Breakout Watch – Moving Up And Moving Out

Every year as a college football fan, it’s exciting but sometimes challenging to try and pinpoint who the next breakout star is going to be. Some guys inherently blow up since the starter in front of them departed for the NFL. That door doesn’t always open so easily though, due to the new transfer portal being in place.

So let’s look at a few players that I think are going to break out due to waiting their turn. On the flip side, I’ll spotlight some other players who are stars in the making that are products of the transfer portal.

The Internal Promotions

Michigan Running Back Donovan Edwards

Even though Michigan has the stress of dealing with a quarterback battle this offseason, the running back room couldn’t be in better hands. That’s astonishing, considering they have to replace a very productive starter in Hassan Haskins. Last season, he accounted for nearly 1,500 total yards and 20 TDs on the ground.

Even with Haskins’ solid season, his partner Blake Corum proved to be just as important with nearly 1,000 yards and 12 TDs of his own. They had a real thunder and lightning aspect as Haskins was the heavy hitter, while Corum was all flash with his shiftiness and big play nature. 

This year will be Edwards turn to break out, and possibly lock down the top running back spot.

The reason I say this is because even though Corum likely has the higher ceiling, his role as the spell/change of pace back is imperative. Edwards’ ability as a receiver out of the backfield adds another dynamic as he can put linebackers on skates with an angle route, or blow past a safety on a wheel route. He also has a noticeable burst and ability to blast through a hole to hit an impressive top speed in the open field.

It’ll still be a split effort in the backfield for the Wolverines, but Edwards’ workload will be significant. Keeping Corum healthy is what anchors Michigan’s hopes of retaining the Big Ten crown and getting back to the College Football Playoffs.

Ohio State Wide Receiver Emeka Egbuka

It’s hard to believe that the offense that led the country last year in both yards per game (561.5) and yards per play (7.96) could be even better next season. Spoiler alert…they can be. Quarterback C.J. Stroud is coming in with a full season of experience under his belt, and of course running back TreVeyon Henderson is looking to build off a fabulous freshman campaign. The big question is who is going to fill the 135 catch, 1,994 yard and 25 TD crater left by Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave’s departure?

No doubt Jaxon Smith-Njigba (JSN), even though working primarily from the slot, will be the number one guy due to his nature to get open and the chemistry he has with Stroud. To answer the previous question on who breaks out next to JSN, I have to roll with Egbuka. After a stellar Rose Bowl and some ridiculous offseason videos, many fingers point towards Marvin Harrison Jr, while others have pointed to Julian Fleming. Both will get plenty of snaps in the fall, but as Lee Corso would say…”Not so fast!”

Egbuka is electric with the ball in his hands and is very much a floater, just as Wilson was, who could run any of the wideout positions. Also,  as seen from a practice video he was third in line for the wideout drills, right behind JSN and Harrison Jr. Egbuka runs crisp routes and has such a great ability to put the defender on his hip and haul the ball in over his shoulder on deep routes.

The respect that JSN and Harrison Jr. command will allow him to get favorable matchups, and my guess would be that he ends up around 65 catches, right at or above 1,000 yards and 10 TDs. Even though those would be stellar stats as a first year starter, there’s one more reason Egbuka is the choice here: he became the kickoff return man mid-season and nearly busted two or three to the house. Ohio State hasn’t had a kick return TD in years and my prediction is he breaks the slump and possibly houses more than one.

The Transfers

Ole Miss Running Back Zach Evans

Almost everything that has taken place in Zach Evans’ life since his recruitment out of high school has seemingly been a bit…unpredictable.

On December 21st, 2019 he was sent home and deemed unable to play for his North Shore squad in the state championship game due to not giving up his cell phone. Then a few weeks later he signed his letter of intent to attend Georgia, but that fell through on January 2nd and he was released from the school. Evans finally made his commitment to enroll at TCU in May of 2020, which allowed things to start to fall into place.

Once his path was illuminated though, Evans shot out of gates like a cannon. In his freshman campaign he was one of the top ball carriers in the country based on average, tallying 7.7 yards per carry. Even though as a sophomore that number dipped slightly to 7.0, it was still good enough to be fourth best in all of college football. During his time at TCU, he showed flashes of why he was the #1 running back in his class, but his on the field progression hasn’t been completely put together.

This is where Lane Kiffin and his offensive expertise comes into play. His offense was ranked sixth nationally, averaging 492.5 yards per game last season. More specifically, they ranked 12th in rushing with 217.6 yards per game. Stats are great and all but why exactly did I choose Evans? Here’s why:

Ole Miss is another school dealing with a quarterback battle in fall camp, and the only way to alleviate the potential struggles of not having the sure starter is to lean heavily on the run game. Kiffin isn’t just one of the best play callers, but he’s one of the best play designers in the game who will play to the strengths of his running back room and get them into ideal situations.

Evans’ best qualities are his decisiveness, balance and strength which he combines with a home-run hitting top speed. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if he finds his way into the Heisman Trophy talks while leading the SEC in rushing.

Arizona Wide Receiver Jacob Cowing

Cowing is actually a player I’ve wrote about in numerous articles because I love his game. He started his career at UTEP and never really got the recognition he deserved. The move to a Power Five school in Arizona is a good one because it’ll get his name out there, but also he’ll be playing with the best quarterback he’s had so far in college with Washington State transfer, Jayden de Laura.

The beginning of 2020 is when I decided to start writing and I started small. Conference USA is the first place I went and Cowing caught my eye immediately. He was a true freshman who led UTEP in yards, TDs (tied for lead with three) and most notably, average. I was blown away by his 17.7 yards per reception, which was top 40 in the nation.

How he got the average is what got my attention. He reminds me a lot of Jarvis Landry, who is an elite route runner, and once he gets the ball in his hands he becomes a running back. This showed to be true much of last season as he would take an out route or a curl and turn it into a 15 or 20 yard gain by making the first defender miss. Cowing’s ability to stop and start is eye opening, just as much as it is that he gets up to speed in a hurry.

His 19.6 yards per catch put him up to 10th in the nation last season, much because of his previously mentioned catch and run ability.

For example, one of his TDs against New Mexico State came off what looked to be a post curl where he slammed on the brakes and reversed field going untouched on his 46 yards after the catch to the house. His best catch and run was a 48 yard score against Boise State in which Cowing ran a crisp “V” route from the slot, turning a 3rd & 8 into three broken tackles and 42 yards across the blue turf into the orange endzone. Can’t forget to add the reverse where he froze a defender with the euro step juke and turned on the burners for a 53 yard TD.

The bottom line is Cowing is a receiver who was far too good to be playing in Conference USA, and this move will be great for him to get the recognition he deserves. His top 10 worthy 1,354 yards weren’t a fluke, and not all catch and runs as he was able to attack teams down the seams, as well as deep outside the numbers. The catch in traffic ability is amazing for being under six foot as well.

Derek Worley

Sports Analyst

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