Last season, Kevin Smith caught 65 balls for a team-high 765 yards and four touchdowns one year removed from an underwhelming 6 catch, 68-yard 2012 campaign. He broke out in his final season with the team, filling in for Kasen as the go-to receiver for tough down field targets.
Now, with a coach in Petersen who values fundamentals and work ethic above all else, it seems inevitable that at least one upperclassman will break out in 2014. To fit that description, I arbitrarily declare the player must be at least a junior and must put in a '14 campaign that is clearly far superior to production from last season.
Option #1: DT Evan Hudson
Hudson made the switch from TE to three-technique defensive tackle in 2013. While hardly dominant, he did manage to grind out four sacks while improving his technique over the course of the season. Now he will start in that same spot for Coach Petersen, and it follows that the extra attention focused on Danny Shelton and Hau'oli Kikaha could allow him a bounty of impact opportunities.
Reasons For: Improved during 2013 and finished the year strong. Will have chances to rack up "clean up" sacks created by Kikaha and others. Seems like one of the OKGs Petersen has been talking about.
Reasons Against: Could eventually lose time to younger linemen if he starts slow. Played decently enough last year that he would need to make a serious impact to truly "break out."
Option #2: WR Marvin Hall
Hall has been a forgotten man these past few seasons. He played in 2012, but only caught two passes for 21 yards. Last year he saw the field more and upped his season statline to 10 catches for 140 yards. He's still often forgotten by fans, but is listed as a starter against Hawaii with Kasen apparently still working his way to 100% and depth at wide receiver pretty mediocre overall.
Reasons For: Starting against Hawaii, so he will see the field regularly this year unless freshmen Lenius/Pettis catch on fast. Possesses impressive speed.
Reasons Against: With a new starting quarterback, the passing game may be too conservative for secondary targets like Hall to rack up stats. His 5'10" 188-pound frame doesn't bring anything unique to the table with Ross and Mickens already in the mix.
Option #3: OT Micah Hatchie
The 6'5" 308-pound left tackle will be starting for his third and final year. He really shouldn't have been starting as a sophomore, and he struggled accordingly. Last season his play improved significantly. At the very least, he was an average starting Pac-12 lineman.
Now, with two full years under his belt and a new offensive line coach in Chris Strausser, there is hope that Hatchie could become an All-Conference left tackle. I am no expert talent O-Line evaluator, but he certainly seems to have the physical tools necessary.
Reasons For: Experienced, physically talented lineman in his senior season. Strausser may be a superior offensive line coach.
Reasons Against: Unlike other candidates, he's received plenty of playing time, so perhaps projecting a big leap forward is unrealistic. Since he is a solid starter already, he would need to reach a fairly high level to really "break out."
I'll go with Hudson here. I don't have a ton of confidence in Hall and suspect he will be passed up by younger receivers. I think Hatchie will play very well, but that the improvement will be more of a solid step forward than a leap into the All-Conference 1st team.
Hudson is a guy I mostly dismissed early last season. To be honest, he seemed like a default starter that had been plugged in because no one else really seized the spot. While Hudson didn't exactly take the world by storm, he played pretty well and honestly impressed me against WSU and BYU. Now that he's had a full year to continue to learn how to play his new position under the new staff, I think he'll surprise.
What do you guys think?