LB Matthew Thomas chooses Florida State
Though it’s far-fetched to think another freshman will win the Heisman in 2013, Johnny Manziel’s meteoric rise in 2012 has to make the question of which first-year players will leave an indelible mark on college football all the more intriguing.
Yes, who will be the 2013 version of Fresno State’s WR Davante Adams (finished 2012 ranked as the No. 9 WR in the FBS), TCU’s DL Devonte Fields (finished last season tied for No. 15 in tackles for a loss with 18.5), Tulane’s DB Lorenzo Doss (finished 2012 tied for No. 11 nationally in INTs with five), Miami (Fla.)’s RB Duke Johnson (finished last season ranked No. 11 in all-purpose yards with 2,060) or San Jose State’s K Austin Lopez (17-for-17 on FG attempts in 2012, tying him for the No. 1 slot nationally)?
All these guys were freshmen who made an immediate and positive impact on their respective teams in 2012.
The following slideshow boldly goes where no other slideshow has gone (well, kind of) and pinpoints 25 incoming freshman players who have the potential to make a name for themselves in 2013.
Importantly, this is not just a list of which true freshmen enter into the collegiate ranks with loads of talent; instead, this is an inventory of guys that have skills and are coming into a situation where they are needed, immediately.
It’s the place where talent meets necessity, a formula which equals opportunity and perhaps glory.
One of Ole Miss’ huge scores on signing day, WR Laquon Treadwell joins the collegiate ranks as the No. 1 rated receiver, the No. 5 guy overall in the class of 2013 and carries five full stars.
What makes Treadwell potentially an impact player as a freshman is the fact that he’ll join an Ole Miss receiving corps that returns only two starters from 2012.
Throw in the fact that the Rebels passing attack finished last season ranked No. 49 nationally and returns starting QB Bo Wallace, and, suddenly, Treadwell’s potential clashes with Ole Miss’ needs in a provocative way.
Really, Max Browne as an impact player for the Trojans in 2013 is about as big of a question mark as we’ll have on this list.
Browne, the No. 1 QB in the class of 2013, the No. 7 player overall and a 5-star athlete, will compete this fall for the coveted starting QB job at USC with Matt Wittek and Cody Kessler.
Though Wittek has to be considered the early favorite, it’s unknown if his two picks vs. Notre Dame followed by his three INTs vs. Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl may have shown too much of his hand too early and soured his chances.
Even if Wittek does get the nod at the beginning of the season, it’s very plausible that Browne could take over the job later in the year and become USC’s guy.
Michigan returns six offensive starters in 2013.
Beyond the loss of all-purpose QB Denard Robinson for 2013, the Wolverines return only one starting running back to an offense that sputtered to a No. 57 national ranking in scoring last season.
This gives guys like RB Derrick Green, a 5-star recruit from Richmond, Va., the No. 1 ranked back in the class of 2013, what is potentially a golden opportunity as a freshman.
Green posted a 4.4 time in the 40-yard dash, and Rivals.com has him as the No. 8 overall player in this year’s signing class.
Alabama returns only one starter to its D-line in 2013.
Though Nick Saban and Alabama have been nothing short of stellar in filling holes left by player attrition over the last several years, the Tide absolutely have a big job ahead of them in terms of replacing most of their D-line from 2012.
Indeed, with Alabama set to return a single starter to one of the great lines in recent history, opportunity will abound for talented players ready to step in and shine.
One possibility is 5-star incoming freshman DE Jonathan Allen from Ashburn, Va.
Allen is the No. 2 rated defensive end in the entire class of 2013 and the No. 11 guy overall.
He’ll join an Alabama defensive unit that ranked No. 1 nationally in scoring in 2012, was No. 1 vs. the run and No. 7 against the pass.
USC was No. 53 vs. the pass in 2012.
One of the many underwhelming stats spawned from the disappointing 2012 campaign at USC was a defensive unit that ranked No. 53 vs. the pass giving up on average 227 yards per game through the air.
Though this may not seem catastrophic when you throw in the fact that the Trojans are set to return a single DB starter from 2012, it’s easy to see that USC has huge needs to fill in its secondary.
But, what are concerns on the team level become potential big breaks for talented young players such as incoming freshman safety Su’a Cravens.
Cravens is a 5-star recruit from Murrieta, Calif., the No. 12 overall ranked player in this year’s signing sweepstakes, and the No. 1 rated safety in the country.
One of the really intriguing and potentially season-changing question marks for 2013 is how incoming Florida State DC Jeremy Pruitt will do taking over where Mark Stoops left off.
Pruitt, who comes off a three-season stint coaching the secondary at Alabama, inherits a defensive unit that finished the 2012 season ranked No. 6 nationally in scoring, No. 3 vs. the run and No. 1 against the pass.
But, these numbers need to be tempered by the fact that the ‘Noles are set to return a mere four starters on defense in 2013.
And among this number is a single LB, giving incoming freshman Matthew Thomas from Miami, Fla. an opportunity to get his foot in the door early at Florida State.
Thomas is a 5-star prospect who is the No. 2 LB in the class of 2013 and earned a No. 15 overall ranking from Rivals.
Incoming freshman RB Thomas Tyner may be a solid No. 2 to De'Anthony Thomas in 2013.
Though Oregon is set to return RB De’Anthony Thomas in 2013, the Ducks still must replace the 1,767 rushing yards and 21 scores provided by their No. 1 back in 2012, Kenjon Barner.
You’ve got to figure that regardless of the change at head coach that Thomas will be the guy this season, meaning he’ll finally get the touches that will let us see what he can really do.
But if Thomas falters or suffers an injury, look for incoming freshman RB Thomas Tyner to launch what may well be a campaign to become the next great speedster from Oregon.
Tyner is a 5-star back from Beaverton, Ore. who was ranked by Rivals as the No. 2 RB in the 2013 class and No. 17 overall. He has a posted time of 4.38 in the 40.
Really, even if Thomas has a banner season in 2013, Tyner could still have a huge impact as the No. 2 or even No. 3 guy.
Though it’s unsure what specific role the multi-tasking Tre’Davious White will ultimately play at LSU, the Tigers could use his services in their secondary in 2013.
White is a 5-star speedster who ranks No. 4 among corners in this year’s recruiting class and No. 18 overall.
White will join a LSU defense which returns a mere five starters from the unit that finished 2012 ranked No. 12 in scoring.
Though the Tigers have been very successful at handling attrition in the Les Miles era, it’s important to note that for 2013 LSU returns only two starting members of a secondary that ranked No. 28 vs. the pass last season.
Though No. 28 is a respectable number, it’s fairly disappointing for LSU.
Yes, White will have an opportunity as a freshman next season to make a huge contribution to improve a unit that before 2012 hadn’t dropped below a No. 10 national rank vs. the pass since 2009.
Notre Dame doesn't return its top two backs from last season in 2013.
Arguably the biggest hole the Irish have to fill coming into 2013 is at running ,where Notre Dame is set to return nary a starter from its 2012 product.
Yes, George Atkinson and Cam McDaniel, both juniors next season, are due back, but let’s remember this is an offense that sputtered even with experienced ball carriers.
Notre Dame’s offense finished its 2012 campaign ranked No. 80 nationally in scoring, No. 72 in passing yards and No. 38 in rushing, meaning that who’s carrying the pill moving forward is critical.
And this sets the stage for incoming freshman RB Greg Bryant; a 5-star guy from Delray Beach, Fla. who is the No. 3 rated running back from the class of 2013.
Bryant may have one of the best potential opportunities next season among incoming freshman skill players joining a top-tier BCS team.
LSU returns only one D-line starter in 2013.
Another incoming freshman at LSU who may be presented with a big-break scenario in 2013, DE Frank Herron joins a Tiger D-line that returns a single starter from a year ago.
Herron, a 6’5”, 250-pound product of Memphis, Tenn. earned five stars from Rivals and is rated at the No. 3 defensive end in the class of 2013.
Regardless of what happens to LSU’s beleaguered offensive unit, Herron and the rest of the defensive portion of the class of 2013 will have an opportunity to continue the Tigers tradition of excellence in shutting down opponent’s attacks.
Though incoming freshman Christian Hackenberg is nowhere near a sure thing to start under center this fall for Penn State, he may be the most viable candidate, and, if nothing else, he may get a shot sometime during the season.
Hackenberg will compete for the job with JUCO transfer Tyler Ferguson and incoming sophomore Steven Bench, who took all of eight snaps in relief of Matt McGloin in 2012.
Hackenberg comes to Penn State from Fork Union, Va. and earned five stars and the No. 2 ranking among QBs from Rivals.com.
If Hackenberg does get the nod he’ll have a full stable of receivers and an experienced O-line to aid his quest to become a full-time, long-term starter at State.
Ohio State returns only four starters defensively in 2013.
One of the huge question marks regarding Ohio State’s odds of repeating its 12-0 season in 2013 is the Bucks returning a mere four starters to a defense that finished last season ranked No. 31 in scoring.
This means that Urban Meyer’s success at reloading on D may make the difference in a Big Ten title run and BCS appearance.
Incoming freshman LB Mike Mitchell will join an Ohio State LB corps with only one returning starter, meaning that he may well have a chance to play a huge role in his first season.
Mitchell is a 5-star product of Plano, Texas and was the No. 3 rated LB in the Class of 2013.
In 2012 Virginia’s offense stalled epically to the tune of finishing the season ranked No. 95 nationally in scoring.
Breaking this down further, the Cavaliers finished No. 98 in rushing yards and No. 37 in passing, ultimately earning them the dubious title of one of the worst running games in the country last season.
Coming into 2013 Virginia returns four starting offensive lineman meaning that incoming freshman RB Taquan Mizzell from Virginia Beach, Va. might have a blank canvas protected by big burly guys who know what they are doing.
Mizzell is the No. 1 ranked all-purpose back from the class of 2013 and shines brightly with five gleaming stars.
Alabama has a serious rebuilding project with its D-line in 2013.
Another D-lineman who could lend a hand to the Tide’s big rebuilding project in 2013, 5-star rated DT A’Shawn Robinson is a beastly 6’4”, 320-pound product of Fort Worth, Texas.
Robinson, like fellow 5-star rated DE Jonathan Allen, will join an Alabama defensive line in 2013 that is set to return a single starter from last season’s epic unit.
Robinson carries a No. 4 ranking among all DTs from the class of 2013 and is No. 33 in the Rivals.com 100.
Though new Tennessee head coach Butch Jones will begin his tenure in Knoxville with plenty of talent on the roster, he’ll lack experience on offense.
The Vols are set to return only five offensive starters from 2012, and though they bring four back on the O-line, both the QB and all the starting receivers are gone.
Regardless of who starts under center in 2013, incoming freshman WR Marquez North may have a huge chance to strut his stuff and continue to crank out yards with a unit that ranked No. 15 in passing last season.
North, a 4-star signee from Charlotte, N.C., is the No. 2 rated WR from the class of 2013.
Though Mike Evans, Johnny Manziel’s No. 1 target from 2012, will be back on campus in 2013, gone are Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu, who combined for 1,398 yards and 15 TDs last season.
This makes the question of who will be the next “go-to” receiver in what was the No. 14 passing offense in 2012 all the more provocative.
The scenario at A&M sets up quite nicely for the multi-talented Ricky Seals-Jones from Sealy, Texas who did it all in his senior season but may be most useful to the Aggies as a receiver.
Seals-Jones carries a 4-star rating and is the No. 2 rated ATH in the class of 2013.
Regardless of where he winds up in terms of position for the Aggies, look for Seals-Jones to make a huge splash in the SEC.
One of the more telling statistical storylines from Clemson’s 11-2 campaign in 2012 is its defense finishing the season ranked No. 73 vs. the pass.
Though this might not seem cataclysmic, when you’re analyzing the difference between 12- and 13-win teams and those that bring home 10 and 11 wins, this is meaningful.
Coming into 2013 the spark of concern over the state of the secondary at Clemson becomes a raging inferno due to the fact that the Tigers are set to return a single starter from its DB corps in 2012.
Though this all paints a somewhat dim picture, don’t forget about incoming freshman CB Mackensie Alexander, the No. 7 ranked CB in the class of 2013.
Alexander hails from Immokalee, Fla. and carries a 4-star guarantee from the folks at Rivals.
No matter how you slice it, he could very covertly be one of the really big impact players of 2013.
Ohio State returns zero starters to its D-line in 2013.
Another major defensive concern for Urban Meyer coming into the 2013 season is a D-line that returns nary a starter from the 2012 Ohio State team.
This is no doubt a big-time worry for a unit that did well enough last season to earn a No. 14 national ranking vs. the run, a success story that did nothing short of rescue the Bucks No. 78 ranking against the pass.
With recruiting classes ranked in the top five over the last two years, the D-line attrition will no doubt be soaked up with talented guys such as incoming DE Joey Bosa from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
Bosa is a 4-star guy who ranks No. 4 among 2013 DEs and No. 9 overall in Florida, a state noted for its recruits.
Bosa is another guy on our list whose timing coming into the collegiate ranks couldn’t have been more perfectly scripted.
Florida's pass offense ranked No. 118 in the nation in 2012.
With a final ranking of No. 118 in passing yards in 2012, it’s pretty safe to say that the Gators could use every ounce of momentum offensively available in 2013.
Seriously, the only FBS teams which passed for fewer yards per game than Florida last season all ran the option: Georgia Tech, Temple, Navy, Air Force, New Mexico and Army.
This makes guys like incoming WR Demarcus Robinson seem almost magically delicious.
Robinson is a 4-star rated receiver from Fort Valley, Ga. who garnered the No. 5 ranking among WRs who signed up for college in 2013.
While it’s impractical to think that Robinson could right the passing ship on his own, his speedy contributions certainly won’t hurt.
Though it’s almost impossible not to be impressed with UCLA’s 9-5 mark and Pac-12 South title in 2012, there is lots of room for improvement moving forward for Jim Mora and company.
Of the major statistical categories last season, the Bruins biggest deficiency, and a common thread for a chunk of their losses, came via a defense that ranked No. 87 vs. the pass.
As we’ve already stated, this is the kind of business that separates the teams that hit double-digit wins and those that do not.
This gives guys like incoming freshman safety Priest Willis the opportunity to shine immediately, a scenario that is jacked up by the fact that UCLA is set to return a single DB starter from 2012.
Willis is a 4-star signee from Tempe, Ariz. who earned the No. 6 slot in terms of safeties in the class of 2013.
Though we already made the case for the Seminoles needing a significant influx of young talent on defense in the Matthew Thomas slide, as worrying as the LB situation is at FSU, the D-line is even more fraught.
Indeed, of the four total starters due back in 2013 from one of the most complete defenses in 2012, there are zero defensive linemen returning.
Though there are definitely lots of talented guys lined up from an underclassman standpoint it’s hard to ignore the potential impact of DE DeMarcus Walker who signed with the ‘Noles in 2013 from Jacksonville, Fla.
Walker is a 4-star strong side DE that is ranked No. 5 positionally and No. 57 overall in the Rivals 100.
Walker, like a bunch of other guys on our list, may have timed his arrival into the collegiate ranks perfectly.
Coming into 2013, Baylor will be without its starting QB (Nick Florence) and both its No. 1 and No. 3 receivers (Terrance Williams and Lanear Sampson respectively).
This is a huge deal for a team finished the 2012 season with the No. 4 nationally ranked passing offense in FBS ball.
But before anyone gets the crazy notion that the Bears won’t be throwing the ball around wildly in 2013, despite the attrition, don’t forget that Baylor hasn’t finished a season ranked out of the top 20 in passing yards since 2009 and haven’t been out of the top 40 since 2008.
This gives speedy and highly-touted guys such as incoming freshman WR Robbie Rhodes a huge opportunity to start racking up yards early and often.
Rhodes is a huge 4-star win for Baylor who ranks No. 8 among the current crop of receivers, is the No. 8 overall guy out of the state of Texas for 2013 (he’s from Fort Worth) and he runs a 4.5 40.
These are all numbers that would have been almost impossible for Baylor even five years ago and frankly the success makes the future oh so bright for individuals involved with the Bears football program.
Given that 2013 is likely Louisville’s final season in the Big East before moving to the ACC, it could well prove to be one of the most fruitful campaigns in the history of Cardinals football.
Indeed, after this season games vs. UConn and South Florida will suddenly morph into road trips to Florida State and homestands vs. Clemson.
Though the Cardinals bring back three of their top four receivers and QB Teddy Bridgewater for 2013, there is plenty of opportunity for talented young WRs in what was the No. 24 ranked passing offense a year ago.
This gives guys like WR James Quick, a 4-star local kid from Louisville’s Trinity HS, a chance to hit the ground running in a big way.
Quick is the No. 9 rated receiver in the class of 2013 and is the No. 1 rated player coming out of Kentucky this year.
If nothing else, don’t you just love the “Bridgewater to Quick” for a TD scenario?
Shane Morris may rival Devin Gardner for the starting job at Michigan in 2013.
Another young gunslinger who has his work cut out for him to avoid being red-shirted much less earn a starting role in 2013, Shane Morris comes to Michigan as the No. 4 rated pro-style QB in the class of 2013.
Morris will have his hands full if he expects to wrest the starting job from Devin Gardner, but if he can get his foot in the door, either via Gardner tanking or him shining, the sky could be the limit in terms of potential impact.
Morris is a 4-star product of Warren, Mich. who earned the No. 2 ranking in the state among the current crop of recruits, and, at 6’3”, 183 pounds, is well proportioned for the task at hand.
With Giovani Bernard and his 1,228 yards and 12 TDs off to the NFL draft well ahead of schedule, suddenly there is an opening for a stud RB at North Carolina.
Though there are experienced options already on campus in Chapel Hill, look out for RB T.J. Logan who comes down the pipe in 2013 from Greensboro, N.C.
Logan is the No. 4 rated all-purpose back in this season’s race to the fax machine and at four stars, he’s the No. 2 rated player out of the state of North Carolina in 2013.
He’ll join a Tar Heel squad that ranked No. 33 in rushing yards and No. 8 in scoring in 2012 meaning that he’ll have the benefit of a solid infrastructure if he plans on making an immediate splash.