March 7, 2010

Which 'supporting' player will become a star?

At the College Football Roundtable each week, we ask each member of the coverage staff for his opinion about a topic in the sport.

THIS WEEK'S QUESTION: The Academy Awards are tonight. In that vein, which "supporting actor" from 2009 will become a full-fledged star in 2010?

My first thought was to select someone from Army, Navy or Air Force. That way, they could thank the Academy. But I really couldn't identify one that I felt strongly about. So, I opted for Missouri WR Jerrell Jackson, who was the Tigers' No. 3 receiver last season and should be QB Blaine Gabbert's top target in 2010. In each of the past four seasons, the Tigers' leading receiver has had at least 58 catches. In each of the past three seasons, the top receiver has had more than 1,000 yards. Jackson will make a strong bid to keep both of those trends intact.


I am keeping my eye on Alabama sophomore running back Trent Richardson. He ran for a quiet 642 yards and six scores last season as a true freshman. Why was it "quiet"? Because he played behind Heisman winner Mark Ingram, who rushed for 1,542 and 15 scores for the national champions. I'm not saying Richardson will overtake Ingram this fall. But I think Richardson - who hails from the same high school (Escambia in Pensacola, Fla.) as Emmitt Smith - will play a bigger role. And, honestly, he may be the most talented back at Alabama. Yes, even more talented than Ingram.


Cal RB Shane Vereen is ready for a Philip Seymour-Hoffman-like breakout this season. We've seen enough of his supporting work the past two years to know he's ready to take the lead of the Bears' backfield now that Jahvid Best has gone to the NFL. As a redshirt freshman, he was a loyal sidekick to Best (like Brandt in "The Big Lebowski"). As a sophomore, he nearly stole the show and actually led Cal in rushing while Best was injured (think Lester Bangs in "Almost Famous"). As a junior, he's ready to take ownership of his role (as Seymour-Hoffman did when he won Best Actor in "Capote"). Not that Vereen is going to turn into a 5-foot-3 novelist. I'm just saying Cal's season is in his hands.


Utah coaches had planned to redshirt QB Jordan Wynn last season, but they took his redshirt off at halftime of the eighth game. Not only that, he started the rest of the way for a Utes team that finished 10-3. He showed signs of being a star in the making, throwing for 297 yards in his first college start against New Mexico and throwing for 338 yards and three touchdowns in a Poinsettia Bowl victory over California. He struggled a bit in Utah's two biggest games, losses to BYU and TCU. But considering that he went against TCU's fierce defense in just his second career start and that the game with archrival BYU was his fourth start, he acquitted himself well. I expect him to be the All-Mountain West first-team quarterback this season.


You could argue that Florida State CB Greg Reid was more than a complementary player last season since he did lead the nation in punt-return average, but I'm banking on him to deliver a breakthrough season in the secondary this season. Reid, a former five-star prospect, showed flashes of his enormous potential in a part-time role in '09. He picked off a pass against Miami in his nationally televised college debut and scored on a 63-yard interception return in a victory over BYU. He also showed his inexperience at times while playing for a team that ranked 94th in the nation in scoring defense, 108th in total defense and 110th in pass efficiency defense. Florida State is a popular preseason pick to reach the ACC championship game, but it won't happen unless the Seminoles' defense improves tremendously. And that won't happen unless Reid develops into a star performer and a leader of the secondary.


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