Leonard Fournette

CFT 2014 Preseason Preview: Impact Freshmen


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:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

34 assistants in running for Broyles Award honor

Tom Herman
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If your school is in the market for a head coach, and they’re going to go the assistant coach route, there’s a fairly decent chance that the new sideline boss appears somewhere on this recently-released list.

Wednesday afternoon, the Rotary Club of Little Rock announced the 34 nominees for the 2015 Broyles Award, given annually to the nation’s most outstanding assistant coach.  Two former winners made the cut this year — Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart (2009) and North Carolina defensive coordinator Gene Chizik (2004, while at Auburn).

Of the 34 finalists, 19 come from Power Five conferences.  The AAC, ACC and SEC lead all leagues with five nominees each, while the Big Ten has four.  The MAC, Pac-12 and Sun Belt claimed three nominees apiece, with the Big 12’s two is tied with the Mountain West for fewest among all conferences.

There are 16 defensive coordinators on the list and 13 offensive coordinators, along with one special teams coordinator (Utah State’s Dave Ungerer).  Only four non-coordinators made the cut: Georgia Southern running backs coach Dell McGee, Mississippi State quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson, North Carolina State defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen, USC wide receivers coach Tee Martin.

Last year’s winner was Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman, now the head coach at Houston.  Five finalists for this year’s award will be announced Nov. 30, with the winner being revealed Dec. 8.

• Alabama – Kirby Smart, Defensive Coordinator/Inside Linebackers
• Arkansas – Dan Enos, Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks
• Arkansas State – Joe Cauthen, Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers
• Baylor – Kendal Briles, Offensive Coordinator
• Boston College – Don Brown, Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers
• Bowling Green State – Sean Lewis, Co–Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks
• Central Michigan – Greg Colby, Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers
• Clemson – Brent Venables, Defensive Coordinator, Linebackers
• Colorado State – Will Friend, Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line
• Florida – Geoff Collins, Defensive Coordinator
• Florida State – Charles Kelly, Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Backs
• Georgia Southern – Dell McGee, Running Backs
• Georgia State – Jesse Minter, Defensive Coordinator
• Houston – Todd Orlando, Defensive Coordinator
• Indiana – Greg Frey, Co–Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line
• Iowa – Greg Davis, Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach
• Louisiana Tech – Tony Petersen, Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks
• Marshall – Chuck Heater, Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Backs
• Memphis – Brad Cornelsen, Co–Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks
• Michigan – Tim Drevno, Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line
• Mississippi State – Brian Johnson, Quarterbacks
• Navy – Dale Pehrson, Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Line
• NC State – Ryan Nielsen, Defensive Line
• North Carolina – Gene Chizik, Defensive Coordinator
• Ole Miss – Dan Werner, Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks
• Oklahoma – Lincoln Riley, Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks
• South Florida – Danny Hope, Co–Offensive Coordinator/Run Game
• Temple – Phil Snow, Defensive Coordinator
• Toledo – Jon Heacock, Defensive Coordinator
• UCLA – Noel Mazzone, Offensive Coordinator
• USC – Tee Martin, WR/Pass Game Coordinator
• Utah State – Dave Ungerer, Special Teams Coordinator/Running Backs
• Washington State University – Alex Grinch, Defensive Coordinator/Secondary
• Wisconsin – Dave Aranda, Defensive Coordinator

VIDEO: Harbaugh takes hammer to Buckeye nut at Bo’s grave

1 Jan 1987: Head coach Bo Schembechler of Michigan during their 22-15 loss to Arizona State at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. Mandatory Credit: Rick Stewart  /Allsport
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I’m very quickly closing in on the end of my seventh year being in charge of this place, and the beginning of my eighth. One thing I’ve been very honest and straightforward about from the very beginning is the fact that I grew up in a decidedly Ohio State household, and that The Game between OSU and Michigan is one of the greatest rivalries in not only college football but all of sports.

With the annual hate-fest on tap this weekend, and with Jim Harbaugh‘s first go-round as head coach in the rivalry adding to the build-up, this is easily one of the most anticipated in what’s been a rather one-sided rivalry of late — the Buckeyes have won, on the field, 10 of the last 11.

So, in accordance with the spirit of the rivalry, Harbaugh, of course, took a maize-colored hammer in hand and smashed a Buckeye nut at the grave of his former head coach, UM coaching great Bo Schembechler.

Harbaugh played for Schembechler in Ann Arbor, and it’s quite obvious, from an impromptu graveside speech, that his former coach had an indelible impact on the man who found his way back home to the maize & blue:

Bo was my coach,” Harbaugh said. “I first met him when I was nine years old when my dad coached here at Michigan. He was the secondary coach. He was larger than life to our family. Excited and enthusiasm beyond what anybody could imagine. He would let us come to practice. We were ball boys, my brother John and I.

“And getting to play for coach Schembechler, what I can tell you is this, everything I base my entire professional life on and my personal life was learned here at the University of Michigan. It’s rooted at the University of Michigan, it was experienced at the University of Michigan. And it’s the team, the team, the team. We win as a team. Everybody does a little, and it adds up to a lot. When it came to honor, integrity, doing things at the highest level, Bo Schembechler set the standard.

“I draw daily inspiration from coach Schembechler, like so many that knew him, anybody that knew him, anybody that was associated with him, anybody that played for him or anybody that coached with him, he set the standard at the very highest level. One of the greatest of all time, Bo Schembechler.

Ohio State’s loss to Michigan State last weekend may have taken some of the shine off of Harbaugh’s first go-round in The Game, but the presence of The Khaki One — and his obvious connection to the past — ensures that the rivalry is in good hands moving forward.

Gamecocks may be focusing coach search on Tide DC Kirby Smart

TUSCALOOSA, AL - APRIL 19:  Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart yells at Reuben Foster #10 of the Crimson team prior to the University of Alabama A-Day spring game at Bryant-Denny Stadium on April 19, 2014 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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A pair of signs that developed Wednesday are pointing to Nick Saban possibly needing to replace his long-time defensive boss this offseason.

According to Yahoo SportsPat Forde, current Houston head coach Tom Herman, who has a significant raise on the table from his current employer, is no longer a candidate for the same job at South Carolina as he’s withdrawn his name from consideration.  Forde writes that “Herman had been the school’s top choice to replace Steve Spurrier, sources said, and third-party discussions had been extensive.”

Nearly simultaneously, Bruce Feldman of FOXSports.com reported that ‘Bama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart “has emerged as the frontrunner for the South Carolina head coaching vacancy.”  Forde also mentioned that Smart could be the Gamecocks’ Plan B, while ESPN.com wrote that the 39-year-old “has emerged as one of the leading candidates” for the vacancy in Columbia.

Smart has had a handful of opportunities to leave Saban’s staff since joining it in 2007, but has thus far chosen to remain in Tuscaloosa.

If Smart is indeed USC’s top candidate, a fellow SEC East rival could throw a wrench in those plans. Should Georgia and Mark Richt decide to part ways, Smart, who played his college football at UGA, would be a likely candidate to replace the long-time head coach.  In addition to playing for the Bulldogs, Smart began his career as an administrative assistant at his alma mater and coached running backs there in 2005 before joining Saban with the Miami Dolphins and, ultimately, the Tide.

No charges filed in alleged rape at Nebraska players’ house

PISCATAWAY, NJ - NOVEMBER 14:  Tommy Armstrong Jr. #4 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers congratulates teammate Jordan Westerkamp #1 after he scored a touchdown in the first quarter against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights  on November 14, 2015 at High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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An investigation into an alleged sexual assault at the home of three current Nebraska football players will not result in charges, Lancaster County (Neb.) officials announced Wednesday.

An unidentified 20-year-old female claimed she was raped Nov. 15 at the residence of NU quarterback Tommy Armstrong (pictured, left), tight end Trey Foster and wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp (pictured, right). The subsequent investigation could not prove that any type of an assault had taken place.

“Filing charges would require proof beyond a reasonable doubt. That simply is not there,” district attorney Joe Kelly stated in announcing the decision.  Armstrong had previously claimed that “[f]rom what we’re hearing, everything was consensual.”

The university’s athletic department released a statement in the wake of today’s announcement.

We are aware of this morning’s announcement by the Lincoln Police Department and the Lancaster County Attorney. There is no change in the status of any student-athletes. We will continue to follow University policies.

The school is in the midst of conducting its own investigation into the situation. As it stands now, all three players will be available for Friday’s game against No. 4 Iowa..