Freshmen most likely to make an immediate impact in 2009
With redshirts dwindling each year, teams count more on true freshmen
Michigan, USC and Utah are all considering going with freshman QBs
Speedy WR Andre Debose could help fill the Percy Harvin void at Florida
Even with the microscope on recruiting these days, it's still almost impossible to accurately predict which players will make an immediate impact in college. The five-stars who look like obvious breakout players don't always break out, and inevitably, someone comes out of nowhere.
Consider last year's crop of Big 12 freshmen. Colorado tailback Darrell Scott seemed the clear preseason choice to become an instant star. Scott was the top-rated tailback in the class of 2008, and Colorado's backfield needed a playmaker. Yet Scott gained only 343 yards and was outrushed by fellow freshman Rodney Stewart. Meanwhile, at Baylor, quarterback Robert Griffin -- recruited by many schools as a receiver -- won the Bears' starting job by the second game and wound up being named the conference's best freshman offensive player by coaches.
With redshirts dwindling every year, these lists of potential impact freshmen keep getting longer. As preseason practice begins this year, a traditional Big Ten power (Michigan) has a true freshman leading its quarterback derby. A perennial top five program (USC) still may give a true freshman a look at quarterback. Meanwhile, the loaded defending national champ (Florida) hopes to get a significant contribution from a receiver who just arrived on campus in June.
Bearing in mind the most interesting potential freshman breakout star may start camp buried on somebody's depth chart, SI.com has compiled a list of the true freshmen with the best chance to become household names by November.
Alabama: RB Trent Richardon
Everyone wants to know about massive freshman offensive lineman D.J. Fluker, but expecting a guy who never played offensive line before 2008 to step into the left tackle job the way Andre Smith did as a true freshman in 2006 is asking a lot. It's more likely Richardson, a 220-pound bruiser from Pensacola, Fla., will earn some carries as the Crimson Tide try to replace Glen Coffee. Richardson will compete with sophomore Mark Ingram and senior Roy Upchurch.
Florida: WR Andre Debose
The defending champion Gators have only one question mark: at receiver, where Percy Harvin's departure to the NFL has left a sizable hole. Debose possesses speed and moves similar to Harvin, but few players have the skill set to be as dangerous as Harvin was in the run and pass games. Gators coach Urban Meyer has referred to Debose as a possibility at the "Percy" position, but another option is a more traditional split of duties with Debose playing receiver and sophomore tailback Jeff Demps taking over Harvin's rushing workload.
Florida State: DT Jacobbi McDaniel
McDaniel didn't enroll early, but if he treats FSU offensive linemen the way he did the blue-chippers at the Under Armour All-America Game in January, the 6-0 freshman from Greenville, Fla., will rocket up the depth chart. According to the Tallahassee Democrat, McDaniel already has wowed his new teammates and coaches with a 315-pound power clean. That's just more evidence of the explosiveness McDaniel showed as a star at Madison County High. If that translates to the college level, opponents will need to double-team him on almost every play.
LSU: QB Russell Shepard
Sophomore Jordan Jefferson is LSU's starting quarterback, but coach Les Miles knows the Tigers must get the ball into Shepard's hands. There had been much speculation over how LSU would use Shepard, but as fall camp began Miles said Shepard will start his career as a "quarterback only." Even under that restriction, Miles won't want to waste Shepard's gifts. "I think he's a tremendous talent," Miles said last month. "I think there's a definite challenge to our offense on how to use him, how to bring him along."
CORRECTION: It seems a reporter misquoted Miles, who has since clarified Shepard will indeed see time at positions other than QB. This makes sense for LSU, which needs to get the ball into the dynamic and versatile freshman's hands -- whether or not those hands are positioned under center.
Miami: S Ray Ray Armstrong
Armstrong's Seminole (Sanford, Fla.) High teammate, Florida freshman Debose, got more attention during the recruiting process, but Armstrong is one of the most intriguing players in the class of 2009. He's 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds and he's athletic enough to play safety, linebacker, tight end or receiver. He'll start out as a safety for the Hurricanes, who showed last season they aren't opposed to throwing a true freshman into the fire. Armstrong may follow in the footsteps of linebacker Sean Spence, who proved he was a playmaker very early as a freshman in 2008.
Michigan: QB Tate Forcier
Redshirt junior Nick Sheridan and fellow true freshman Denard Robinson will also get a chance to win the starting job, but while Sheridan was laid up with a broken leg and Robinson was finishing high school, Forcier was leading the Wolverines' offense during spring practice. That gives the San Diego native a huge edge going into camp. But can Michigan improve on last year's 3-9 record with such a young quarterback? If the offensive line improves, it can. Also, don't be surprised if another true freshman winds up contributing to the offense. Tiny tailback Vincent Smith was a blur during spring practice, and his speed could inspire some creativity from Michigan coaches. Of course, they'll probably be a little busy prepping Forcier for the pressure cooker that is starting for the Wolverines. "You get nervous as a coach when you talk about possibly playing true freshmen anywhere, particularly at quarterback," Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said at Big Ten media day. "But I have all the confidence in the world that our coaches and Tate will put the work in to get ready."
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