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AAC preview: 10 players poised for a breakthrough



As a precursor to next week's American Athletic Conference Summer Kickoff and Media Days, we're spending the next few days previewing various parts of the conference, from schedules to story lines to significant players. Today: five guys poised for a breakthrough season.

1. RB Cordarrian Richardson, UCF
The burly crown jewel of the Knights' 2017 signing class, Richardson (6-foot, 240 pounds) should resuscitate a Knights rushing attack that ranked 104th nationally (141.2 ypg) last season. An 11th-hour, four-star flip from Maryland to UCF, Richardson ran for more than 5,000 yards at Memphis' Trezevant High.

2. QB Zach Abey, Navy
Thrust into his first career start -- against Army, no less -- after Will Worth broke his foot, Abey performed nobly (162 total yards, two TDs) in the loss. He followed with an even better effort (273 total yards, three TDs) in an Armed Forces Bowl loss to Louisiana Tech, and is the Midshipmen's unquestioned starter entering August. Now, if only Navy can avoid another injury epidemic.

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3. QB Luke Skipper, Tulsa
This 6-foot-3 redshirt freshman, who totaled more than 7,000 yards in three seasons at Forney (Texas) High, will battle sophomore Chad President for the starting job in preseason camp. Our guess: Skipper, who shined in the Golden Hurricane's spring game (16-for-24, 173 yards), will be behind center when Tulsa comes to Raymond James Stadium on Nov. 18.

4. WR Jimmy Williams, East Carolina
Remember, breakthrough is a relative term. Williams had 45 catches for 818 yards as a junior last season, but those are modest when compared to teammate Zay Jones' 158 (an NCAA single-season record). Now, Jones is employed by the NFL and someone must emerge as the feature guy. We think it will be Williams, who dazzled this past spring.

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5. WR DeVontres Dukes, USF
If this rangy (6-foot-4, 203 pounds) Wharton High alumnus' spring effort carries over into August, the Bulls will have the ideal complement to 6-5 veteran Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Line the two up on opposite sides, run a little play-action to D'Ernest Johnson, and Quinton Flowers has a chance to inflict some serious downfield damage.

The next five
6. QB Anthony Russo, Temple
7. RB Ramadi Warren, Tulsa
8. QB Jonathan Banks, Tulane
9. LB Andre Polk Jr., USF
10. LT Kadarius Smith, SMU

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