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TU Football: Five Players To Watch In 2014

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If Tulsa is going to bounce back and make a bowl game in 2014, it's going to take improvement in many areas. But it's also going to take some bigtime performances from important players at key positions.

Let's take a look at five Golden Hurricane players to watch this season.

5. Derrick Alexander, DE

TU's sack leader from a year ago returns for his junior season and will have to shoulder the load again. Alexander, joined by veterans Brentom Todd and Chris Hummingbird, will need to control the line of scrimmage in order to help a rebuilding linebacker core.

The Golden Hurricane defense has a real chance to be pretty good, but as usual, it starts up front. If Alexander can apply constant pressure, everyone else's job becomes easier.

4. Trent Martin, LB

Speaking of the linebackers, Trent Martin returns from injury and should lead this young unit. Martin was a Conference USA All-Freshman selection in 2012, but missed most of last season.

Tulsa already has a steady force in senior Mitchell Osborne, but if Martin can regain his 2012 form, TU's linebacker unit could become pretty formidable, pretty fast. But recovering from injury is always a question, so keep an eye on Martin's development.

3. Garrett Stafford, LT

Sophomore quarterback Dane Evans might just hold the key to Tulsa's entire operation this season (you can read more about that by clicking the link below). And in order for Evans to have success, he'll need protection from his offensive line, specifically his blind side.

RELATED STORY: Five Burning Questions For 2014 Season

That's where Stafford comes in. Evans will need time to make his reads and deliver the ball, and it starts on the left side of the line. Stafford is regarded as Tulsa's top offensive-line talent, and he'll need to play like it. With so many question marks surrounding TU's pass and run games, Stafford and the offensive line will need to be the rock.

2. DeMarco Nelson, S

Nelson is one of the premier defensive backs in the American Athletic Conference and Tulsa is thrilled to finally have him back. The three-year starter returns to lead the TU defense after using a red shirt due to academic issues last season.

The Tulsa secondary should be another great strength, returning Nelson along with Michael Mudoh, Will Barrow and Dwight Dobbins. But any time a guy is gone for an entire season, questions will be asked about whether he is still the player he was. Not to mention that Nelson was one of the leaders on this defense – will a season-long suspension change that dynamic at all?

Regardless, Nelson's presence should help this unit greatly. Look for big numbers out of Nelson in his final season as a Golden Hurricane.

1. Keyarris Garrett, WR

If Dane Evans struggles, he won't have his receivers to blame. TU's pass-catching corps is one of the most talented in the AAC, and it's led by redshirt junior Keyarris Garrett.

Garrett, who received a medical hardship after suffering a season-ending injury against Colorado State last season, is one of the top receivers in the AAC. He hauled in 67 balls for 845 yards and nine scores in 2012 as the primary air target in Tulsa's rush-heavy offense.

It's realistic to expect 1,000+ yards and 10+ touchdowns from who will be Evans' go-to guy all season long. Garrett is a star, and if TU's offense is going to excel, he's gonna have to play like one.

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