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.

Minnesota losing DL Mose Hall to transfer

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - NOVEMBER 15: The jersey and helmet of Jon Christenson #63 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers are seen during the third quarter of the game against the Ohio State Buckeyes on November 15, 2014 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Buckeyes defeated the Golden Gophers 31-24. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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The transfer train continues its run down the tracks, with Minnesota the latest to see its roster hit with attrition.

As all the cool kids are doing these days, Mose Hall took to social media confirm a change in his current situation, announcing on Twitter that he has decided to transfer out of the Gophers football program. No reason was given for the defensive lineman’s departure.

Should Hall move on to another FBS program, he’d have to sit out the 2016 season. He’d then have three seasons of eligibility remaining beginning in 2017.

Hall was a three-star 2015 recruit rated as the No. 98 strongside defensive end by 247Sports.com.  He was also the No. 61 player at any position in the state of Alabama.

Last season as a true freshman, Hall took a redshirt.

Expansion rumblings once again swirling around Big 12

Matt Ritchey
Associated Press
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Expansion in major college football has been in hibernation for a couple of years now, but it appears movement on that front could be imminent.  Or it could not.  One of the two.

Over the past 24 hours or so, a handful of stories have surfaced that, once again, have the speculation swirling around the Big 12 when it comes to that conference getting back to matching its numerical name.  From analytics to potential expansion candidates to the 800-pound Longhorn in the middle of the room, the Big 12’s annual spring meetings this week figure to at least begin — or, more specifically, continue — the process of settling the expansion/conference title game/league network issues that are all inextricably intertwined.

To wit:

— Monday, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby confirmed that in research performed by an analytics outfit hired by the league, a 12-team conference with an eight-game league schedule and a championship game is the best model for one of its teams qualifying for the college football playoff.  Right now, the Big 12 is the exact opposite of that model, with 10 teams, nine conference games and no title game.

According to Bowlsby, the first combination would increase a league’s chances of sending a team to the playoffs by five percent.  As Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News asked, would that slight bump be enough to get everyone onboard with expansion and a title game?

“Some would say we want every advantage we can get,” Bowlsby said. “Others may say it’s not enough to blow up a good scheduling model.”

From Carlton’s report:

Bowlsby said the Big 12 is scheduled to receive “two major reports” in Irving. In addition to information on the title game, Navigate will examine scheduling models for a 10-, 12- and 14-team conference and the variables involved.

In February, Bowlsby said he hoped to have an answer to the expansion question, one way or the other, this summer.  Just how close Bowlsby gets to that timeline will depend on how things go in Phoenix this week.

— Boise State, BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, Memphis and UCF have all been mentioned as potential candidates if the Big 12 opts to expand.  According to the Memphis Commercial Appeal, the UofM has been lobbying the conference for inclusion in a next round of expansion if it comes.

University of Memphis president M. David Rudd sent a promotional publication – highlighting the finer points of the city and its major university – to University of Texas president Dr. Gregory Fenves in December, showcasing the U of M as a possible Big 12 expansion candidate.

Rudd said the publication, entitled “Memphis Soul of a City,” captures “the passion and proud history of Tiger athletics including a historic run by our football program.”

The Memphis publication highlights the city’s top Fortune 500 companies, its overall attributes and the U of M’s attributes, including its recent athletic accomplishments, particularly the turnaround by the football program. Tiger football has gone 19-7 the past two seasons.

— And, finally,that 800-pound Longhorn we spoke of earlier.

It’s long been believed that Texas is not in favor of expanding the conference, especially at the expense of folding its Longhorn Network into a conference-wide network, with Texas Tech and TCU, for their own reasons, following in lock-step with the state’s flagship institution.  According to a report from the Cincinnati Enquirer, the conference is one vote shy of garnering enough support to expand.

It’s believed seven of the 10 schools favor expansion. But Big 12 bylaws call for a super majority vote of 75 percent (so at least eight schools) to make a major change. Texas is believed to be influencing Texas Tech’s and Texas Christian’s decisions to also be reluctant to expansion.

Texas Tech has long fallen in line with Texas. Both are public universities that have been in the same league together since 1956, when they were in the Southwest Conference. Texas and Texas Tech were founding members of the Big 12 in 1996.

TCU is believed to be following Texas’ lead because the conference’s power broker reportedly helped the Horned Frogs get into the Big 12 four years ago.

In other words, we’re right back to where we’ve been on multiple occasions in the past: as Texas goes, so goes Big 12 expansion.  Or doesn’t go, as the case may be.

UPDATED 6:38 p.m. ET: If you want an idea as to Texas’ thought process at the moment, I think this sentence pretty much tells you everything you need to know.

Iowa State lands Duke grad transfer Evrett Edwards

DURHAM, NC - SEPTEMBER 26:  Evrett Edwards #2 of the Duke Blue Devils reacts after a play against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets during their game at Wallace Wade Stadium on September 26, 2015 in Durham, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Duke’s secondary loss will turn into Iowa State’s gain.

In a tweet posted to his personal Twitter account Monday, Evrett Edwards announced that he will continue his collegiate playing career at Iowa State.  The defensive back visited Ames in the middle of April, pulling the trigger on a decision two weeks later.

Maryland and Troy were also potential landing spots for the graduate transfer, who will be eligible to play immediately for the Cyclones this fall.  The upcoming season will be Edwards’ final year of eligibility.

After redshirting as a true freshman in 2013, Edwards played in 25 games the past two seasons. He was listed as the top backup at the Bandit safety position throughout the 2015 season.

Saban or Bear? Bobby Bowden would side with current Tide coach

JACKSONVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 29:  University of Alabama coach Nick Saban chats with coach Bobby Bowden of Florida State University September 29, 2007 at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
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Thanks to Alabama’s run to yet another national championship this past season, an old debate has once again been stirred up: Nick Saban or Bear Bryant.

Suffice to say, both head coaches, one a Hall of Famer and the other soon to be one, carry as impressive a résumé as there is in the profession.

Saban has been a head coach at the collegiate level for 25 seasons, from Toledo to Michigan State to LSU and now at ‘Bama.  In that span, he’s won 191 games, seven conference championships (one MAC, six SEC) and, most importantly/impressively, five national titles.

In a coaching career that spanned 37 years, including 25 seasons in Tuscaloosa, Bryant won a record six national championships and 14 SEC titles.  His 323 wins were a record upon his retirement, and are now third in FBS history behind Penn State’s Joe Paterno (409) and Florida State’s Bobby Bowden (377).

The latter head coach certainly knows a thing or two about running a successful football program, and did it during both Bryant’s reign and Saban’s.  During a radio interview, Bowden was asked which run has been more impressive, Bryant’s or Saban’s.  And, in the end, the FSU legend went with new school over old.

“That’s a pretty good question,” Bowden said by way of al.com. “I’d say probably what Nick Saban is doing (is more impressive) because football is more balanced now. I think when coach Bryant came to Alabama in 1958, I think it was unlimited recruiting. You could sign all the kids you wanted, and he’s gonna get most of them.

“There was an old saying back in those days, ‘He’s gonna get his and he’s gonna get yours.'”

The biggest argument for Saban is what Bowden hinted around, that the current Tide head coach’s run has come with an 85-man limit on scholarships while the likes of Bryant had unlimited scholarships to hoard players and stash them on his roster.  Then there is one-third of Bryant’s titled being shared, as well as two other championship seasons actually ending with a bowl loss, something that could never happen under the old BCS system or the current College Football Playoff.

And all of that’s without mentioning the fact that Saban won titles at two different schools.

While what Bryant did at Alabama is certainly legendary and deserves to be remembered that way, Bowden’s right: what Saban has accomplished is indeed more impressive than the Bear.  And, really, it’s not even that close.