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.

Barry J. Sanders confirms he’s moving from Stanford to Okla. St. as grad transfer

SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 28:  Running back Barry Sanders #26 of the Stanford Cardinal rushes against the Washington State Cougars on September 28, 2013 at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
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A move that has been two months in the making has been confirmed by one of the principles involved.

In an interview with The Oklahoman, Barry J. Sanders confirmed that he will be transferring into the Oklahoma State football program and playing his final season of college football with the Cowboys.  Sanders will graduate from Stanford this summer; as such, he will be eligible to play immediately for OSU in 2016 after he arrives this June.

In early January, Sanders confirmed his intention to transfer from the Cardinal after receiving a release from his scholarship.  That confirmation came a month or so after speculation began growing that Sanders, the son of Heisman-winning OSU legend Barry Sanders, was considering a move to his father’s alma mater, talk that prompted Cowboys head coach Mike Gundy to address the issue.

As the younger Sanders will be following in some rather sizable Stillwater shoes, he discussed the move with his father before deciding to become the second Barry Sanders to have his name on an OSU uniform.

“His message to me was to keep an open mind,” Sanders told the newspaper. “I think that he would have wanted me to look at more schools. He definitely didn’t want me to make a decision without considering other options. What I told him was that this was something I’ve been thinking about for some time. I just knew this was the right decision and the right fit for a variety of different reasons.

“So when I kind of explained my reasons behind it, he was pretty comfortable with it and he’s just as excited as I am.”

Sanders was a four-star member of the Cardinal’s 2012 recruiting class, rated as the No. 9 running back in the country and the No. 2 player at any position in the state of Oklahoma. He chose Stanford over, among others, Alabama and the Big 12 OSU.

The last three seasons, Sanders has rushed for 672 yards (5.8 yards per carry) and five touchdowns. He’s also caught 12 passes for 89 yards and averaged 9.5 yards on 10 punt returns.

Family matter prompts Danny Hope to leave USF staff

during the 2015 Miami Beach Bowl  at Marlins Park on December 21, 2015 in Miami, Florida.
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Sometimes, believe it or not, there are things more important than football.

Earlier Thursday, speculation began making the rounds that Danny Hope might be forced to leave South Florida because of an unspecified “family matter.”  A short time later, USF announced in a press release that Hope is indeed leaving the Bulls “in order to be closer to his family.”

Hope had just completed his first season as head coach’s Willie Taggart‘s co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach.

“I would like to thank Danny for his significant contributions to the success of our program over the past season,” Taggart said. “We appreciated having him as part of our staff and I know he enjoyed being a Bull. He loved it here and I loved having him, but sometimes you have to make choices in regards to what’s best for your family. I respect Danny’s desire to do what’s best for him and his family. We wish him nothing but the best in the future.”

Hope was dismissed as Purdue’s head coach in November of 2012, spending two seasons on the coaching sidelines before joining Taggart’s staff in December of 2014.

Taggart had a pair of offensive coordinators on his staff, Hope and David Reaves.  Reaves will presumably be promoted to solo coordinator as well as maintaining the title of passing game coordinator, while Taggart intends to continue on as the Bulls’ primary play-caller.

“I expect to be able to complete our staff very quickly with an excellent offensive line coach,” Taggart said. “I will continue to call the plays and work closely with our offense, and we will build our staff around that same structure.”

NCAA rules committee votes to allow replay official to call missed targeting foul

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The NCAA Football Rules Committee’s annual passage of potential new rules for the sport will once again include a potentially controversial measure.

Following four days worth of meetings in Orlando, the NCAA announced Thursday that the committee has approved several proposals that, if approved Playing Rules Oversight Panel (PROP), will go into effect for the 2016 season. As has previously been expected, one of the proposals the committee voted on and approved was to “expand the authority of the instant replay official, requiring them to review all aspects of targeting fouls.”

In a review of the controversial targeting rule, the NCAA found that, in what it described as a “small number of cases,” players were wrongly ejected from games. Those ejections came after the original targeting call on the field was reviewed by the replay official. Now? The committee has recommended that the same replay officials be given the power “to stop the game and create a targeting foul in situations where an egregious action has occurred” but was missed by the on-field officiating crew.

“The targeting rule is serving the game well, and has enhanced player safety,” said Bob Nielson, chair of the committee and head coach at the University of South Dakota, in a statement. “Because this is such a severe penalty, we are instructing replay officials to review plays to ensure that the required elements of targeting exist. We are also adding the ability for the replay official to stop the game when a potential targeting foul is not detected on the field.”

In another tweak that could ultimately lead to a significant technological development in the not-too-distant future, the committee has approved a proposal that would allow electronic devices — i.e. tablets — in the press box and locker rooms during game day. What will still not be permitted is such devices being utilized on the sidelines, something the NFL approved two years ago and which the college version of the game is expected to ultimately adopt. In that vein, the NCAA wrote in its release that “[t]he committee will continue monitoring the use of those devices next year in addition to other potential technology enhancements it believes could improve the game.”

Last year, the rules committee had approved a proposal that would’ve adjusted the ineligible receiver downfield rule from 3 yards to 1 yard. That controversial proposal was met with significant push-back from HUNH coaches, and was ultimately tabled by the PROP. The ineligible receiver downfield rule will remain the same as in the past, the NCAA has reaffirmed, although “the committee [has] decided to instruct officials to stringently enforce the 3-yard limit and adjust officiating mechanics to better officiate those plays.”

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Three additional proposals aimed at greater player safety were approved:

• First, the rules dealing with low blocks were adjusted to prohibit a player who leaves the tackle box from blocking below the waist toward the initial position of the ball.
• Second, the rules pertaining to a defenseless player will include a ball carrier who has clearly given himself up by sliding feet first.
• Finally, the deliberate tripping of the ball carrier (with the leg) was approved as a foul.

All of the proposals approved by the rules committee will be considered by the PROP on March 8. Again, if approved, the proposed changes would be implemented for the 2016 season.

Reports: A&M bringing back Jim Turner as O-line coach

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - NOVEMBER 17:  Offensive line coach, Jim Turner, of the Miami Dolphins coaches his players before their game against the San Diego Chargers at Sun Life Stadium on November 17, 2013 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Wednesday brought word that Texas A&M’s defensive line coach was hired for the same job at Indiana.  The dawn of a new day has brought word that Kevin Sumlin has addressed his line vacancy on the other side of the ball, and with a very familiar face at that.

Billy Liucci of TexAgs.com was the first to report that Sumlin has decided to bring Jim Turner back as his offensive line coach.  FOXSports.com‘s Bruce Feldman subsequently confirmed the initial report.

Turner would replace Dave Christensen, who “parted ways” with the program earlier this month.  According to 247Sports.com, Turner “was chosen over former Tennessee Titans offensive line coach Bob Bostad and current McNeese State offensive line coach Eman Naghavi” to be Christensen’s replacement.

Turner spent the 2008-11 seasons as the line coach at A&M under Mike Sherman.  After Sherman’s firing in December of 2011, Turner followed the ex-Aggies head coach to the Miami Dolphins, where the former was the line coach and the latter the offensive coordinator.

After two seasons with the NFL club, Turner was fired after getting swept up in the maelstrom that was the Dolphins’ bullying and harassment scandal.  Turner subsequently filed a lawsuit claiming “his reputation and career have been unfairly affected” by the reports commissioned by the NFL.

Turner spent the 2014 and 2015 seasons “in private business” before being hired earlier this year to be the line coach of the Cincinnati Bearcats.