More and more, freshmen are being called upon to contribute outside of special teams duty in college football. As high school prospects get better, their expectations get higher and more ridiculous.
The hype machine places a ton of pressure on these kids to perform even before they register for their first college course, so why not keep that pressure mounting by listing 10 freshmen who should make the biggest impacts this fall?
Ronald Powell (Florida, DE): As soon as Powell announced his intentions of playing at Florida during January’s Army All-American Game, the hype-o-meter went into overdrive. Rated as the top defensive player by just about everyone in the recruiting world, Powell steps into a situation in which he could be a starter by day one. Senior defensive end Justin Trattou has secured his spot on Florida’s line, but with no true, proven No. 2, Powell could step right in to replace Carlos Dunlap. While Dunlap was a beast, at times, Powell has the makings of being even better. He’s tremendously fast and extremely athletic. Anything less than being a star this season could be considered a disappointment.
Kyle Prater (USC, WR): Prater was arguably the top high school wide receiver last year. His 64 receptions for 1,151 yards and 13 touchdowns as a senior only enhanced his chances of getting playing time this fall by enrolling at USC early. Senior Ronald Johnson is the only experienced receiver on the roster and even his numbers aren’t spectacular. This is the perfect situation for Prater to come in and contribute immediately. Having the spring to work with bigger, faster players certainly helped him adjust to the college game better. With his size (6-foot-5, 215 pounds) he could become a favorite target for sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley.
Marcus Lattimore (South Carolina, RB): Lattimore surprised many with his decision to stay in his home state and play for the Gamecocks. Now, everyone will be watching to see if he can help rejuvenate Steve Spurrier’s offense. He’s a bruiser at 5-11, 215 pounds and should be able to hold his own coming out of the backfield against menacing SEC defensive talent. He’s expected to start the moment the season starts and he’s already set his first-year goals high, saying he wants to rush for 1,000 yards.
Sharrif Floyd (Florida, DT): Floyd is another Gator defensive lineman coming in with a tremendous amount of hype and praise. He was the top interior lineman in the country in 2009 and he could make a huge impact on a Florida line that loves to rotate nearly 10 bodies a game. For his 6-3, 311-pound frame, he’s got a tremendous motor and if he can stay grounded and healthy he should see lots of time this fall. He’ll have to compete with up-and-comer Omar Hunter and veterans Lawrence Marsh, Terron Sanders and Jaye Howard. However, injuries have slowed Sanders and Marsh, and Howard has yet to use his full potential.
Dillon Baxter (USC, RB): For all the cell phone drama he caused this summer, Baxter really is an excellent prospect. If schools really weren’t trying to (illegally) contact him after the USC sanctions hoopla, they should have been. He’s got cutting ability comparable to Reggie Bush and has lined up at quarterback, running back and receiver. He’ll have to make an impact early for the Trojans with the loss of the elusive Joe McKnight. Allen Bradford should be the starter at USC, but with a solid summer, Baxter could move right past underachieving backup C.J. Gable.
Lamarcus Joyner (Florida State, CB): Joyner, rated as one of the nation’s top high school cornerbacks a year ago, could provide some immediate help for FSU’s secondary. He’s got great athleticism and coverage skills and should compete for solid playing time this fall. There are bodies in front of him, but he’ll find a way to get involved with the defense. Either way, he’s getting on the field this fall because he’s an excellent return man as well. The combination of Joyner and sophomore Greg Reid would make FSU’s return unit one of the most exciting to watch in the country. Seeing them line up in a defensive backfield would be pretty fun as well.
Chris Martin (California, DE): He was courted by USC, UCLA and Florida. Martin was down to Florida and Cal, but decided on the Golden Bears after former Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong left for the head coaching job at Louisville. Martin, whom Rivals.com ranked as the second-best defensive end in the country, should contribute early with unproven depth at the defensive end position. He might not start right away, but he should work his way into a regular rotation early before getting substantial time.
Lache Seastrunk (Oregon, LB): He was one of the shiftiest prospects in the country a year ago and with the suspension of LaMichael James for the Ducks’ season opener, there’s a good chance Seastrunk could start the first game. But where will it go from there? James was fantastic in 2009, but Seastrunk could be even better. The advantage the frosh has is that he’s not in the doghouse, unlike James. Oregon will also have a new quarterback at the helm, so finding a running back to take the burden off him will be essential this fall.
Latwan Anderson (Miami, DB): Anderson was one of the best athletes in the country last year and he could play almost anywhere he wants on the field. Of course, the NCAA Clearing House has to clear him first. If he’s eligible, he’ll probably line up at safety, where he could be a menace to opposing quarterbacks and receivers. It won’t be easy to take spots from Ray Ray Armstrong or Vaughn Telemaque, but if Anderson makes it to Coral Gables, he’ll play this fall. How much will depend on how fast he adapts to a faster game.
DeMarcus Milliner (Alabama, CB): Alabama returns just one starting defensive back this fall. Milliner, arguably the best corner prospect in the 2010 class, could get some major playing time this fall if he can prove himself to coach Nick Saban . The secondary is the biggest weakness for the defending champs and having two unproven corners barely in front of him on the depth chart makes it that much easier for Milliner to make a run at a starting spot this fall.