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August 30, 2011

Players poised for a breakout season

More impact players: True freshmen | Redshirt freshmen | JC transfers | Four-year transfers

Part of the fun in being a sports fan is knowing about soon-to-be stars before anybody else because there's nothing like being able to crow "I told you so!" when a player has a breakout season.

To help you get ready for this season -- and to give you some ammunition so you, too, can say, "I told you so!" -- here's a list of 12 potential breakout players.

Some are recognizable names; some aren't. But by the end of the first month of the season, everyone will know all about these guys. The players are listed alphabetically.

BREAKOUT PLAYERS FOR 2011
The buzz: Michigan State must replace two four-year starters at linebacker. Greg Jones was a two-time All-American, while Eric Gordon was an underrated force. That duo started more games at linebacker (95 combined starts) than any tandem in Spartans history. Keep an eye on Allen, a vicious hitter despite his smallish frame (5 feet 10/218 pounds).
The buzz: As a true freshman last season, he made a significant contribution to the Bears' offense with 46 catches for 490 yards. This season, he could emerge as a bona-fide star. Allen now has experience to go along with good size (6-3/200), excellent hands and game-breaking speed. He also has a terrific rapport with Cal's new quarterback, Zach Maynard. They are half-brothers.
The buzz: Nevada has produced five 1,000-yard running backs in the past four seasons, and that was with Colin Kaepernick -- an excellent runner -- at quarterback. With a veteran line and a new quarterback, the Wolf Pack appear poised to rely on their running backs even more this season. Ball has performed well when called upon over the past two seasons, but had trouble earning regular carries with Vai Taua and Luke Lippincott in the mix. Teammate Lampford Mark could just as easily be the breakout star, too. He rushed for 971 yards and six touchdowns over the past two seasons.
The buzz: He had a good freshman season in 2010, turning heads in Conference USA. This season, he should garner national attention. He ran for 925 yards and 11 TDs as a true freshman last season; it was the highest single-season rushing total by a freshman in school history. He had five 100-yard games, second-most by a freshman back in league history. Expect coach Bob Toledo and his staff to rely heavily on Darkwa this season.
The buzz: Some might contend that he broke out by posting a team-high 85 tackles last season. Yet he was overshadowed by higher-profile teammates and did not make the All-Big 12 team. This season, he'll be a focus of the Tigers' defense and will be a strong candidate for postseason honors.
The buzz: If Montgomery is as good as we think he is, he'll flirt with 10 sacks and provide the Tigers' defensive front with a playmaker off the edge. T Drake Nevis was LSU's big-play lineman last season, but he's now in the NFL. Montgomery still is a bit raw when it comes to defending the run, but he has all the tools to be a top-flight pass rusher. If he puts everything together this season, LSU's defense will come close to matching last season's success.
The buzz: After backing up Ricky Dobbs the past few seasons, Proctor finally takes over as Navy's starting quarterback as a senior. Although he lacks Dobbs' passing skills, Proctor has shown in spot duty that he's an outstanding runner. He rushed for 89 yards in a 13-10 victory over Wake Forest two years ago. In his lone start last season, Proctor rushed for 201 yards while leading Navy to a 38-37 triumph over Central Michigan. Proctor isn't as complete a player as Dobbs, but his running ability should assure that Navy once again has one of the nation's top rushing attacks.
The buzz: As a freshman last season, he rushed for 452 yards as a backup to Kendall Hunter. Hunter is gone, but all five of the Cowboys' starting offensive linemen return. Randle figures to more than double his 2010 production, especially with opponents typically preoccupied with the Cowboys' passing game.
The buzz: Think back to 2009, when Alabama was counting on a former backup to take up the slack at tailback. All Mark Ingram did was win the Heisman and help the Tide win the national title. It's not unrealistic to expect the same thing from Richardson this season. He has rushed for 1,451 yards and 14 TDs in his first two seasons and easily could match those totals this season. Richardson attended the same high school as Emmitt Smith -- Pensacola (Fla.) Escambia -- and can start making a name for himself this fall.
The buzz: Although he was overshadowed by teammates Titus Young and Austin Pettis for most of last season, Shoemaker still managed 32 receptions for 582 yards and five touchdowns as a slot receiver. He caught a combined 11 passes for 241 yards and two touchdowns in consecutive midseason wins over Louisiana Tech and Hawaii. Now that Young and Pettis are in the NFL, Shoemaker will move to the outside for his senior season and should emerge as Kellen Moore's favorite target.
The buzz: Smith was the first-team All-Big East quarterback last season, his first as a starter, but his ceiling looks to be quite high in WVU's new offense. He led the Big East in passing efficiency and kept the interceptions down (seven in 372 attempts, though three came in one game against Syracuse). In Dana Holgorsen's offense, Smith appears to have the tools and the receivers to become one of the nation's most prolific passers and a potential candidate for national honors.
The buzz: A star triple jumper on the Virginia Tech track team, Wilson already has shown his big-play ability while splitting time with Ryan Williams and Darren Evans in the backfield. Both are gone, and the tailback job is all Wilson's now. Wilson has averaged at least 5.5 yards per carry in each of the past two seasons. He already has 2,096 all-purpose yards and has produced 15 touchdowns in a part-time role. He scored 11 touchdowns last season -- five on runs from scrimmage, four on receptions and two on kickoff returns. Don't be surprised if he rushes for well more than 1,000 yards while making several highlight-worthy plays.

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