Every year the SEC produces many breakout gridiron warriors.
The last two Heisman winners were hardly viewed as “great” before their dominant, award winning seasons. Cam Newton only had a few sentences written about him in Auburn’s preseason media guide. Former Alabama running back Mark Ingram performed well in his freshman season, leading the Tide in rushing touchdowns, but was nowhere near the Heisman watch at the beginning of 2009.
These two exploded onto the SEC scene in a year where they would win the ultimate individual award, as well as the ultimate goal in college football. Both players led their team to a perfect 14-0 record and will be forever revered in football history.
Now let’s take a look at who I believe will be the next breakout star for all the SEC teams.
While this senior has had impressive and consistent numbers over his career so far, I think 2011 will be his year to really shine.
In the absence of Julio Jones I see Maze stepping up and becoming a reliable target for whoever takes snaps at Alabama.
I think Maze will garner national attention as he joins the short list of Tide receivers to go over the 1,000 yard receiving mark. Look for him to have a great senior season, while leading Alabama’s offense during a QB change.
Besides Ryan Mallett, the Razorbacks return virtually their entire offense this season.
1,000 yard rusher Knile Davis and the whole receiving core return for what looks like a promising season in Fayetteville. With Bobby Petrino handing Wilson the keys to the offense, he is destined for a great junior campaign.
I see Arkansas performing very well this year, which will only add more validity to a great season by Wilson.
Blake had a pretty good sophomore year at Auburn, but he was mostly overshadowed by his former teammates. But now Cam Newton and Darvin Adams are gone and it is Blake’s turn to show what he can do.
While the Tiger’s offense may not be as explosive as it was last year, I believe they will still put up a lot of points and do well in the SEC. That is, if Blake can step up and show he can be a leader for this team.
And I think he will.
In 2010, Florida had an endless supply of talent and potential on their team. However, they never lived up to that potential and finished with only 8 wins in Urban Meyer’s last year at the helm.
But 2011 is a new year with a new coach and new talent.
I still don’t fully believe in John Brantley (and I know UF fans have trouble believing too) and I think he will end up losing the starting position to the incoming freshman Jeff Driskel.
Driskel was one of the best, if not the best, QB prospects in high school last year and now he looks to prove he can play ball in college as well. I think Florida will get behind this guy early and he will gain much needed experience in the SEC.
Georgia adds another true freshman to the list with 5-star recruit Isaiah Crowell.
With the recent news of the Bulldogs losing their top two running backs, Crowell is the likely starting heading into the season. Add the fact that teams will be worried about Aaron Murray and the passing game and that’s exactly why I think Crowell will have a great year.
There is no doubting his talent, but he will need to mature early as being a starting running back in the SEC at the age of 18 can be stressful.
While he has struggled in the past, I believe Junior Morgan Newton has what it takes to be an SEC quarterback. He has a pretty good arm and doesn’t throw many interceptions, but he has struggled to “make things happen” on the field.
Despite his previous setbacks, I think he will flourish this year. I see him being more productive than Mike Hartline was a year ago and I see UK improving their record under the command of the new field general.
While I don’t think he will lead the Wildcats to the SEC Championship, I do think Newton will come into his own and put up some good number this year.
As a highly touted recruit, Shepard has had a lot to prove in Baton Rouge. And while he may not have put up gaudy number in his first two years, he has made and impact and contributed to the Tiger’s success nicely.
The Houston native has been used, not only in the passing game, but in the running game as well. Les Miles seems to try to get the ball in his hands anyway he can. Russell hit the ground running with this role, averaging 7 yards-per-carry in his sophomore season.
I think Shepard will make his presence felt as a true wide receiver, as he has time to perfect route running and learn the offensive scheme a little better. I look for him to lead the team in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns this year.
While this junior has already solidified himself as a force in the Bulldogs receiving corps, I don’t think we have seen his best work just yet.
He led MSU in almost every receiving category last season and looks to do the same for a third year in a row. Don’t get me wrong, that’s great, but last year he only caught 44 passes for 634 yards and 5 touchdowns.
This season, however, I see him exploding onto the SEC scene. I think he will break the 1,000 yard barrier on his way to a stellar junior campaign.
Although the Rebels passing game wasn’t much to brag about in 2010, Ja-Mes Logan stepped up as a freshman.
He found success catching 29 balls for 387 yards and two touchdowns. While much of his season was overshadowed by the statistics put together by former Rebels receiver Markeith Summers, Logan will step in and take his place as the number one target this year.
I see a lot of potential in Logan and I think he will become their best threat since Mike Wallace sooner rather than later.
Let’s be clear on this pick, I do not think Ace Sanders will surpass Alshon Jeffrey as the Gamecocks top receiver.
I do, however, think that he will make great progress in his sophomore season. As a freshman Sanders caught 25 passes for 316 yards and two touchdowns. He will have an increased role in Steve Spurrier’s prolific offense after a good showing in 2010.
This 5’7” speedster is one of the fastest receivers in the SEC today and that is certainly saying a lot. His small build only add to his elusiveness on the field.
I expect big things out of Sanders and I see his success starting in 2011.
Here we have another player who has already had an exceptional season. Tauren Poole was easily the most consistent, reliable option on offense in a season of transition for the Vols. He carried the ball over 200 times, while surpassing the 1,000 yard mark and adding 11 touchdowns in his junior season.
He also tied for the SEC lead (with Heisman winner Cam Newton) with 6 games of 100+ yards rushing. This Georgia native will be a focal point for UT’s offense in 2011 and I think he will come very close to the Tennessee’s single-season rushing yards record (Travis Stephens rushed for 1,464 yards in 2001.)
Poole is set up for another outstanding season on Rocky Top and I believe he will be one of the top running backs in the country in his senior year.
It didn’t take me too long to notice that Vanderbilt really has something special in their backfield.
As a freshman, Warren Norman earned SEC Freshman Player of the Year after rushing for 783 yards. What stuck out most to me in his second year at Vandy, was despite having only 459 yards he averaged a respectable 6 yards-per-carry, up from the previous year.
In 2011, Norman will look to take a bigger role in the offense that may not be the best in the SEC, but will look to improve on yet another rebuilding season.
All the hopes of the Commodores will go how Norman goes. If he has a great season Vanderbilt will enjoy some success and maybe finish higher in the SEC standings than last year. If he does not perform well… neither will the Commodores.