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.

Rutgers declares war on Washington, comes armed with jacuzzi for fans

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Rutgers will open up the 2017 season at home against defending Pac-12 champion Washington on Friday, September 8, and the Scarlet Knights are declaring war on the Huskies. In a somewhat awkward promotion for the season opener, Rutgers is advertising the game as the “War Before the Shore,” thus encouraging fans to come out to the game before enjoying their Labor Day weekend down at the Jersey shores in the final weekend of the summer.

The first 5,000 fans attending the game will be handed a rally towel complete with the “War Before the Shore” logo designed for the game. In addition, students attending the game will walk away with a tank top that reads “Rutgers The State Football Team of New Jersey.” Students will also receive a pair of sunglasses to go with their new tank top, if they are among the first 2,000 fans to walk through the gates of the student section. The student section will also feature a temporary jacuzzi.

But if that’s not enough to entice fans to come out and enjoy a football game, Rutgers will fill the areas outside the stadium with volleyball courts, food trucks, carnival rides and boardwalk games to keep a shore feeling going.

Washington defeated Rutgers 48-13 in the 2016 season opener. The Huskies went on to win the Pac-12 and play in the College Football Playoff. Rutgers struggled through a 2-10 season in the first season with Chris Ash as head coach. Rutgers lost home games to No. 4 Michigan 78-0 and No. 9 Penn State 39-0 last season. If this season plays out on a similar note, Rutgers may want to add some more hot tubs.

Texas TE Andrew Beck out 6-8 weeks with broken foot

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On Wednesday in practice, Texas tight end Andrew Beck went down with a foot injury. Texas later announced the injury was a broken foot, and it will cost Beck some playing time at the start of the year.

This is the second time this offseason Beck has been sidelined with a lower body injury. He also sat out of spring practices with a broken foot. It has been unconfirmed if the injury is to the same foot or not. Whatever the case may be, Beck will be out of action for the next six to eight weeks at the minimum. Going off of that timeline, the earliest Beck might be available would be for the Big 12 opener against Iowa State in Ames, Iowa on Thursday, September 28. That is six weeks out from now. The two weeks after that will be games against Kansas State and Oklahoma.

The Longhorns will have to figure out who to trust at the tight end position now. The leading candidate may be Syracuse graduate transfer, Kendall Moore. Moore started four games for the Orange in 2014 and 2015, so his starting experience is limited. Moore just joined the Texas program at the end of July and was immediately thought to be a potential starter in the event Beck suffered a setback with his foot. The depth at the tight end position is not quite where Herman would ideally like to have it, but the Longhorns may be able to survive the first part of the season with their heads above water until Beck is able to return.

Foot injury puts Georgia CB Malkom Parrish on sideline

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With the start of a new college football season just around the corner, Georgia suddenly has a concern in the defensive secondary to address. Senior Malkom Parrish reportedly suffered a foot injury that will require surgery. As a result, his status for the start of the season is now in question.

The news of the injury surfaced Thursday after reporters noticed Parrish had been missing from practice for a second straight day. Seth Emerson of Dawg Nation reported the injury was a broken bone, according to an anonymous team source. Georgia has not commented on the injury status at the time of this writing. Taking the place of Parrish on the practice field was Aaron Davis, who normally plays a safety position for the Bulldogs.

Georgia’s defense returns a loaded unit of starters from last season, including Parrish. His absence from the defense for whatever amount of time he may miss could be critical if recovery time extends deeper into the season. Georgia opens the 2017 season at home against Appalachian State and continues the next week on the road against Notre Dame.

Notre Dame and Purdue tack on two more games to upcoming series

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Notre Dame and Purdue originally had a four-game schedule set in place between 2021 through 2026. Today, the Boilermakers and Fighting Irish added two more games to that scheduling agreement to extend the series into 2028.

Notre Dame will host Purdue on September 4, 2027. Purdue will host the Irish the following season, on September 23, 2028. A game previously scheduled for September 26, 2026 that was to be played on a neutral field to be determined at a later point, will now be played on Purdue’s campus.

“Having been on the other side of the series some years ago, I am familiar with the history and tradition of the Purdue-Notre Dame matchup,” Purdue athletics director Mike Bobinski said in a released statement. Bobinski is a Notre Dame graduate and former Irish baseball player. “Sellout crowds, national television, two outstanding universities in close proximity and intensely competitive games. I am excited that the series will resume and know our fans will be, as well.”

The addition of the Irish to the 2027 schedule forced Purdue to reschedule a previously scheduled game against Wake Forest of the ACC. That game will now be played on September 9, 2028. Purdue also announced it has added Memphis to the schedule in 2020 (September 12, 2020), and Indiana State in 2022 (September 10, 2022).

Purdue’s power conference scheduling commitment in the Big Ten is fulfilled through 2021 and from 2023 through 2029. Purdue currently needs a power conference or power conference equivalent opponent in 2022. The Big Ten recently relaxed its policy regarding FCS opponents, which is why Purdue is permitted to schedule Indiana State in 2022.