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.

Police report details how forklift ran over Michigan RB Drake Johnson

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Jim Harbaugh called it a “miracle” Wolverines running back Drake Johnson was not seriously harmed when he was run over by a forklift in April, and a police report unearthed Tuesday detailed exactly how it happened.

According to the document obtained by the Detroit News, a forklift operator identified named Matt Johnson was operating his vehicle at Michigan’s indoor track facility “and felt a bump, stating he thought he ran over a starting block, when he saw Drake Johnson, a student-athlete, roll from under the forklift. And M. Johnson realized he had ran over Drake Johnson who was sitting on the track floor stretching.”

The operator only realized he ran over the running back when he rolled out from under the vehicle.

Johnson was examined by a Michigan athletic trainer at the scene, then again at Schembechler Hall before being transported to U-M Hospital’s emergency room by athletic staff.

“All I can say is thank god,” Johnson later tweeted.

“I can tell you this, it would have killed a lesser man, but he is blue twisted steel, very flexible and amazing,” Harbaugh said on the call. “But it’s one of those miraculous things and he is doing well.”

“It’s a miracle right up there with Easter. Just thanking God he is all right, that’s my thoughts on it.”

Pac-12 to tamper down on select #Pac12AfterDark kickoffs

TEMPE, AZ - DECEMBER 07:  Pac-12 Commissioner, Larry Scott stands in front of the Stanford Cardinal as they celebrate the Pac 12 Championship after defeating the Arizona State Sun Devils 38-14 at Sun Devil Stadium on December 7, 2013 in Tempe, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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When you allow television networks to pay you $3 billion to broadcast football games and happen to be located on the West Coast, you’re going to pay for it in the form of late kickoffs. ESPN and Fox want eyeballs on their networks as long as possible on fall Saturdays, and they’re not putting SEC games on at 10 p.m. Eastern time.

So, naturally, the Pac-12 drew those time slots.

And they absolutely hated it.

Remember, this is a conference that only recently joined the 21st century. For decades, the conference was happy with its 10 teams, its football games played on Saturday afternoons and its basketball schedule diced into a handy Thursday-Saturday format. Larry Scott was hired in 2009 to modernize the league while increasing the bottom line, and part of that required late kickoffs.

But on Tuesday the conference announced it has worked with its television partners to reduce the number of late kickoffs. ESPN and Fox won’t change their late slots, but the conference has received clearance to play Pac-12 Network games in previously exclusive windows of 2 p.m. or 6:30 p.m. local time. The change is expected to reduce the late night kickoffs by “up to” four games.

“The Pac-12 has some of the most loyal fans in college athletics and we appreciate our television partners working with us on this important issue for fans,” Oregon AD Rob Mullens said in a statement. “The increased exposure and revenue from our contracts with ESPN and FOX Sports have been instrumental to our success, but we continue to work hard to minimize as much as possible the negative impact late start times have on our fans who travel great distances to see our teams in person.”

Additionally, the conference announced it has instituted a field storming fine structure of $25,000 for a first offense, $50,000 for a second offense and $100,000 for a third offense. The SEC has a similar structure on its books.

“The Pac-12 Council carefully considered this policy and its impact on our fans who loyally support our teams,” Cal AD Mike Williams said. “This enhanced policy underscores the importance our universities place on the safety and welfare of our student-athletes, officials and fans, and will allow us to educate staffs and fans on procedures going forward.”

Finally, Pac-12 Network will start broadcasting eSports contests between member schools. Clear your schedule now.

Washington promotes Jennifer Cohen to athletics director

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When Scott Woodward left his post as Washington’s athletics director for the same job at Texas A&M in January, the Huskies promoted Jennifer Cohen to be the program’s interim AD.

Washington spent the next four months searching far and wide for Woodward’s replacement, and ended up finding her already sitting in Woodward’s old chair.

“I am very pleased to announce Jen’s appointment,” Washington president Ana Mari Cauce said in a statement. “She has all the skills and energy to provide exceptional leadership for Husky athletics. Her years of experience leading its fundraising program, along with her direct involvement overseeing football, provide a strong foundation for assuming overall leadership for the department.  This is the right time for her, and I look forward to a very exciting time for our students, coaches and fans of Husky athletics.”   

The Tacoma native joined the Huskies’ athletics department in 1998 as an assistant director of development and eventually rose to handle all of UW’s fundraising efforts. Before becoming interim AD, Cohen also oversaw the Huskies’ football and baseball programs.

“I am humbled, honored, and extremely thankful for this opportunity,” said Cohen. “The University of Washington has been part of my life for nearly two decades, and I believe our department is poised to accomplish great things. Together, we will work to positively impact our student-athletes, inspire a championship culture, and build and unite our community. I believe there is no better place to achieve these things than at Washington, and I can’t wait to get started.”

From a football standpoint, Cohen inherits a program on more stable footing than it’s been in a decade and a half — and considering the turmoil the Rose Bowl-bound 2001 Huskies experienced off the field, one may have to go back to the national championship days under Don James in the early 1990’s to find a rosier time for Huskies football. Chris Petersen is entrenched as head coach and has Washington positioned to be the nation’s top sleeper heading into this fall, and Husky Stadium recently underwent $50 million in renovations that Cohen herself fundraised.

Cohen also arrives to the position with Petersen’s enthusiastic approval.

DB Davon Jacobs decides to transfer from Rutgers

PISCATAWAY, NJ - NOVEMBER 01: Davon Jacobs #29 of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights tackles Jordan Fredrick #9 of the Wisconsin Badgers in the second quarter at High Point Solutions Stadium on November 1, 2014 in Piscataway, New Jersey.  (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
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Another day, another player who’s decided to move on from his college football starting point.

Citing a person familiar with the situation, nj.com is reporting that senior defensive back Davon Jacobs has decided to transfer out of first-year head coach Chris Ash’s football program.  The fact that Jacobs had fallen behind on the safety depth chart this spring.

Jacobs is entering his fifth-year season, but he has yet to graduate.  So, if he wants to finish his career at the FBS level, he’d need to graduate this summer.  If not, he could drop down to the FCS level and be eligible to play immediately in 2016.

Last season, Jacobs started the first three games before being sidelined with a concussion.  He came back to start one more game before being reinjured and missing the remainder of the season.

After redshirting as a true freshman in 2012, Jacobs played in 25 games the next two seasons.  Included in that was a pair of starts, one each in 2013 and 2014.