Editor's Note: The Red & Black's two football beat writers, Ryan Black and Robbie Ottley, and Red & Black sports editor Nicholas Fouriezos sat down to preview which players they think will exceed expectations this season. We will continue this preview series daily until the start of the college football season on Thursday, Aug. 30.
Ryan Black: Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama — First there was Mark Ingram. Then there was Trent Richardson. And now, after biding his time behind those two standouts, junior Eddie Lacy finally gets his time to be the go-to player in the Crimson Tide's backfield. Though his combined stats over the past two years (151 carries, 1,080 yards and 13 touchdowns) may not seem impressive to some, keep in mind that he was never higher than second on the depth chart in either of those seasons. And just look at how jaw-dropping his numbers are when you average them out: 7.25 yards per carry in 2010, followed by a 7.10 yards per rush effort last season. While those numbers will undoubtedly drop in 2012 given his increased workload, his raw numbers (more carries and more yards) will improve to make up for the lower average.
Lacy, to his credit, has embraced the pressure that comes with being the next-in-line at a position where a Heisman Trophy winner and finalist, respectively, are his immediate predecessors. Will Lacy deserve to have his name mentioned alongside Ingram and Richardson when he departs Tuscaloosa? No one knows that answer just yet. One thing is certain, though: this season, the Crimson Tide will give him every opportunity to prove he does belong in the same breath as those two.
Robbie Ottley: Kiehl Frazier, QB, Auburn — He may be just a sophomore, but Kiehl Frazier is one of the best-prepared young players to step into the quarterback position in the SEC. The Arkansas native’s talent became especially apparent in his senior season in high school, when he threw for 2975 yards and ran for 1164 yards and was named USA Today’s offensive player of the year. He also led his team to a third straight Class 4A state title, all three of which featured him as the starter.
Frazier saw limited, but valuable, action in 2011 as a Wildcat quarterback, rushing for 343 yards, passing for 34 and appearing in every game of the season. Perhaps most importantly, Frazier has been heir to the quarterback throne essentially since his arrival, and has been groomed for the position in his year on campus. Comparisons to Cam Newton are not uncommon, given Frazier’s strength as both a ground and air threat. However, Frazier probably won’t be leading the Tigers to a national championship this year, or picking up a Heisman along the way — he isn’t surrounded by the championship-caliber team that Newton was, and it would be pretty exceptional for a sophomore to pull off a trip to Miami.
Also, Newton was basically Auburn’s Herschel, and lightning probably won’t be striking twice in the loveliest village on the plains anytime soon. But as Frazier grows better and more experienced, and as the players around him improve, he certainly has the chance to lead Auburn to national-title discussion once again.
Nicholas Fouriezos: Tavarres King, WR, Georgia — A lot of people might be tempted to jump onto the Marlon Brown bandwagon, after the talented and athletic receiver posted team-highs in receiving both scrimmages this week. However, it's the other senior wideout, King, who has shown the consistency to truly have a breakout year at the position.
Not that King had such a bad year in 2011 — 705 yards and eight touchdowns in the SEC is nothing to scoff at. However, there was still a sense of him underperforming last year, and he would have finished with journeyman numbers if it weren't for his final 205-yard performance.
But fast forward to this season and King looks confident in his hands, confident in his routes and, most importantly, confident in quarterback Aaron Murray, who had trouble linking up with him on deep routes last season.
And with last year's breakout star Malcolm Mitchell out of the offensive mix for a bit, especially in the first few games, King should establish himself as the team's top target.