Riley Skinner proved how much of an impact a redshirt freshman can have in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The first-year player took over as Wake Forest's starting quarterback early in the season and led the Demon Deacons to their first conference title since 1970.
Skinner's immediate success was almost impossible to predict. He ended spring practice third on the depth chart and took over the starting job only after injuries to Benjamin Mauk and Brett Hodges.
But that hasn't stopped us from trying to guess which five redshirt freshmen might make a similar impact next fall.
The five guys on our list (listed alphabetically) will have a tough time matching Skinner's 2006 accomplishments, but don't be surprised if all of them have earned starting jobs by the end of the season.
Impact Redshirt Freshmen: ACC
Anthony Barnes, LB, Georgia Tech
Barnes has an excellent chance to win a starting job in the Yellow Jackets' linebacking corps now that the defending Coastal Division champions must replace three-year starter KaMichael Hall. Barnes was technically a member of the recruiting class of 2005, but he didn't enroll in school until January 2006 and participated in spring practice last year. Barnes collected 78 tackles on defense and collected 782 receiving yards on offense his senior year in high school, so he apparently possesses the athleticism necessary to succeed in defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta's system, which includes frequent linebacker blitzes. Georgia Tech also is hoping for a big contribution from redshirt freshman receiver Demaryius Thomas, who is competing with sophomore Greg Smith for the starting spot vacated by Biletnikoff Award winner Calvin Johnson.
Aaron Brown, OT, Virginia Tech
The Hokies won't be feeling blue if they have a Brown on both sides of the offensive line next fall. Virginia Tech must find an offensive tackle to replace Brandon Frye, who started at left tackle as a senior last fall. The most likely scenario involves moving Duane Brown from right tackle to left tackle, which would clear the way for Aaron Brown to start on the right side. Brown is another early enrollee who capitalized on participating in spring practice when many of his classmates were still in high school.
Alex Frye, S, Wake Forest
The defending conference champions have a number of redshirt freshmen who could make an impact this fall, but Frye is the most likely candidate to open the year in the starting lineup. Wake Forest must replace both of last year's starting safeties – Patrick Ghee and first-team all-conference selection Josh Gattis. Junior Chip Vaughn probably will win one of the starting spots, but Frye has an excellent chance of earning the other starting job. Wake Forest also will need a redshirt freshman to contribute in the offensive backfield. Former three-star prospects Josh Adams and Lucas Caparelli will get a chance to prove themselves this spring while projected starting tailback Micah Andrews continues to recover from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
Richard Jackson, K/P, Clemson
Clemson has seen many of its games over the last two years come down to a late kick, for better (Texas A&M in 2005) or worse (Boston College and South Carolina in 2006). That makes the search for Jad Dean's successor so critical. Jackson is the clear front-runner for the job after being rated by Rivals.com as the nation's No. 3 kicker in the 2006 recruiting class. Jackson made a 64-yard field goal his senior year in high school. He also averaged 46 yards per punt as a senior and could help the Tigers replace four-year starting punter Cole Chason. Clemson isn't the only high-profile ACC school breaking in a redshirt freshman kicker. Matt Bosher is expected to replace four-year starter Jon Peattie at Miami.
Aleric Mullins, DT, North Carolina
The Tar Heels' dogged pursuit of five-star prospect Marvin Austin reveals how much they need defensive tackles who can play right away. Shelton Bynum just finished his senior season, and incoming senior Kyndraus Guy's status remains unclear after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in the season finale against Duke. The uncertainty at this position should create a golden opportunity for Mullins, a former three-star prospect.