Leonard Fournette

CFT 2014 Preseason Preview: Impact Freshmen

7 Comments

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.

BYU says it would be open to football-only Big 12 membership

PROVO, UT - SEPTEMBER 1:  BYU  Athletic Director Tom Holmoe announces that BYU football will become independent in football in 2011 separating from the Mountain West Conference, September 1, 2010 in Provo, Utah. The remaining BYU sports will become affiliated with the West Coast Conference in 2011. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
Getty Images
4 Comments

While not preferred, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby has said his conference would be open to football-only membership as it pursues expansion.

That would work for BYU, too.

“We’re obviously open to listening to what they want to do. We’re going to go through this process with an open mind to listen to what they have to say,” BYU AD Tom Holmoe told ESPN.

A football-only addition of the Cougars would solve a number of problems for the Big 12:

1) The conference is starting a championship game in 2017 and, as an independent, BYU would be available immediately. Holding a title game with 10 teams is a clunky option the conference would prefer to avoid if possible, so the Cougars’ immediate availability helps both sides.

2) Adding only BYU’s football program eliminates the question of what to do with the Cougars’ no-Sundays policy.

3) Stretching a conference from Morgantown to Provo is, obviously, geographically challenging. Sending your football team across two time zones is one thing, asking your women’s basketball team to do the same on a Wednesday and turn around and play again on Saturday is something else entirely. It may serve both parties well to keep the Cougars’ Olympic sports in the West Coast Conference.

However, if the Big 12 is interested in bringing BYU aboard as an all-sports member, Holmoe is confident the two sides can make it work. After all, they’ve done it in the WAC, the Mountain West and now the WCC.

“I believe that’s something that can be worked out,” he said. “We’ve been in a lot of leagues through the years, and we’ve been able to work it out.

“There would be a difference in the Big 12 because that would be a Power 5 conference. They’re going to ask questions. We’ll have our solutions, creative ideas of what we can do. We’re going to do everything we can.”

Florida LB Cristian Garcia stops sexual assault behind Gainesville bar

GAINESVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 13: The Florida Gators take the field before the game against the Kentucky Wildcats at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Gainesville, Florida.  (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
3 Comments

Florida linebacker Cristian Garcia stopped a sexual assault behind a popular Gainesville bar, according to a police report.

Garcia told police he was taking out the trash early Thursday morning at 101 Cantina, where he works security, and witnessed a couple having sex by the dumpsters. Upon closer inspection, he says, Garcia noticed the woman was unconscious. He and a coworker approached the man, a 34-year old named Christian Shaw, who managed to escape but has since been arrested on sexual battery charges.

“I was taking out the garbage, and I saw the man pressing the woman up against the Dumpster. At first the guy said she was his girlfriend, but about five seconds later I realized the girl was unconscious,” Garcia told the Gainesville Sun. “I turned around and pulled the guy by the shoulder and said ‘get off.’ That pretty much ended the situation then. He was intoxicated and attempted to throw some punches, but he slipped and busted his face on the wall.”

The Sun notes that police video shows “the victim was mentally and physically unable to give consent due to her level of intoxication.”

Garcia is a walk-on from Miami who appeared in one game in 2015.

Bill Snyder thinks Nebraska has buyer’s remorse in the Big Ten

MANHATTAN, KS - NOVEMBER 05:  Head coach Bill Snyder of the Kansas State Wildcats walks on the field during warm-ups prior to the game against the Baylor Bears at Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium on November 5, 2015 in Manhattan, Kansas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Getty Images
8 Comments

There may be something to the fact that life in the Big Ten hasn’t proved to be all Nebraska thought it was. The money is nice, sure, but it hasn’t translated to Big Ten championships, and it’s not like the Huskers are cutting their fans in on any of the profits.

So, yes, Nebraska may have found, half a decade in now, that life in the Big Ten West is more similar to life in the Big 12 North than they’d ever admit publicly.

But that doesn’t mean they would ever actually go back to the Big 12.

And whatever amount of remorse the ‘Huskers may feel in the Big Ten doesn’t nearly equate to the desire some have in the Big 12 to make everyone think Nebraska has buyer’s remorse about its big move.

Case in point: K-State head coach Bill Snyder.

“When push comes to shove,” Snyder told ESPN, “I don’t want to speak for anybody, but I’m not so sure they’re pleased with the decision they made.”

Snyder also said he missed the Wildcats’ rivalry with Nebraska and thinks the two should still be playing.

And considering the state of affairs in Lincoln, perhaps Nebraska should feel the same way. The see-saw was somewhat even from the late-90’s through the early 2000’s — K-State actually held a 5-2 advantage from 1998-04, and the winner of their annual meeting went on to claim the Big 12 North title every year from 1996 through 2000. But other than that seven-year spurt, Nebraska-Kansas State was about as competitive as bugs vs. windshields — the Huskers hold a 76-10-2 edge, including a six-game winning streak.

Michigan State hires ex-Lions executive as program consultant

EAST LANSING, MI - NOVEMBER 28: The Michigan State Spartans celebrate after the game against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Spartan Stadium on November 28, 2015 in East Lansing, Michigan. Michigan State defeated Penn State 55-16 to clinch a berth in the Big Ten championship game. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Getty Images
2 Comments

Michigan State has hired former Detroit Lions personnel executive Sheldon White as an all-encompassing “program consultant,” the Spartans have announced.

“We’re extremely excited about the addition of Sheldon to our program,” Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio said in a statement. “He has a vast amount of experience at the highest level of football. We can’t wait to work with him and gain insight from his knowledge and expertise, while at the same time introducing him to our players and coaches. I think Sheldon will provide a great benefit to our program.”

White worked for the Lions for 19 years in a variety of roles, including as vice president of pro personnel and interim general manager. A four-year starter at cornerback at Miami (Ohio), White played for the New York Giants, Lions and Cincinnati Bengals before returning to his alma mater as wide receivers coach.

From Miami, White joined the Lions’ organization and steadily rose the ranks before being let go after last season.

As outlined in the press release, White won’t have a defined role for however long he works with the Spartans, instead lending a hand wherever they could use one.

“From the other perspective, whatever Coach Dantonio needs me to do, I’m all in with him and his entire staff. Michigan State has a great program and I’m looking forward to joining in and giving whatever insight I can provide. Anywhere I can help out and wherever Coach Dantonio needs me to go, that’s where I’ll be,” White said.

“One of the main things I’m excited about is being around the players and getting a chance to work with them. I hope I can add something that will maximize their performance and possibly get them ready for the National Football League.”

Michigan State finished 12-2 last season, winning the Big Ten title and reaching their first College Football Playoff semifinals. The Spartans open the 2016 campaign Friday, Sept. 2 against Furman in East Lansing (7 p.m. ET, BTN).