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.

Texas Tech lands commitment from 6-foot-11 offensive lineman

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It’s been a day full of massive news in college football. After word broke that Alabama has offered a 6-foot-7 offensive lineman entering his freshman year of high school, Texas Tech did the Tide one better.

On Sunday, the Red Raiders landed the commitment of 6-foot-11, 345-pound offensive lineman Trevor Roberson.

A 3-star member of the Class of 2019, Roberson also reported offers from Arkansas, Baylor, Oklahoma State and others. He is the sixth member of Kliff Kingsbury‘s 2019 class, and the fourth player to pledge in the past week.

“The crowd was huge, first off. The crowd was amazing,” Roberson told 247Sports of a visit to see the Red Raiders’ loss to Oklahoma State last season. “If there were empty seats, you couldn’t see them. It was tremendous. My favorite part was seeing the players, I love watching those guys play. It’s truly amazing to see how, for me personally, these college athletes started from the same position I did, and you see where they are now. They have a lot of heart. Texas Tech is an amazing school and an amazing program, and I’ve always felt that way about them.”

Roberson hails from Wellington, Texas, a Panhandle town between Amarillo and Norman, Okla. Wellington claims just 2,100 residents, so Roberson may be the biggest thing to come out of his hometown — literally and figuratively.

 

6-foot-7, 370-pound ninth grader claims an Alabama offer

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This is literally some big news: Kiyaunta Goodwin tweeted Sunday that he had been offered a scholarship by Alabama. Normally, we wouldn’t write about a player reporting a single scholarship offer, but this one is different.

Goodwin stands six feet and seven inches, and tips the scale at 370 pounds. He also recently completed eighth grade.

The Louisville native has already been offered by the Bluegrass State’s triumvirate of Kentucky, Louisville and Western Kentucky and took unofficial visits to Georgia, Ohio State and Michigan ahead of last weekend’s Tuscaloosa trek.

While doctors say Goodwin could end up topping seven feet tall, the plan, for now, is to keep him in cleats.

Said former Louisville football player and Goodwin’s trainer Chris Vaughn to Bleacher Report earlier this year: “I’ve been blessed to work with a lot of kids who are genetically blessed, but he’s different. He’s the 1 percent of the 1 percent. I’ve talked with coaches who have told me he’s going to be the No. 1 player in the country and the No. 1 draft pick.”

Urban Meyer calls LSU QB Joe Burrow a ‘Buckeye forever’

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The majority of players that end up transferring from one school to another probably leave on mostly positive terms with their previous school. In the case of quarterback Joe Burrow, there appear to be absolutely no bitter hostilities left at the table at Ohio State as far as Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer is concerned.

Speaking to the media at a job fair recently at Ohio State, Meyer gave a glowing review of the conversations he had with Burrow and his family before Burrow made his decision to transfer to LSU.

“It was a situation that his last two weeks of spring were excellent,” Meyer said, according to 247 Sports. “I just talked to him the other day and his family, I saw his dad. He’s great. He’s a Buckeye forever and he’s going to go do the best he can at LSU and wish him well and I understand.”

Burrow was officially added to the LSU program last month. Burrow is expected to compete right away for the starting job with the Tigers after undergoing surgery for a broken hand last year. In Columbus, Meyer just named Dwayne Haskins as the starting quarterback for Ohio State this season.

Mike Leach goes on defense over tweet including edited Obama speech

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Washington State head coach Mike Leach remains one of the most intriguing coaches to follow on Twitter simply because you never know what to expect to pop up on his timeline. On Sunday evening, Leach shared a video of former President Barack Obama in an attempt to open a dialogue about government. The biggest problem with that was the fact the video had been heavily edited to omit major portions of the speech Obama was giving, and the trimmed down quotes pulled together offer a different meaning.

The tweet in question, which remains standing on Leach’s timeline as of Monday morning (UPDATE: The tweet has been removed from Leach’s account);

As quickly as Leach started receiving blowback from people on Twitter for sharing an edited video clip that fits a political narrative that contrasts the fuller context of the speech, Leach went on a tweet and retweet frenzy defending his attempt to spark a conversation.

The video may not be false, but it has been documented to be missing large portions of the original speech the doctored video used as a source.

Whether the video was doctored or not never seemed to be something Leach was concern3d about, as he was more focused on the lines that were recited. Whatever the reasoning for sharing the video, Leach sure found a way to keep busy on Twitter as he defended his original tweet.

Whether you agree or disagree with Leach and his political views, there is no questioning he is up for a discussion at any time.

UPDATE: Wouldn’t you know it, but literally seconds after this post was originally published, Leach tweeted a link to the full Obama speech.

UPDATE NO. 2: The controversial tweet has now been removed from Leach’s account.