In a league as plentiful with star players as the SEC, it's easy for several guys to get overlooked year in and year out. Just flash back one season ago to the monster year that MSU defensive end Preston Smith put together. He was pretty much unheard of outside of Starkville this time last year. 15 tackles for loss, two interceptions and nine sacks later, Smith was taken in the second round of the NFL draft.
When you look to project which MSU player could make that same type of jump and burst into the national spotlight in 2015, two players come to mind: Beniquez Brown and Fred Ross. Sure, both guys have already made names for themselves in Starkville, but when it comes to national recognition, players like Dak Prescott and Chris Jones get all the love.
Brown and Ross, both juniors, are not far away from vaulting themselves into that same conversation. They haven't been overlooked over their career because of a lack of production. Rather, it's been because of the teammates they have shared the field with. For Brown, it was former middle linebacker and current Houston Texan Benardrick McKinney. For Ross, it has been and will continue to be De'Runnya Wilson, one of the best receivers MSU has ever had on campus.
Brown will finally have a chance to have all eyes on him now that his partner in crime has moved onto the NFL. Ross will still be in the shadow of Bear Wilson, but that may actually be to his benefit having another receiver on the field that will draw the defense's attention.
So which one of these underrated Bulldogs has the best chance at a breakout, All-SEC type year? That's a tough one.
The case for Fred Ross: He entered last season as the fourth best pass catcher on the field at best, but it didn't take long before he overtook Jameon Lewis as the go-to receiver behind De'Runnya Wilson. He finished second on the team behind Wilson in both yards and touchdowns, and he led all receivers with 16.3 yards per catch. Ross ended the season in grand fashion at the Orange Bowl, surpassing 100 yards on six catches including a thrilling hail mary grab at the end of the first half. He increased his production by nearly 400 yards from his freshman season, and after a big spring there's no reason to think he won't make another big jump as a junior.
The case for Beniquez Brown: Not many people realize it, but Brown matched Benardrick McKinney step for step in several big SEC games last season. He tallied the same number of tackles against LSU and Auburn and racked up more than McKinney against Alabama. Brown totaled 62 tackles for the year, and that was splitting reps with other backers in the 1a/1b scheme. He also caught two interceptions and had seven tackles for loss. Brown not only gets to take over as the unquestioned leader of the defense, but he's one of the smartest players MSU has on the field. With his knowledge of the game and playmaking ability, there's no reason to think he wont help MSU continue its recent tradition of putting linebackers into the NFL.
Brown probably gets more respect around the league than Ross, but both players will be trying to mimic exactly what Preston Smith did, to go from under the radar to a wanted commodity among multiple NFL teams in the matter of one season.