If Denard Robinson leads Michigan to an upset of Alabama this weekend he’ll easily elevate his Heisman campaign. But a loss won’t really detract from his name recognition across the college football landscape.
But before Robinson became a household name, it took a breakout game a couple of years ago for everyone to take notice. He actually went on a five- or six-game run that had him in the Heisman race as a sophomore.
So we know a big week can make people take notice.
Who has a good chance to make a big impact in the first week of 2012? Here’s a good place to start.
10. Shaq Roland, WR, South Carolina
With the loss of Alshon Jeffrey to the NFL, Steve Spurrier is looking for his next big target at receiver. Roland will get his shot in the opener at Vanderbilt Thursday, and Spurrier has been pleased with the former Mr. Football in South Carolina.
Roland is proving to be a tough competitor, who is living up to the overwhelming hype and crazy expectations as he grew up just 30 minutes from Columbia, S.C.
He provides depth at receiver and once Connor Shaw develops a rapport with Roland, he could quickly become the Gamecocks’ top receiver.
9. Tyler Tettleton, QB, Ohio
Tyler Tettleton has a semi-famous name as the son of former Major Leaguer Mickey Tettleton. He also had a huge 2011, so it’s not like he’s a complete unknown,
But if Tettleton does what I think he can at Penn State in the opener, he will raise his profile to a level that no other Bobcat since Gary Trent did on the basketball court as the Shaq of the MAC.
He won’t be mistaken for Denard Robinson, but Tettleton is the MAC’s best dual-threat quarterback. Now we’ll see if Penn State can handle him.
8. Mustafa Jalil, DE, California
Jalil is slated as a second-string defensive end, but the 300-pounder has the potential to be a game-changer on defense.
He saw considerable action as a true freshman. He has been banged up a bit this offseason, but with Cal opening with Nevada there’s a good chance he’ll be back on the field.
7. Duke Johnson, RB, Miami
Johnson is a real burner and he’s just what the Hurricanes need to get their offense going. He’s not the starter yet, so this prediction may be a bit premature.
Something tells me, though, that he’ll get a shot against Boston College and it will be hard to get him out of the game.
No matter how many carries he gets, Johnson is going to make a big impression on the road Saturday.
6. Michael Holmes, RB, Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech has a tough opener with Georgia Tech and the Hokies will rely on quarterback Logan Thomas to lead the offense.
But when Virginia Tech is at its best it always has a reliable running game. Enter Holmes, who is replacing one of the best backs in Tech history (David Wilson).
Holmes isn’t a flashy back, but he has great vision and earns the tough yards through his power runs.
5. Wes Lunt, QB, Oklahoma State
The 18-year-old true freshman is all ready to take over for the defending Big 12 champs.
The 6-foot-4 hard-throwing quarterback has caused quite a stir among the OSU fanbase, but this will be the first time a larger audience gets to see him in action. OK, it won’t be a huge audience, but he should have a huge game against Savannah State.
Any time a true freshman quarterback has a huge season opener there are pundits all over the place who want to dissect his every move.
4. Robert Caldwell, LB, North Carolina State
Caldwell is a transfer from College of the Desert in Palm Desert, Calif., and Tom O’Brien is expecting big things from him every week. It’s easy to see how the 6-foot-3, 245-pounder could step up big against Tennessee in a nationally televised game.
With a lack of depth at linebacker, Caldwell must become the playmaker that everyone believes he can.
His athleticism and ability to rush the quarterback could cause Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray to force some passes.
3. Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
One of the top JUCO receivers last year, Patterson chose Tennessee despite some top returning talent coming back.
Now Tennessee’s top receiver Da’Rick Rogers has been suspended and Patterson will be asked to fill the void. With Tyler Bray throwing the ball there’s a good chance Patterson will have a big game against North Carolina State on Friday night.
If Patterson picks up the Vols’ offense quick enough and he utilizes his natural ability, he could become a superstar for Tennessee.
2. Joe Southwick, QB, Boise State
Whether Southwick can lead Boise to an upset at Michigan State or not won’t really matter.
The Broncos new quarterback will establish himself as the next great Boise quarterback, and once again show us all why Chris Petersen is such a great coach.
Southwick will experience a hiccup or two because of the Spartans defense, but officially closing the book on Kellen Moore will be made a little easier for the Boise faithful.
1. Andrew Maxwell, QB, Michigan State
Maxwell is a junior, but he didn’t see much game time backing up Kirk Cousins — the winningest quarterback in school history — the past two years.
Yet, Maxwell might be quarterbacking the best team in the Big Ten. Maxwell and the Michigan State fans may have preferred an easy opener to get his feet wet, but instead he’ll get his first start against Boise State.
The Broncos may not be the same giant-beaters that they have been in recent years, but don’t ever underestimate a Chris Petersen-coached team.
But if Maxwell leads Michigan State to a convincing win at home Friday over Boise then the rest of the Big Ten will take note.
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