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.

Arizona State punter who declared for draft, signed with agent, went undrafted… granted waiver by NCAA to return to Sun Devils

Michael Turk Arizona State
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Thanks to Arizona State football, we have something never seen before.  Ever (we think).

Back in January, Michael Turk gave up two years of eligibility with Arizona State football to enter the 2020 NFL Draft early.  The punter signed with an agent.  Then promptly went undrafted.

After Turk went undrafted, though, ASU went to the NCAA to seek a waiver that would allow Turk to return to the Sun Devils.  The school’s reasoning?  The coronavirus pandemic cost Turk the opportunity to work out for NFL teams, thus causing his draft stock to plummet.  Not only couldn’t Turk work out privately for NFL teams, but ASU’s Pro Day was canceled because of the pandemic as well.

That tack worked for Turk as it’s now being reported that a special waiver has been granted by the NCAA.  One that should be granted to every player who leaves early and goes undrafted, incidentally.  But that’s another story for another day.

Turk came to Arizona State as a transfer from the junior college ranks as part of its 2018 recruiting class. Turk’s uncle is Matt Turk, the former NFL punter who spent one year of his professional career with a New York Jets team coached by current ASU head coach Herm Edwards.

As a redshirt sophomore this season, Turk was tied for 11th nationally and led the Pac-12 in averaging 46 yards per punt.  For that, he earned first-team all-conference honors.  He was also named as a handful of semifinalists for the 2019 Ray Guy Award.

Turk, though, won’t be handed his old job back without some competition. Last month, Florida State punter Logan Tyler transferred into the Arizona State football program.

As had been the case the previous three years, Tyler served as FSU’s starting punter in the 2019 opener against Boise State.  However, Tyler was involved in an automobile accident back in August and was under investigation by the Tallahassee Police Department for driving under the influence.  Tyler served a two-game suspension in Weeks 2 and 3 in connection to that off-field situation.

While Tyler dressed out for the two games after his suspension ended, walk-on Tommy Martin continued serving as the Seminoles’ primary punter.

Including the one game this season, Tyler has averaged 42.5 yards on his 209 punts during his career, with the average currently fourth in school history. His 82 punts and 3,545 yards in 2018 set a school record.  The Tallahassee Democrat noted that “Tyler currently holds FSU records for the most punt yards in a single game (499 vs. Clemson, 2018)… and punt yards in a single season (3,545).” His 8,879 career punt yards are also second all-time in school history.

Louisiana QB Brayden Hawkins in transfer portal, will be looking for FIFTH college football home in less than three years

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Louisiana is the latest football program to learn that the transfer portal giveth.  But, it taketh as well.

As we noted Tuesday, Arizona State offensive tackle Zach Robertson transferred into the Louisiana football program.  Now, it’s time to note that 247Sports.com is reporting that Brayden Hawkins has entered his name into the NCAA transfer database.

Now, for what’s seemingly becoming a daily disclaimer when it comes to transfers.

As we’ve stated myriad times in the past, a player can remove his name from the portal and remain at the same school. At this point, though, other programs are permitted to contact a player without receiving permission from his current football program.

NCAA bylaws also permit schools to pull a portal entrant’s scholarship at the end of the semester in which he entered it.

Hawkins signed with UTEP in February of 2018.  In late July of that same year, the North Carolina native joined the Maryland football program as a walk-on.  Hawkins then moved on to Northwest Mississippi Community College following the 2018 season.  In May of last year, he joined the Louisiana football program.

Add it all up, and Hawkins’ next stop will be his fifth collegiate home.  In less than three years.  Suffice to say, he’s never thrown a pass at this level of football.

Louisiana football is coming off a school-record 11 wins.  In fact, it’s the first time as an FBS program the Ragin’ Cajuns hit double-digit wins.  Part of that school-record victory total was a win in the Lendingtree Bowl.  Head coach Billy Napier was a candidate for the Baylor opening, but opted to remain with the Sun Belt Conference school.

Hawaii OL Solo Vaipulu arrested after violating state’s mandatory quarantine for travelers

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By way of Hawaii football, and thanks to the current times we’re living in, we have a new one to note in the CFT arrest ledger.

According to HawaiiNewsNow.com, offensive lineman Solo Vaipulu was arrested Monday for violating the state of Hawaii’s mandatory 14-day traveler quarantine.  The Hawaii football player was also charged with lying to authorities.

A witness had turned Vaipulu in, stating that the true junior lineman had left his designated quarantine location on a near-daily basis.

From the report:

Investigators said they went to the address Vaipulu had given them upon his arrival on May 18 to discover that he had also moved residences without informing authorities.

The Hawaii football program has not addressed the incident involving one of its football players.

“While everyone is anticipating the reopening of interisland travel on June 16, the quarantine rules for all visitors and returning residents from the mainland will remain in effect until further notice,” Clare Connors, the state Attorney General, said according to the website. “We encourage all travelers to respect the mandatory quarantine, as it has been an important component in helping Hawai‘i have the best metrics in the country, in terms of infection and coronavirus death rates.”

As a true freshman in 2018, Vaipulu started all 13 games at right guard for the Rainbow Warriors.  That season, he earned honorable mention All-Mountain West Conference honors.  Last season, Vaipulu started nine of the 10 games in which he played at the same position.

Hawaii football is coming off its best season since 2010. Included in a 10-win season was the program’s first appearance in the Mountain West Conference championship game.  Of course, that appearance ended in a loss to Boise State.

(Tip O’ the Cap: The Fulmer Cup)

Florida State officially adds three Power Five transfers, including two from Mississippi State

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Florida State football has officially hit the football portal.  Hard.

At various points over the past two months, defensive back Meiko Dotson (FAU), defensive lineman Fabien Lovett (Mississippi State) and defensive back Jarrian Jones (Mississippi State) have committed to the Seminoles.  With the latter two seemingly headed to Ole Miss as well. Wednesday, Florida State confirmed all three additions to its football roster.

Dotson, as a graduate transfer, is eligible immediately at FSU.  It’s believed that Jones and Lovett, who each have three years of eligibility, will seek a waiver that will allow them to play immediately in 2020.

Lovett was a three-star 2018 signee. He was rated as the No. 7 player regardless of position in the state of Mississippi.

The past two seasons, Lovett played in 15 games. 13 of those appearances came in 2019. A year ago, the defensive end was credited with 19 tackles, 2½ tackles for loss and a sack.

Because he appeared in four or fewer games in 2018, Lovett was able to take a redshirt for that season.

Jones was a four-star member of the Mississippi State football Class of 2019.  The Mississippi native was the No. 18 safety in the country on the 247Sports.com composite.  He was also the No. 13 prospect regardless of position in his home state.  Only three signees in the class that year for MSU were rated higher than Jones.

As a true freshman, Jones started one of the dozen games in which he played.  In those appearances, he was credited with 12 tackles, two passes defensed and one fumble recovery.

This past season, Dotson (pictured), who originally signed with Georgia Tech coming out of high school, tied for the FBS lead in interceptions with nine.