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AthlonSports.com is a leading website for preseason and in-season football previews, predictions, rankings and analysis. Projecting college football ’s breakout players for any given season is no easy assignment. After all, each person has a different take on what a “breakout player” is, and college football is always home to several new faces throughout the season. While it’s difficult to label breakout players, the new stars of any season can have a huge impact on conference championship or national title races. With kickoff for the 2015 season just a few days away, Athlon Sports is taking a look at 50 players who could be poised for a breakout year from the Power 5 conferences and Notre Dame. Players from every position were included, and a few true freshmen cracked the list. Best Units in CFB: RB | WR | OL | DL | LB | DB College Football's Top 50 Breakout Players for 2015 50. Mike Freeze, LB, TCU The back seven of TCU’s defense must be retooled this offseason. The Horned Frogs lost standout linebackers Paul Dawson and Marcus Mallet, and the secondary lost three all-conference performers. The linebacker position was a work in progress for coach Gary Patterson in the spring, but Freeze made a push for a starting job after enrolling early in spring practice. The three-star recruit is penciled in as one of TCU’s starting linebackers. 49. Andrew Brown, DT, Virginia After battling injuries in his freshman campaign, the Virginia coaching staff hopes for bigger and better things from Brown in 2015. As a five-star recruit, Brown was pegged as an impact newcomer in the ACC last year. But Brown never got on track, finishing with four tackles in six games. He needs to be a difference maker for the Cavaliers in 2015. 48. Nazair Jones, DT, North Carolina Jones is a key cog in new coordinator Gene Chizik’s efforts to improve North Carolina’s defense in 2015. As a redshirt freshman last season, Jones recorded 35 stops (7.5 for a loss), 2.5 sacks and one forced fumble. With another offseason to develop in the weight room, as well an offseason to learn under Chizik and new line coach Tray Scott, look for Jones to make an even bigger impact this fall. 47. ?Steven Parker, S, Oklahoma The Sooners certainly have room to improve in the defensive secondary after giving up 24 plays of 30 yards or more last season. Cornerback Zack Sanchez is one of the best in the nation, but new secondary coach Kerry Cooks is looking for players to step up at the other positions. Parker is expected to take on a bigger role this season after playing in 13 games in 2014. The sophomore recorded 31 tackles, one sack and six pass breakups in limited action. 46. Connor Williams, OT, Texas Joe Wickline is one of the best offensive line coaches in the nation, and the Longhorns will be looking for improvement up front after inconsistent play in 2014. Four starters are back, but the lineup and starters may change with added competition through the recruiting ranks. Williams enrolled in time to compete in spring practice, and the true freshman is pushing for the starting job at left tackle. 45. ?Derwin Gray/Damian Prince, OT, Maryland Gray and Prince are two reasons to be optimistic about improvement for Maryland’s offensive line in 2015. This duo was a key pickup on the recruiting trail for the Terrapins in 2014 and redshirted in their first season on campus. Gray suffered a shoulder injury in the spring, but he should return in September. Prince also battled injuries late in fall camp. This redshirt freshman duo should anchor the Maryland offensive line for the next few seasons. 44. Thomas Sirk, QB, Duke Duke coach David Cutcliffe is one of the best quarterback/offensive minds in college football. Expect Cutcliffe to work his magic once again in 2015, as Sirk replaces Anthony Boone as the Blue Devils’ starter. The junior was sharp in limited action last season, throwing for 67 yards and three touchdowns on 10 completions. He also added 238 rushing yards and eight scores. 43. Robert Foster/ArDarius Stewart, WR, Alabama Alabama’s passing attack has to be retooled this offseason. Quarterback Blake Sims has expired his eligibility, and the Crimson Tide must replace the top three receivers from last year, including No. 1 target Amari Cooper (124 catches in 2014). Foster and Stewart are the leading candidates to replace Cooper as the go-to option in the passing attack. This duo combined for 18 catches last season. 42. ?Jeb Blazevich, TE, Georgia Georgia’s receiving corps is a question mark, but the concerns over this unit could be eased if Blazevich is more involved in the passing attack in 2014. As a true freshman last year, Blazevich caught 18 passes for 269 yards and two scores. The North Carolina native should be in the mix for All- SEC honors in 2015. 41. Michael Dieter, OL, Wisconsin It’s safe to assume Wisconsin will field a strong offensive line once again in 2015. However, the Badgers are dealing with a few injuries and overall uncertainty about the position battles in the trenches this fall. There’s work to be done up front, but the coaching staff should feel secure in three positions (left tackle Tyler Marz, center Dan Voltz and Dieter at right guard). After a redshirt season in 2014, Dieter is poised to be a key cog in Wisconsin’s revamped line. Related: College Football's Top 30 Offensive Lines for 2015 40. Grant Haley, CB, Penn State Penn State’s secondary should be among the best in the Big Ten this season. Coordinator Bob Shoop is making a couple of tweaks to this unit, as Jordan Lucas shifts from corner to safety, opening the door for Haley to start. He played in 13 games for the Nittany Lions as a true freshman last season, recording 18 tackles, one interception and two pass breakups. 39. ?Marquavius Lewis, DE, South Carolina Improving the performance of the defensive line is a huge priority for new co-defensive coordinator Jon Hoke this offseason. The Gamecocks registered only 14 sacks last year and surrendered 212.2 rushing yards per game. Lewis is expected to be an impact junior college recruit for Hoke after two standout years at Hutchinson Community College. The South Carolina native was the Jayhawk Conference Defensive Player of the Year and registered 11 sacks in 2014. 38. Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M Texas A&M’s receiving corps was already one of the best in the nation, and the rich are about to get a little richer in 2015. True freshman Christian Kirk is expected to push for a starting job at one of the inside spots in Texas A&M’s receiver lineup. The Arizona native ranked as the No. 25 recruit in the 2015 247Sports and is expected to be one of the SEC’s top freshman performers in 2015. Related: SEC Football Predictions for 2015 37. ?Alvin Kamara, RB, Tennessee Jalen Hurd returns after leading Tennessee with 899 rushing yards in 2014, but the Volunteers’ backfield will be even deeper with the addition of Kamara from the junior college ranks. Kamara started his career at Alabama and transferred after one year in Tuscaloosa. In nine games in 2014, Kamara rushed for 1,211 yards and 18 scores with Hutchinson Community College. Expect Kamara and Hurd to share the workload in Tennessee’s backfield, which has the potential to emerge as one of the best in the SEC this season. 36. Elijah Lee, LB, Kansas State With the departures of quarterback Jake Waters and receiver Tyler Lockett, Kansas State has to lean on its defense in 2015. With six starters back, there’s plenty of talent for coordinator Tom Hayes to rely on. Lee is another impact defender to watch for Hayes, as he impressed in 13 games as a freshman last season. Lee recorded 19 tackles and 4.5 sacks in limited action and should push for all-conference honors in his first full year as a starter. 35. ?Deon Hollins, LB, UCLA UCLA’s pass rush needs a spark after recording only 29 sacks in 13 games last season. Could Hollins be the answer for new coordinator Tom Bradley? The Texas native led the team with nine sacks, with six of those coming over the final four games of 2014. Hollins recorded three sacks against Kansas State and one in the 38-20 win over rival USC. The junior’s ability to get to the quarterback should help UCLA create a lot of havoc at the line of scrimmage. 34. Boom Williams, RB, Kentucky If last season’s finale against Louisville was any indication of what to expect from Williams in 2015, the sophomore is in for a huge year. On 18 carries against the Cardinals, Williams recorded 126 rushing yards and two scores and caught three passes for 13 yards. Williams only received 74 carries, but he averaged a healthy 6.6 yards per carry and accumulated 115.9 all-purpose yards a game in 2014. 33. Dravon Henry, S, West Virginia High expectations followed Henry in 2014, and the true freshman turned in a solid debut for coordinator Tony Gibson. In 13 games, Henry recorded 45 tackles (one for a loss), two interceptions and two pass breakups. With cornerback Daryl Worley and safety Karl Joseph established as stars, combined with Henry’s development, the Mountaineers should have one of the nation’s top defensive backfields. Related: College Football 2015 All-America Team 32. Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA It wasn't unexpected, but coach Jim Mora officially appointed Rosen as UCLA's starter for Week 1 last week. The California native was a five-star recruit in the 2015 signing class and the No. 1 ranked quarterback by the 247Sports Composite. If Rosen is as good as advertised, the concerns about the quarterback spot after losing Brett Hundley will dissipate. 31. De’Mornay Pierson-El, WR, NebraskaRead more...
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