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.

Ex-West Virginia WR Marcus Simms joins Syracuse LB in entering NFL supplemental draft

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And then there were two.

As we noted last week, linebacker Shyheim Cullen, who had been academically suspended at Syracuse earlier in the offseason, announced that he had been “excepted” into the 2019 NFL supplemental draft. A day before that, however, it was reported that former West Virginia wide receiver Marcus Simms had filed his paperwork to enter the same draft in early July as well.

In late April, Simms seemed to indicate on his personal Twitter account that he would be transferring from the Mountaineers, although the “another chapter” to which he referred turned into leaving the collegiate game early for a shot at the NFL.

Simms finished his time in Morgantown with 1,457 yards and eight touchdowns on 87 receptions. The would’ve-been fourth-year senior set career-highs with 46 receptions for 699 yards this past season, totals that were both good for third on the Mountaineers.

Randy Edsall had an oopsie moment on Twitter

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Being a head football coach that is connected on Twitter can lead to some unfortunate moments you’d like to have back. In the case of UConn head coach Randy Edsall on Monday evening, a possible quick retweet of a link definitely came at the wrong time.

In a flurry of retweets showing off the recently renovated locker rooms the UConn Huskies will be using, it seems Edsall may have accidentally retweeted a link to a story that essentially suggests UConn is passing on its chance to be a big-time college football program. A tweet briefly retweeted by Edsall linked to a column by Mark Blaudschun of College Sports Maven. In his column, Blaudschun wrote about the recent headlines about UConn leaving the AAC to join the Big East in basketball and leave the football program stranded in uncharted waters.

“But the issue of football remains and there is really no answer that can make UConn a major player in the wide world of big time college football,” Blaudschun writes. “The dye has been cast. Big time football at UConn, RIP.”

Certainly, had Edsall read the story, then he would have refrained from retweeting the story. It didn’t take long for Edsall to remove the retweet from his Twitter timeline either.

Edsall has been busy on Twitter over the last couple of days following the reports the school was setting up to rejoin the Big East for basketball without a concrete plan for what will happen with the football program.

When you are tweeting as often as Edsall has been while trying to keep the spirits up for the Huskies football program and their fans, an accidental retweet is easy to let slip by. Mistakes happen. Edsall corrected this one and moved on doing what he needs to do to keep UConn football moving forward regardless of where “forward” actually leads for the program.

The last time the Minnesota Golden Gophers won the national championship…

1960 Minnesota
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Things could be trending in a positive direction for Minnesota under the energetic leadership of P.J. Fleck. After a long string of years of up-and-down seasons ranging from poor to mediocre to the high of a nine-win season in 2016, Fleck and the Gophers surprised a few people in 2018 by pulling together a seven-win season highlighted by a long-awaited victory over Wisconsin and capped by a season-ending bowl victory in the Quick Lane Bowl. The bar is being raised a bit for the boat-rowing Gophers in 2019. The chance to compete for a national championship is still at the end of a great journey for the program, but that doesn’t mean those in the program can’t dream about being the ones to capture the first football national title for the school since 1960.

Minnesota, coached by the coach of the year Murray Warmath and led in the trenches by Outland Trophy winner Tom Brown, split the Big Ten championship with Iowa, although a 27-10 victory over the No. 1 Hawkeyes on Nov. 5, 1960 catapulted the No. 3 Gophers to the top spot in the AP poll. But the very next week, Minnesota was upset by Purdue, 23-14, and Minnesota dropped to No. 4 in the AP poll as a result heading into their final game of the regular season. Minnesota moved back up in the polls with a win against the rival Badgers and No. 1 Missouri being upset at home by Kansas, 23-7. As Big Ten champion, Minnesota traveled west to the play in the Rose Bowl, and they arrived in Pasadena as the No. 1 team in the AP poll as they prepared to face No. 6 Washington, champion of the Athletic Association of Western Universities (which would, of course, later evolve to the Pac-12 we know and love today). Despite already being declared the national champion for the 1960 season, Minnesota was upended by the Huskies, 17-7. Ole Miss would stake their claim to the national title following a 14-6 victory for the No. 2 Rebels over Rice in the Sugar Bowl (Ole Miss would be crowned national champion by the Football Writers Association of America).

Last National Title Season: 1960 (58 years and counting)

Who was President?

Dwight D. Eisenhower was the President of the United States the last time Minnesota claimed a national championship season, although 1960 was a time for change in the country in the United States. Perhaps one of the most famous presidential elections of all-time went down in the fall of 1960. Richard Nixon was taken down by Democrat John F. Kennedy.

As for the current Commander-In-Chief, Donald J. Trump was fresh into his teenage years in 1960 and was enrolled at New York Military Academy.

What was on TV?

1960 brought some classic television shows to the TV sets in a growing number of homes. Classics such as “Lassie,” “Dennis the Menace,” “The Andy Griffith Show,” “The Jack Benny Show,” “Candid Camera,” “My Three Sons,” were among the programs across the three networks at the time (NBC, ABC, and CBS). “The Price is Right” was airing on NBC, although the show would later evolve a bit to become the game show you are more likely familiar with today.

Long before “The Simpsons,” it was “The Flinstones” ruling the ratings as a primetime animated show. Bugs Bunny also made a primetime appearance before making the move to Saturday mornings for the next four decades. And Shirley Temple and Glenn Miler had their own television shows at the time as well.

One show that finished its historic run on the airwaves was “I Love Lucy,” as stars Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz divorced after the final episode of the season in 1960.

What movies were hot?

Ben-Hur was an international winner as the top box office leader in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. But this was a year after the movie was released in the United States. State-side, it was Spartacus dominating the box office as the top movie of the year. Kirk Douglas had everyone shouting “I’m Spartacus!”

But this was also the year for the horror genre with the release of Psycho, directed by the legendary Alfred Hitchcock. The Rat Pack also took to the big screen in the original Ocean’s 11, with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy David Jr., Joey Bishop and more.

What else happened in 1960?

Navy running back Joe Bellino is named the Heisman Trophy winner for the 1960 season. Bellino rushed for 834 yards and caught 17 passes for 280 yards and three touchdowns for the Midshipmen in the 1960 season, leading Navy to a 9-2 record and No. 4 in the final AP poll of the season.

Aside from Minnesota and Iowa splitting the Big Ten crown, other conference winners in 1960 included Ole Miss (SEC), Arkansas (Southwest), Missouri (Big Eight), Utah State and Wyoming (Skyline Conference), New Mexico State (Border Intercollegiate Athletic Association), Yale (Ivy League) and Duke (ACC).

Current Minnesota head coach Fleck wasn’t born for another 20 years. Michigan coaching legend Bo Schembechler was an assistant coach for Woody Hayes at Ohio State. Former Penn State head coach Joe Paterno was an assistant coach with the Nittany Lions, still five years from becoming the head coach of the program. Nick Saban was seven years old.

The Minnesota Twins were still a year away from playing their first baseball game in franchise history and the Lakers were just moving west to Los Angeles from Minneapolis.

The AFL launched its league in 1960, with the Houston Oilers capturing the first league championship with a 24-16 victory in the AFL championship against the Los Angeles Chargers. In the NFL, it was the Philadelphia Eagles taking down Vince Lombardi and the Green Bay Packers in the NFL championship game.

Bill Mazeroski clinches the World Series championship for the Pittsburgh Pirates with a walk-off home-run in Game 7 against the New York Yankees. The Boston Celtics won the NBA title against the St. Louis Hawks, and the Montreal Canadiens hoisted the Stanley Cup above their heads after a sweep of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Young rising boxer Cassius Clay wins the gold medal in boxing at the Olympics in Rome, and Arnold Palmer won the Masters and U.S. Open for a couple of major tournament victories.

Outside of sports, 1960 was a significant year for the United States with the signing of the Civil Rights Act by President Eisenhower.

Elvis Presley was killing the music charts with the two top singles of 1960 with “It’s Now or Never” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” Chubby Checker came in at No. 3 with “The Twist.”

Has time passed Minnesota by?

time has certainly flown by since Minnesota’s glory days. Since the 1960 season, the Gophers have managed to win eight games or more in a season just a handful of times. One came in the 1961 season, which ended with a Rose Bowl victory. the most recent one came in 2016, with three eight-win seasons in a four-year stretch. It is the best stretch of seasons over a four-year period for the Gophers since winning it all in 1960. The question is if it is possible for Minnesota to climb back to the top of that mountain ever again. While nothing should ever be considered truly impossible, the history and trends would seem to suggest it will be a very steep climb for the program.

The Big Ten has grown, literally, over the years by adding members and some members have created some buffer in how money is brought in and spent to improve their various programs. For Minnesota, keeping up with programs like Ohio State and Michigan is far more difficult to do today than it used to be even with resources like the Big Ten Network. But could Minnesota capture a Big Ten title and get back to the Rose Bowl? If the Big Ten sticks to a division structure and fields a conference championship game the way it is currently constructed, of course, it remains a possibility for Minnesota. It may not happen in 2019, although the Big Ten West could be up for grabs, but the Gophers could become a program that could strike lightning every now and then to reach the Big Ten championship game at the end of the season.

Minnesota hasn’t been to the Rose Bowl since 1961, so Gopher fans have been waiting quite some time to book that trip to Pasadena again.

Former Auburn RB and current Miami RB Asa Martin steps back in transfer portal

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Asa Martin is back in the transfer portal just months after leaving Auburn for Miami. The former Auburn running back reportedly is re-evaluating his options for the upcoming season, as reported by Matt Zenitz of Al.com, via Twitter.

By entering the transfer portal, Martin is free to have contact with any college football coach and program interested in adding him to their program. Martin is also free to withdraw his name form the portal at any time should he choose to stay at Miami.

Martin announced his intention to transfer out of Auburn in early December 2018, shortly after the conclusion of the regular season. Within the next two weeks, Martin was officially heading to Miami for the spring semester. Martin spent one season with the Tigers and appeared in five games, which disqualifies him from preserving a redshirt season under NCAA rules. Martin will still have to sit out the upcoming 2019 season per NCAA transfer rules.

Martin was a member of Auburn’s Class of 2018 as the No. 9 running back in the nation and the No. 6 player overall from the state of Alabama. Martin carried the football 13 times for 57 yards and caught two passes for 36 yards in a Tigers uniform last fall.

Where Martin goes from here remains anyone’s guess. Whether or not Auburn remains a possibility for a return is unknown as well. We’ll keep an eye out on the running back to see where his latest journey into the transfer portal sends him.