If 2009 was the year of the true freshman—the year Tate Forcier, Matt Barkley, Vontaze Burfict, Dion Lewis, and Manti Te'O made us believe redshirts were for the birds—then 2010 is surely the year of the redshirt freshman.
A host of talented defensive linemen from 2009's signature crop were able to gain muscle and lose fat while honing their technique and waiting their turn.
Meanwhile, talented freshmen quarterbacks at schools with—ahem—better depth were able to lift weights and learn systems without seeing the field until they were fully ready.
As my B/R friend Bobby Engle once put it: and that's the way it is, that's the way it should be.
Here are my 12 picks for 2010's sure-to-blow-up redshirt freshmen. I'm sure y'all have a few sleepers of your own.
Loston played in two games as a true freshman, but went down with a wrist injury that kept him out of play for the rest of the year.
His application for a medical redshirt was accepted, and the need is now dire. Chad Jones, LSU's best safety, left early for the NFL, so Loston enters spring ball as the likely starter at the free safety position.
His film should be evidence in a voluntary manslaughter trial. The kid can hit really, really hard.
Which, of course, is exactly how LSU likes it done, and they weren't the only ones. Every recruiting site ranked Loston as the top safety in the 2009 class, and ESPN in particular didn't pause once with a caveat.
He's got zone knowledge, closing speed, coverage skills, and reckless abandon galore.
With so few knocks on his game, the only thing holding Loston back from an All-SEC campaign is inexperience. He and Patrick Peterson will need to gel quickly in order to help LSU's defense regain its airtight ways.
As a heralded five-star recruit whom no one has seen thrown a pass, North Carolina's redshirt freshman, Bryn Renner, is the most popular guy in Chapel Hill. Starter TJ Yates is still campus goat.
I'm one of the few who like North Carolina to contend for a national championship next year on the strength of their defense. Nine players return from a squad that finished sixth nationally against the run.
But talk like that will only get Yates in hotter water if he becomes a liability like he was in 2009.
If UNC's starter is slumping, Renner will need to step in and pick up the slack in time for conference play. If he can't, the Tar Heels will feel like pretenders all over again.
No one is rooting for Yates to bomb out, but if he does, Renner, the former No. 5 pro-style QB, is in prime position to base his popularity on something real.
The Heels have the underground momentum; the succession plan is in place. Now, fate relies on a guy who doesn't even know how to spell Bryan.
I personally think Michigan's success, and Rich Rodriguez's job, will depend more on the maturation of five-star DT William Campbell (we couldn't stop the run, either), but many Michigan followers are pinning it all on five-star corner Justin Turner.
Turner entered Michigan's summer camp late and slightly out of shape after some minor academic issues prevented him from making summer workouts.
Otherwise, he would almost certainly have seen the field during the Wolverines' brutal decline to close the 2009 season, when the secondary couldn't defend anything thrown their way.
Turner got a redshirt out of the deal, and now enters spring ball as the presumed replacement for Donovan Warren. Warren, Michigan's starter at boundary corner, left a year early for the NFL draft.
Turner's blend of size, athleticism and ball skills inured Scout to grant him five stars. But the other recruiting experts wondered if his speed was good enough for corner, and slapped the term safety on him to make sure. Still, he was Rivals' No. 3 safety, so the hesitation wasn't too strong.
In whatever form it takes, Turner's play will be heavily scrutinized. As far as stakes go, he could be the most important player on Michigan's team next year.
Despite my relative youth and inexperience with college football, I am as old-school and fundamental as they come in assessing whether a defense will succeed.
One question: how good is the defensive line?
That's why I think nose tackle and four-star recruit Tyler Stockton edges out guard Chris Watt as the redshirt freshman most crucial to Notre Dame's success next year.
Not being able to stop the run killed the Irish last year in game after game. Their front seven got outplayed at the point of attack.
Counteracting that starts with getting a good D-line rotation that can stay fresh, react to blocks and get penetration.
Stockton was a U.S. Army All-American as a senior, but he didn't crack the two-deep last year.
However, a redshirt year is fairly typical for defensive linemen, who typically need to trade fat for muscle and get up to speed on technique. I don't think it reflects too strongly on his talent or upside.
Scout's No. 13 DT has the Irish faithful counting on him to plug those running lanes, whether that means as a starter or backing up senior Ian Williams.
The ND offense is being remade. But it's the defense that will determine Brian Kelly's fate in his rookie year, just as it did for Charlie Weis in his last.
Redshirt sophomore and starting QB Kyle Parker is flirting with his baseball prospects at the expense of spring practice.
But even if Willy Korn's transfer damaged Clemson's QB depth, Parker doesn't have too long a leash to play with. Not with athletic, gifted, No. 4 pro-style QB recruit Tajh Boyd pushing him for playing time, and maybe the starting spot.
Parker will sit out a few spring practices to compete on Clemson's baseball team, opening the door for the former five-star prospect to play with the ones.
That kind of exposure could be dangerous even if you're a returning starter.
With Clemson falling just short of an ACC Championship last year, and all-conference safety DeAndre McDaniel returning for his senior year, the expectations are that the Tigers can repeat as divisional champs.
That means the pressure is on Parker to ward off the talented Mr. Boyd all year, or suffer being remembered as the Wally Pipp of Clemson football.
With seven running backs on the roster (more if you count fullbacks), the feeling in Buckeye circles is that Jim Tressel will deploy a platoon system to balance the ground game against the new and terrifying threat of Pryor the passer.
I don't know if I buy that argument, given Tressel's track record with 1,000 yard rushers. The Vest traditionally likes to get it done with one player and, preferably, one player only.
So while five-star linebacker Dorian Bell might have a bigger impact as a redshirt freshman for the Buckeyes, my attention is on Jamaal Berry, a four/five star running back recruit from 2009's class in whom Tressel gets his desired blend of power and speed.
Berry battled a hamstring injury last fall that forced him to redshirt, but he's back to 100 percent in time for spring ball.
I could see Berry contending for Big Ten freshman of the year as the Buckeyes roll on the strength of their most balanced and explosive offense since 2006.
Whether Berry gets most of the carries in that offense depends, I believe, on whether he's up to the challenge.
Some Georgia fans had to be more than a little disappointed that the moment all was lost with the Joe Cox experiment, Aaron Murray's redshirt wasn't burned in the name of experience.
Perhaps they'll feel less regret when Murray breaks onto the scene as the Next Great Georgia QB just when the Bulldogs need him most.
Lacking only in height, Murray was "a winner" to Scout, "the ideal blend of gunslinger and athlete" to ESPN, and was considered 2009's most polished, deft, and confident quarterback.
Think Tate Forcier, without the injury issues.
Murray's got swagger to burn and will have two of the SEC's best wide receivers to throw to in A.J. Green and fellow redshirt freshman Marlon Brown. That confidence will go a long way in getting Georgia's SEC East prospects rolling again.
Scout closes with a literary epithet claiming that Murray is a "peerless leader." In the SEC, that's saying a lot.
Pitt's tight end position cleared up with the graduation of accomplished and underrated athlete Dorin Dickerson, the toast of the NFL Combine tight ends.
Into that vacancy will step another member of Pitt's equally accomplished (and equally underrated) 2009 recruiting class.
Four-star tight end Brock DeCicco wasn't ready to crack the two-deep as a freshman, and though his weight and development were a concern that may speak just as much to the depth and talent that Pitt has on its roster.
Either way, DeCicco will probably have benefited from a year on the bench, because his ball skills and blue-chip hands will now become the safety valve for whomever the Panthers put at quarterback next season.
ESPN liked him most in short and intermediate routes, and he's not as pure a blocker as Dave Wannstedt usually likes putting on the ends of the line. I expect he'll be a passing threat almost exclusively, unless the strength and conditioning program really made him into a monster.
At peak performance, he'll be a five- to 10-catch-per-game talent in the underneath game while Johnathon Baldwin keeps on torchin' homies over the top.
I can't promise he'll be the next Derrick Morgan, but redshirt freshman JC Lanier's job will be to keep Georgia Tech's defensive line as intimidating to run and pass against as it was when Morgan anchored the strong side.
Lanier, Scout's No. 25 defensive tackle, entered Georgia Tech battling some weight issues, and was held off the two-deep despite the Jackets struggling to make their D-line dimensional beyond Morgan.
But a redshirt year and intense conditioning should have slimmed down Lanier's girth without tempering the competitive beast inside him.
At full strength, Lanier is the perfect prototype to play the true nose position. If he can lock it down in spring practice, it should help GT's other young prospects on the d-line play more to their true strengths.
And as always, a good defensive line rotation is where it all starts for a team that struggled against the run.
Iowa's offensive line slapped Georgia Tech around pretty good in the Orange Bowl loss. Hopefully, after a grueling offseason under the legendarily gruff Paul Johnson, it'll be the Jackets doing the slapping around this fall.
Five-star wide receiver Andre Debose sat out the 2009 season with a hamstring injury, which is the slowest pace he's ever gone in his entire life.
Don't expect that pace to continue once Debose gets a chance to stretch the field in Urban Meyer's new attack.
Under John Brantley, the expectation is that the Gators will go vertical much more. Debose's quick cuts and astonishing speed should do well to complement that change.
He'll be Florida's fly-route runner, and should contend for SEC Freshman of the Year status if Brantley can throw long enough to keep up with him.
Even with NFL-caliber defensive ends Jason Pierre-Paul and George Selvie ahead of him, Ryne Giddins got playing time last year.
The bad news is, Giddins went down with an ankle injury after just three games, and will hope for the best on a medical redshirt application.
Giddins' speed and ability to shed blockers will be crucial as the Bulls attempt to replace six starters on defense.
Giddins was Jim Leavitt's highest-rated recruit before Leavitt was fired as coach of the program. Now, it's Skip Holtz's job to get the most out of South Florida's future NFL first-rounder.
The eyes of Oklahoma will be upon Jamarkus McFarland, Scout's No. 3 defensive tackle and a five-star prospect.
McFarland's legendarily contentious decision to attend Oklahoma over Texas was the subject of an engrossing New York Times article on the intensity of the Red River Rivalry.
His strength and speed are enough to split double-teams at any level. He just needed to refine his techniques when he showed up on campus.
Having McCoy ahead of him on the depth chart afforded him the luxury of a redshirt. Now, he's the best chance the Sooners have at making up for losing McCoy and contending with Texas next year.
If he has a big game in the Red River Shootout, we can all look forward to a quality follow-up piece.
EDIT: Speaking of follow-up pieces, McFarland played in seven games as a freshman and is not eligible for a redshirt. Here's to a great true sophomore season, guy!