The Lone Star 50: 40-31
The countdown of Texas college football's most important players continues.
In the month of March, Dave Campbell’s Texas Football is introducing the Lone Star 50, a countdown of the 50 most important Texas college football players in 2013. Keep in mind: this is not necessarily a ranking of the top 50 best college football players in Texas, but rather the 50 players whose performance will most impact the college football scene in Texas in 2013.
March 13: Nos. 50-41
Today: Nos. 40-31
March 20: Nos. 30-21
March 22: Nos. 20-11
March 27: Nos. 10-6
March 29: Nos. 5-1
40) Stephen Kurfehs, LB, UTSA
One of the emotional leaders of the Roadrunners’ defense, the junior from San Antonio O’Connor rolled up 62 tackles, including 4 TFL and 3 sacks, as well as returning a fumble 50 yards for a touchdown against San Jose State.
He Should Be Higher Because… With the loss of leading tackler Brandon Reeves, Kurfehs is the heir apparent to the Head Linebacker In Charge throne. And in Larry Coker’s attacking defense, the linebacker spot is critical to the success of the unit and the team.
He Should Be Lower Because… He’s not going at it alone. Eleven of the top 12 Roadrunners in terms of total tackles will return in 2012, including fellow LB Blake Terry. There’s plenty of experience returning for UTSA, so while Kurfehs will be critical, his play won’t make or break the unit.
39) Jameill Showers, QB, UTEP
The first quarterback on our list, the pride of Killeen is transferring out of Texas A&M (you may have heard that the quarterback spot there is spoken for) and out to El Paso, where he’s the odds-on favorite to become the starter.
He Should Be Higher Because… Showers has superstar talent. The reason he never started at A&M has nothing to do with his talent, but rather the guys in front of him. And since he can start right away, he will get a chance to prove that he’s good enough to be a starting FBS quarterback. Beyond that, it’s not like Nick Lamaison lit the world on fire last season for UTEP; Showers could be monumental for the Miners.
He Should Be Lower Because… Well, it’s no guarantee that he starts. Carson Meger will have something to say about it before it’s all said and done. Plus, with so many moving parts out in El Paso – first year coach in Sean Kugler, an emerging superstar in RB Nathan Jeffrey, a new QB starting for the first time – there could be some growing pains.
38) Toney Hurd Jr, S, Texas A&M
Fort Bend Marshall’s own Hurd emerged as a key part of the Aggies’ secondary last season, racking up 67 tackles and 4 TFL in a solid junior season. His biggest play was picking off Bo Wallace for a game-sealing interception against Ole Miss.
He Should Be Higher Because… Steven Terrell is gone, and Hurd – once a nickel cornerback – will be the most visible and important of A&M’s safeties. And with quarterbacks like Taylor McHargue, A.J. McCarron, Garrett Gilbert, Bo Wallace, Jameill Showers and Tyler Russell on the schedule, he’ll be tested early and often.
He Should Be Lower Because… The bigger issues for A&M defensively are in the front seven, not the back four. With Hurd, Howard Matthews and Deshazor Everett back, the secondary is a relatively known commodity. Hurd will be important, but the folks in front of him and around him will be more important.
37) Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas
The Plano East product had an injury-riddled 2012, playing in just six games but still notching 4 sacks and 9.5 TFL in that time coming off the edge in Manny Diaz’s defense.
He Should Be Higher Because… This is Jeffcoat’s defensive line. He’s shown flashes of brilliance, but now with Alex Okafor graduated, he’s the most experienced and explosive defensive lineman that the Longhorns will have. And without a pass rush, Texas’ defense may not be anything better than average.
He Should Be Lower Because… Will he even be on the field enough to make an impact? Jeffcoat has proven himself to be a bit injury-prone, and with young, explosive players waiting in the wings, there are certainly other options aside from Jeffcoat. Beyond that, if we’re prioritizing the importance of the defensive line, the middle is more important than the edge.
36) Waymon James, RB, TCU
After a strong start in the first two games, the Sherman-bred James went down (like so many other Frogs) with an injury, finishing the year with 168 yards on 17 attempts and a touchdown.
He Should Be Higher Because… It’s up for debate, but James is probably the best running back in TCU’s stable. He’s explosive, a threat out of the backfield, and all in all, he’s the perfect Gary Patterson running back. TCU fans have exceptionally high expectations for James in 2013, and a healthy James would go a long, long way toward TCU fulfilling its promise.
He Should Be Lower Because… B.J. Catalon and Kyle Hicks are more than capable of being as effective as James. Catalon was the team’s leading rusher last year, and Hicks is a blue chip prospect coming in as a freshman. Beyond that, it’s hard to see the running back position having more of an impact on the Frogs’ offense than the quarterback spot.
35) Devonte Fields, DE, TCU
The consensus Freshman of the Year in the Big XII in 2012, Fields burst onto the scene with his explosive speed off the edge, racking up 10 sacks (19th in the nation) to go along with an astonishing 18.5 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and an interception.
He Should Be Higher Because… If you thought Devonte Fields was good as a freshman, he could be spectacular as a sophomore. Fields is still growing and has a chance this season to establish himself as the Big XII’s most dominant pass rusher, regardless of class. And in a Gary Patterson defense, that’s a nightmare for opposing offensive coordinators.
He Should Be Lower Because… In the end, he’s just one of 11 on defense, and this is an especially experienced 11 on defense for the Frogs. Only Kenny Cain doesn’t return from the Frogs’ starting defense, and if there’s a 12th member of TCU that will determine much more than Fields, it’s the injury bug.
34) David Mayo, LB, Texas State
A transfer from Santa Monica College in California, Mayo stepped into the starting lineup at linebacker as a sophomore for the Bobcats, finishing 7th on the team with 41 tackles and a TFL despite playing in just seven games thanks to a injured cartilage in his knee.
He Should Be Higher Because… As soon as the team is done waving goodbye to the graduated Joplo Bartu, they’ll turn to Mayo as the key member of the linebacker corps that will look to improve on its 119th national ranking in total defense. Mayo’s up for the challenge, but make no mistake: this is his defense, from both a leadership standpoint and more.
He Should Be Lower Because… It’s got to be a team effort. As we mentioned when talking about Craig Mager, this defense was in shambles all over the place, so it’s hardly all on one player like Mayor to fix it all. He’ll be pivotal, but hardly the only player who needs to up his game.
33) Eric Ward, WR, Texas Tech
The leading receiver for the Red Raiders in 2012, the former WF Rider Raider hauled in 82 catches for 1,053 yards and 12 touchdowns, averaging 12.8 yards per catch and more than 87 yards per game.
He Should Be Higher Because… Ward and Darrin Moore combined for more than 45% of Texas Tech’s receiving yards in 2012, and now Moore is gone. The next-most productive WR that is back for Tech is Jakeem Grant with 284 yards. Plain and simple, Ward is the only wide receiver that Kliff Kingsbury inherits with any real skins on the wall.
He Should Be Lower Because… C’mon, it’s the Kliff Kingsbury Air Raid! Someone’s going to catch the ball, whether it’s Ward or Grant or TE Jace Amaro or Javon Bell or Bradley Marquez or any number of incoming freshman. Having a senior like Ward in the mix to guide this receiving corps is vital, but let’s not act like he’s going to be the only receiving option.
32) Ahmad Dixon, S, Baylor
Locally grown talent Dixon has been a key piece of the Bears’ secondary for the last two seasons, racking up 102 tackles (5.5 TFL), 2 INTs and 3 pass break-ups during the 2012 campaign.
He Should Be Higher Because… Dixon is the best player in the Baylor secondary, and even a little improvement in that regard would help the Bears. Baylor finished the year 123rd in the nation in passing defense – that’s second-to-last, mind you – and even if they can get that ranking into the 80s, it’d do wonders for the Bears’ record.
He Should Be Lower Because… He’s really splitting the duties here, considering both he and Sam Holl will be back to man the safety spots. But even together, they only make up the safety contingency, and if wide receivers are allowed to run free like last year thanks to lackluster cornerback play, it’ll hardly matter how good Dixon and Holl are.
31) David Piland, QB, Houston
Taking over the full-time starting duties for all-everything signal-caller Case Keenum, Piland performed admirably for the Coogs, completing 57.1% of his passes for 2,929 yards and 16 touchdowns against 12 interceptions.
He Should Be Higher Because… Even under coach Tony Levine, this is still an ultra-pass-happy offense. The Coogs threw the ball 49.6 times per game last year, which is third most in the nation only behind Mike Leach-led Washington State and Marshall. As Piland goes, so too will the Coogs.
He Should Be Lower Because… David Piland doesn’t play defense. Piland’s 2012 season only counted as “good-not-great”, but the biggest problems for the Coogs was on the defensive side, giving up 36 points per game (tied for 110th in the nation). You can score all you want, but if your team can’t stop anyone, it hardly matters. Such is the case for UH and Piland entering 2013.
Greg Tepper is the associate editor of Dave Campbell's Texas Football and TexasFootball.com.