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-Michigan WR Freddy Canteen announces transfer from Notre Dame

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So much for getting a chance to play against his former team. Notre Dame wide receiver Freddy Canteen says he is going to look for a new program to play football. Canteen previously transferred to Notre Dame from Michigan (Notre Dame hosts Michigan in Week 1 of the 2018 season).

“I will be transferring to another university to obtain a graduate degree that unfortunately Notre Dame does not offer,” Canteen said in a statement on Twitter. “I will also utilize my remaining two years of eligibility to play football.”

Canteen played in just three games for Notre Dame in 2017, with one reception for seven yards. A torn labrum brought his 2017 season to an abrupt end. The former Michigan player transferred to Notre Dame after the 2016 season, which was also wiped out by injury after his 2015 season was ruined by an injury.

As a graduate transfer, Canteen will be eligible to play right away this fall for whatever program he transfers to. And, as confirmed by Canteen, he will have two more years of eligibility to continue playing football for the 2018 and 2019 seasons.

ACC revenue increases 12% but ACC members still receive lower distributions compared to other P5 programs (for now)

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When it comes to per school revenue distribution, ACC schools are still lagging behind the rest of the power conferences, but the ACC did see its revenue for the past fiscal year jump by 12 % to a reported $418.1 million. According to tax documents reviewed by Steve Berkowitz of USA Today, the ACC paid each football member of the conference between $25.3 million and $30.7 million for the 2017 fiscal year.

The revenue distribution was up from the $23.8 million each school was paid the previous year when the total revenue distribution was reported at $373.4 million. The ACC’s revenue actually dropped last season from the year prior to that, but that was influenced by a $31.4 million exit fee paid by former ACC member Maryland as the school left the ACC for the Big Ten. Each team in the conference receives an equal base share, but the conference then supplements the distribution to adjust for bowl expenses. Because of that, Clemson was paid $30.7 million after playing in two straight College Football Playoff games, including the championship game in the 2016 season.

Notre Dame, who was paid $4 million by the ACC last year, was given a distribution of $5.8 million due to its affiliation with the ACC in other sports outside of football.

ACC commissioner John Swofford was paid $3.3 million for the fiscal year with a base salary of $3.15 million. It is the first time Swofford has been paid $3 million by the conference after coming up just shy of the $3 million mark last year.

Where does the ACC stack up against its power conference peers? On a per-school breakdown, the SEC is the absolute king with each SEC member receiving an average of $41 million in the most recent revenue distributions from the conference. The Big Ten is also comfortably ahead of the pack in total revenue, with each member receiving about $37 million for the past year. The Big 12 generated $371 million in revenue in the past year, leading to payouts of $34.3 million for its 10 members. The Pac-12 reported a revenue of $509 million for the past year with a distribution to conference members doling out $30.9 million per school.

On a per-school basis, the ACC is lagging behind the other conferences in terms of how much each school is receiving from the conference. However, the ACC is moving forward with plans to launch an ACC Network which is expected to spike the revenue figures a bit. The SEC and Big Ten have really thrived with their own networks, while the Pac-12 continues to try capitalizing on its network in a similar way. With ESPN lending a helping hand with the ACC’s network plans, the conference likely will benefit more than the Pac-12 has, which should allow ACC schools to begin pulling in more with revenue distributions following the launch of the eventual network.

Michigan offers massive eighth grade football prodigy

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Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines are looking to get in some early work on the recruiting trail with a Massachusetts recruit. As has become a bit of a trend over the years, Michigan is offering a scholarship to an eighth grader with the size that scouts cannot miss.

Tyler Martin of Cambridge, Massachusetts announced via Twitter he has received an offer from Michigan. Of course, to receive an offer form a program like Michigan before entering high school for the first time doesn’t happen to just any middle schooler. Martin just so happens to stand out in the crowd at 6′-3″ and 227 pounds, according to USA Today. Having played both tight end and linebacker in middle school, Martin has already shown some skill that future coaches will hope develops to stay ahead of the curve.

As noted by USA Today, Martin is already thinking about his future. Just last month, Martin visited Boston College to scope out the scene. Given his size and ability to play two positions, if that continues to excel in high school, more and more programs from around the country will take an interest if they have not already.

This bit of a recruiting tactic is one that is aimed to be brought to an end by a proposal from the ACC regarding the recruiting process. As previously reported, a proposal from the ACC would restrict schools from extending any form of offer to a prospective student-athlete until September 1 of that player’s junior year of high school. Of course, that doesn’t mean that student can’t begin the recruiting process. It simply means making an offer to a middle schooler just about to go into high school would be prohibited.

Houston, Utah confirm 2026-27 home-and-home series

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A mini-Houston scheduling day at CFT continues, with the AAC school confirming another future matchup with a Power Five program.

On the heels of their tweaked series with UT-San Antonio, UH also announced a future home-and-home with Pac-12 member Utah.  The Cougars will host the Utes at TDECU Stadium on Sept. 5, 2026, then travel to Salt Lake City’s Rice-Eccles Stadium Sept. 11, 2027.

Th two football programs have met four times previously, with the Cougars winning all four of those matchups.  Three of those four games were played in Houston, with the most recent meeting coming way back in 1978.

In confirming their series, the two programs also took care of a couple of other scheduling notes.

Utah announced a three-game series with Weber State that will be played in 2023, 2026 and 2027.  That trio of games against the FCS program will, obviously, be played in Salt Lake City.  Houston, meanwhile, confirmed a home-and-home with Rice, with a Sept. 24, 2022, game at the Cougars’ home and a Sept. 9, 2023, game at the home of the Owls.