The Lone Star 50: 30-21
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.
30) Randall Joyner, LB, SMU
Carrollton Newman Smith’s own Joyner continued a solid career on the Hilltop with a breakout junior season, finishing second on the team with 93 tackles with 3 TFL, 3 interceptions and a fumble recovery.
He Should Be Higher Because… There’s no doubt that this is his linebackers corps now. Mainstays Taylor Reed and Ja’Gared Davis have graduated, leaving Joyner as the de facto leader of the Ponies’ front seven and, in turn, the entire defense. He’s the man now.
He Should Be Lower Because… You could say the same thing about the defensive front. There are holes to fill up front with the departure of Margus Hunt, Kevin Grenier, Aaron Davis and more, and Joyner’s only going to be a part of that. Plus, he won’t be going at it alone: sophomore Stephon Standers and junior Brandon Henderson will be expected to step up to help fill the gaps as well.
29) Brandon Carter, WR, TCU
Once a blue-chip prospect out of Euless Trinity, Carter has already begun to fulfill his promise, logging 36 catches for 590 yards and 6 touchdowns in his 2012 sophomore campaign. He also threw one of the biggest touchdowns of the year for the Frogs, the game-tying 25-yard toss to Corey Fuller in double-overtime vs. West Virginia.
He Should Be Higher Because… Is there a better big-play threat on campus in Fort Worth? Probably not. Carter dazzled to the tune of more than 16 yards per catch last season, and with leading receiver Josh Boyce jumping early to the NFL, Carter assumes the role of the No. 1 receiving option for whoever the quarterback ends up being.
He Should Be Lower Because… It’s not like he’s going at this alone. There are plenty of top-notch weapons on the outside for Gary Patterson’s Frogs, from LaDarius Brown to Cam White to Kolby Listenbee to Griffin Gilbert. Carter is by far the most experienced and trusted receiver in the corps, but it’s not all on him to make plays.
28) Horace Miller, DL, UTEP
The Louisville transfer made his presence felt in his first year on the field for the Miners, leading the team with 6 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss while racking up 31 tackles on the season.
He Should Be Higher Because … If it all starts up front for the UTEP defense – and it should – then it all starts with Miller. The Miners were pretty pedestrian when it came to getting in the backfield in 2012, ranking 84th in the nation in sacks and 108th in tackles for loss – and if that’s going to improve, Miller will have to be the one to set the tone.
He Should Be Lower Because… It’s a team effort up front, especially between him and Germard Reed. The duo is going to need to improve their pressure if the front seven is going to succeed, not just Miller. Plus, the passing defense was just as big of a problem as the rushing defense, meaning there are plenty of other problems to fix other than the front.
27) Johnathan Gray, RB, Texas
The 2011 Dave Campbell’s Texas Football coverboy made an immediate impact as a freshman for the Longhorns, leading Texas in rushing with 701 yards and 3 touchdowns as he saw his workload increase as the season wore on.
He Should Be Higher Because… We know exactly what he’s capable of, and that’s enough to completely change the Texas offense. Gray is one of the most highly touted running backs to come out of the Lone Star State in quite a while, and he showed flashes of that brilliance in his freshman campaign. Now, he has a chance to take the Texas offense by the reins and make it about him.
He Should Be Lower Because… Is he even going to start? Say what you will about the Texas running game over the last few seasons – 49th nationally last year, 21st the year before – but talent at the RB spot isn’t the problem. With Joe Bergeron, Malcolm Brown (recovering from injury) and Daje Johnson all back, the stable is full, and Gray will have to win the starting job to fulfill his potential.
26) Brandin Byrd, RB, North Texas
Byrd, a Copperas Cove product, stepped into the starting running back role vacated by the graduation of Lance Dunbar and performed admirably, leading the team with 890 yards and 4 touchdowns on the ground.
He Should Be Higher Because… If Byrd becomes The Man in the Mean Green offense, it could change everything. The North Texas offense had all sorts of trouble scoring last season, but Byrd was a rare bright spot. If he can have a big senior season, it could mean the difference between an average UNT offense and a great one.
He Should Be Lower Because… There’s far, far more pressure on the quarterback spot than the running back spot. Byrd can help things along, but in the end, this is going to fall either on last year’s starter Derek Thompson or on new starter Brock Berglund to jumpstart the stagnant offense. This is never going to be an offense that runs the ball 80 percent of the time, so Byrd’s opportunities won’t be as plentiful as the quarterback’s.
25) Terrance Bullitt, LB/S, Texas Tech
In a season that came in fits and starts due to injury, the Garland Naaman Forest alum still managed to put together a nice season, logging 19 tackles, 2 TFL, a sack and 2 pass break-ups in his first season after moving from safety to strong side linebacker.
He Should Be Lower Because… Where will he play? Bullitt proved his versatility by moving positions last season, but now with the departure of safeties Cody Davis and D.J. Johnson, it’s possible that he could move back to the secondary, where he would be a big asset. Either way, be it at the linebacker or safety spot, he’s a playmaker that could make or break the Tech defense.
He Should Be Lower Because… Where will he play? You read that correctly; it’s the same reason as above. When there’s a question as to where a guy will play, that should give you pause as to his potential impact. Plus, will Bullitt be 100%? He missed the final month of the season after aggravating a shoulder injury he sustained in fall practice, and those things tend to linger for hard-hitting players like Bullitt. In other words, he’s a total mystery.
24) Garrett Gilbert, QB, SMU
In his first season as a Mustang after transferring from Texas, Gilbert had an up-and-down season, finishing with 2,932 yards and 15 touchdowns against 15 interceptions, but ending the season looking better than he ever has at the college level.
He Should Be Higher Because… He’s the quarterback under June Jones. Jones’ SMU teams have never ranked worse than 24th in the nation in pass attempts, meaning all eyes will be on Gilbert heading into the 2013 season .And if Gilbert can continue the roll he was on to finish the season – he didn’t throw an interception in the final five games of the regular season – the Ponies’ offense could be flying again soon.
He Should Be Lower Because… The offensive line, the running game and the wide receiver corps are just as important to the Ponies’ success. I know that sounds like every team ever, but when you look at it – the OL gave up 34 sacks, the 22nd-most in the nation; star RB Zach Line is gone; top WR Darius Johnson is gone – you could argue that Gilbert is the only constant in the SMU offense. Tons of moving parts around him, which means that there’s less pressure on him and more pressure on the supporting cast.
23) Eric Soza, QB, UTSA
Back-to-back quarterbacks on the list, Soza was the driving force behind the Roadrunners’ breakout season as the junior from Beeville threw for 1,811 yards and 18 touchdowns (just 3 INTs) and ran for another 326 yards and 6 scores.
He Should Be Higher Because… Plain and simple, he’s the most important player on the Roadrunners’ offense. Consider this: In UTSA’s six wins in which Soza played, he completed 61.4% of his passes for 7.3 yards per attempt; in the two losses Soza participated in, just 51.6% of his passes for 6.7 yards per attempt. As Soza goes, so goes the Roadrunners’ offense.
He Should Be Lower Because… This is still an offense that prides itself on balance – 351 rush plays, 329 pass plays last season – and likes to spread the ball around. Between the stable of running backs and nearly endless list of wide receivers, the pressure is pretty evenly spread out amongst all of the offensive skill players. Think of Soza as the biggest cog in the machine, but a cog nonetheless.
22) Robby Wells, TE, Rice
The first freshman to crack our list, the 6-6, 223-pound tight end out of Katy Taylor capped off a strong high school career with a senior year that included a team-high 48 catches for 518 yards and 11 TDs. He also threw for a touchdown.
He Should Be Higher Because… Have you seen what Rice does with their tight ends? In four of the last six years, a tight end has ranked in the top three receivers for the Owls, including in 2010 when the top two receivers were tight ends. The position may be getting phased out thanks to the spread offense, but not on David Bailiff’s watch. And with his frame and relative college-readiness – and the graduation of both Taylor Cook and Luke Wilson -- Wells has a chance to be a big-time factor in the Owls’ offense right away.
He Should Be Lower Because… He’s a freshman. Robby Wells is a heck of an athlete and a big-time playmaker, but he’s a freshman. There’s an opening for him to make an impact, but he’s a freshman. The Owls could really use a guy like Wells, but he’s a freshman. I guess what I’m getting at is that he’s a freshman.
21) Cameron Nwosu, LB, Rice
A streak of two consecutive Owls on this list concludes with the undersized but overachieving linebacker from Klein Forest, who put together a terrific 2012 season, finishing second on the team with 92 tackles while logging 7 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 2 INTs and, remarkably, three blocked PATs (all in the same half).
He Should Be Higher Because… No Rice defender will have a bigger impact than Nwosu. There is a lot of returning talent on defense, but the biggest playmaker is almost assuredly Nwosu, who can make plays from sideline to sideline, get into the backfield, and drop into coverage. He’ll be critical to the linebacker corps.
He Should Be Lower Because… If the Rice defense is going to improve – and it needs to, considering it ranked 84th in total defense last year – it’s going to have to start all around the linebacker corps. The secondary needs to make strides, the defensive front needs to make strides, and even the playcalling needs to make strides. If anything, Nwosu is one of the few constants in the defense, meaning improvement will need to come from without, not from within.
Greg Tepper is the associate editor of Dave Campbell's Texas Football and TexasFootball.com.