College football is an incredibly difficult game to master. With the speed, strength and complexity of the schemes, it’s unreasonable to expect a first-year player to make an immediate impact. But, when a freshman or JUCO transfer can productively fill a position of need, it can catapult his team to a different level. Before last season, few college football fans knew about Cam Newton — a year later, Auburn is the defending national champion and Carolina Panthers fans are abuzz over their No. 1 overall pick and franchise quarterback. It’s unreasonable to expect the following newcomers to have that kind of success, but each one has the potential to become a household name in their respective states by year’s end.
1.Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State
The unceremonious departure of Terrelle Pryor has thrust Miller into a difficult position. A possible starter as a true freshman with a new head coach at the helm, he’ll have to learn on the fly to steward the Buckeyes’ offense to a Big 10 title. Thus far, coaches are encouraged by his ability to grasp the offense. An early enrollee, he made a good impression in the spring game when he went 7-for-12 with a touchdown, and his composure and athleticism have since been the talk of Columbus.
In week one, Miller entered the game for mop-up duties going 8/12 for 130 passing yards and tossing one TD.
2. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Although Will Stein will likely start from the beginning, offensive coordinator Mike Sanford is making an effort to immediately incorporate Bridgewater into games to utilize his athleticism. Like Miller, he was an early enrollee, and he possesses the maturity and leadership skills to shoulder the responsibility of leading an offense.
Bridgewater came in for relief against Murray State completing one pass–unfortunately, it was to the other team.
3. Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU
Les Miles has been loyal to a fault to Jordan Jefferson, who, if nothing else, has experience on his side. But, with the senior quarterback now facing legal issues after a bar fight, the door could open for Mettenberger, the JUCO transfer and former Georgia quarterback. Currently third on the depth chart, his competition isn’t exactly stiff, as senior and No. 2 quarterback Jarrett Lee has been given multiple opportunities in the past, only to perform about as poorly as Jefferson. As it stands now, Mettenberger has the best arm, quickest release and sharpest accuracy of the three.
Though LSU pluckd the Ducks 40-27, Lee’s performance was nothing to brag about as he went 10/22 for 98 passing yards and one TD.
4. Malcolm Brown, RB, Texas
In dire need of offensive help, the Horns will rely on the top-10 recruit to make things happen. Mack Brown has emphasized establishing a steady rushing attack, something his team has lacked since Jamal Charles received a bulk of the carries in 2007. Weighing 220 pounds, Malcolm Brown has the build to take a punishment each Saturday — along with the starting gig from Fozzy Whittaker.
Brown amassed 86 rushing yards in Texas’ opening win against Rice.
5. Isaiah Crowell, RB, Georgia
Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo already has a capable quarterback — now he needs a capable running back. Washaun Ealey and Caleb King are gone, and Carlton Thomas is suspended for the opener, leaving the uber-talented Crowell, the Bulldogs’ most highly-touted recruit in 2011, as the starter. His speed, quickness and cutting ability are impressive even by SEC standards, and he could have a Marcus Lattimore-like impact for the Dawgs.
Crowell opened the season with 15 carries for 60 yards against a swarming Boise State defense.
6. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
The Gamecocks, familiar with that aforementioned Lattimore-like impact, hope that Clowney, the No. 1-ranked recruit in the nation in 2011, can do the same for their already solid defense. So far, he’s lived up to the hype, tallying five sacks, a forced fumble and a touchdown during the team’s three inter-squad scrimmages. He’ll be competing with All-SEC defensive end Devin Taylor and team sack leader Melvin Ingram for a starting spot, but his talent alone will earn him his fair share of playing time.
7. Aaron Lynch, DE, Notre Dame
After allowing fewer than 10 ppg during the final four games of the 2010 season, the Irish defense certainly has something upon which to build. Further improvement may come with the addition of Lynch, a 6-foot-6, 265-pound early enrollee who performed well in the spring game, logging seven tackles. Not expected to start, he’ll own a spot in the rotation so that he can provide his plus pass rushing skills.
8. Jesse Williams, DE, Alabama
Nick Saban recognizes the value of a good JUCO d-line transfer, as he recruited Terrance Cody, a two-time Consensus All-American who anchored a defense that lost just two games in two seasons. A possible defensive tackle or defensive end, Williams may not be the next Cody, but he has a chance to emerge as a starter. The 6-foot-4, 325-pound tatted-up Aussie has the ability to take up space, occupy multiple blockers, and become an intimidating force in the SEC.
9. Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU
There’s a reason LSU is ranked in the top-4 of every preseason poll despite losing Patrick Peterson, Kelvin Sheppard and Drake Nevis — its three best defensive players from last season. Recent top-ranked recruiting classes have filled the roster with incredible talent, including “Freak,” a 6-foot-3, 295-pound freshman who runs a 4.8-second 40. Scouts have been fawning over him since he started high school, when he already appeared to have an NFL-ready body. His positive attitude should enable defensive coordinator John Chavis to mold him into one of the SEC’s best at his position.
10. Thomas Finnie, CB, Miami
As Miami attempts to rebuild under new coach Al Golden amid an NCAA investigation, several promising freshman are expected to receive significant playing time and give Canes fans something for which to cheer. Finnie is certainly one of them — since he arrived on campus last January, he has wowed his coaches with an excellent work ethic and has already risen to second on the depth chart. His presence will likely enhance an already solid defense.
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