Which players on each FBS team will truly have the biggest impact?
We know the superstars, and we’re likely to know a lot more about them by the end of the year. The Seth Doeges, the Casey Pachalls, the Ryan Swopes, the Malcolm Browns, the Zach Lines and Sam McGuffies of the world; they’re not secrets. They’re the big-time playmakers, the guys who will see their names in the headlines week in and week out.
But anyone who follows and studies football knows that they are very rarely the players who actually determine the outcome of the game. Instead, it’s usually some lesser known player from (usually) a lesser known position who decides a team’s fate.
So, of the 12 FBS teams in Texas, which players are the real gamebreakers, the ones who will make or break the team’s success instead of just garnering headlines? Let’s go school by school.
Baylor: LB Bryce Hager
The sophomore from Austin has the unenviable task of replacing leading tackler Elliot Coffey at middle linebacker. And, more importantly, he’ll need to be a leader as the Baylor defense will be called on to improve from its, um, lackluster performance in 2011.
Houston: LT Jacolby Ashworth
The Houston offensive line figures to be a major strength in 2012, and a major factor in that will be the senior left tackle from Lufkin. Not only will he have to protect new QB David Piland’s blind side, but he’ll also need to be a leader of the unit.
North Texas: S Laramie Lee
The secondary is almost a total mystery for the Mean Green, so it will be up to Lee, the sophomore from Tyler, to step up at the safety spot while the rest of the defense figures itself out. Otherwise, North Texas could be rudderless through a brutal opening stretch of the season.
Rice: DE Cody Bauer
We’re pretty sure that Jared Williams is going to be pretty darn good at the right defensive end spot; he showed flashes of his promise last year. That puts the onus on Bauer to apply adequate pressure from the left side, giving the Owls a powerful one-two punch in the pass rush.
SMU: G Blake McJunkin
Almost the complete opposite from Houston’s situation, SMU returns not a single starter on the offensive line, making it a total unknown. McJunkin, a Plano product, has been biding his time, and now has a chance to make the offensive line his unit, leading by example in plowing the road for Zach Line and protecting Garrett Gilbert.
TCU: WR Skye Dawson
Josh Boyce is going to garner his fair share of attention, both in the media and from defenses. That’s going to open the door for another receiver to emerge, and it might as well be Dawson, who showed flashes last year in hauling in 46 passes for 500 yards and five scores.
Texas: FB Ryan Roberson
If Texas is going to be the running team we think it’s going to be – and with their offensive line and stable of RBs, they could be awful good – the fullback Roberson, out of Brenham, is going to have a big role in it.
Texas A&M: WR Mike Evans
In the Air Raid, you can never have enough pass-catchers. There are questions at QB, where Jameill Showers looks like the guy, but with Uzoma Nwachukwu and Ryan Swope pretty well established, if Mesquite’s Evans can step up, the Aggie offense goes from pretty good to potentially lights-out.
Texas State: LB Joshua Robinson
In the 4-3 defense, having strong outside linebackers is key, which is why Robinson, the redshirt freshman from Abilene, will likely have a big say on how the Bobcats fare defensively in their first year as an FBS program.
Texas Tech: RB Eric Stephens
I know, running back is hardly an under-the-radar position, but in the Texas Tech offense, it often goes overlooked. Stephens, one of many Red Raiders who suffered injuries last year, looks to bounce back to be a key cog in the Tech attack.
UTEP: TE Kevin Perry
Coach Mike Price has long prided himself on recruiting strong tight end prospects, and now he’s got a boatload of them. The best of the bunch is Perry, who could have a major impact both in the passing game as a receiver and in the running game as a blocker. He could make the Miners’ offense multi-dimensional.
UTSA: DT Richard Burge
The WAC figures to be a pretty sturdy rushing conference, which is going to put the defensive line of the Roadrunners under the microscope. Enter Burge, the Houston Sam Houston product, who will help to shore up what will be an important unit.
Greg Tepper is the associate editor of Dave Campbell's Texas Football and TexasFootball.com.