With another college football season comes another group of young players who are expected to take over the sport. There used to be a time when freshmen weren't allowed to play college ball, but now they are quickly becoming the superstars.
Last season, Georgia running back Todd Gurley and Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota mesmerized college football fans everywhere. Some guy named Johnny Manziel also became the first freshman to win the Heisman.
Player debuts have become highly anticipated.
Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon's 111 rushing yards in last year's 41-14 opening-week victory over Michigan stuck with you.
Which new guys should you watch this season?
Matchup: Vs. Central Michigan
When: Aug. 31
Where: Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Mich.
How well Michigan's offensive line pans out will have a big impact on the team's season. The interior of the line features all new faces, including redshirt freshman Kyle Kalis. He was talented enough to start last season but wasn't needed due to the experience up front.
Kalis recently told Angelique S. Chengelis of The Detroit News that his redshirt gave him time to improve his technique:
It is so tough. Coming in, I thought it would be like high school, I thought I could just manhandle people, throw them to the ground like high school, block three people on one play. But I came in, and that’s not the way it was. I had to learn a lot of technique, and a lot of that has helped me.
The Michigan right guard has terrific size at 6'5", 305 pounds, and plays with an incredible mean streak. His brute strength is worth the price of admission and will make him very popular with Michigan fans. Offensive linemen such as Kalis don't come around often.
Matchup: At Hawaii
When: Aug. 29
Where: Aloha Stadium, Honolulu, Hawaii
Su’a Cravens earned the right to see playing time as a true freshman in the season opener. He was one of six early enrollees and began working his tail off from day one. He told of the Los Angeles Times that his goal is to start in a shaky USC secondary.
"I didn't come here just to sit on the bench," Cravens said. "I came to SC to try and get on the field as fast as I can."
You have to love that attitude.
Cravens is listed as a starting strong safety along with Gerald Bowman and Leon McQuay III. He's an athletic player with great ball skills and impressive instincts in run support. Anybody who can climb to the top of the depth chart as a first-year player is worth watching.
Matchup: Vs. Buffalo
When: Aug. 31
Where: Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio
Ohio State is sure to play nearly its entire team once the blowout against Buffalo is in full effect. One player Buckeye fans are excited about is true freshman Dontre Wilson. He enrolled in the summer, and it didn't take long before head coach Urban Meyer began singing his praises, per Austin Ward of ESPN:
He’s got something that we didn’t have, and that’s just electric speed. He also has a unique skill set where he’s extremely dynamic and fast, which we all now what that means in the game of football -- especially in an offense where you try to create space.
He goes hard. We just have to point him in the right direction now.
Wilson has track star speed and can play just about anywhere within the offense. He is a nightmare in space and doesn't lose much speed when changing directions in the open field. He will add a different dimension to the Ohio State offense and help take some of the pressure off of quarterback Braxton Miller.
Matchup: At Vanderbilt
When: Aug. 29
Where: Vanderbilt Stadium, Nashville, Tenn.
Ole Miss will be in a dogfight with SEC rival Vanderbilt, a game that will give the victor momentum heading into the heart of the schedule. It's only right that the Rebels play their best players in such an important game.
Get used to hearing Robert Nkemdiche's name quite a bit.
As a true freshman at 6'5", 245 pounds, Nkemdiche is a freak of nature and has an elite skill set. He's capable of helping out in run support, can play sideline to sideline and has great potential as a pass rusher.
Nkemdiche is still learning the playbook, but defensive line coach Chris Kiffin hopes to see his top recruit on the field often in the season opener, per Edward Aschoff of ESPN.
"I really do hope that he's playing a lot or starting on opening day. That's the plan for the No. 1 player in the nation." Kiffin said.
Matchup: At Clemson
When: Aug. 31
Where: Memorial Stadium, Clemson, S.C.
Georgia's defense needs all the help it can get with eight starters being replaced. One recruit who is polished enough to contribute right away is true freshman safety Tray Matthews. He's lengthy at 6'0", has terrific instincts and is usually somewhere near the football.
Matthews missed several days of practice due to shoulder and hamstring injuries, but he was back on the field this week in a regular jersey, per S of The Telegraph:
"He practiced, so that was good," head coach Mark Richt said after practice. "It was hard to gauge since it was mostly scout team work and the tempo wasn't blazing, but he got into some competitive drills and he looked fine. When a guy is coming off a hamstring, it's gonna be a couple of days before you feel like he's over the hump. Hopefully he'll have no more setbacks."
It remains unknown if Matthews will start, but it's clear he will play if he isn't limited by injuries. He will be needed as the Bulldogs hope to slow down a potent Clemson offense led by quarterback Tajh Boyd.
Matchup: Vs. Louisiana-Monroe
When: Aug. 31
Where: Gaylord Family OK Mem. Stadium, Norman, Okla.
In one of the biggest surprises of the offseason, redshirt freshman quarterback Trevor Knight beat junior quarterback Blake Bell for the starting job.
Bob Stoops hopes that both players continue to compete hard, but it's clear who will receive the majority of the reps in the season opener, per of USA Today:
"Trevor and Blake (Bell) have competed hard and both will be ready to play against Louisiana-Monroe," Stoops told news reporters. "Like every other position on our team, I expect them both to continue competing for the starting job."
Like Bell, Knight is an athletic quarterback who can scramble out of the pocket and make plays with his legs. He also has a strong arm and throws the ball with solid velocity. Oklahoma has produced fabulous quarterbacks over the years, and it'll be interesting to see if Knight is next in line.
Matchup: Vs. Toledo
When: Aug. 31
Where: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Gainesville, Fla.
Pretty soon Florida's offense will begin recruiting guys off the street to help out. Are you in fairly good shape? Can you run a 40-yard dash in under 4.6 seconds? Play ball.
A Gators offense that was already near the bottom of the SEC has now lost starting running back Matt Jones and offensive lineman Jon Halapio for the season opener. Junior Mack Brown and converted safety Valdez Showers are going to be the front-runners for carries, but true freshman Kelvin Taylor will likely get a few reps as well.
The son of former Gator great Fred Taylor, Kelvin has a unique combination of speed and power. He sees the field well, can catch the ball out of the backfield and is dangerous in the open field. Florida needs playmakers, and Taylor brings explosiveness that the offense lacks.
Matchup: Vs. Louisiana-Lafayette
When: Aug. 31
Where: D.W.R. Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville, Ark.
Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins will provide a solid one-two punch at running back for new head coach Brett Bielema. The former Wisconsin coach is known for establishing the run and preaching physicality up front. Already a key piece to the offense, true freshman Collins told Kurt Voigt of The Wichita Eagle that he hopes to see the field as often as possible.
"In a perfect world, I'd like to get 20-25 carries, in my opinion," Collins said. "I'd like to play the whole game and get as many carries as possible."
Collins has quick feet and solid top-end speed. He's elusive in the open field and has great hands. While Arkansas has a lot of work to do as a team, Collins will provide stability for the offense.
Matchup: Vs. Alabama
When: Aug. 31
Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Ga.
Virginia Tech needs all the help it can get if it's going to upset Alabama. With senior cornerback Antone Exum expected to miss the game due to a knee injury, true freshman Kendall Fuller will see plenty of playing time.
He’s come in and been so sharp mentally, Gray said at the Hokies’ preseason media gathering Saturday. Put him at nickel, put him at boundary corner, put him at field corner, and mentally he seemed to handle all of it, which is rare for a freshman. … He’s doing so well.
Alabama is a great test for a young defensive player, and plenty of eyes should be on the true freshman.
Matchup: At Pittsburgh
When: Sept. 2
Where: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pa.
Everybody should watch the Florida State-Pittsburgh matchup. No, not because the Panthers stand a chance, but because it will be the debut of redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston.
Winston has the size at 6'4", 227 pounds, the strong arm and the athleticism. Although he has yet to play a collegiate game, comparisons to Cam Newton aren't too farfetched. He has the potential to be great and could have a Johnny Manziel-like impact on his team.
Getting too far ahead?
Well, that's why you must watch his season debut.