July 29, 2009

By Adam Caparell

College football fans know the names Sam Bradford, Jahvid Best, Dez Bryant, Jerry Hughes, Brandon Spikes and Taylor Mays. But do the names T.Y. Hilton and Greg Romeus ring a bell?

Here’s a look at a few players at their respective positions who could be due for breakout seasons this fall, potentially granting them household name status by the time the 2010 season rolls around.

Russell Wilson, QB, N.C. State
Maybe he shouldn’t qualify because he already garnered All-ACC honors as a freshman, but Russell is arguably the most dynamic quarterback in the Atlantic Coast Conference – and that’s saying something, considering Tyrod Taylor lines up under center at Virginia Tech. Russell threw for 1,955 yards, 17 TDs and just 1 INT last year along with another four rushing scores. A top-notch athlete and danger to make big plays out of seemingly nothing, with a more experienced supporting cast due back for the Wolfpack, expect big things out of the sophomore this fall.

Da’Rel Scott, RB, Maryland
Scott’s ascent to national consciousness might be harder than most because Maryland is essentially rebuilding its offensive line this season. That means one of two things: Either Scott struggles to find open holes or puts his supply of shimmies and shakes to good use and breaks off highlight-caliber runs to surpass the 1,133 yards and 8 scores he totaled in 2008.

DeAndre Brown, WR, Southern Miss
As a freshman, Brown caught a school-record 67 passes for 1,117 yards and 12 scores. Few receivers – let alone freshmen – put up those kinds of numbers last year. But playing in Conference USA can overshadow some very talented players and Brown – who is battling back from a broken leg suffered in the New Orleans Bowl last December – should be in the same conversation as Julio Jones and A.J. Green with another season like 2008. As long as he’s healthy, of course.

Greg Romeus, DE, Pittsburgh
He seems to be on the verge of becoming a dominating pass rusher after a two sack performance in the Sun Bowl this past January. It’s amazing that this Florida native, with plenty of speed, talent and considerable upside, slipped through the grasp of any Sunshine State team. Romeus finished 2008 with 51 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks and three blocked kicks. George Selvie might get all the attention in the Big East as the conference’s best pass rusher, but Romeus could wrestle the title from him when this year’s over.

Marvin Austin, DT, North Carolina
If you follow recruiting, then you know Austin’s decision to go to UNC was a huge get for the Tar Heels a few seasons ago. His stat line is relatively bare after two seasons –14 starts, 5 sacks, 1 INT – but everyone seems to agree that Austin has the pedigree to be among the nation’s top tackles. And with North Carolina expected to be contender in the ACC, more will be expected out of Austin.

Travis Lewis, LB, Oklahoma
The Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year in 2008 might not register on many football fans’ radar considering the number of quality linebackers there are out there, especially in the Big Ten and SEC. But Lewis’ Oklahoma freshman record of 144 tackles in the offensive-minded Big 12 speaks volumes to his makeup and skill level. Entering his redshirt sophomore season, Lewis will be surrounded by seven other returning starters, one of which – DT Gerald McCoy – will garner most of the attention for the Sooners defense this year. Safe to say he had a pretty good first season for someone who started his career at Oklahoma as a running back.

Ras-I Dowling, CB, Virginia
Dowling’s 2008 numbers won’t blow you away – team leading three interceptions and 11 pass breakups – but don’t think for a second that Dowling is not impressive. Standing at 6-foot-2, Dowling is on the tall side for corners, making him a tough defender for almost any wide receiver. Entering his junior season, Dowling is among the top returning defenders for a Cavs squad that allowed just 183.7 yards per game via the pass last season.

T.Y. Hilton, WR/KR/PR, Florida International
As a freshman last season, Hilton finished third in the nation in all-purpose yards, averaging 180.25 per game. He’s dangerous lining up at receiver and he’s a blur returning punts and kicks. He ran back a punt and a kick for scores last season and at 5-foot-10, he’s very deceptive running behind his band of blockers.