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.

Nation’s top 2017 recruit announces transfer to Miami

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The transfer train has made yet another stop in South Florida, and this one brought a passenger with a helluva high school pedigree with not a lot to show for yet on his college résumé.

In mid-December, it was reported that Jaelan Phillips would be transferring from UCLA.  A little over two months later, Phillips announced on Twitter that he will continue his collegiate playing career at Miami.

Because of NCAA transfer rules, Phillips will likely have to sit out the 2019 season.  He would then have two years of eligibility to use beginning in 2020.

Phillips was the No. 1-rated recruit in the entire country for the Class of 2017 on 247Sports.com‘s composite board.  Despite that lofty ranking, although in large part due to injury, his collegiate career thus far hasn’t amounted to much.

As a true freshman, Phillips started four of the seven games in which he played. Despite missing nearly half the season because of an ankle injury, he finished fourth on the Bruins in tackles for loss with seven and second in sacks with 3.5. Battling additional injuries in 2018, including concussions, Phillips played in just four games this past season.

Phillips would be the sixth FBS player to transfer to Miami since Manny Diaz took over at The U, joining USC safety Bubba Bolden (HERE), Auburn running back Asa Martin (HERE), Ohio State quarterback Tate Martell (HERE), Buffalo wide receiver K.J. Osborn (HERE) as well as Phillips’ former UCLA teammate, defensive tackle Chigozie Nnoruka (HERE).

Clemson 4-star LB signee suffers knee injury in basketball game

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When a clip of Trevor Lawrence getting into a scuffle during an intramural basketball game went viral earlier this week, a chorus of takes screamed into the void asking what a college football player was doing playing basketball in the first place.

Dabo Swinney has always defended his players’ intramural endeavors, reasoning that unpaid college students should not be treated as employees. “They’re just having fun and enjoying being college people and doing what college kids do,” he said.

Swinney has defended this even in light of Jordan Williams, a potential starter at defensive tackle, suffering a leg injury during an intramural basketball game that will keep him out of a crucial spring for his development.

And now the basketball injury bug has struck another Clemson player.

Bryson Constantin, a 4-star linebacker signee in Clemson’s 2019 class, suffered a knee injury while playing for Baton Rouge’s University Lab High School basketball team last week — and he believes it could be serious.

“At a basketball game last week, I came down from an alley and I felt a pop in my knee,” Constantin told TigerNet. “I went to the ER that night to make sure it wasn’t like a knee cap or anything like that. They figured out it was most likely my ACL. I went for an MRI two days ago but I had too much blood in my knee to do an MRI, so they drained all the blood out and they were like, the only way you’d have this much blood in your knee is if you did tear your ACL. I go back for an MRI this weekend or Monday, so I’ll know for sure what it is coming up soon.”

While active college players playing intramural basketball is a (somewhat) controversial practice, incoming signees playing for their high school teams is not. Many a college coach has waxed poetically about falling in love with a player’s gridiron potential while watching him compete on the hardwood.

Still, it’s a cruel bit of irony: the only place the nation’s best football team seems to suffer any sort of defeat is on the basketball court.

Texas to host Louisiana-Lafayette in 2021

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Texas will host Louisiana-Lafayette on Sept. 4, 2021, according to a report Thursday from FBSchedules.

The Ragin’ Cajuns will cancel a scheduled game with Arizona State in order to make the trip to Austin. Other than the shorter trip, the switch will not turn a profit for Louisiana-Lafayette. The school was scheduled to make $1.3 million from Arizona State and will take $1.5 million from Texas, but, in order to access that $1.5 million payday, the Cajuns will have to give back $200,000 to the Sun Devils.

The meeting will be the third all-time between the schools. Texas beat ULL 52-10 to open the 2000 season and 60-3 to begin its 2005 national championship campaign. Both of those games were in Austin as well.

For what it’s worth, Texas hosts Louisiana Tech and LSU in this upcoming season.

After Louisiana-Lafayette, Texas will visit Arkansas and host Rice to round out its non-conference slate. ULL also has games with Ohio (home) and Liberty (road) lined up for 2021.

FBSchedules also reported Thursday that Louisiana-Lafayette will visit Minnesota on Sept. 30, 2023 and play a home-and-home with Tulane in 2024 and ’27.

The Cajuns played a 2-for-1 with the Gophers from 2001-03; Minnesota won all three games. ULL and Tulane have played 27 times previously. Tulane is 23-4 in those games, including each club’s most recent game — a 41-24 Green Wave win in the 2018 Cure Bowl.

Florida State hires Randy Clements as offensive line coach

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You knew this was coming as soon as Kendal Briles was hired.

Florida State on Thursday announced Randy Clements as its offensive line coach, ending weeks of speculation and idle waiting for this to happen. Much like an architect prefers a specific contractor or a director only works with a certain cinematographer, Briles and Clements are a package deal. An OG member of the Art Briles tree, Clements has been with dad and/or son dating back to 1990, when Art was the head coach at Stephenville High School and Clements was his offensive line coach.

After Art broke away to serve as Texas Tech’s running backs coach from 2000-02, Clements reunited with Briles at Houston in 2003, where Kendal was along for the ride as a wide receiver and safety. Clements then followed the Briles men to Baylor.

After the staff blew up in infamy in 2016, Clements and Kendal Briles spent 2017 in isolation from each other, with Kendal at Florida Atlantic and Clements at NAIA Southeastern University in Lakeland, Fla.

But Briles’ overwhelming success in his one season at FAU led a desperate Major Applewhite to hire him, and he brought Clements along with him. The pair’s success at Houston has now led them to Tallahassee.

“Randy Clements has a remarkable resume filled with quantifiable results coaching offensive linemen,” Willie Taggart said in a statement. “He has proven to be a successful teacher and knows exactly how we want to operate in this offense. I am happy for our student-athletes to learn from him, and I’m enthusiastic about him joining our staff as we continue to build a championship culture at Florida State.”

Taggart made a well-renowned hire off the bat in luring Greg Frey, a member of FSU’s 1993 national championship team, away from Michigan, but the hire did not work out. Working with a patchwork line (to put it kindly), Frey’s offensive line helped FSU rank 110th in yards per play, 129th in yards per carry and 112th in sacks allowed, and he was relieved of duties last week to make room for Briles’ preferred contractor.

“I want to start by thanking Coach Taggart for this opportunity,” Clements said. “My family and I are thrilled to be part of this prestigious program. My background with Kendal will be valuable, but I’m also looking forward to integrating with the rest of the staff and can’t wait to get to know and work with the student-athletes on campus. I am excited to work toward our goal of bringing Florida State its next championship.”