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.

Tim Beckman steps down from volunteer post at North Carolina

CHAMPAIGN, IL - NOVEMBER 16:  Head coach Tim Beckman of the Illinois Fighting Illini gives instructions to his team against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Memorial Stadium on November 16, 2013 in Champaign, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Tim Beckman will no longer volunteer with North Carolina’s football program, it was announced Thursday night.

Head coach Larry Fedora indicated Wednesday his friend and former Illinois head coach was worth the cyclical round of bad press, but this statement from his boss indicated the decision was never run up the proverbial flag pole. Said UNC chancellor Carol Folt:

“When I first learned yesterday that Coach Larry Fedora had invited former Illinois head coach Tim Beckman to serve as a volunteer with the football program, I was surprised and disappointed. The decision for Mr. Beckman to withdraw from his volunteer position was the right thing to do, and moving forward I don’t expect this situation to recur. I continue to put a great deal of trust in Director of Athletics Bubba Cunningham and Coach Fedora to educate and develop our student-athletes and to ensure we meet the high standards we all expect at Carolina.”

Fedora agreed, or at least it was decided for him that he would agree.

“Tim will no longer serve as a volunteer with our program. I brought Tim here to help a friend gain experience from our staff, but after meeting with him today, we agreed his presence had become too much of a distraction.”

Added Beckman:

“I appreciate the opportunity Coach Fedora gave me to stay connected to the sport and be around one of the best staffs in the country.  His willingness to help a friend was a benefit both personally and professionally.  I do not wish to be a further distraction to the team or University and I will no longer serve as a volunteer at UNC. I wish Larry and the program nothing but success going forward.”

Beckman was forced out at Illinois nearly a year ago today after an investigation by a Chicago law firm uncovered a culture of player mistreatment, where Beckman and his assistants routinely pressured players to play through major injuries, and belittled and threatened those who would not.

Beckman sat out the 2016 season, and now he’ll sit out the ’17 campaign as well.

Stanford names Ryan Burns starting QB; Keller Chryst to see action

EUGENE, OR - NOVEMBER 1: Head coach David Shaw looks up at the scoreboard during the fourth quarter of the game against the Oregon Ducks at Autzen Stadium on November 1, 2014 in Eugene, Oregon. The Ducks won the game 45-16. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
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Stanford has named Ryan Burns its starting quarterback, head coach David Shaw announced after practice on Wednesday evening.

A senior, Burns did not throw a pass last season. The only dent he recorded on the Cardinal’s stat sheet was 13 rushing yards on four carries.

Shaw also noted junior Keller Chryst will also see action in Stanford’s opener against Kansas State next Friday night.

“Ryan Burns will start and play a good chunk of the game,” said Shaw. “Keller Chryst will play as well. We’re going to play both guys and try to win a game.

“There hasn’t been a huge separation between the two. Both guys have played extremely well. Ryan has been enough ahead to get the nod.”

Burns has completed one pass in his career — a 13-yard connection against UC Davis in 2014.

Given that lack of experience, it’s a safe bet Burns’ (and Chryst’s) top objectives will be “get it to Christian,” “get it to Christian,” and “for the love of all that’s holy, get it to Christian.”

Stanford enters the season with an FBS-leading streak of 13 straight games reaching at least 30 points.

NCAA reportedly interviewing former Ole Miss recruits in probe into Rebels’ recruiting

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 01:  Laremy Tunsil #78 of the Mississippi Rebels celebrate his touchdown with teammates during the second quarter against the Oklahoma State Cowboys in  the Allstate Sugar Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 1, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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You had to know Laremy Tunsil‘s draft night wouldn’t end on draft night.

In addition to costing him millions of dollars, the screenshots posted on the former Ole Miss offensive tackle’s Instagram account, the NCAA launched an investigation into the Rebels’ recruiting arm which, according to a report from Yahoo‘s Pat Forde, has now expanded beyond Tunsil.

Per Yahoo:

NCAA Enforcement representatives have visited Auburn and Mississippi State, and perhaps at least one more SEC Western Division school, this summer to speak with players who were recruited by Ole Miss. The players were granted immunity from potential NCAA sanctions in exchange for truthful accounts of their recruitment, sources said.

Those interviews indicate that the NCAA investigation has expanded beyond the spring focus on former All-American offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil.

Ole Miss was already in the midst of a lengthy investigation which accused the Rebels of 28 violations — 13 of which came in football and nine under Hugh Freeze. The investigation was nearing its end until the draft night hack.

In the meantime, Ole Miss’s 2017 recruiting efforts have taken a beating.

The 11th-ranked Rebels open their season next Monday night against No. 4 Florida State in Orlando (8 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Eyewitnesses say officers assaulted Notre Dame CB Devin Butler

PALO ALTO, CA - NOVEMBER 28:  Trenton Irwin #2 of the Stanford Cardinal is tackled by Max Redfield #10 and Devin Butler #12 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Stanford Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Palo Alto, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Eyewitness testimony of Devin Butler‘s girlfriend and the fiancee of Fighting Irish wide receiver Torii Hunter, Jr., say the Notre Dame cornerback was a victim of police brutality during his weekend arrest.

South Bend police say Butler assaulted an officer, punching and slamming him to the ground, which necessitated the use of a stun gun to subdue him. From the AP:

South Bend police spokesman Lt. Joe Galea said that after officers broke up a fight inside the bar they saw two women fighting outside when Butler allegedly shoved one of the women. Butler was agitated and when officers told him to back away he allegedly pushed the officers and then attacked one of them.

The affidavit says Butler tackled an officer to the ground, punched him several times in the side and stomach and pulled off his duty belt.

“He shouted profanities at the officers and started swinging his fist,” Galea said of Butler.

But the eyewitnesses paint a picture diametrically opposed to the account of South Bend police. Butler’s girlfriend Haleigh Bailey told the South Bend Tribune:

“I was there that entire night. Reports say that everyone left the scene but I was still there and saw everything officers did to Devin.

“He was abused, and wrongly arrested. He never tackled an officer and he never intentionally hurt anyone. He had no reason to be tazed because he was never resisting arrest, and he was already on the ground complying when they tazed him.”

Butler has been charged with resisting law enforcement and battery of a police officer — both of which are felonies. He pleaded not guilty.

Police were originally called to the Linebacker bar early Saturday morning after a call reporting fights between patrons and bar security. Bar personnel said the fight was subdued by the time police arrived, but officers intervened in a fight between two women outside the bar. That’s when, police say, Butler shoved one of the women involved. Officers tried to detain Butler, but he resisted and ultimately assaulted the officers. Officer Aaron Knepper was evaluated for minor injuries to his back, arm, elbow and wrist at South Bend’s Memorial Hospital, but was later released.

“That 100 percent did not happen,” Selina Bell, Hunter’s fiancee, told the paper. “Devin didn’t even have the capability to pick someone up if he wanted to. He just got off of crutches the day before.”

Butler underwent surgery in June for a fractured foot, a aggravation of an injury he originally suffered in the Irish’s Fiesta Bowl loss in January.

Added Bailey, in a message to the Tribune:“Reports say that Devin did all of these aggressive things but in reality, he was grabbed by the police from behind and never told who was grabbing him or why they were grabbing him. Devin felt he was doing the right thing but out of nowhere was arrested for simply stopping an argument. He felt he had no reason to be detained… Devin has been in a boot/cast and on crutches recovering for the past 8 weeks. He is in no condition to be lifting weights, working out, or doing any ‘tackling.’ I have not seen him run let alone walk on two feet since the day before his surgery in June. I can assure you he did NOT tackle a police officer but police officers tackled HIM.”

Knepper was found guilty of unconstitutional behavior earlier this month for unlawfully entering a home and mistakenly using a Taser on a 17-year-old boy earlier this month. He was reprimanded in August of 2012 for forcing a 7-Eleven clerk to swallow a tablespoon of cinnamon and eat 10 crackers in less than a minute, and in March of 2014 a 55-year-old South Bend resident and his 76-year-old mother accused Knepper of excessive force resulting from a traffic stop in which they were accused of resisting arrest and battering a police officer.