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.

Demoted Clemson QB Kelly Bryant misses second straight practice

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Things are certainly getting interesting, quarterback-wise, for the second-ranked team in the country.

Monday, Dabo Swinney confirmed that senior Kelly Bryant had been benched in favor of true freshman Trevor Lawrence.  A day later, Swinney revealed that he and Bryant had a lengthy conversation in which the two discussed, among other things, the possibility of a transfer.

According to Swinney, he gave Bryant the day off from practice Monday to allow him to wrap his head around the demotion.  Both TigerNet.com and The State are now reporting, though, that Bryant missed a second consecutive day of practice on Tuesday.

The obvious intimation from a second straight day of missing practice is that Bryant is seriously contemplating a move from the Tigers — or has already decided a move on is in his best interests.  Because of the NCAA’s new redshirt rule, Bryant, who started the first four games of the 2018 season, could leave the Tigers now and retain a year of eligibility that he can use in 2019 at another school.

If he were to play another down this season, however, Bryant’s collegiate career would be over at the end of the 2018 season.

“Certainly if he walked in here today and said, ‘Hey coach, I don’t want to play the rest of the year unless you’ve got to have me,’ well ‘Ok, if that’s what you want to do I’m all for it.’ I love Kelly,” Swinney said earlier today, prior to the reports od a second missed practice surfaced. “I would be disappointed in that because we need him. But I wouldn’t judge him for that.”

Bryant has started the last 18 games under center for the Tigers, winning 16 of those contests.  Lawrence was a highly-touted five-star 2018 signee who had outplayed the incumbent the first third of the regular season.

Alabama to change Bryant-Denny Stadium layout after LB Dylan Moses crashes into wall

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In one of those moments that you wonder how it doesn’t happen more often, Alabama linebacker Dylan Moses crashed into a fence near the corner of a Bryant-Denny Stadium end zone on Saturday and remained down for a few perilous moments. He got up safely, and No. 1 Alabama cruised to a 45-23 win over Texas A&M.

But Nick Saban said Monday Alabama will work to ensure such an event doesn’t happen again.

“They’re going to try to do some stuff to the stadium there to shave that little corner off a little bit and pad it up a little better,” Saban told AL.com. “That was something that, after being here all these years, I never even noticed that until that play. That is definitely something that we are addressing.”

Just a few steps separate the playing field from a padded wall. Moses didn’t actually make contact with the wall, he crashed into a security guard, who was then pinned against the wall.

“As far as the security guard, I feel sorry for him,” Moses said. “But if it wasn’t for him, I’d probably be in the hospital right now because he was really in between the wall and me. I know I ran into his like knee, that was pretty bad, gruesome.”

As AL.com notes, Crimson Tide wide receiver Keith Brown had to be taken off the field in a stretcher after crashing into a wall at the other end of the field in 2004. He suffered a shoulder injury on the play.

DUI case against Louisville TEs coach has been ‘worked out’

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Last month, Louisville tight ends coach Chris Klenakis was arrested for DUI, reckless driving, felony wanton endangerment and possession of alcohol. He was pulled over at 1 a.m. after a Saturday during fall camp after he was spotted while driving through a construction zone with workers present and seen swerving on Interstate 64 West, nearly striking a wall barrier multiple times, according to an arrest citation by the Shelby County (Ky.) Sheriff’s Department.

His blood alcohol content was .165, more than twice the legal limit in Kentucky. The sheriff’s department said he nearly walked in front of a moving truck during his field sobriety test and that multiple used beer cans were spotted in his vehicle’s passenger seat.

He was immediately placed on leave, but it seems his legal case will be resolved this week.

According to WDRB in Louisville, Klenakis’s attorney Alan Zaring entered a not guilty plea on Tuesday, but told the judge “we can enter a resolution” on Thursday.

No matter the resolution, Bobby Petrino stated earlier this week Klenakis will remain on administrative leave for the rest of this season.

Dabo Swinney says he and Kelly Bryant discussed transferring after QB’s benching

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No. 3 Clemson has formally, finally benched senior quarterback Kelly Bryant in favor of true freshman Trevor Lawrence. Football-wise, it’s the smart decision. Lawrence has thrown 60 passes through the Tigers’ first four games to Bryant’s 54, but Lawrence’s six extra passes have gone for 139 more yards and seven more touchdowns. Plus, Lawrence will be around for the next two-to-three seasons; Bryant will not.

But there is a human element to this equation that made this this obvious decision so gut-wrenching for all involved. Like Jalen Hurts at Alabama, Bryant has been the Good Soldier for Clemson. In fact, the Clemson quarterback conundrum is actually more extreme than Alabama’s. Bryant waited two years behind Deshaun Watson, led Clemson to wins in 16 of his 18 starts, including an ACC championship and a College Football Playoff appearance last season, and still lost his job to a younger player.

It’s no accident this decision came when it did. Thanks to the NCAA’s new redshirt rule, players can now compete in up to four games and not lose their entire season. Clemson is at that point this season. Bryant is a senior, meaning the next game he plays for Clemson clinches this as his last season. Or, if Bryant sits the rest of this year, he could transfer anywhere he wants and get to play his senior year again in 2019.

And it appears Clemson will leave that option open for him.

“Certainly if he walked in here today and said, ‘Hey coach, I don’t want to play the rest of the year unless you’ve got to have me,’ well ‘Ok, if that’s what you want to do I’m all for it.’ I love Kelly,” Dabo Swinney told The State. “I would be disappointed in that because we need him. But I wouldn’t judge him for that.”

Clemson quarterbacks coach Brandon Streeter broke the news to Bryant on Sunday, and Bryant had a long conversation with Swinney on Monday, after which the head coach gave his quarterback the rest of the day off.

And Swinney confirmed, in so many words, that transferring was part of that long discussion.

“We talked about lots of things. It was a deep, long, emotional conversation,” Swinney said. “It’s something that we needed to talk through and go from there.”

If indeed Bryant sits the rest of this season and transfers, his name will shoot to the top of the quarterback transfer market for 2019.