Lone Star 25: 25-21
Our countdown of the 25 most important college players in Texas begins.
Dave Campbell’s Texas Football is introducing the Lone Star 25, a countdown of the 25 most important Texas college football players in 2014. Keep in mind: this is not necessarily a ranking of the top 25 best college football players in Texas, but rather the 25 players whose performance will most impact the college football scene in Texas in 2014.
25. DB Triston Wade, UTSA
With a new signal-caller under center, it’s going to take some time for UTSA’s offense to start firing on all cylinders. So it will be up to the defense to propel the Roadrunners to victories early in the year. Senior safety Wade, the young program’s all-time leader in interceptions, headlines a defense that gained momentum at the end of last season. Head coach Larry Coker said he thinks UTSA can have one of the best defenses in not only Conference USA but the nation. Whether that statement comes into fruition, will largely depend on what type of season Wade has on the back end.
24. RB Luke Turner, Rice
Are there more visible members of Rice's offense? Sure — QB Driphus Jackson and WR Jordan Taylor spring to mind — but for an offense that seems straightforward, Turner provides a unique blend of versatility and explosiveness. You'll see Turner all over the field — running back, wide receiver, quarterback (remember: he made his hay in high school as Gilmer's signal-caller) — and he has an opportunity to really shape the look of the Owls' attack. When a Rice game ends, look at the box score and find Turner's stat line; it'll likely tell the tale of how well the offense hummed.
23. LB Kevin Pope, SMU
After being granted a medical hardship waiver by the AAC, Pope is back on the Hilltop for another season. Pope made a huge impact in his first year as starter, posting 91 tackles from his inside linebacker spot. He also shined as a running back in the final two games of the regular season and finished the spring as the No. 1 back on the depth chart. SMU’s rushing attack was downright awful and the defense as a whole wasn’t much better, so it will be interesting to see if Pope does indeed play both ways-- something he did back in his days with Mount Enterprise.
22. OL Jerel Watkins, UTEP
There is no better embodiment of what UTEP coach Sean Kugler is trying to do in El Paso than Watkins. The Channelview product has been a stalwart for the Miners at guard, but Kugler's new style — hard-nosed, gritty, run-first offense — is predicated on quick-footed linemen. That means Watkins will slide to tackle for his senior year, so that Kugler's offense can better utilize him. Of course, moving from guard to tackle is easier said than done, and how Watkins handles the transition will go a long way toward determining how much improvement UTEP enjoys in 2014.
21. DB JJ Gaines, Texas Tech
It’s a forgone conclusion that Texas Tech will light up scoreboards on Saturday. But can the Red Raiders stop anybody? If the secondary can step up, Texas Tech fans will like the answer to that question. It all starts with Gaines, who started five games at safety last season. With full-time starter Tre Porter lost to graduation and part-time starter Tanner Jacobson off on a two-year Mormon mission, Gaines will have to step up as the leader and ball hawk of this secondary. Texas Tech ranked 88th in points given up per game last year, and if it wants to be anything more that a middle of the pack Big 12 team, it is imperative for Gaines and the rest of the defensive backs to make strides in 2014.
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