CFT 2014 Preseason Preview: Impact Freshmen


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:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Hand, who was rated as the No. 1 overall prospect in the 2014 class by, 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Former USC assistant coach wants to depose Mark Emmert as part of lawsuit against NCAA

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March Madness may not be the only thing on NCAA president Mark Emmert’s mind this week.

According to the LA Times, attorneys for former USC assistant coach Todd McNair are asking a judge to order Emmert to take part in a deposition with them prior to the start of the long-running legal case involving the association next month. The NCAA president had been scheduled to be deposed in February in Indianapolis but the session never appeared to come about.

“We suspect you are seeking it in order to harass President Emmert and place undue settlement pressure on the NCAA,” Kosta Stojilkovic, an attorney representing the organization, wrote in an email obtained by the Times.

McNair was a former running backs coach at USC and was one of the key links the NCAA used to levy heavy sanctions against the Trojans in the Reggie Bush infractions case nearly eight years ago. However McNair subsequently sued the NCAA not long after he was let go by the university, claiming that his career was ruined as a result of the case.

Documents that have slowly been released as part of the lawsuit have shown the Committee on Infractions did stray from protocol in the case in order to punish USC and after years of appeals, it seems McNair is finally getting his day in court not far from the campus where he once coached at. It remains to be seen if the most recent legal maneuvering on both sides will result in Emmert becoming part of the trial but, billable hours appears as though they will remain undefeated as both the NCAA and McNair redefine the motto ‘Fight On.’

College GameDay joins ESPN’s coverage of 2018 NFL Draft

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Not so fast NFL friends, College GameDay is crashing the party.

ESPN and the NFL league office announced on Wednesday that Kirk Herbstreit and the rest of the GameDay gang will be heading to Texas to cover the 2018 NFL Draft for the first time ever. While we’ve seen the crew setup shop for big games before at AT&T Stadium, this broadcast will be a little different with the excitement from fans coming about players leaving college.

“ESPN has presented the NFL Draft for nearly 40 years and we take great pride in finding new and exciting ways to continue to elevate and differentiate our coverage,” ESPN Executive Vice President Burke Magnus said in a statement. “The draft is the perfect intersection of college football and the NFL, so giving fans the opportunity to experience Round 1 through the lens of College GameDay makes perfect sense.”


The team should have plenty to discuss next month in Dallas between presumptive No. 1 overall pick Sam Darnold and human highlight reel Saquon Barkley out of Penn State likely going atop the draft. If you’re annoyed at some of the NFL analysts who are dropping analysis that doesn’t quite lineup with what you’ve seen on the gridiron the past few years in college, this is certainly a nice new option to have when it comes to the opening night of the draft.

Entire NFL showed up to Penn State’s Pro Day and a WWE scout did too

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All the movers and shakers in the NFL world descended upon Happy Valley this week to watch top five pick Saquon Barkley and others work out at Penn State’s Pro Day.

As much as the Nittany Lions made sure to publicize the fact that all 32 NFL teams were in attendance, the school was nothing but detailed when noting which scouts were on hand for 40 yard dashes and agility drills. One interesting name was on that list however and it wasn’t the scout from the CFL but one from the… WWE?

As good as Barkley and the rest of Penn State’s early draft picks were in college, it may be a more intriguing draft story to find out who the WWE is scouting among the crop of recent Nittany Lions. Former college football players have found plenty of success in the WWE over the years and it probably isn’t too surprising that the wrestling conglomerate is eyeing the sport as a minor league farm system for real if they’re sending scouts to Pro Days now.

Heck, it’s probably only a matter of time before there’s a wrestling/football combine hitting the airwaves not long after the NFL edition takes place in Indianapolis. The XFL reboot isn’t going to sprout up from nothing after all.

Iowa basketball player making move to football, although his gridiron destination is unknown

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Iowa basketball’s loss could be Iowa football’s gain — maybe.

In a press release, it was announced that Ahmad Wagner has decided to leave the Hawkeyes men’s hoops program “to train and get my body into football shape so I can be ready for when I decide where I will finish my athletic and academic goals.” The 6-7, 235-pound Wagner played three years of basketball at the Big Ten school, starting 25 of the 96 games in which he played.

Below is Wagner’s statement on his decision, released through the university’s athletic department:

I have had recent discussions with my family and the coaching staff, and ultimately decided to leave the Hawkeye basketball program and end my college basketball career so I can finish my collegiate eligibility playing football. A person of strong faith, I am following God’s plan and I am eager for this next chapter. I leave the Iowa men’s basketball team with new friendships and incredible memories that I will forever treasure. I want to thank coach McCaffery, staff, and teammates for helping me grow both as a basketball player and person.

“My plan now is to train and get my body into football shape so I can be ready for when I decide where I will finish my athletic and academic goals. Thank-you Hawkeye nation for your support and welcoming me when I first stepped onto campus.

If Wagner opts to remain at UI and plays for the football Hawkeyes, he would have two years of eligibility that he could use beginning with the 2018 season.  The same goes for a move to an FCS program.  If he were to opt for another FBS school, however, he’d have to sit out the 2018 season, which would leave him with one year of football eligibility to use in 2019.

Wagner played one year of high school football, helping to lead Wayne High School to the Div. 1 championship game in the Ohio state playoffs his senior season.  As a wide receiver that year, he caught 58 passes for 1,028 yards and 17 touchdowns in earning first-team all-state honors.

According to the’s Scott Dochterman, Kentucky offered Wagner a football scholarship while Ohio State was interested in him as a football player as well.