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.

Dan Mullen adds ex-Tennessee assistant to Florida staff

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At last divisionally, the scenery won’t change at all for one SEC East assistant.

Florida announced Friday that Dan Mullen has added Charlton Warren to his Florida coaching staff.  Warren’s specific duties with the Gators in Mullen’s first year as head coach in Gainesville weren’t detailed.

This past season, Warren served as the defensive backs coach at Tennessee as well as the Vols’ special teams coordinator.  New UT head coach Jeremy Pruitt wasn’t expected to retain Warren.

Warren has spent a significant amount of his coaching career overseeing secondaries, so that’s a huge clue as to the general direction in which his duties under Mullen are headed.

Prior to his brief stint on Rocky Top, Warren served as the defensive backs coach at North Carolina (2014-16) and Nebraska (2012-13).  From 2005-13, he was the secondary coach at his alma mater Air Force.  During that time at the service academy, he was also co-defensive coordinator from 2008-11 and solo DC from 2012-13.

Alabama announces hiring of UTSA defensive coordinator

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In early January, new NCAA legislation will officially allow FBS football programs to add a 10th on-field assistant to their coaching staffs.  Friday, Alabama, not surprisingly, became the first Power Five program to officially dip into that particular coaching pool.

The Crimson Tide confirmed in a press release that Pete Golding has been added to Nick Saban‘s staff as an ambiguous defensive assistant.  Golding will not be permitted to assume an on-field role until Jan. 9, the day the 10th assistant rule officially goes into effect.

The 2017 College Football Playoff championship game is scheduled to be played Jan. 8 of next year, for what it’s worth.

“We are pleased to have Pete and his family join our staff at Alabama,” Saban said in a statement. “Pete is an exciting young coach, who has an outstanding reputation as both a teacher and recruiter. He will be a great fit in our organization with his knowledge of the game and his ability to relate to student-athletes. We are thrilled to welcome Pete and his family to Alabama.”

Golding, who will be permitted to work with his new program in an off-field capacity for now, has spent the past two seasons as the defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach at UT-San Antonio.  Prior to that, Golding spent two seasons as the safeties coach at Southern Miss, his first job at the FBS level.

Saban will still need to fill the hole created by defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt‘s hiring as the head coach at Tennessee.  Pruitt will remain at Alabama through its playoff run, however long it lasts.

As accuser blasts DA’s office, protective order against Oklahoma RB Rodney Anderson dismissed

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Thursday, Cleveland County (Okla.) District Attorney Greg Mashburn announced in a press conference that his office would not pursue charges related to allegations of rape made against Oklahoma running back Rodney Anderson. A day later, there were a pair of developments in connection to the situation.

In a statement released Friday, the accuser who claimed Anderson raped her in mid-November released a blistering statement blasting the prosecutors, stating that her faith in the justice system has been diminished by the actions of the district attorney’s office. Specifically, she decried, in part, “inaccurate statements” from Mashburn at the Thursday press conference and hopes that his office’s “unorthodox, erroneous and egregious release of detailed information does not affect and/or deter future victims from coming forward.”

My choice to stay silent to the media was an intentional decision. I held full faith that the Oklahoma criminal justice system would achieve due process with a thorough investigation. Yesterday’s press conference, held by the Cleveland County District Attorney’s office, diminished my faith in our local judicial system. I was speechless when I heard inaccurate statements, a disregard for addressing my inability to give consent, and a projected perceived bias. I was led to believe that the case details provided to the media would be a vague overview of the investigative process. I truly hope their unorthodox, erroneous and egregious release of detailed information does not affect and/or deter future victims from coming forward.

In the press conference, the prosecutor noted several text messages between the accuser and Anderson after the alleged assault that were described as friendly in nature. Anderson’s attorney claimed that the accuser only went to the authorities with her claims after Anderson had rejected several of her advances in the weeks following the alleged assault.

Earlier this month, the 23-year-old woman filed for an emergency order of protection against Anderson; additional details subsequently emerged, with the woman describing the player in a written statement to the court as the “alleged rapist” and herself as the “victim of rape.” A hearing on the protective order had been scheduled for Dec. 18.

That hearing three days from today has since been canceled. From the accuser’s statement:

Despite my adamant fight for justice, I have chosen to dismiss my Victim Protective Order upon receiving military orders two days ago to begin training. I look forward to starting this next chapter of my life as a 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Air Force.

The woman, who signed her statement “Courtney J. Thornton, OU Class of 2017,” closed the missive with the following paragraph:

In the future, I ask you to consider all sides of every story before resorting to absolutes. Coming forward was one of the most difficult decisions of my life, but I never wanted to regret not reporting what happened that night. In the humble words of Eleanor Roosevelt, ‘What you don’t do can be a destructive force.’

Ohio State assistant coach Larry Johnson takes to Twitter to deny retirement rumors

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The addition of an early signing period in college football has altered the sport in many different ways this year, from super quick coaching searches to an ever changing recruiting calendar and process. While you can debate the merits of the new Dec. 20th date all you want, there’s no denying that the entire process has been accelerated much more so than in past seasons.

That is also very true when it comes to ‘crootin rumors.

Apparently there have been a few such rumors floating around that veteran Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson was set to retire at some point in the not too distant future (i.e. after the season). The coach is one of the best in the business and highly regarded for his recruiting abilities so naturally he made things very clear on Twitter Friday morning that he will be in Columbus and wanted to set the record straight that he would not be leaving the staff.

You could probably chalk up the rumors and grumblings to a bit of negative recruiting from some rivals given that the coach is in his mid-sixties but it’s great news for the Buckeyes that he will indeed be the team’s line coach for the forseeable future.