Stepping Up Big Time
Is it college football season yet?
Unfortunately for fans, the answer is no. But it’s never too early to take a look at which players from the Great Northwest will have monster impacts once the year final kicks off.
Keith Price, UW
Call me crazy, but I think this is the year we see the Keith Price that has been advertised all along.
The 2012 season saw another disappointing year for Price and the Washington Huskies. Despite throwing 70 more passes than he did in 2011, he completed 14 fewer touchdowns for a total of 19 scores through the air. He also threw two more interceptions than the year before, for a total of 11 giveaways.
So why would a player trending downward be a candidate for a breakout year? Two reasons.
First, the kid has too much talent to not improve. His QB Rating in 2011 was 161.9, and while that number dropped to 122.4 last year, he has a chance to go out strong in his senior season.
The other, more substantial reason, is that his offensive line now has more experience. Bringing back the same crew that caused him so much trouble in 2012 could be a recipe for disaster, but with more familiarity and more practice under their belts, they’ll help propel Price to success if they can give him just a little more time in the pocket than they did a year ago.
Marcus Mariota, UO
After an incredible season as a redshirt freshman, Mariota is primed to come back and expand upon his already impressive resume. The youngster finished 2012 with the sixth-highest QB rating in the country, and that was in a run-heavy offense orchestrated by former head coach Chip Kelly.
Now, with Mark Helfrich running the show, the second-year starter should earn more opportunities to show what he can do. The offense will in all likelihood still be a fast-paced, spread attack, but with Mariota’s high IQ and ability to escape bad situations, he’ll have a chance to show that he’s one of the top QB’s in the nation.
Brett Bartolone, WSU
The Washington State Cougars led the Pac-12 last season in passing yards per game, and while that didn’t translate into wins very often, it created opportunities for players to rack up numbers on a game-to-game basis.
This year, assuming Mike Leach doesn’t change things too drastically—although he probably should—look for depth to shine at the wide receiver position.
Players such as Gabe Marks, Dominique Williams and Isiah Myers all have the potential to separate themselves from the pack, but don’t be surprised if Brett Bartolone is the one who makes the biggest strides. He led the team in receptions in 2012 (53), and he tied with the second-most receiving touchdowns behind Marquess Wilson.
Scott Crichton, OSU
The Oregon State Beavers’ secondary is taking a big hit in 2013 with the loss of Jordan Poyer to the NFL—he was a seventh-round selection by the Philadelphia Eagles. Hopefully with the play of Scott Crichton up front, life will be easier for those transitioning deep.
In 2012, Crichton had 17.5 tackles for loss. He’s a persistent presence as a Defensive End, and he has 15 sacks and seven forced fumbles in the previous two years.
At 6’3”, 263 pounds, the junior has a chance to boost his draft stock this season. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. has him listed as one of his top 50 players to compete for first-round status, and at No. 31 on that list, a solid year should help cement that notion.
De’Anthony Thomas, UO
You knew we couldn’t leave The Black Mamba off this list, didn’t you?
Up to this point, De’Anthony Thomas has been beyond entertaining to watch. He’s a big-play threat every time he touches the ball, and he knows how to confuse a defense with his speed and ability to change direction.
What we haven’t seen is him take over the offense in true go-to fashion, but that might change in 2013.
With Kenjon Barner gone to the NFL, expect to see Thomas play an even more prominent role than he has in the past. He likely won’t be a No. 1 option every play out of the backfield—his size and durability simply won’t let him—but he’s going to be the most dynamic player on the field whether he’s masquerading as a tailback, receiver or special teams returner.
Every year we see Thomas get off to a hot start, followed by a steady finish. This should be the year where he keeps up the pace, and officially becomes known as one of the best football players in the entire country.