Very few people knew the name Johnny Manziel at this time last year. Twelve months later, the Texas A&M quarterback is the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and sits in the center of the college football landscape.
This season, we’ll sit back and watch as other names emerge and become difference-makers or even Heisman Trophy contenders for their teams. The Big 12 is littered with candidates who fit the bill, but none of them seems more prepared to make that leap than Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty. And if the Bears can compete for the Big 12 title, don't be surprised if Petty can work his way into the Heisman conversation.
The junior quarterback has spent his college career as an apprentice to Robert Griffin III and Nick Florence, two of the conference’s most productive quarterbacks in the past two seasons. At 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, Petty brings great size and a live arm to the Bears’ backfield alongside running back Lache Seastrunk and has a deep group of talented, though somewhat inexperienced, receiving targets led by Tevin Reese.
Thanks to a talented surrounding cast, Petty doesn’t feel pressured to be as productive as Griffin and Florence.
“I really don’t,” he said. “I think that’s because [making plays] is what I was brought here to do. There’s no pressure to do that. I feel like the guys I have around me are going to make that happen, I just need to get the ball to them.”
The early returns are good for Petty, who was 11-of-16 for 166 yards and one touchdown in the Bears’ scrimmage on Aug. 10. He appears to be getting much more comfortable as a main man behind center.
“Bryce is more calm and collected,” Seastrunk said. “He’s making better decisions. It’s great to see.”
Petty isn’t the only relatively unknown name that could make major waves in the Big 12 in 2013. Here’s a look at one candidate from each school who could rise from unknown to game changer this season.
CB Charlie Rogers, Iowa State: The redshirt freshman is poised to start at cornerback. At 6-1, 202 pounds, Rogers brings unique size to the perimeter and has shown terrific improvement since he arrived in Ames, Iowa.
TE Jimmay Mundine, Kansas: The junior enters the season with 21 career receptions in two seasons but might be ready for a breakout season in 2013. He could emerge as the favorite target of quarterback Jake Heaps as teams focus on slowing running back James Sims.
S Dante Barnett, Kansas State: He played in all 13 games as a true freshman, recording 24 tackles while helping the Wildcats earn a BCS berth. He should embrace a much larger role as a sophomore in KSU’s secondary.
WR Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma: Shepard was so impressive as a freshman, he helped transform the Sooners’ offense into a four-receiver attack. He finished his first year with 45 receptions for 621 yards and three touchdowns and is poised to become a primary target alongside Jalen Saunders as a sophomore.
WR Jhajuan Seales, Oklahoma State: As the next Cowboy to don No. 81, the name Justin Blackmon looms over Seales’ shoulder. Fortunately for OSU, he seems to have the size, power and athleticism to rise to the occasion. The buzz in Stillwater says Seales is destined to be a game changer in the future. And the future could be as early as this year.
WR Daje Johnson, Texas: Every time he touched the football as a true freshman, he was electric. With the Longhorns turning up the tempo, it could provide Johnson more opportunities to use his game-breaking speed to terrorize defenders.
RB Aaron Green, TCU: A well-known name out of high school, Green sat out last season after transferring from Nebraska. Even though the Horned Frogs have some quality running backs already in the fold, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Green rise to the top of the depth chart and emerge as one of the Big 12’s top runners.
LB Micah Awe, Texas Tech: One of two true freshmen to escape a redshirt season for the Red Raiders in 2012, Awe is poised to start at linebacker as a sophomore. With natural football instincts, a physical mentality and leadership skills, he could be the anchor of the Red Raiders' defense.
WR Mario Alford, West Virginia: The junior college transfer could help Mountaineers fans get over the loss of Tavon Austin. At 5-9, 175 pounds, Alford is another quick, versatile talent at the disposal of Dana Holgorsen.