Leonard Fournette

CFT 2014 Preseason Preview: Impact Freshmen

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College football recruiting can be a cutthroat business. Every coaching staff is looking for the one player that can change the fortunes of its program.

In recent years, college football fans have seen freshmen such as Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston take their programs to the next level.

Incoming players now hold leverage when teams are recruiting them due to the program’s willingness to do nearly anything — within NCAA guidelines, of course — to acquire these types of game-changing talent. The promise that is most often made revolves around early playing time. More freshmen than ever are given starting spots from the moment they step on campus.

There will undoubtedly be numerous freshmen CFT could have pegged to make an impact this season. There will certainly be plenty left off this list that will. But here are the Top 10 impact freshmen we’ve identified entering the season:

1. LEONARD FOURNETTE, LSU, RB
This is the easy choice. Fournette was considered, at least by one of the major recruiting services, as the No. 1 recruit in the country. At 6-1 and 226 pounds, Fournette is a tailor-made running back for the SEC and LSU’s offense. Fournette also benefits from the Tigers losing two of the team’s top three leading rushers to the NFL. Fournette will still surrender some carries to Kenny Hillard and Terrence Magee, but the freshman is expected to get the bulk of the work. Another benefit for Fournette is playing in LSU’s run-heavy offense. The Tigers ran the ball 62 percent of the time in 2013. They should be expected to do the same behind the team’s massive offensive line.

2. CAM ROBINSON, ALABAMA, OT
During spring practice, the Crimson Tide held a competition at left tackle to replace Cyrus Kouandjio. Robinson, an early enrollee, was able to step in and claim the top spot on the depth chart. Very few offensive linemen are physically ready to start from Day 1, particularly at left tackle. Robinson, however, has a combination of size (6-6, 323 pounds) and athleticism that makes him a rare exception to the rule. Alabama head coach Nick Saban already complimented Robinson by stating, “He’s a very good pass blocker.” Whichever quarterback starts behind center this year for the Crimson Tide will know they have one of the most talented freshmen blocking their blindside.

3. RAEKWON MCMILLAN, OHIO STATE, LB
Since Urban Meyer took over at Ohio State, the coach’s goal was to become faster and more athletic on both sides of the football. Linebacker, in particular, was a sore spot for the team. Depth and play-making ability were lacking sans Ryan Shazier. While McMillan has yet to earn a starting spot, Ohio State’s coaching staff clearly has high expectations for the freshman. At the start of fall camp, McMillan was practicing with the the team’s veterans instead of with the other freshmen. Meyer stated his reason behind doing so was because McMillan acts like a “grown man.” A grown man that will eventually be asked to fill the role vacated by Shazier.

4. JABRILL PEPPERS, MICHIGAN, CB
The Wolverines’ defense was far too prone to giving up big plays against the pass last season. Peppers has the potential to be a dynamic play maker in the secondary to combine with the experience returning  at cornerback in Blake Countess and Ramon Taylor. Peppers’ athleticism projects to multiple positions in the secondary. He’s a cornerback by trade, but the Wolverines could start him at free safety to let him roam the field. Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison could use him as the team’s nickel corner. Or he can do all of the above. Where the Wolverines will use Peppers will be decided throughout fall camp.

5. K.D. CANNON, BAYLOR, WR
The Baylor Bears can never have too much talent at wide receiver. Four of the team’s top five targets from last season return this fall. Although, there is one key omission. The team will be without the services Tevin Reese, who was a dynamic deep threat. Cannon has the potential to fill the role Reese left behind and take the top off of defenses.

6. DA’SHAWN HAND, ALABAMA, DE
Hand, who was rated as the No. 1 overall prospect in the 2014 class by Rivals.com, may have been a little higher on this list if not for the depth Alabama already has along its defensive line. Although, with A’Shawn Robinson’s status currently up in the air, Hand should benefit from extra repetitions in camp and may be asked to make a bigger impact in the fall than initially anticipated.

7. JALEN TABOR, FLORIDA, CB
A year ago, Florida fans wondered how Vernon Hargreaves III would assimilate into the Gators’ lineup. For Hargreaves, it was a seamless transition, and he quickly developed into one of the top cornerbacks in the country. Florida’s coaching staff hopes Tabor will have a similar learning curve. The freshman will have an opportunity to prove himself after Loucheiz Purifoy, Jaylen Watkins and Marcus Roberson left Florida for the NFL.

8. KYLE ALLEN, TEXAS A&M, QB
The last time Texas A&M had a freshman start at quarterback, he went on to win the Heisman Trophy. Granted, it was “Johnny Football” and he was a redshirt freshman, but these are the footsteps in which Allen will have to follow. Allen was considered the No. 1 quarterback prospect in the nation. Expectations will be very high for him to play this season, but he still has to beat out Kenny Hill for the starting spot.

9. QUIN BLANDING, VIRGINIA, S
Blanding has the potential to make a bigger impact on his particular program than anyone else on this list. Despite a 2-10 season last year, Blanding became the catalyst for a tremendous recruiting class for the Cavaliers. Blanding, a five-star recruit, has received first-team repetitions from the start of fall camp. If Blanding becomes the level of defender the Cavaliers expect, he can help push the entire program in the right direction.

10. ALLEN LAZARD, IOWA STATE, WR
When one is looking for impact freshmen, the first stop usually isn’t Ames, Iowa. Lazard is a completely different story. He chose Iowa State, because his brother was already on the roster. While the Cyclones are quite talented at wide receiver, there will be plenty of balls to go around in a passing offense under new offensive coordinator Mark Mangino. At 6-5 and 210 pounds, Lazard will be a match-up nightmare for opposing defenses.

Tyson Summers fires both co-OCs after first season at Georgia Southern

OXFORD, MS - NOVEMBER 05: Head coach Tyson Summers of the Georgia Southern Eagles reacts during the second half of a game against the Mississippi Rebels at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on November 5, 2016 in Oxford, Mississippi. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
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It was not a good first season for Georgia Southern head coach Tyson Summers. Hired away from the Colorado State defensive coordinator job, Summers moved into his first head coaching job at a successful program with a very specific expectation for how offensive football should work.

After enjoying a 17-7 mark in two seasons under Willie Fritz — including a 14-2 mark in Sun Belt pay — Georgia Southern slipped to 5-7 in Summers’s first season. Beyond that, though, the Eagles couldn’t move the football.

Georgia Southern dropped from 24th to 79th in scoring offense, 24th to 104th in yards per play and from first to 29th in rushing, as their 363 yards per game average wilted to 224. It got so bad that Georgia Southern AD Tom Kleinlein felt the need to issue a release Saturday stating Summers would indeed return for a second season in 2017, but his offensive coordinators were not so fortunate. Georgia Southern announced Sunday that co-offensive coordinators David Dean and Rance Gillespie will not return.

“Decisions like these are never easy,” Summers said in a statement. “I have the utmost respect for both David and Rance as people and football coaches, but we did not have the production nor the scoring numbers we had hoped for.

“We need to get back to our roots of having one of the most explosive rushing attacks in the country. That begins with me and the hiring of a coordinator who will fit that culture.”

Gillespie coached quarterbacks and initially called plays before having that duty revoked and handed to Dean midway through the season. Dean also coached wide receivers.

Alabama, Ohio State opens as CFP semifinal favorites

STARKVILLE, MS - NOVEMBER 14:  Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide reacts after Kenyan Drake #17 injured himself defending a kickoff to the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Davis Wade Stadium on November 14, 2015 in Starkville, Mississippi.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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The 2016 College Football Playoff pairings are out, and it didn’t take long for No. 1 Alabama to be established as a heavy favorite in Vegas.

Alabama opened as a 14-point favorite over Washington in the Peach Bowl, while Ohio State was a 3-point favorite over Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl.

For his credit, Washington head coach Chris Petersen had a light perspective on facing ‘Bama.

This marks the 243rd consecutive game Alabama opens as a favorite (approximately), while, according to Charleston Post & Courier beat writer Aaron Brenner, Clemson has opened as the underdog for the sixth consecutive post-season game.

While not related to the betting line, Nike also emerged as a big winner on Sunday. For the third consecutive year the Swoosh will outfit all four Playoff teams. As per (recent) tradition, Nike will make slight alterations to each team’s kits ahead of the Playoff.

 

Behold: The full 2016-17 college football bowl schedule is here

LOUISVILLE, KY - SEPTEMBER 17: Lamar Jackson #8 of the Louisville Cardinals runs with the ball during the game against the Florida State Seminoles at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on September 17, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Bobby Ellis/Getty Images)
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The College Football Playoff and New Year’s Six lineups are set, but there’s much more to bowl season than the top line games. Running 40 games deep and stretching from Dec. 17 to Jan. 9, the 2016-17 bowl schedule came together Sunday afternoon, which we’ve compiled here for your viewing enjoyment.

Let’s dive right in.

Saturday, Dec. 17
Gildan New Mexico Bowl (2 p.m. ET, ESPN): UTSA vs. New Mexico
Las Vegas Bowl presented by Geico (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC): Houston vs. San Diego State
Raycom Media Camelia Bowl (5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): Appalachian State vs. Toledo
AutoNation Cure Bowl (5:30 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network): Central Florida vs. Arkansas State
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl (9 p.m. ET, ESPN): Lousiana-Lafayette vs. Southern Miss

Monday, Dec. 19
Miami Beach Bowl (2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): Central Michigan vs. Tulsa

Tuesday, Dec. 20
Boca Raton Bowl (7 p.m. ET, ESPN): Memphis vs. Western Kentucky

Wednesday, Dec. 21
San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl (9 p.m. ET, ESPN): BYU vs. Wyoming

Thursday, Dec. 22
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (7 p.m. ET, ESPN): Idaho vs. Colorado State

Friday, Dec. 23
Popeyes Bahamas Bowl (1 p.m. ET, ESPN): Old Dominion vs. Eastern Michigan
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl (4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): Louisiana Tech vs. No. 25 Navy
Dollar General Bowl (8 p.m. ET, ESPN): Ohio vs. Troy

Saturday, Dec. 24
Hawai’i Bowl (8 p.m. ET, ESPN): Hawaii vs. Middle Tennessee

Monday, Dec. 26
St. Petersburg Bowl (11 a.m. ET, ESPN): Mississippi State vs. Miami (Ohio)
Quick Lane Bowl (2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): Boston College vs. Maryland
Camping World Independence Bowl (5 p.m. ET, ESPN2): NC State vs. Vanderbilt

Tuesday, Dec. 27
Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl (noon ET, ESPN): Army vs. North Texas
Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): No. 24 Temple vs. Wake Forest
National Funding Holiday Bowl (7 p.m. ET, ESPN): Washington State vs. Minnesota
Motel 6 Cactus Bowl (10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN): Boise State vs. Baylor

Wednesday, Dec. 28
New Era Pinstripe Bowl (2 p.m. ET, ESPN): No. 23 Pittsburgh vs. Northwestern
Russell Athletic Bowl (5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): No. 16 West Virginia vs. Miami
Foster Farms Bowl (8:30 p.m. ET, FOX): Indiana vs. No. 19 Utah
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl (9 p.m. ET, ESPN): Texas A&M vs. Kansas State

Thursday, Dec. 29
Birmingham Bowl (2 p.m. ET, ESPN): South Florida vs. South Carolina
Belk Bowl (5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): Arkansas vs. No. 22 Virginia Tech
Valero Alamo Bowl (9 p.m. ET, ESPN): No. 10 Colorado vs. No. 12 Oklahoma State

Friday, Dec. 30
AutoZone Liberty Bowl (noon ET, ESPN): TCU vs. Georgia
Hyundai Sun Bowl (2 p.m. ET, CBS): No. 18 Stanford vs. North Carolina
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): No. 21 Tennessee vs. Nebraska
Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl (5:30 p.m. ET, Campus Insiders): South Alabama vs. Air Force
Capital One Orange Bowl (8 p.m. ET, ESPN): No. 6 Michigan vs. No. 11 Florida State

Saturday, Dec. 31
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl (11 a.m. ET, ABC): No. 20 LSU vs. No. 13 Louisville
TaxSlayer Bowl (11 a.m. ET, ESPN): Georgia Tech vs. Kentucky
CFP Semifinal at Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl (3 p.m. ET, ESPN): No. 4 Washington vs. No. 1 Alabama
CFP Semifinal at PlayStation Fiesta Bowl (7 p.m. ET, ESPN): No. 3 Ohio State vs. No. 2 Clemson

Monday, Jan. 2
Outback Bowl (1 p.m. ET, ABC): No. 17 Florida vs. Iowa
Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic (1 p.m. ET, ESPN): No. 15 Western Michigan vs. No. 8 Wisconsin
Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual (5 p.m. ET, ESPN): No. 9 USC vs. No. 5 Penn State
Allstate Sugar Bowl (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): No. 14 Auburn vs. No. 7 Oklahoma

Monday, Jan. 9
College Football Playoff National Championship (8 p.m. ET, ESPN): ALA/WASH vs. CLEM/OSU

New Years Six Set: Penn State vs. USC in Rose Bowl, Michigan vs. Florida State in Orange

KALAMAZOO, MI - NOVEMBER 19:  Head coach P.J. Fleck and the rest of the Western Michigan Broncos football team celebrates after beating the Buffalo Bulls 38-0 at Waldo Stadium on November 19, 2016 in Kalamazoo, Michigan. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
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The College Football Playoff selection committee still had some work to do before calling it a day. After setting the playoff field, the job of filling out the rest of the New Years Six bowl lineup was still at hand. This job may not have been as difficult as deciding on a fourth team in the playoff. We’ll have some good bowl matchups coming our way with Big Ten champion Penn State heading to the Rose Bowl. The Nittany Lions will face red-hot USC from the Pac-12 in Pasadena.

The Nittany Lions and Trojans are no strangers, having played nine games in the past, with eight meetings since 1982. USC owns a 5-4 advantage against Penn State, which includes a 2009 Rose Bowl victory by a final score of 38-24. This will be the third Rose Bowl meeting between the two programs, with USC also winning the 1923 Rose Bowl, 14-3. The two schools also faced off in the 1982 Fiesta Bowl (Penn State won 26-20) and have met in two of the old Kickoff Classics in New Jersey (splitting the games played in 1996 and 2000). Neither team has lost a game since flipping the calendar from September to October.

The Orange Bowl will have Michigan vs. Florida State in Miami, giving us a nice coaching matchup of Jim Harbaugh and Jimbo Fisher. Michigan took care of the Florida Gators last bowl season, and a second victory over a top program from the state of Florida would be a nice recruiting pitch if Michigan can pull it off. This will be the third meeting between the Wolverines and Seminoles all-time, with past meetings coming in 1986 and 1991. Both of those games were played in Ann arbor in September non-conference tilts, with the two schools splitting the series.

The Sugar Bowl appeared to be set as well, with Auburn and Oklahoma as the most likely participants under the Sugar Bowl contract with the SEC and Big 12. That became official with the bowl announcements this afternoon. Oklahoma earned a Sugar Bowl birth by virtue of being the Big 12 champion. Auburn received the invite as the highest-ranked  SEC team available, with SEC champion Alabama playing in the College Football Playoff.

Western Michigan expected to be heading to the Cotton Bowl as the highest-ranked Group of Five conference champion, and that is exactly where they are heading. The Broncos will meet Big Ten championship game runner-up Wisconsin, giving P.J. Fleck’s team a chance to go 3-0 against the Big Ten this season (Western Michigan owns wins against Northwestern and Illinois).