It’s easy to talk about a redshirt freshman who could break out or a senior who could covet national honors. But often times, we forget about the upperclassmen breakout candidates in college football.
Here are seven B1G veterans who could emerge in 2017:
1. Christian Campbell, Penn State CB
One man’s bad luck is another man’s opportunity. That could be the case for Campbell following the injury to John Reid. The 6-1 senior figures to finally get a significant increase in his workload after three seasons of backup reps.
Campbell only has three career starts, one of which was back when he was a true freshman in 2014. But Campbell, who battled injuries throughout his career, does have 30 games worth of experience under his belt.
On top of that, James Franklin said that he had his best offseason yet heading into fall camp.
“We were joking around with him, saying this is a contract year for him,” Franklin said via the Centre Daily Times. “It’s his last year, and he knows he has to capitalize on it. …We’re expecting big things from him.”
2. Johnnie Dixon, Ohio State WR
If the spring game was any indication, this is finally going to be the year that Dixon stays on the field and becomes a force in the Ohio State offense.
Knee injuries derailed what looked like a promising career for the former U.S. Army All-America Bowl wideout. Dixon’s “grandpa’s knees” hindered his development in the Ohio State offense. But after he posted 108 receiving yards and two scores in the spring game, there’s hope that Dixon is physically and mentally ready to emerge.
Keep in mind that a pair of oft-injured defensive backs went from first-time starters to first-rounders on a matter of months. There’s no guarantee that Dixon can follow that unlikely path, but the odds are looking better than ever for him to become one of J.T. Barrett’s go-to targets in 2017.
3. Rashad Still, Minnesota WR
Under Jerry Kill/Tracy Claeys, there seemed to be a ceiling for the potential of Minnesota’s receivers. Under P.J. Fleck, there shouldn’t be.
Still could be the perfect example of that. The 6-5 junior had 18 catches in each of his first two seasons in Minneapolis.
But early signs point to Still’s production increasing. Look at what Fleck said about Still a few weeks ago.
“He has to be a bell cow,” Fleck said via the Pioneer Press. “There isn’t like, ‘Well, if I develop, maybe they’ll throw me the ball.’ We’re gonna throw that guy the ball. We’re gonna throw him— I mean, (No.) 88 will get the football.
“And, I told him earlier in the week, I said, ‘You can either handle this like a mature man and understand what I’m telling you, that you are going to get the ball and stop working, or you know you’re gonna get the football and you change your best and become one of the best wide receivers in the Big Ten.”
Besides having a new quarterback to throw him the ball, Still also has a new offense to work with. That same offense saw Corey Davis go from two-star recruit to No. 5 overall pick at Western Michigan. That’s not to say that Still is in for that kind of success, but that Minnesota wide receiver ceiling should be nonexistent with Fleck.
4. Jake Gervase, Iowa S
In case you didn’t catch the Iowa spring game, Gervase is pretty good at football. Any time a guy makes THREE interceptions, he deserves a second look.
Pick No. 2 of the evening for Jake Gervase, and Jake takes this one to the crib: https://t.co/fc6DCJGHYv
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) April 22, 2017
Gervase was billed as the replacement for Brandon Snyder, who went down with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the spring. Like Snyder, Gervase was a walk-on who earned snaps by making plays on special teams.
There’s no guarantee that Gervase will provide the run-stopping ability that Snyder did, but anyone worried about Iowa’s secondary had to be encouraged by what they saw from Gervase.
And without Desmond King anchoring the secondary, there should be more interceptions to go around.
5. Ian Bunting, Michigan TE
Remember when Jake Butt went down in the Orange Bowl and Michigan STILL got big-time production from the tight end position? Yeah, that was Bunting’s doing. That could’ve been a sign of what’s to come in Ann Arbor.
Even without Butt and Devin Asiasi, who transferred, Bunting is one of several tight ends who should see significant reps in 2017. Tyrone Wheatley, Jr., Nick Eubanks and Zach Gentry could all be in the mix, but Bunting might be the best option to fill Butt’s role as a pass-catcher.
Bunting doesn’t have the hands that Butt had, and it remains to be seen how effective he can be with increased reps. Still, Michigan gets as much production form its tight ends as anyone and with Bunting, that shouldn’t change.
6. Damian Prince, Maryland OL
It wasn’t that long ago that Prince came to Maryland as a five-star recruit. Remember this?
In his first three seasons in College Park, Prince was not a five-star force. Even though he did help pave the way for Maryland’s best rushing total in 13 years — most of that returns in 2017 — Prince wasn’t the standout up front.
But there are still some big-time expectations for him. Bleacher Report NFL draft scout Matt Miller rated Prince as his No. 2 guard in the 2018 draft class. That will only come to fruition if Prince improves in pass protection. He was part of a unit that ranked 127th out of 128 FBS teams with 3.77 sacks allowed per game.
With a new quarterback, that could change. Some rare year-to-year continuity at Maryland could be big. Or perhaps another year of getting stronger and improving his technique will make the difference for Prince.
Whatever the case, there’s plenty of reason to believe that Prince can maximize his big-time potential in his redshirt junior season.
7. Natrell Jamerson, Wisconsin S
Injuries and position switches certainly played a part in Jamerson’s unsettled role. This spring, however, he might’ve finally found a home.
Jamerson is being billed as Leo Musso’s replacement at free safety. Teams could already try and avoid ballhawking Wisconsin safety D’Cota Dixon, which could make for plenty of opportunities for Jamerson. The Badger secondary thrived on forced passes because of the pressure provided by the front seven. Dixoon and Jamerson could become big-time beneficiaries of that.
In addition to his new role as Wisconsin’s starting free safety, Jamerson is capable of becoming one the better return specialists in the country.
Here’s hoping the versatile Jamerson avoids any more injuries and car wrecks.
First car… first wreck… Big man upstairs had me covered 🙏🏾. Ima miss my lil baby 😭 pic.twitter.com/crQg5YnnHn
— Natrell Jamerson (@Trellionn12) May 1, 2017