 2014. That’s because his team only returns one starter in the secondary and only five in the defense altogether.
Two of those losses include safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri.
In 12 games last season, Williams recorded 40 tackles (2.0 for loss), 1.0 sack and broke up two passes. Although his numbers don’t pop off the stat sheet, they’re impressive considering the Mobile, Ala., native missed the entire 2012 season with an injury.
Now, Williams’ experience will be called upon by head coach Nick Saban to fill a vital position for the Tide.
Does he have what it takes?
QB Bryce Petty (Baylor)
Following a stellar 2013 campaign, Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty surprised everyone by deciding to return for his senior season.
In 13 games, the Midlothian, Texas, native threw for 4,200 yards, 32 touchdowns and three interceptions while adding another 209 yards and 14 scores on 94 carries. In the process, he led the Bears to a program-best 12-2 record and their first-ever Big 12 title.
So what exactly is Petty coming back for?
Maybe he wants to make up for Baylor’s collapse in the Fiesta Bowl—a 52-42 loss to UCF. Maybe he wants to make another run at the Heisman Trophy. Or maybe he’s trying to lead the Bears to college football’s ultimate goal: a national title.
Either way, it will be pretty difficult for Petty to top his ridiculous stat sheet from 2013. Instead, he would be better off aiming to showcase more consistency and prove he can win big games away from Waco—both Baylor’s losses came outside of Texas.
Petty will have to be smart to not let this decision come back to bite him.
TE Blake Bell (Oklahoma)
It’s not often that a player goes into his senior year starting out at a new position.
Yet that’s exactly the scenario Oklahoma tight end Blake Bell—formerly a quarterback—will be playing out in 2014.
The Wichita, Kan., native spent the majority of last season duking it out with Trevor Knight for the starting job under center. In 11 appearances, Bell threw for 1,648 yards, 12 touchdowns and five interceptions on 60.1 percent passing.
However, strong play from Knight during the Sooners’ Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama essentially won him the job, leaving Bell out in the cold.
But instead of sitting out his final collegiate season on the bench—or transferring to another school—Bell decided to switch positions. After all, at 6’6” and 252 pounds, he certainly has the frame.
Bell has also displayed his brute strength running the ball, rushing for 24 touchdowns over his freshman and sophomore seasons.
Still, it’s up in the air just how well he can do catching the ball. It all makes for an interesting storyline to keep an eye on in Norman this season.
DT Gabe Wright (Auburn)
Auburn defensive tackle Gabe Wright will need to help the team fill a serious gap on the line next season.
That’s because defensive end and disruptive force Dee Ford is graduating—he led the team in both tackles for loss (14.5) and sacks (10.5).
In comparison, Wright finished with 31 tackles (8.5 for loss) and 3.0 sacks. He also hurried the quarterback eight times.
If the Tigers hope to make another run at the national title, they will need the Columbus, Ga., native to step up his game in 2014. He will need to cause more havoc in the backfield.
The pressure will be on.
RB Jeremy Langford (Michigan State)
NFL scouts have got to be wondering where Michigan State running back Jeremy Langford’s late-season surge in 2013 came from.
Was it all a mirage? Or is this what we should expect from the Wayne, Mich., native moving forward?
Skeptics will have their reasons, as Langford got off to a slow start last season. Through five games, he only averaged 62.2 yards per game while finding the end zone just four times.
But over the Spartans' final nine games, Langford topped the century mark in all but one game while scoring 14 touchdowns.
He played a significant role in the team’s run towards the Big Ten title. In fact, he finished with 128 yards and a score on 24 carries in a 34-24 win over Ohio State.
Now, with Michigan State dubbed as a national title contender, Langford’s play will be under the microscope. Can he handle the pressure?
DE Vic Beasley (Clemson)
Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley is one of the most intimidating defenders in the nation.
However, the Adairsville, Ga., native still has a lot to prove.
In 13 games last season, Beasley recorded 41 tackles (23.0 for loss), 13.0 sacks, four forced fumbles and returned his lone fumble recovery 13 yards for a touchdown. But he only seemed to prosper against sub-par competition.
In fact, 13.0 of his tackles for loss and 8.0 of his sacks came in five games against opponents with losing records in 2013.
Sure, Beasley finished strong—6.0 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks against South Carolina and Ohio State—however, it will be up for him to step up on a consistent basis, especially with the Tigers most likely having to rely heavily on their defense in 2014.
It will be interesting to see how Beasley responds.
QB Braxton Miller (Ohio State)
Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller had a season most other signal callers would gladly take.
However, given his enormously high preseason expectations—whether they were fair or not—the Huber Heights, Ohio, native’s 2013 campaign was slightly disappointing.
After beginning the season as a Heisman Trophy favorite, Miller didn’t even earn an invite to the New York City ceremony. On top of that, he didn’t exactly show up during the Buckeyes most important games—losses in the Big Ten title game and the Orange Bowl.
Still, it’s hard not to be impressed by Miller’s career year. In 12 games, he threw for 2,094 yards, 24 touchdowns and seven interceptions on 63.5 percent passing while adding another 1,068 yards and 12 scores on 171 carries.
By returning for his senior season, Miller practically admitted that there was unfinished business to take care of.
If he can lead Ohio State to a national title—undefeated regular season or not—and make a run at the Heisman, it would be hard to argue that Miller didn’t accomplish everything he possibly could at the collegiate level.
All stats and rankings courtesy of CFBstats.