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.

Western Kentucky’s Jaylon George charged with DUI

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Given all of the activity on the coaching carousel this one flew under the radar, so allow me to address the latest resetting of the “Days Without An Arrest” ticker back to double zeroes.

According to both the Bowling Green Daily News and WBKO-TV, Western Kentucky’s Jaylon George was arrested early Saturday morning and charged with careless driving and operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The incident involving the defensive lineman came just hours after WKU’s triple-overtime win over Middle Tennessee State Friday night.

According to the television station’s report, police pulled George over after he was spotted driving erratically in and around an apartment complex parking lot. George admitted to the arresting officer that he had been smoking marijuana, with a search of his vehicle and person yielding weed residue.

The school told the Daily News in a statement that they “are aware of the situation involving Jaylon and are currently in the process of gathering more information.”

George had played in five games this season as a reserve lineman, including the MTSU game before his arrest. The redshirt sophomore transferred after spending two seasons at an Oklahoma junior college.

Michigan RB declares Wolverines actually beat Ohio State last year

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No. 9 Ohio State heads to No. 24 Michigan on Saturday (noon ET, FOX) looking to protect its 5-game winning streak against That Team Up North. According to Michigan running back Karan Higdon, though, it’s Michigan that’s looking to protect its claim over the scoreboard.

Higdon surely remembers last year’s game well. He was there, after all, carrying three times for five yards. However, it was actually Ohio State who won the game, 30-27 in double overtime. The game was incredibly close, as the score indicates. Michigan would have won if not for a pair of Wilton Speight disasters at the goal line, the first an interception that Malik Hooker returned for a touchdown to give Ohio State a 7-3 lead and the second a goal line fumble that ruined Michigan’s chance to take a 17-7 lead.

As we know, Ohio State fought back to win by this much. How much? Jim Harbaugh shows us below.

Higdon figures to have a much greater impact on this year’s game. He’s the Wolverines leading rusher 874 yards and 10 touchdowns, and ran for 200 yards and two touchdowns on just 16 carries in Michigan’s most recent home game, a 33-10 win over Minnesota.

Here’s hoping, for his sake, that he can have an impact on an actual Michigan victory this time around.

Finalists announced for a number of individual awards

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The final week of the regular season is upon us. Heck, some teams still have two games to play between now and bowl season. Still, it’s awards season in college football, and the petty matter of actual games won’t get in the way of the pageantry.

Let’s dive right in.

Bednarik Award (best defensive player)
Bradley Chubb, NC State
Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
Roquan Smith, Georgia

Biletnikoff Award (best wide receiver)
Michael Gallup, Colorado State
David Sills V, West Virginia
James Washington, Oklahoma State

Bronko Nagurski Trophy (best defensive player)
Bradley Chubb, NC State
Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
Josey Jewell, Iowa
Ed Oliver, Houston
Roquan Smith, Georgia

Butkus Award (best linebacker)
Devin Bush, Michigan
Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech
T.J. Edwards, Wisconsin
Dorian O’Daniel, Clemson
Roquan Smith, Georgia

Davey O’Brien Award (best quarterback)
J.T. Barrett, Ohio State
Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State

Doak Walker Award (best running back)
Saquon Barkley, Penn State
Bryce Love, Stanford
Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin

Jim Thorpe Award (best defensive back)
DeShon Elliott, Texas
Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
Josh Jackson, Iowa

John Mackey Award (best tight end)
Mark Andrews, Oklahoma
Troy Fumagalli, Wisconsin
Mike Geisicki, Penn State

Lou Groza Award (best kicker)
Daniel Carlson, Auburn
Dominik Eberle, Utah State
Matt Gay, Utah

Maxwell Award (best overall player)
Saquon Barkley, Penn State
Bryce Love, Stanford
Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma

Outland Trophy (best interior player)
Orlando Brown, Oklahoma
Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame
Ed Oliver, Houston

Ray Guy Award (best punter)
Michael Dickson, Texas
J.K. Scott, Alabama
Mitch Wishnowsky, Utah

Wuerffel Trophy (best community servant)
Blaise Taylor, Arkansas State
Courtney Love, Kentucky
Drue Tranquill, Notre Dame

Winners will be announced at the Home Depot College Football Awards show in Atlanta, Thursday, Dec. 7 on ESPN.

Kentucky loses TE C.J. Conrad to foot injury

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Kentucky tight end C.J. Conrad has been lost for the season to a lisfranc injury in his left foot, head coach Mark Stoops announced Monday. He will undergo surgery to correct the issue on Tuesday.

Though he caught just 16 passes for 286 yards and four touchdowns on the season, Conrad was Kentucky’s leading receiver this season. The junior caught one 17-yard pass in Big Blue’s 41-38 defeat of Louisville last season.

With Conrad, a junior, out, Kentucky will turn to senior Greg Hart and/or sophomore Justin Rigg at tight end, though the Louisville Courier-Journal notes that both have battled injuries of late.

Kentucky will close the season against Louisville in Lexington on Saturday (noon ET, SEC Network) and in a to-be-determined bowl game.