Only a few days stand between now and the start of the 2010 college football season. The Big 12 Championship seems to be more up in the air than usual due to the amount of departing talent.
Freshmen will have some big opportunities to step up and contribute, and I've decided to spend some time to seek out which individuals these might be.
So, on that note, here's each team's freshman standout for the 2010 season.
Baylor: Ahmad Dixon, Safety
Talk about a steal. Dixon, a Waco native, was the tenth ranked safety in the country according to Scout.com. He chose the Bears over the likes of USC, Alabama, Tennessee, and Texas, making him one of the most highly touted prospects to ever sign with the Bears.
He has exceptional instincts for somebody his age, and has a great opportunity to prove himself early due to the departure of all-conference safety Jordan Lake.
Expect Dixon to make an immediate impact on a struggling Baylor defense, and possibly emerge as the Big 12's top defensive freshman.
Colorado: Paul Richardson, Wide Receiver
Richardson, a 6'1" 180 lbs receiver, was originally committed to UCLA, but withdrew his commitment after an incident with the law. He's been praised for his outstanding hands and his ability to go up and get the ball.
Scout.com ranked him 22nd on their list of wide receivers, and wrote that he "may have the best hands of any receiver in the West."
He'll be plugged into Colorado's offense immediately, and should provide some much needed relief for Tyler Hansen, who will need another target other than Scotty McKnight. In a Buffalo offense desperate for playmakers, expect Richardson to step up and play a large role in the Colorado offense, especially towards the end of the season.
Iowa State: Jeremiah George, Outside Linebacker
Iowa State never pulls in truckloads of four and five-star recruits, so I'm picking Johnson here based on the fact that I think he can, and will, get playing time early.
Paul Rhoads' team will have big difficulties at linebacker, and may even be forced to switch to a 4-2-5 if times get tough enough. Rhoads worked day and night trying to recruit linebackers, and George seems to be his biggest prize.
The Clearwater, Florida native received a three-star ranking from Scout.com, and might actually be one of the most athletic linebackers in the 2010 recruiting class. He averaged over nine yards per carry as a running back in high school, which explains his lack of size (6'0", 205 lbs.)
If he can play at his size, or maybe add 15 pounds to his frame, his athleticism could carry him a long way in 2010. He'll certainly get plenty of opportunities.
Kansas: Brandon Bourbon, Running Back
Bourbon boasts great speed and size, possessing a 4.44 40 and standing 6'1", 210 lbs. He may be Turner Gill's most prized recruit, having picked the Jayhawks over Notre Dame and arch-rival Missouri.
With the running game taking center stage at Kansas, returning starter Toben Opurum will need help carrying the load. Due to the overall depletion of the Jayhawk running backs, Bourbon looks like the guy for the job. KU's offensive line is the only experienced group for Gill's squad, which makes Bourbon's success all the more likely.
Kansas will revamp completely this season, and Bourbon has all the skills necessary to excel in a run-oriented offense.
Kansas State: Tre Walker, Middle/Outside Linebacker
Walker, 6'4", 210 lbs. linebacker from Olathe, Kansas, flew under the radar during the recruitment process, but has the athleticism to excel in Bill Snyder's 4-2-5 offense.
His versatility will provide him with plenty opportunities this season due to the losses at linebacker for the Wildcats.
Senior OLB Troy Butler is the lone returning starter to the bunch, which means that Walker will have a chance to play early, on the inside or outside.
If he's not redshirted, expect Walker to find success in making big plays. The Kansas State defense certainly needs somebody to.
Missouri: Marcus Lucas, Wide Receiver
Jared Perry and Danario Alexander accounted for 60 percent of Mizzou's receptions last year, meaning that others will need to emerge as reliable targets in Gary Pinkel's aerial assault.
Lucas is more than capable to fill this void. At 6'5", he has tremendous size and strength, which makes him a deadly downfield threat. He also has excellent hands and concentration, thus making him a complete wide receiver in all respects.
Scout.com ranked him as the 16th best wideout in the country, thus helping him pull in offers from the likes of Arkansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. In 2010, look for Lucas to emerge as a favorite target for Blaine Gabbert. After the suspension of running back Derrick Washington, he'll need all the help he can get.
Jeremy Maclin, Danario Alexander, Marcus Lucas. He'll have zero trouble continuing the trend previously set in Columbus.
Nebraska: Corey Cooper, Safety
The safety position is the only area where this Nebraska defense seems to be lacking. For that reason, don't be surprised if Cooper starts day one.
He's the gem of Bo Pelini's 2010 recruiting class, and received a ranking of 12 among all safeties by Scout.com. At 6'2" 200 lbs, he's constantly looking to make a huge hit or an interception. His versatility will allow him to play either free safety or strong safety, depending on Nebraska's needs.
Cooper simply loves contact, which might explain his attraction to Bo Pelini's tough style of play.
The four-star recruit picked up offers from Notre Dame, Florida State, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Tennessee, and will have an instant impact on an already impressive Husker defense.
Oklahoma: Corey Nelson, Outside Linebacker
All-conference selection is the only returning starter to Bob Stoops' linebacker corp, which paves the way for heralded prospect Corey Nelson.
The five-star recruit was the fourth ranked linebacker by Scout.com and has tremendous speed, boasting a 4.58 40. He has terrific instincts and sheds blocks with ease, thus making him a standout run-stopper.
Nelson was courted by nearly everybody, including LSU, Texas, Florida, Nebraska, and Tennessee. He's certainly high on Oklahoma's list for future stars, and could very well make his entrance into the spotlight as a true freshman this season.
We all know how deep the Sooners are at every position, but Nelson has the ability to leapfrog several current players and emerge as one of the Big 12's top newcomers.
Oklahoma State: Justin Gilbert, Cornerback
An 80-yard punt return for a touchdown solidified Gilbert as the highly anticipated punt return specialist for the Cowboys, who's speed and athleticism are making a buzz around Stillwater.
Labeled as the next great Big 12 punt returner, Gilbert will also likely serve as the backup cornerback. The Huntsville, Texas native has freakish speed and unbelievable quickness that will be on display early and often in Mike Gundy's team of new faces.
Gilbert has all the tools to be among the most dynamic freshmen in the Big 12. Whether it's by scoring touchdowns or intercepting passes, he'll immediately emerge as a big time talent for the Cowboys in 2010.
Texas: Jackson Jeffcoat, Defensive End
When you're the best player in a Mack Brown recruiting class, you're bound for superstardom. Jeffcoat, a 6'3", 235 lbs. defensive end, fits that bill perfectly. He'll come into Austin to join an already impressive Longhorn defensive line, and may end up as a starter as the season progresses.
Scout.com ranked him number two out of all defensive ends, pointing to his scary size-speed combination and his ability to make plays in the open field.
He was one of the most sought-after recruits in the nation, piling up offers from Florida, USC, LSU, Oklahoma, and countless others. Superstar Sam Acho has one defensive end spot locked down, but you can expect Jeffcoat to get time and make plays on the other side.
Simply put, he's probably the most highly touted freshman entering the Big 12 this year, and has a great shot of being the league's best defensive player within a year or two.
Texas A&M: Jake Matthews, Offensive Guard
According to Scout.com, Matthews was the top guard prospect in the country and "has the ability to be an all-American caliber player." Pretty good news for the Aggies, who have recently prided themselves on their ability to move the ball effectively.
Matthews probably won't start, but don't expect Mike Sherman to keep all of his skill and potential parked on the sidelines.
He'll get in, and he'll do great. He's hands down the most Division 1-ready offensive lineman of any freshman in the Big 12, and probably in the nation. After he adds some weight to his 6'5", 275 lbs. frame, Matthews will be a household name and potential first round draft pick.
Expect big things from Matthews, even in his first season under the big lights.
Texas Tech: Jackson Richards, Defensive End
Richards is the best of Tech's 2010 recruiting class, and chose the Red Raiders over Texas A&M, Arkansas, LSU, North Carolina, and many others.
The 6'5", 240 lbs. Southlake Carrol product has terrific size and exceptional speed which, combined with his good body control, make him a potential four-year starter in the Big 12. He certainly has the ability to compete right away, but only time will tell how Tuberville chooses to use him.
The four-star prospect was the 28th ranked defensive end by Scout.com, and will have plenty of opportunities to step in and make an impact on Tech's defensive line after the losses of defensive ends Brandon Sharpe, Daniel Howard, and Rajon Henley.
Tuberville has praised Richards' size and potential, and might not hesitate to stick him in the game for some additional pass rush. All in all, Richards will become well known sooner or later. Don't be surprised if it's sooner.
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