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The Associated Press | April 25, 2019

College football: Big 12 players poised for potential breakouts this season

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Some of the Big 12 Conference players who could have breakout seasons and be impact players in 2019:


WR R.J. Sneed, sophomore. Forgotten a bit after getting hurt as a true freshman in 2017, and appearing in only three games last season, Sneed is healthy and could become a significant target for quarterback Charlie Brewer. Sneed is among several talented young receivers the Bears still have after the departure of Jalen Hurd, the converted running back who led the team in receiving last season.

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RB Kene Nwangwu, junior. With star David Montgomery off to the NFL, Nwangwu will get a shot at proving he can be Iowa State’s primary back. Nwangwu has been a standout as a returner for the Cyclones, leading the Big 12 and ranking 12th nationally in kickoff return last season with a 26.8 yard average.


RB Pooka Williams, sophomore. Without question the best playmaker inherited by new coach Les Miles, Williams was supposed to be the kind of featured running back that could make his offense hum. But his future remains cloudy after he was granted a diversion by the Douglas County district attorney for a domestic battery charge that landed him a suspension from the program. The Jayhawks have some other options in Dom Williams and freshman Amauri Pesek-Hickson.

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QB Skylar Thompson, junior. The veteran quarterback has already flourished in new coach Chris Klieman’s offensive system, which appears to be better suited to his ability than the read-and-react system of Bill Snyder. The Wildcats are desperately short of running backs, too, so Thompson’s ability to deliver the ball downfield will be of paramount importance this fall.


QB Jalen Hurts, graduate transfer. The transfer from Alabama looks right at home in coach Lincoln Riley’s offense. Hurts completed 11 of 14 passes for 174 yards and a touchdown, and he ran for another score in the spring game. Hurts won a national title and played for another as a starter at Alabama.

Hurts is also stretching his wings as a leader. After one of the spring game scores, he had the team pose for a photo — something he never would have done while playing for Nick Saban.

“We took one, and I said, ‘Yeah, I ain’t doing that at the other place — at Alabama.’ ... I probably would have gotten a chewing for that one,” he said.


QBs Spencer Sanders, redshirt freshman, or Dru Brown, senior. Sanders was the prize of Oklahoma State’s recruiting class two years ago. He watched and waited as a redshirt last season while fifth-year senior Taylor Cornelius had a strong campaign. He has battled with Brown throughout the spring. Brown had two years of experience as a starter at Hawaii before redshirting last season. Coach Mike Gundy hasn’t revealed much about the competition, other than to say Sanders and Brown are sharing reps. Both have had to adjust to new offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson.


RB Jordan Whittington, freshman. One of the nation’s top-rated athletes, he had a record-setting performance in a Texas high school championship game in December before enrolling early at Texas. He is expected to provide immediate help at running back. In the spring game, let had 12 carries for 62 yards, and four catches.

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S/LB La’Kendrick Van Zandt, sophomore. The versatile 6-foot-1 defender got sidetracked early at TCU when he suffered a season-ending injury in the 2017 season opener as a true freshman. He got into 10 games last year. During one of the final spring practices, Van Zandt took part in about 190 plays, with every snap with the No. 1 defense at strong safety and every snap at linebacker with the No. 2 defense. He could play significantly at both spots.


WR Erik Ezukanma, redshirt freshman. The 6-foot-3 Ezukanma appeared in only two games last season, when he had two catches for 48 yards with a 44-yard touchdown. He had a tremendous spring and could get a chance to be another big-time receiver for the Red Raiders. Remember: NFL hopeful Antoine Wesley had 88 catches for 1,410 yards and nine touchdowns as a junior for the Red Raiders last year after just 10 catches the previous two seasons.

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WR T.J. Simmons, junior. An Alabama transfer, Simmons was fourth on the team last season as a sophomore with 28 catches for 341 yards and takes over the leadership of a unit that bid farewell to playmakers David Sills (65 catches, 986 yards, 15 TDs) and Gary Jennings (54 catches, 917 yards, 13 TDs). Speedster Marcus Simms (46 catches, 699 yards, two TDs) sat out spring practices with what new Mountaineers coach Neal Brown termed a personal issue. Simms, a senior, remains a question mark heading into the fall.

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