There are a few possibilities here for the Buckeyes. Marcel Frost and Rory Nicol are battling for the starting tight end job and whoever wins it should be in for a productive year. Nicol came in as a highly touted recruit but hasn’t seen the field very much thanks in large part to a foot injury that knocked him out for the entire 2005 season. Frost has a nice combination of size and speed and was productive when asked to play last year because of injuries. Also watch for wide receivers Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline. Robiskie has a nice frame and has nice potential as a possession type receiver and will likely see time in larger sets. Hartline has playmaker speed and should start showing off his skill this year after making a full recovery from a leg injury.
There aren’t many sleeper types here but there are several experienced players that have the possibility of having breakout seasons. Wide receiver Adrian Arrington is a player I think could play a big role in the offense as the season progresses. He offers the offense a nice sized, possession type receiver to help balance the deep threats of Mario Manningham and Steve Breaston. Furthermore, if reports of his increased speed are accurate, he may be able to stretch defenses at times himself. This also may the year Breaston finally stays healthy all year and becomes a consistent big play threat on offense. Tight end Tyler Ecker is coming off a solid spring and could really shine under offensive coordinator Mike DeBord (who loves to use the position). Also, the team is hoping one of the interior lineman can emerge. Guard Adam Kraus is a player I really think will take it to the next level this year after getting his feet wet in 2005. Coach Carr had nothing but praise for center Mark Bihl, who may be the key to the offensive lines success.
The Hawkeyes have to replace Ed Hinkel and Clinton Solomon at wide receiver, so keep an eye on this position. I expect Herb Grigsby to emerge as one of the key receivers in the offense. Grigsby caught 25 passes for 335 yards last year (three touchdowns) and may be the team's best deep threat. Also keep an eye on red shirt freshman Trey Stross, who was highly rated coming into Iowa. Speaking of stud recruits, tackle Dace Richardson will take over at left tackle and could thrive early.
With the exception of quarterback, much is already known about the skill positions for the Nittany Lions. They are exceptional. The Nits do, however, have to replace four offensive lineman. Fortunately they have some young talented players on the interior. Center A.Q. Shipley and guard Greg Harrison figure to be the rising stars of the unit. Shipley was moved from defense and all reports are that he has fit like a glove at center. He has already claimed the starting job and much is expected of him in 2006. Harrison is still fighting for a guard spot but I anticipate at some point this year he will take over there. He may not be a star right off the bat, but expect to see flashes of what is to come in the future.
The Boilermakers have few players I think could breakout this year. First and foremost, quarterback Curtis Painter is poised to have a really good year.
Look for a breakout player at wide receiver with almost all of the production from last season gone. Marcus Randle El and Paul Hubbard are two top candidates though they have very different styles. The 5-10 Randle-El is lighting in a bottle, while the 6-4 Hubbard is bigger and has a bit more polish. Also look for one of the interior lineman to really emerge. Sophomore Andy Kemp has had the staff excited since he stepped foot on campus last year and will start in 2006. Kraig Urbik did a solid job at right tackle last season and will move inside to handle the guard spot. At 6-6, 320 pounds, Urbik has the tools to be a mauler in the run game. Also watch for true freshman wide receiver Lance Kendricks.
Most of the offense returns intact except for the critical position of running back in the Gopher offense. Now that Gary Russell will for sure not be back this year, a breakout player is needed at that position. Expect Amir Pinnix to be a 1,000 yard rusher after impressing last season. In the two springs prior to this year's, two the Gopher back was named Outstanding Player of the Spring Game. Injuries have prevented him from fulfilling the promise he has shown throughout his career. Last year Pinnix rushed for 467 yards off 78 carries (6.0 average), but he must show durability this year to provide the Gophers with the kind of rushing attack that they've become accustomed to. In a system that usually likes to use two backs, expect JUCO transfer Brylee Callender to get his share of carries. Freshman Terrence Sherrer could compete for carries as well. Sherrer was impressive every time I watched Cincinnati Colerain last year and is tailor made to play in the zone blocking scheme.
There are several players I think could have breakout years for the Spartans. Two offensive lineman, Roland Martin and Jesse Miller will be counted on to replace two departed starters on the right side. Martin was a big time offensive line prospect the Spartans landed a few years back, and he now gets his first chance to start at guard. He has all the tools to be special. The staff is also excited about Miller at right tackle. The 6-6, 300 pound Miller brings excellent mobility to a system that needs big men that can move. Expect one of the receivers to step up for the loss of Kyle Brown. JUCO transfer Devin Thomas is a player to watch for the future. He has a knack for making plays and has really polished his game at Coffeyville Junior College after playing in a run heavy system in high school.
Wide Receiver Kim Thompson has the natural ability to be a star but hadn’t quite put it together in prior seasons. With the departure of starters Mark Philmore and Jonathan Fields, it is now or never for Thompson to step up. At 6’4, he possesses great size and is nimble for his height. The Wildcats also have another player that could fit the bill as a breakout performer. Although Tyrell Sutton is the star of the offense, many forget Terrell Jordan was the penciled in as the starting running back for 2005. After sustaining a hamstring injury, Jordan redshirted the 2005 season and is back for a 5th year run. If he can return to pre-injury form, Sutton will have a quality backup to help ease the burden in the backfield.
This is an offense in great need of some breakout players after finishing 10th in the conference last season. There are some young players that give the Illini hope. Wide receiver Derrick McPhearson got his first taste of action last season and is now set to take on a starting job. He will be expected to make big plays, something the young man is definitely capable of. Left tackle Akim Millington was set to be a starter at Oklahoma before transferring to Illinois. Most do not know this young man, but by season's end, they surely will. Also keep an eye on incoming freshman quarterback Isiah Williams. If Tim Brasic slips up during the year, the Illini won’t hesitate to try out “the future” in his place.
The Hoosiers are searching for answers at running back, and there are a few options capable of breaking out. Former wide receiver Marcus Thigpen will get a crack at the job. He is very undersized, but is also very explosive. The job might end up in the hands of Demetrius McCray, who is also undersized but is equally electric. Notre Dame transfer Chauncey Incarnato may be the Hoosiers best lineman, but it is unclear where he will figure in at this point. If he finds a starting job, he could blossom into a standout player.