College Football Freshman Report Card Grades Through Week 4

David Luther@@davidrlutherFeatured ColumnistSeptember 26, 2012

College Football Freshman Report Card Grades Through Week 4

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    In today's college football world, freshmen are rarely heralded as making major impacts.

    But 2012 seems to be breaking the mold a bit, as there are several youngsters that are making contributions despite their lack of collegiate experience.

    Just as these students are learning the layout of campus, figuring out the best way from the dorm to the library or finding that PoliSci 101 lecture hall, they're already well on their way to becoming the next legendary football player for Dear Old U.

    We've selected some of the biggest freshman names from around the nation, and it's time to go over their grades as we look at the college football freshman report cards through Week 4 of the 2012 season.

Shaq Roland, WR, South Carolina

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    4 games played; 3 receptions, 55 yards, 1 touchdown

    We'll start with the freshman currently sporting the lowest grade on our list.

    Shaq Roland was a former Mr. Football in the state of South Carolina, and his decision to stay home and play for the Gamecocks was widely viewed as another recruiting coup for the Ol' Head Ball Coach.

    But Steve Spurrier hasn't received the payoff from this youngster quite yet, as Roland has yet to make any major impact—or much of an impact at all—in the first four games of the 2012 season.

    With just three receptions on the year, there's plenty of room for improvement.

    Lucky for Roland and the Gamecocks, there's also plenty of time to bring that near-failing grade up.

    Grade: D-

Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama

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    4 GP; 9 rec, 138 yds, 1 TD

    With the abundance of talent Nick Saban has at his disposal, it's actually fairly amazing that freshmen playing for the Crimson Tide actually make their way onto the field at all.

    But when you have a talented receiver like Cooper, why not use him whenever possible?

    Cooper hasn't exactly been lighting it up or threatening any freshman records, but he has turned in a very solid first couple of weeks with nine receptions for 138 yards and a touchdown.

    There's still plenty of room for growth, and when that growth happens, opposing secondaries beware.

    Grade: C+

Stefon Diggs, WR, Maryland

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    4 GP; 15 punt returns, 177 yds; 12 rec, 259 yds, 3 TD; 5 rushes, 20 yds; 7 kick returns, 186 yds

    Baby steps, Maryland. Baby steps.

    A team doesn't go from the doldrums of ACC obscurity to championship contention overnight.

    But having players on the roster like Stefon Diggs will certainly help, especially if his early performances are a sign of things to come.

    Diggs has been pulling double duty so far this season, spending time on the offense while also returning kicks and punts—and doing a bang-up job at all of that, too.

    His 259 offensive yards and three receiving touchdowns are easily good enough to earn Diggs a passing mark all on their own. But when you add in the over 300 return yards and a few odd carries, he's moved from the ranks of the average squarely into the “above average” category.

    A touchdown or two on special teams or a few more average yards on punt returns, and Diggs can quite easily turn that B- into an A+.

    Grade: B-

Keith Marshall, RB, Georgia

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    4 GP; 42 rushes, 264 yds, 3 TD; 3 rec, 14 yds

    As we continue through our Week 4 list of freshman report cards, you'll soon discover that there's no shortage of young talent in the SEC.

    Our next freshman is our first (but not our last) Georgia Bulldog to appear, and there's more than enough reason to believe that the Bulldogs can become a preeminent rushing team in 2012.

    Keith Marshall is averaging just over 10 carries per game, but has already accumulated 264 yards and three touchdowns on the ground this season.

    He's shown speed and agility that could earn him top spots on most depth charts across the nation, but he opted instead to play for Mark Richt's talent-laden rushing game.

    If he had the opportunity to carry the ball a few more times per game, he might be able to improve upon his current grade. That being said, the fact that we're handing out a B to a kid who barely has 10 rushes per game should say something about his abilities.

    Grade: B

T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama

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    4 GP; 40 rushes, 254 yds, 2 TD; 6 rec, 91 yds

    Well, Alabama just seems to be flush with freshman talent this year, doesn't it?

    That bodes well for the future health of the Crimson Tide program, and players like T.J. Yeldon are having a positive impact even before they've reached their full maturity.

    Yeldon already has numbers that we'd ordinarily expect to see from sophomores and juniors, but not freshmen. And certainly not freshmen in the SEC.

    Considering he's about to face the stiffest defenses in the nation as the Tide enter the heart of their SEC schedule, we're not ready to crown Yeldon a freshman phenom just yet. But there's a chance his early B+ performances could quickly become a key ingredient in Saban's next BCS title recipe.

    Grade: B+

Gabe Marks, WR, Washington State

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    4 GP; 19 rec, 326 yds, 2 TD; 2 tackles (1 solo)

    If the Washington State Cougars are ever going to get back to the point where they can compete with the best the Pac-12 has to offer, they're going to need a lot more players like freshman Gabe Marks.

    Washington State has been down for a while now, but the fog seems like it's lifting in Pullman as new head coach Mike Leach is revving up the program like only he can.

    He is also benefiting from the increasingly strong recruits brought in by former head coach Paul Wulff—like Marks.

    Marks is adjusting well to play at the collegiate level, and his hands seem to have the experience of an upperclassman. He catches nearly everything thrown in his direction, and it should come as no surprise that he's piling up the receiving yards in a hurry.

    We've yet to see him against some of the quicker defenses the Cougars have on their schedule in 2012 (Oregon and Stanford, to name a couple), but it's scary to think how much better this young kid could become before his playing days are over at Washington State.

    Grade: B+

D.J. Foster, RB, Arizona State

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    4 GP; 32 rushes, 196 yds, 2 TD; 9 rec, 163 yds, 1 TD; 1 tackle

    There was a lot of hope surrounding the 2011 Arizona State Sun Devils team.

    Fool me once...

    The outlook for 2012 is a bit more reserved, and rightfully so. But the future isn't all gray clouds and dreary afternoons for ASU with standout performances from unexpected places—like freshman running back D.J. Foster.

    Foster is currently ahead of that magic six-yards-per-carry mark with two touchdowns to his credit, and he is also making a contribution in the passing game, hauling in nine receptions for 163 yards and another touchdown.

    It was a tough call, but we went with a B+ for Foster. All he needs to turn that into an A- is a little extra credit. Another receiving touchdown or two should do the trick.

    Grade: B+

Tevin King, RB, Louisiana Tech

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    3 GP; 45 rushes, 353 yds, 5 TD; 5 rec, 47 yards

    Louisiana Tech's Tevin King has an eye-popping 353 yards in just three games this season and is currently No. 12 in the FBS with 117.7 yards per game. Of the 11 players in front of him on that list, there's only one other underclassman.

    Not too bad for a kid that finished his high school career in 2011.

    Of course, the devastating news for the Bulldogs is that King is done for the season after tearing his ACL this past Saturday against Illinois.

    Still, his impressive performance in La. Tech's first three games was worthy of recognition after Week 4, and if he returns in 2013, make sure you keep an eye on this speedster.

    Grade: A-

Jalen Mills, CB, Louisiana State

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    4 GP; 2 INT, 18 INT return yds; 19 tackles (13 solo); 1 pass broken up

    If the SEC is truly all about great defense, then Jalen Mills should have no trouble joining the next generation of superstar cornerbacks at LSU.

    Just four games in, Mills already has two interceptions and 19 tackles.

    That's not what you'd expect from most solid corners, especially a freshman. In fact, Mills is currently tied for fourth in the SEC in interceptions, and he is a major reason LSU is currently fielding the No. 8 pass defense in the FBS.

    The only real question is, what's next for this likely All-Freshman selection?

    Grade: A

Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia

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    4 GP; 44 rushes, 406 yds, 6 TD; 2 rec, 8 yards; 7 kick returns, 243 yds, 1 TD

    The second Georgia Bulldog freshman running back to make our list after Week 4 is Todd Gurley.

    There's absolutely nothing girly (sorry) about how Gurley runs the ball, as his 6'1", 218-pound frame slashes over, around and through defenders. Gurley also adds a great deal of speed and agility to his strong style, and he is averaging over 100 yards per game on the ground—the only freshman in the nation to do so after four played games.

    If he keeps this pace up, he'll easily make every All-Freshman team in the galaxy, and he'll also find his name on more than a couple of postseason award ballots.

    Add in a kickoff return TD, and there's absolutely no reason we're not giving Gurley a well-earned A for his performance thus far.

    Grade: A

Duke Johnson, RB, Miami (Fla.)

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    4 GP; 40 rushes, 320 yds, 4 TD; 12 rec, 123 yds, 1 TD; 13 kick returns, 395 yds, 1 TD

    The Miami Hurricanes have been through a bit of a rough patch lately.

    As if the recent off-field issues and scandals weren't enough, the Hurricanes haven't been performing terribly well on the field, either.

    But freshman running back Duke Johnson seems to be on a personal mission to change the rest of the nation's perceptions about “The U.”

    Johnson has already accounted for a total of 838 total yards and six touchdowns across all facets of the game: rushing, receiving and special teams.

    His 320 yards rushing with four touchdowns with 123 receiving yards and another TD is enough to earn Johnson an A on almost any list.

    Add in his “extra credit” kickoff return duties—which include yet another touchdown—and you can see why Johnson is tops on our list with a well-deserved A+.

    Grade: A+