Some Big 12 Conference players expected to have impact seasons for their teams in 2021:
Nose tackle Siaki Ika, a sophomore. The 6-foot-4, 350-pound Ika should be a force in the middle for the Bears and is a significant boost on the defensive front that lacked experience. The LSU transferas part of a rotation at nose tackle and had 17 tackles as a true freshman on the Tigers’ 2019 national championship team when second-year Baylor head coach Dave Aranda was LSU’s defensive coordinator.
Easton Dean, a sophomore. The 6-foot-6, 251-pound Dean played quarterback in high school but was switched to TE upon his arrival in Ames. Coach Matt Campbell declared that Dean would “be the best we’ve ever had here.” Dean now gets the chance to show it with Dylan Boehner’s departure. The Cyclones love to line up with three tight ends, and Dean should be in that group with Allen.
Defensive back Karon Prunty, a sophomore. Prunty forced a fumble and intercepted a pass, both career firsts, in theof his true freshman season. He had 26 tackles and ten pass breakups while starting all nine-game, and didn’t allow a touchdown pass.
, Deuce Vaughn, a sophomore. Vaughn had quite an introduction to the Big 12 last season, leading the Wildcats as a true freshman in rushing yards (642) and receiving yards (434) while having seven kickoff returns for 145 yards. Vaughn could have the ability to be even more versatile with the return of running back Joe Ervin, who opted out of playing last season after playing in four games in 2019.
) and TJ Pledger (transferred to Utah). The Sooners also have junior Tennessee transfer Eric Gray and three returning sophomores.
Linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez, senior. Rodriguezof the extra year and is back after leading the Cowboys in tackles the past two seasons. His 58 solo tackles led all Power Five linebackers in 2020 when he finished with 82 total tackles, seven tackles for loss, three sacks, and three pass breakups. As a junior, he led the team with 103 tackles and was named the team’s defensive MVP.
Running back Zach Evans, a sophomore. The first five-star recruit ever to sign with the Horned Frogs, Evans averaged 7.7 yards per carrying (414 yards rushing on 54 carries) with four touchdowns as a true freshman last season. Among six sophomore running backs on TCU’s roster, Evans ran for 264 yards, and three touchdowns on 29 carries in the previous three games, with two 100-yard games in that span.
Wide receiver Troy Omeire is a redshirt freshman. There were several circuses catches in preseason practicefor the 6-foot-3, 227-pound Omeire, who has sped along with his enormous size. But the four-star recruit missed his first season in Austin because of a torn ACL in his right knee, a non-contact injury in the first Texas scrimmage in mid-August.
Wide receiver Eric Ezukanma, junior. This could be the real breakout season for the 6-foot-3 receiver who led the Red Raiders with 46 catches for 748 yards and six TDs last season and was second in the Big 12 with 74.8 yards receiving per game. He now could be the top target for Oregon transfer quarterback Tyler Shough, especially with the departures of receivers Ja’Lynn Polk (to Washington) and KeSean Carter (to Houston).
Running back Leddie Brown, senior.wants to do more than hand the ball to Brown, who ran for 1,010 yards last season and was one of only two Big 12 running backs to average 100 yards per game. The 6-foot, 212-pound Brown was also the Mountaineers’ second-leading receiver with 31 catches for 202 yards and two touchdowns.
AP Sports Writers Cliff Brunt, Eric Olson, John Raby, Dave Skretta, and Jim Vertuno contributed.
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