Rivals.com College Football Staff Writer
Perhaps more than ever, teams are counting on true freshmen to fill key spots on winning teams.
Some of the top teams in the country – among them Florida, Georgia, Ohio State and LSU – have national-title hopes, but also will have true freshmen starting or contributing in a major way. And Notre Dame, Miami and Alabama are likely to play their share of freshmen from their touted recruited classes as they try to reclaim further glory.
Here are the projected top 10 impact true freshmen for the 2008 season - listed alphabetically, by school:
With Alabama's top three receivers gone, the Crimson Tide needs a difference-maker on the outside. Jones is the likely candidate. Jones, a 6-4, 210-pounder from Foley, Ala., is physically ready to play at the college level. Another five-star freshman, Burton Scott, also is in the mix.
Julio Jones was the top-ranked wide receiver and fourth overall prospect in this year's freshman class.
Matt Ryan wasn't the only costly departure from the Boston College backfield. Seniors Andre Callender and L.V. Whitworth, who combined for 302 carries and 1,351 yards last year, left the Eagles without an experienced tailback. BC likely will turn to Haden to lead the new running attack. Haden, a four-star prospect from Fort Washington, Md., is the brother of Florida cornerback Joe Haden. Josh Haden enrolled in the spring and gives Boston College a small, speedy back to work in Steve Logan's offense.
Clemson is well on its way toward becoming the new Defensive End U. Gaines Adams was the fourth overall pick in 2007 NFL Draft, Phillip Merling was the first pick in the second round this year and five-star prospect Ricky Sapp is a returning starter on this season's team. The next in line is Bowers, the No. 2 prospect in the 2008 class. Bowers, a 6-foot-5, 265-pounder from Bamberg, S.C., enrolled early and is expected to have an immediate impact.
Say this for second-year Colorado coach Dan Hawkins: He can close. Hawkins went toe-to-toe with Texas for Scott - a Ventura, Calif., native who was the No. 6 prospect in the country - and came out on top. Hawkins vows not to rush Scott – Demetrius Sumler has been named the starting tailback for the opener – but Scott has a nice combination of power and speed. We figure Scott will eventually get the starting nod.
Florida had one of the worst pass defenses in the SEC last season, and the Gators received a steady stream of bad news at strong safety during the offseason. Projected starter Dorian Munroe suffered a torn ACL during the offseason and was lost for the season. Backups John Curtis (ACL) and Jamar Hornsby (dismissed) are gone. And touted freshman Dee Finley didn't qualify. One bit of good news: Hill, a 6-3, 203-pounder from Jersey City, N.J., who was a five-star prospect, looks as if he can help immediately. He currently is backing up sophomore Ahmad Black, but has a far greater upside than Black.
If Georgia is going to be a national championship contender, the Bulldogs need to improve a passing game that ranked eighth in the SEC last season. Georgia's most veteran receiver, Mohamed Massaquoi, has never caught 40 passes in a season. Green, the No. 9 player in the class of 2008, should help. Green, a 6-4, 190-pounder from Summerville, S.C., could be the dynamic playmaker in the passing game Georgia hasn't had for several years.
Peterson, from Pompano Beach, Fla., changed his name from Patrick Johnson after his parents married, but he remains the same fast, physical cornerback who was the No. 5 prospect in the 2008 class. The Tigers must replace starting corners Jonathan Zenon and Chevis Jackson. Peterson will be in the mix with touted recruits from previous seasons, and could end up starting despite his youth.
Miami's rebuilding job started in town at Northwestern High. Forston was one of seven players from the Bulls' state championship team to enroll with the Hurricanes. Forston will have a shot at early playing time. The No. 7 player in the class of 2008, Forston enrolled early and has pushed for a starting spot since spring practice. Miami has two senior tackles on the depth chart, but Forston could outdistance them by the start of the season - if he hasn't already.
Like the rest of Notre Dame's offense, the wide receivers didn't put up big numbers last season. Even with playmakers Duval Kamara and Golden Tate in the mix, Floyd – a five-star prospect from Minneapolis – should see some early playing time. No Notre Dame wide receiver caught more than 32 passes or had more than 361 receiving yards last season.
Pryor waited until the middle of March to sign with Ohio State, but the Buckeyes' coaching staff probably was thinking of creative ways to use the nation's top-ranked player long before they received his letter-of-intent. Ohio State already has a senior quarterback and numerous offensive weapons, but Pryor – from Jeannette, Pa. – gives the Buckeyes more options.