Let's remember one thing: Last year was special. Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson, Michigan's Mike Hart and Chad Henne, Ohio State's Ted Ginn Jr. and Tennessee's Erik Ainge; a group of new kids hadn't created such buzz since Danny, Jordan, Johnny, Donnie and Joey were Hangin' Tough.
The newbies of 2004 are an unfair act for this year's instant-impact freshmen and junior college transfers to follow. But two of SI.com's 12 Newcomers To Watch in '05 have already made their presence known, changing the face of one of college football's most rigid offenses. Imagine, Penn State going to a three-and four-wide receiver set. It's a reality, thanks to two of this year's most hyped freshmen.
Derrick Williams, WR, Penn State 6-0, 189 pounds High school: Eleanor Roosevelt, Greenbelt, Md.
Who said Joe Paterno lost his recruiting touch? With 4.31 speed in the 40-yard-dash, the explosive Williams could make Nittany Lions faithful quickly forget about suffering through four losing seasons in the past five years.
Williams can literally do it all. The nation's No. 1-rated player by Rivals.com threw for 972 yards and 13 touchdowns last year, ran for 1,123 yards and 12 scores, had 203 receiving yards and two TDs and returned a punt for a score.
"We haven't had a guy like that on the perimeter here at Penn State for a while," Nittany Lions' receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Mike McQueary said. "Our last big playmaker was Bryant Johnson [who's now with the Arizona Cardinals]. [Williams] has the ability to do a lot of things: He can run, he can throw, he can catch and he can make people miss. So we're excited about that. I think he complements our offense and the experience that we have at quarterback."
And what about that spread offense? The Lions showed it off in their Blue-White game in the spring, and expect Michael Robinson (now a full-time quarterback) to remedy a passing game that had no play longer than 47 yards in 2004 by airing it out to Williams and fellow freshman ...
Justin King, WR/CB, Penn State 6-0, 183 pounds High school: Gateway, Monroeville, Pa.
The other half of the Nittany Lions' heralded freshmen duo, King had all of Happy Valley salivating after a sensational spring debut.
The nation's No. 2-rated corner by Scout.com, King showed off the offensive prowess that resulted in 1,795 rushing yards and 30 touchdowns last year by catching two passes for 53 yards and running twice for 12 yards in the Blue-White game.
"He is the same kind of player that Derrick is," McQueary said. "They both have the ability to make big things happen, but Justin will kind of fill a different role for us. He'll probably see some time on defense and offense."
Paterno may never pull this kid off the field.
King may be behind corners Alan Zemaitis and Anwar Phillips on the depth chart, but he's probably the only player on the roster with his own DVD.
The Justin King Collector's DVD is available at www.gatewaygators.com. Along with highlights, it includes seven bonus featurettes, including "A Day in the Life of Justin King," "Checking the Pulse with Justin King" and his Signing Day press conference.
Zac Taylor, QB, Nebraska 6-2, 210 pounds Juco: Butler County Community College, Great Bend, Kan.
In Year 1, Bill Callahan's West Coast offense went over as well in Lincoln as the one about the N on the Huskers' helmet standing for "knowledge." But if the spring game is any indication, Zac Taylor will change that.
Taylor threw a record 357 yards (20-of-27) and three touchdowns -- in the first half -- of the scrimmage. He was so impressive that last year's starting QB, Joe Dailey, opted to transfer to North Carolina.
Taylor, 21, began his collegiate career at Wake Forest. He was redshirted, and played just once in mop-up duty before heading to Butler County CC, where he threw for 2,600 yards and 29 touchdowns in a four-wide receiver set, catching Callahan's eye.
"Zac has the background necessary to function in our offensive system -- that's evident by what he did here in the spring and his history at Butler Community College," Callahan said. "From that standpoint, he captures you immediately when you watch him on film."
Marlon Lucky, RB, Nebraska 6-0, 205 pounds High school: North Hollywood, Calif.
Lucky, the nation's second-ranked running back according to Rivals.com, has already made his intentions known. His competition in the Cornhuskers' I-back depth chart would be wise to take notice.
"I think I can play early there and make a big impact as a true freshman, and that was the deciding factor," Lucky told the Daily Nebraskan of his decision to head to Lincoln. "I think I can have an Adrian Peterson-type impact."
And Lucky has the tools to do it. He's both explosive (4.44 speed in the 40) and physical (305 bench max, 410 squat max).
He racked up 2,036 yards and 40 touchdowns last year and is also a threat out of the backfield (23 receptions for 443 yards and seven scores). The stud freshman should get every opportunity to unseat Cory Ross as the starter, as the Huskers try to bounce back from their first season without a bowl appearance in 36 years.
Patrick Turner, WR, Southern Cal 6-5, 210 pounds High school: Goodpasture, Nashville, Tenn.
He's big like former Trojan Mike Williams, has tremendous hands and will even wear Williams' old number (1). There's little doubt USC coach Pete Carroll is hoping gets a few more games out of his new No. 1 than he did with Williams.
Turner, considered one of the nation's top two receiving recruits, spurned his home-state Volunteers for sunny California after hauling in 150 balls for more than 3,000 yards in three years as a starter.
Carroll's tradition of getting freshmen on the field right away (think Williams, Reggie Bush, Dwayne Jarrett and Darnell Bing) will continue with this Parade All-American. Turner will add to the Trojans' depth at receiver, teaming with Jarrett and Steve Smith to give Matt Leinart a ridiculous array of game-breaking options at receiver.
"He's exactly what we're looking for," Carroll said of Turner in USA Today.
Joseph Ayoob, QB, Cal 6-3, 200 pounds Juco: City College of San Francisco
In 2002, Cal went to the junior college ranks to find a quarterback, and he turned into a first-round NFL Draft pick. Jeff Tedford will try to duplicate that Aaron Rodgers magic with Ayoob, who is competing with Nate Longshore for the Bears' starting QB job.
The California Junior College Player of the Year threw for 3,679 yards and 35 touchdowns in 2004, but Ayoob's not all arm. In the state junior college championship, facing fourth-and-five, he scrambled out of the pocket, leapt over two defenders and managed to keep his balance for a 20-yard scramble. It landed him the nickname "the white Michael Vick."
Tedford went to work refining Ayoob's throwing motion in the spring, placing him in a harness to keep his non-throwing left arm tight to his body, resulting in a more compact motion. It's a tactic Tedford also used with Baltimore Ravens and ex-Cal QB Kyle Boller.