Recruiting, much like the NFL draft, gives fans of all programs reason to celebrate in the spring and summer months following the bowl season.
With the current trend of upward mobility in college football (see Kansas, Illinois), more than ever it appears that adding that extra four-star linebacker could be the difference between 4-8 and 6-6.
That said, it is clear that not all highly regarded prospects are created equal; some, like Terrelle Pryor, are obviously developmental prospects that won’t contribute a lot, if at all, to the upcoming season.
Others, like Clemson’s Jamie Harper, might have all the talent in the world, but are locked behind better, more senior players (CJ Spiller and James Davis, to be exact).
Here is a list of players who have the talent, and the opportunity, to heavily contribute during the 2008 season.
Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
Even with the loss of star defensive end Philip Merling to the NFL draft, Clemson still boasts a strong returning defensive line, headlined by Dorell Scott and Rashaad Jackson in the middle.
The two tackles combined for 87 tackles, but only four sacks. End Ricky Sapp returns as well, but no one on the line is as balanced, or as talented as Bowers.
Rated the number one prospect overall by ESPN, Bowers is a physical freak at a “skinny” six foot-fve inches tall and 265 pounds. His athletic prowess is obvious, as he not only contributed 97 tackles and 10 sacks on defense, but also managed over 1200 yards rushing in his senior season!
His frame is solid, but almost wiry, and it appears he will be able to play at well over 290 pounds without sacrificing speed. It is clear that he will be expected to contribute immediately, as he notched seven tackles and two sacks, both team highs, in Clemson’s spring game.
His combination of size and speed (4.8 40-yard dash) reminds me of Mario Williams, another former ACC end of high caliber.
Clemson has had a run of disappointing seasons lately, but this year looks like it could finally be time for Clemson to “break out” in the ACC. Offensive fireworks are expected all season, but it is the addition of Bowers that might push the Tiger defense from good to great.
Darrell Scott, RB, Colorado
When Gary Barnett was fired at the end of the 2005 season, Colorado was coming off of another Big 12 North championship and it appeared as if Dan Hawkins would pick up right where Barnett left off.
While the expectations were not terribly high, it was surprising when the Buffaloes turned in a 2-10 season, with losses to powerhouses like Montana St. and Kansas.
The 2007 season was a definite improvement, but Colorado seemed to finally be out of potential 1,000 yard rushers.
Enter Scott; the consensus No. 1-rated running back in the country. Hugh Charles’ graduation left a large hole in the CU backfield, but the return of three linemen means that Scott will at least see some holes to run through.
The improved play of Cody Hawkins means that Scott will not have to carry the load every game.
Scott is a real force, with the size (200 pounds) to run in between the tackles, as well as fantastic timed speed. In fact, he was clocked at 4.32 in the 40, and boasts a 10.68-100 meter time.
He is an elite back and would have been successful in any system, but enrolling in Colorado will give him the opportunity to be a star early on in his career.
Colorado looks to make the post-season again, and with the emergence of Scott, the Buffs could return to the status they enjoyed in the early 2000’s.
Will Hill, DB, Florida
Nicknamed “The Thrill” by those who enjoy rhymes, Hill is one of the definitive “athletes” in the 2008 class.
He played quarterback and safety in high school, but projects to the secondary in college. He is built much like Myron Rolle of Florida State, and is rated similarly, as a top ten college prospect.
Hill is a sturdy six-foot-three, 205 pounds and has a 40 time somewhere in the 4.4-4.5 range.
With the dismissal of highly-touted prospect Jamar Hornsby, as well as the graduation of Tony Joiner, there is an opening in the Florida secondary at safety, and Hill seems ready to step in and be an impact player.
Obviously, in this case Hill’s success doesn’t really affect Florida’s chances as much as some of the other players on this list; the defense is already somewhat loaded.
Everyone knows what the offense is expected to do to everyone this fall, but the addition of Hill could lead to a much-improved back four.
A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
Georgia definitely has the pieces in place to make a serious run at a BCS Title this season.
On offense, Knowshon Moreno looks like the next big time SEC running back, while Matthew Stafford could be a top pick in next year’s NFL draft.
The receivers have been solid, although unspectacular thus far. Whether this has to do with Stafford’s development or simply a lack of focus remains to be seen.
However, the addition of Green to this offense removes any excuses the receivers can make for not producing. Green is one of the many large receivers in this year’s class, alongside guys like Julio Jones at Alabama and Aldarius Johnson at Miami (Fl.).
He is a consensus top-10 player in this year’s class. He reportedly runs in the 4.55 range at six-foot-four and around 185 pounds, and has the strength and leaping ability to go up and make catches in traffic.
Even if Green can’t learn the offense quickly, Stafford can always just send him deep and uncork a 65-yard bomb.
Marcus Forston, Sean Spence, Arthur Brown, DT, LB, LB, Miami (Fl.)
It would seem as if any recruiting fears created by Randy Shannon assuming the head coaching duties for Miami have been put to rest with this class, easily in the top 15 nationally.
Headlining the class on defense are Forston, Spence, and Brown, three of the top defenders in the nation this past fall.
Forston will have to beat out tackles Dewayne Hendricks and Joe Joseph to gain a starting role, but it seems like he is already on his way, having enrolled in the spring.
He is one of the top 25 players in the country, as well as a top-three DT.
Spence and Brown highlight one of the most outrageous linebacker hauls in history (eight of Scout.com’s top 23 LB’s enrolled at Miami), and both should contribute this fall.
Miami is a team in transition, looking to rebound from successive poor seasons under Shannon and Larry Coker. It would seem as if this trio of defenders has the pedigree and the opportunity to step in and immediately improve a defense which was not up to standards in the past two years.
These first few prospects are on the verge of already being household names, with the increased coverage of recruiting.
These next few players are dark horse candidates to step in and contribute to teams that have holes. They may not be in the top 100 players in the country, but they still have the potential to help a team immediately.
Jason Ford, RB, Illinois
Illinois enjoyed one of the greatest seasons in school history last season, going 9-4 and earning a Rose Bowl berth for the first time since the 1983 season.
The option attack run by the Illini puts a lot of pressure on running backs to read blocks and make people miss, and last season Rashard Mendenhall did not disappoint, running for over 1650 yards and setting school records for yards and touchdowns.
Mendenhall is now a Steeler, and the Illini now have a gaping hole where he used to play.
Juice Williams is expected to step up and become more of a quarterback, and less of a passing running back.
Regardless of his development, it is vital that the Illini find a suitable replacement that can at least be a competent runner.
Jason Ford is only a three-star prospect, but he put up large numbers in high school and has the frame to become a good runner. He is more of a banger than a speed back at 230 pounds, but he still has enough of a burst to get into the second level.
Ford has to compete with incumbent Daniel Dufrene, as well as fellow freshman Mikel LeShoure.
Justin Feagin, QB, Michigan
With Rich Rodriguez taking over for Lloyd Carr at Michigan, the offense is undergoing a massive shift from a traditional attack to the spread option which has gained such notoriety in recent years.
Rodriguez has said that it will take time for the team to learn his offense, but that is not the only problem. All of Rodriguez’s players are built to run Carr’s attack, and as such Rodriguez does not have the weapons he needs.
This is most apparent at QB, where Steven Threet takes over as the starter.
Threet comes from Georgia Tech (where Paul Johnson is also installing an option), and is a good choice for offenses that need passers. However, he defines immobile, a trait which won’t do in the new offense.
Feagin is not a highly touted recruit at all, but he is a good athlete. He is a two-star prospect by Scout, which actually bodes well for the Wolverines: Pat White was also a two-star recruit at West Virginia.
Hopefully for Michigan, Feagin will turn out to be as special as White, although this is not likely the case.
John Boyett, S, Oregon
Boyett is a fantastic athlete, although he is somewhat undersized at five-foot-ten and around 180 pounds.
However, Oregon has only one safety at the moment, in stud Patrick Chung. Last year’s starter Matthew Harper has moved on, leaving a hole in the secondary.
Oregon needs to replace offensive stars Dennis Dixon and Jonathan Stewart, and thus it seems like the offense has more question marks than the D.
While the new QB and incumbent RB Jeremiah Johnson adjust to their new roles, the defense will have to keep the ducks in early games against Washington, Purdue, and Boise State.
Boyett reminds me of Jim Leonhard, the former All-American DB at Wisconsin who also had a slight frame, but was very athletic.