College Football 2011: 10 True Freshmen Who Can Make a Big Impact This Year
Braxton Miller should start for the Buckeyes this year.
The last few seasons have seen some extremely talented true freshmen come to campuses and make a large impact on the game.
From guys like Adrian Peterson in the mid-2000s to Alshon Jeffrey, Michael Floyd, Julio Jones, Robert Griffin, Michael Dyer, and Marcus Lattimore in recent years, true freshmen have really made their mark on the national scene.
This year shouldn't be an exception to something that has become a new trend in the game.
This guys on this list of 10 players aren't necessarily the ten best prospects in the country, but they are the ten guys with the best combination of both talent and opportunity. These guys have the door open to earn significant playing time as well as the talent to take advantage of that opportunity.
In all likelihood at least a few of these guys should be household names across the country by January.
Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State
Braxton Miller is set to make a big impact on a team that could win the Big Ten.
Prior to the mess that went down in Columbus, the Buckeyes were looking for a stopgap until former starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor was eligible to play again this season after he served his five game suspension.
Now, after Pryor's departure, the Buckeyes are likely to break in their quarterback of the future, Braxton Miller, for a starting job this year.
Miller was considered to be the top quarterback recruit in the nation out of high school, as he is a solid passer with elite athletic ability. The upside with this kid is very high, and he should be able to make things happen with his feet when things break down around him—something likely to happen quite often for an inexperienced player.
Miller also got a head start by enrolling early and being able to take part in spring practice. During this time, he received significant reps due to Pryor's suspension. Another positive is that the Buckeyes won't need to do much altering to an offense built around Terrelle Pryor, a fact that should also help the guys around the similarly skilled Miller.
The Buckeyes are a Top 25 team with a chance to win the Big Ten, so Miller will be facing plenty of pressure. With his ability, a high level of talent surrounding him, and an offense built to fit him, Miller could be this year's biggest impact freshman.
Isaiah Crowell, RB, Georgia
Crowell will be a huge factor in the Bulldogs offense early on.
On National Signing Day, Crowell signed with the Bulldogs expecting to split the load with senior Bulldog running back Caleb King.
Since then King has been dismissed from the team, putting the pressure of leading the Georgia ground game all on Crowell's shoulders. Unlike Braxton Miller, Crowell has no real competition for the starting role which means, for better or worse, Crowell is going to be the Georgia feature back from day one.
Crowell was considered by some of the scouting services to be the number one running back in his class even with an extremely deep crop of talent at the position. Crowell's combination of top level speed and solid power make him a guy built to be an every down back in the SEC.
With a talented sophomore quarterback, Aaaron Murray, to help the passing game as well as a strong offensive line in front of him, Crowell isn't exactly being thrown to the wolves without any help. Crowell has a chance to be an All-SEC player this year and needs to perform up to his talent in order to help the Bulldogs replace All-American wide receiver A.J. Green.
Curt Maggitt, LB, Tennessee
Maggitt is looking like a future All SEC player in his first training camp.
Despite returning Austin Johnson at middle linebacker, Tennessee has a huge need at the position after losing two starters from a year ago, including leading tackler Nick Reveiz. Furthermore, an injury to projected starter Herman Lathers has only increased the need for an outside linebacker.
That means that the skinny Curt Maggitt, a kid who played defensive end in high school, will likely get the opportunity to start from day one after impressing coaches in training camp. Despite lacking great strength and much knowledge of the position, Maggitt was a four-star recruit considered to be a high level playmaker. He has the ability to rush the passer because of his elite speed and quick first step.
Maggitt, along with fellow freshman A.J. Johnson, is currently at the top of Tennessee's depth chart, so he's going to get the playing time needed to make an impact. I wouldn't be surprised to see Maggitt disrupt SEC backfields this year with the chance to become a dominant player in the coming years, once he adds needed bulk.
Andrew Buie, RB, West Virginia
Buie brings some top level Florida speed to the West Virginia offense.
With the departure of star running back Noel Devine and new head coach Dana Holgerson's wide open offensive attack coming to Morgantown, the Mountaineers are in need of playmakers. Quarterback Geno Smith and receiver Tavon Austin are a start, but there isn't much talent returning at the running back position.
Yet Andrew Buie brings game breaking speed mixed with surprising power and versatility—a combination that makes him a great fit for the Holgerson-led offense that lit up scoreboards at Oklahoma State. Despite being only 5'9", Buie has shown the ability to run between the tackles. But there is no question that he's best outside the tackles due to his speed. Buie lacks great agility, but his acceleration makes him a very attractive option for Holgerson.
Buie is currently in the mix to be the starter in the first game, and even if he doesn't start, he will likely play a prominent role. It would not be a complete shock if he ends up being an All-Big East selection this year, and there is also the possibility that he makes West Virginia fans forget about Devine altogether.
Anthony Chickillo, DE, Miami
Chickillo could be the next impact Miami defender.
With up to 12 players possibly being sidelined to begin the season because of alleged NCAA violations, the Hurricanes depth chart will need to be re-worked.
However, even before this news got out, Chickillo was expected to play immediately. The five-star recruit is a third generation Hurricane, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.
Chickillo is a well rounded defensive end with solid size (6'3", 240 pounds), good speed/quickness, and good strength. He's a very physical player with the ability to make an impact against opponents' ground games while also being able to rush the passer. What's really scary here is what he can become once he spends a year or two in the weight room.
Chickillo wasn't expected to start prior to the Nevin Shapiro mess, but he was expected to play a significant role in the 'Canes rotation. Now that starting defensive ends Adewale Ojomo and Olivier Vernon face suspension, as well as recently converted tight end Dyron Dye and linebacker Marcus Robinson, Chickillo could be the opening day starter against Maryland.
Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Clowney was the top recruit in the country without much competition for that position.
You can't talk about the biggest impact freshmen without mentioning the consensus top overall recruit in the 2011 class: Jadeveon Clowney.
Clowney is a big time pass-rusher coming to a team that recently lost its best defensive end, Cliff Matthews, to the NFL.
Clowney's combination of size and athleticism has him being compared to some of the best pass rushers in the college game in recent years. From Jevon Kearse to Da'Quan Bowers, it just shows you what kind of game this kid has. With his skill set, he has the ability to be a top ten draft pick within three years.
Clowney isn't likely to start for a team expected to contend for the SEC East title, but he will be receiving plenty of time in the rotation at defensive end, especially on passing downs. SEC quarterbacks will likely get to know him very well, and Clowney could be a dominant pass-rusher as soon as this year. He should also end up being an All American before he moves on to the NFL.
Aundrey Walker, OL, USC
Walker is a mountain of a man ready to help the Trojans immediately.
In college football, true freshmen rarely end up playing, let alone starting.
Glenville Academy players also rarely get past Ohio State with the pipeline that Ted Ginn Sr. has set up at the school. But big Aundrey Walker is getting ready to be a little different.
Walker turned down the hometown Buckeyes, a school that has plenty of his former high school teammates, in order to go all the way to Southern California where he appears set to see significant time this year since he's already receiving first team reps in practice at guard.
Walker came to campus at the enormous size of 6'6" and 360 pounds, giving him the size needed to play early. His strength makes him a very good run blocker, and he appears to have the ability to improve as a pass blocker. Walker needs to work on his conditioning and has been quoted as saying he needs to lose some weight—two things that will help to improve his pass blocking.
Walker isn't likely to start for the Trojans because he doesn't have the conditioning to go the full game, but he is set to be in the rotation and is looking like a future star so far in training camp. Walker's high level of competition and coaching in high school have contributed to him being ready to play right away.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Bridgewater turned down hometown Miami to play right away for Louisville.
Head coach Charlie Strong has a good start in rebuilding a Louisville program that was among the bottom feeders of the Big East a year ago. Yet Strong is missing one important element, a star quarterback—especially one that fits into the spread offense that he'd like to run with the Cardinals.
That's why Teddy Bridgewater is one guy to watch. Bridgewater had many offers from the elite programs in the country coming out of Miami Northwestern High School, but selected Louisville so that he could compete for a starting job right away. Bridgewater is a quality passer with legs that can make plays happen, which makes him a great fit for the spread offense. Playing against a high level of competition in high school will only help him get ready to play early as well.
Bridgewater will not start the opener. That role will belong to 5'10" junior Will Stein—a kid that attempted only 14 passes a year ago. Expect Louisville to get Bridgewater some snaps anyway in order to give him a chance to take over the starting role. Bridgewater is too talented to be second string to Stein. He should be an All-Big East selection before his career at Louisville is over.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Watkins has already locked up a starting job for the Tigers.
Watkins comes in as a five-star recruit. Clemson is in need of a guy to start opposite star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who was actually a true freshman himself last year. It's especially important for Clemson to find a consistent threat in the passing game due to the fact that the Tigers will be breaking in a new quarterback, Tajh Boyd. Also head coach Dabo Swinney is likely coaching for his job this season after producing largely mediocre results so far.
Watkins is a speedy playmaker that comes in with good hands and route running ability, making him a fairly polished product. Watkins doesn't have Jacoby Ford or C.J. Spiller type speed, but he is still going to have the initial burst to give opposing corners trouble.
Watkins has already been announced as a starter for the opener by Swinney, so he's already forced his way into playing time, and he certainly has the talent to take advantage of it. Watkins may not be a star this year, but expect him to play a large role for a Clemson team fighting for the ACC Atlantic Division.
Savon Huggins, RB, Rutgers
Can Huggins deal with all of the pressure that a local five star recruit receives at a middle of the pack program?
The Rutgers ground game hasn't been the same since former star Ray Rice moved on to the NFL, but the Scarlett Knights may have found a capable replacement to help bring them back to the top this season.
Shavon Huggins is a prized local five-star recruit, something that already makes him a huge fan favorite. This puts a ton of pressure on him already.
Huggins is an every down back that has little problem finding a hole and running right through it. For a full-sized back (5'11", 200 pounds), he brings very good speed to go along with his power. Huggins is the type of back that will run through tacklers and is tough to bring down.
Huggins is a future NFL talent because of his balance of speed and strength. It wouldn't surprise many if he ended up being an All-Big East selection as soon as this year and is able to perform up to the level that Ray Rice did.