Surprise players have aided Bulls early in season
Expect Potts, Bachtelle to emerge as MAC play begins
It's four games into the season, and we still don't know a lot about the football team. The Bulls' 2-2 record is what many considered to be a best-case scenario, and a few unexpected players have emerged as key contributors as the team enters conference play.
After the first four games of the season, let's hand out some premature awards.
It's easy to pick out the star player on each side of the ball - senior wide receiver Alex Neutz on offense and senior linebacker Khalil Mack on defense - but let's take a look at some early surprises.
Breakout offensive player: freshman tight end Mason Schreck
During the summer, head coach Jeff Quinn refused to acknowledge that Schreck would have a major role in the offense. Quinn cited Schreck's place on the depth chart behind three older players.
Four weeks into the season, Schreck leads all tight ends in catches and yards and has one touchdown.
Schreck is a big body that makes for a great red-zone target for sophomore quarterback Joe Licata. Schreck should continue to be a force in the offense and will likely catch more touchdowns before the season is over.
Breakout defensive player: senior linebacker/safety Adam Redden
Redden has been a solid defensive player in the past, but the coaching staff's decision to line him up opposite Mack as a linebacker has been paying dividends.
Redden trails only Mack in total tackles and sacks - he has 30 tackles and three sacks to Mack's 31 tackles and 3.5 sacks - and leads the team with 6.5 tackles for loss.
He is also one of three Bulls with a forced fumble. His five-tackle, two-sack performance against UConn last weekend energized the Bulls.
Coming into the season, we knew Mack would be good, but we also knew opposing offenses would target him to try to make him a nonfactor. Redden has taken advantage of that - something more defensive players need to do if the Bulls want to look as good as they did last weekend.
Keep an eye out for offense: junior running back James Potts
In his first two seasons with the Bulls, Potts struggled with academics and then a season-ending injury. Now that he is on the field, we are seeing what he can do. With sophomore Anthone Taylor suspended for the time being, Potts is senior running back Branden Oliver's main backup.
Potts has seen a little success so far, grinding out yards and moving the chains, but I expect him to break off some big runs in the coming weeks.
With so many other good offensive threats, Potts could sneak under the radar and make a few teams pay with his speed and explosiveness.
Keep an eye out for defense: senior defensive end Beau Bachtelle
Bachtelle looked good against UConn last weekend with five tackles and two sacks. Now that teams won't have the talent and size advantage that Ohio State and Baylor did, his stats should continue to improve.
He is a big guy, listed at 6-foot-5 and 273 pounds, and lining up opposite Mack and senior defensive end Colby Way helps.
Opposing offenses pay attention to the other side of the line, and that should give Bachtelle a lot of room to pressure the quarterback and stunt opponents' running games.