Coaches and fans crave breakout players. After all, once a player has established himself as an above-average starter – or even a rising star – that's a position that doesn't have to be worried about for a few years.
Occasionally, though, players follow up those breakout years with seasons that see a decrease in production. It turns out they're not established after all.
Today, we're spotlighting 10 guys who had tremendous seasons, in one way or another, in 2010 but struggled either a little or a lot in 2011.
[Dan Wetzel podcast: Football coaches recast as 'Deadliest Catch' skippers]
Obviously, coaches and fans are hoping for bounce back seasons from these players this fall. They're listed alphabetically.
SMU LB Ja'Gared Davis
The key stats: 90 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, 9 sacks in 2010; 83 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks in 2011
Buzz: Davis remained one of the best linebackers in Conference USA last season, but he didn't make nearly as many big plays as he did in 2010. All of his sacks came in four games last season. He will be a big part of perhaps the best defensive front seven in C-USA this season; SMU's linebackers look especially good. But more big plays from Davis would help the Mustangs this fall.
Boston College K Nate Freese
The key stats: 22-of-25 on field goals in 2010; 10-of-16 on field goals in 2011
Buzz: Freese was a freshman All-America performer in 2010, and earned some preseason All-ACC notice last season. But he tailed off badly. He had four games with at least three field goals in 2010; he had just one of those games last season, when he made four field goals against Wake Forest. That, of course, means he made just six field goals in BC's other 11 games. In addition, he made just one field goal in BC's final seven games. Given BC's likely offensive struggles this fall (hopefully, the Eagles know it's legal to complete a forward pass), a return to form by Freese is vital.
Oklahoma QB Landry Jones
The key stats: 4,718 yards, 38 TDs, 12 interceptions in 2010; 4,463 yards, 29 TDs, 15 interceptions in 2011
Buzz: Jones is one of the best quarterbacks in the nation, but he struggled at times in 2011. He went into the season as a leading Heisman contender, but didn't even make second-team All-Big 12 at the end of the season. His propensity to throw interceptions still is confounding (he has 41 in his career, the most of any active quarterback), and he tailed off badly at the end of last season, with only one TD pass (against six interceptions) in the final four games. Oklahoma does not have a proven go-to receiver and that could hamper Jones, at least early in the 2012 season. Barring injury, he is again is going to throw for 4,000-plus yards this season, but his interception total (and his TD total) bear watching.
Alabama FS Robert Lester
The key stats: 52 tackles, 8 interceptions, 4 pass breakups in 2010; 39 tackles, 2 interceptions, 3 pass breakups in 2011
Buzz: Lester is one of the best free safeties in the nation, but he wasn't nearly as productive last season as he was in 2010, which was his first season as the starter. He will be the lone returning starter in the secondary this fall, and it would help the Tide's cause if he can increase his production to the 2010 level. He had five games with at least five tackles in '10 but just one last season, when he was overshadowed in the secondary by … well, by every other starter.
Missouri WR T.J. Moe
The key stats: 92 receptions for 1,045 yards and 6 TDs in 2010; 54 receptions for 649 yards and 4 TDs in 2011
Buzz: Moe was Blaine Gabbert's favorite receiver in 2010 , but Gabbert left for the pros after that season and Moe didn't seem to work as well with new starter James Franklin last fall. Moe still was Mizzou's leading receiver last season, but he wasn't nearly as productive. Franklin injured his shoulder in the spring, meaning Moe worked with quarterbacks who, if Franklin is healthy, won't play much, if at all, this season. Moe is going to be an important part of the offense, and it seems likely his 2012 production will fall between what he did in 2010 and what he accomplished in 2011.
Florida State CB Xavier Rhodes
The key stats: 58 tackles, 4 interceptions, 12 pass breakups in 2010; 43 tackles, 1 interception, 4 pass breakups in 2011
Buzz: Rhodes burst on the scene in a big way in 2010, earning freshman All-America honors after putting together a huge season. He was being touted as a potential overall All-American last season, but his production dropped way off in a deep secondary. Rhodes started nine games in 2010 but just two last season. He has excellent size (6 feet 2/209 pounds) and is loved by NFL scouts, but a return to his 2010 form would be helpful to a Seminoles team that won't be quite as deep at corner this fall.
Michigan WR Roy Roundtree
The key stats: 72 receptions for 935 yards and 7 TDs in 2010; 19 receptions for 355 yards and 2 TDs in 2011
Buzz: Roundtree had four 100-yard games in 2010, meaning last season's production didn't match up to his four best games from the season before. Can he bounce back? He should be the go-to receiver this fall, which bodes well. But one overlooked aspect of Michigan's offense last season was that while the Wolverines returned to more of a pro-style attack after three seasons running the spread, the pass offense took a hit. Michigan completed 243 passes in 2010 but just 155 last season (11.9 completions per game). That doesn't really sound like a pro-style attack; that sounds more like a Bo Schembechler offense.
Pittsburgh QB Tino Sunseri
The key stats: 2,572 passing yards, 16 TDs, 9 interceptions in 2010; 2,616 passing yards, 10 TDs, 11 interceptions in 2011.
Buzz: Last season's mediocre performance wasn't totally Sunseri's fault. He was solid in 2010 in his first season as the starter, and while he threw for a few more yards last season, he regressed overall. A scheme change was partly to blame. Pitt ran a pro-set attack in 2010 under Dave Wannstedt but changed to a version of the spread last season under Todd Graham. Graham moved on after the season, and the new coach is Paul Chryst, who used a pro-style attack (heavy on the run) as offensive coordinator as Wisconsin. Sunseri is not going to contend for All-America honors (heck, he likely won't contend for All-Big East honors), but he should be far more comfortable this fall in Pitt's new/old offense.
Arizona DT Justin Washington
The key stats: 46 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, 6 sacks in 2010; 18 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 0 sacks in 2011
Buzz: Washington was bothered by some injuries last season, but they weren't the only cause for his huge drop in production. He made some freshman All-America teams with his performance in '10, when he used his quickness to wreak some havoc in the middle of the line. But he wasn't the same last season, losing his starting job early in the season; half his tackles came in the first four games of the season. Arizona has changed schemes because of a new coaching staff, switching to a 3-3-5 set. Washington is undersized (he played at 280 pounds as a freshman and now is listed at just 268), but if he regains the burst he had in 2010, he could have a big season in the new defense.
Central Michigan WR Cody Wilson
The key stats: 83 receptions, 1,137 yards, 5 TDs in 2010; 48 receptions, 526 yards, 3 TDs in 2011
Buzz: Wilson tailed off dramatically last season. He became just the sixth CMU receiver with a 1,000-yard season in 2010, when he had six 100-yard games. He had just one 100-yard game in 2011 despite working with the same quarterback (Ryan Radcliff). Wilson was banged-up a bit late in the season, but his production already had dropped. CMU should have one of the best passing attacks in the MAC this fall, but sophomore Titus Davis might supplant Wilson as the go-to guy.
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