A continuing trend in college football is heightened expectations for freshmen, as early enrollment for recruits has become commonplace.
Enrolling in college for the spring semester, these future stars leave the comfort of being a well-known high school athlete behind and enter a world of constant competition and pressure.
A select few, such as Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins, meet and even exceed expectations. Last season, Watkins had 82 receptions for 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns, broke 11 school freshman records and was named an AP first-team All-American.
And he did not leave high school early. All of which makes identifying the true freshmen who will make a major impact that much more difficult.
Having said that, here are statistical predictions for 10 true freshmen who should be difference-makers this fall.
The Alabama football program has lacked a true deep threat since the departure of Julio Jones. Factor that in with a new offensive coordinator and the loss of Marquis Maze from the wide receiving corps last offseason, and it spells immediate playing time for both Black and Cooper.
Black stands 5’11’’, 170 lbs and has already impressed in the Alabama spring game. The ESPN 150 had him ranked as the 22nd-best player and second-best wide receiver in this class. He is an instinctive player who loves getting the ball in space.
At 6’1’’, 185 lbs, Amari Cooper might be the most underrated freshman in Tuscaloosa. Cooper is a natural wide receiver who has already shown surprising maturity for a prospect his age.
Both of these freshmen should get plenty of playing time under new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier.
Chris Black (55 REC, 550 YDS, 4 TD)
Amari Cooper (40 REC, 600 YDS, 6 TD)
Green-Beckham was definitely the biggest attention-grabber of the 2012 recruiting class. A wide receiver prospect, he is already drawing comparisons to Calvin Johnson and Randy Moss. Those are big shoes to fill for a young pass-catcher who has yet to make a reception at the college level.
At 6’6’’, 220 lbs, Green-Beckham is the most highly anticipated college football recruit since Jimmy Clausen. Green-Beckham also is the most highly touted recruit to ever sign with Missouri.
He is a natural athlete and pass-catcher who moves with great fluidity for a big receiver. Naturally strong and rangy, Green-Beckham possesses a mature body and impressive wingspan that have him well-equipped for the rigors on college football.
No one is questioning whether Green-Beckham starts for Missouri. The only question is, how much of an impact he will have in the SEC? Will the NFL-caliber defenses of the SEC be able to handle the natural athleticism and skills of a young receiver like Green-Beckham?
Dorial Green-Beckham (70 REC, 950 YDS, 7 TD)
I will always argue that running backs have the easiest transition from one level to the next. This is even more true when you're as talented as Mario Pender, who should have a legitimate shot at cracking the starting lineup.
At 6’0’’, 190 lbs, Pender has all the attributes of an elite, college-level running back. He is quick, explosive, runs low to the ground and possesses excellent ball-skills and balance.
Ranked as the 72nd-best prospect by ESPN, Pender could be a pleasant surprise for Seminole nation.
Mario Pender (111 ATT, 535 YDS, 4.8 AVG, 7 TD)
Gunner Kiel surprised many when he de-committed from LSU and enrolled early at Notre Dame. With early enrollment, Kiel appears to be the answer to both the short-term and long-term prayers of the Notre Dame faithful.
At 6’3’’, 215 lbs, Kiel looks ready to compete for the starting job. He is a strong-armed passer with surprising athleticism and speed.
I doubt Kiel will see the field immediately, but through injuries and questionable play from the team's other quarterbacks, Kiel should take some first-team snaps before the end of the season.
Gunner Kiel (60 ATT, 35 CMP, 3 TD, 2 INT)
Mike Gundy is making my life too easy by already naming Lunt the Cowboys' starting quarterback for 2012.
Lunt definitely has an uphill battle in front of him. Oklahoma State is coming off the loss of first-round picks Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon, and the faithful fans in Stillwater are going to expect Lunt to fill Weeden's first-round shoes.
At 6’5’’, 190 lbs, Lunt has shown the skills to succeed at the college level. Already, he's thrown for more than 200 yards in the Oklahoma State spring game.
He stands tall in the pocket and provides Oklahoma State with a strong, accurate passer. He has great body control and has shown a consistent release.
Physically, Lunt is a work in progress. He needs to add weight to his 6'5" frame.
Wes Lunt (500 ATT, 315 CMP, 30 TD, 15 INT)
Humphries is essentially a lock to start. Florida’s offensive line underachieved in 2011, and Humphries will be given every opportunity to be the team's big addition for 2012.
Will Muschamp has made it clear that he has no intention of emulating the offense that Urban Meyer ran while at Florida. Muschamp and new offensive coordinator Brent Pease are looking to produce an offense with much more of a NFL-style power-running game.
Enter Humphries. At 6’6’’, 275 lbs, he was undoubtedly the No. 1-ranked offensive tackle in the class of 2012. ESPN had Humphries ranked as the seventh-best overall prospect.
He is an athletic offensive tackle who is long, lean and agile. He dominated his high school competition on athleticism alone. Because of that, he has a few technical deficiencies.
Nevertheless, Humphries should give Muschamp and company the left tackle prospect they have been seeking.
D.J. Humphries (Starts all 12 games for the Gators. Has an up-and-down season, struggles against the better defensive ends in the SEC.)
Armstead is the definition of versatility. Targeted by many recruiters as a 5-star offensive tackle, the newest Duck is projected to play defensive end and defensive tackle at Oregon.
As if football were not enough, Armstead will also be taking his talents to the hardwood for the Oregon faithful.
At 6’7’’, 280 lbs, Armstead is already a force to be reckoned with. Oregon proved last season that it will play young talent and allow its defensive linemen to alternate and stay fresh.
Armstead should join the rotation at once. He has great athleticism for a man his size and is strong at the point of attack.
Arik Armstead (40 TKL, 6 TFL, 4 Sacks) (7.5 PPG, 4 RPG, 1 APG)
Like many other football players who have come out of Don Bosco High School in New Jersey, Hamilton seems to be ready to make an immediate impact for Rutgers. Even with former head coach Greg Schiano leaving Rutgers for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Hamilton should find his niche with the Scarlet Knights.
At 6’3’’, 245 lbs, Hamilton is a high-motor prospect who is an effective pass-rusher. He still needs work to develop his overall strength and ability to play at the point of attack.
Hamilton should be ready for a pass-rushing situational role from Day 1.
Darius Hamilton (20 TKL, 7 TFL, 4 Sacks)
With Michigan losing three defensive linemen in Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen and Will Heininger, true freshman Ondre Pipkins should get a lot of playing time.
Pipkins, a unique blend of size and athleticism, is one of my favorite incoming freshmen. At 6’2’’, 325 lbs, Pipkins boasts a 5.38-second 40-yard dash and 24-inch vertical leap.
He is a mountain of a man who has already shown flashes of being a dominant nose tackle. As with any young prospects his size, Pipkin will have to spend considerable time in the Michigan weight room, reshaping his body and adding both lower and upper body strength.
Conditioning has also been an issue for Pipkins, who already has the size to play college football. He should help the Michigan defense stop the run.
Ondre Pipkins (45 TKL, 3 TFL, 2 Sacks)