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Every college football season brings the next wave of All-Americans into the spotlight.
With college football's fall practice in full swing around the nation, it's really the first time names made famous on recruiting websites are showing up in actual practice reports. When it comes to picking which freshmen will make an impact in their first season on campus, it's really all about who can pick up the playbook the fastest and who fits a need. The Texas Longhorns know all about true freshman running backs as the No. 1 incoming freshman tailback in the nation, Malcolm Brown, finished with 742 yards and five scores last season despite missing three games. Mack Brown welcomes another No. 1 runner in Jonathan Gray to campus who should see plenty of playing time this time around too. This season will feature another class of stellar prospects who will mold the landscape in the Big 12 (listed alphabetically):
The Big 12's Top Impact Freshmen for 2012
LaDarius Brown, WR, TCU
Casey Pachall has loads of talent to work with in the passing game. He has names like Boyce and Dawson. And he has plenty of smaller, slot guys who make big plays happen in open space near the line of scrimmage. What he would love is a 6-foot-4, 220-pound big body that can go down the field and deep over the middle. The big fella from Waxahachie, Texas, gives him a weapon like that.
Malcom Brown, DT, Texas
The No. 5-rated defensive tackle prospect in the entire nation will enter the 40 Acres for the first time with eyes on playing time. He will bolster a key area of concern for the Horns and could eventually work his way into the starting line-up. The Brenham, Texas, prospect checks in at 6-foot-4 and 285 pounds.
Quenton Bundrage, WR, Iowa State
The Cyclones offense is anything but situated and the receiving corps is a big part of that problem. The coaching staff is hoping the Sunshine State prospect is ready to produce in his first year on the field. He is a big target at 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds and could make a big difference for whichever quarterback wins the job in Ames.
La'Raven Clark, OL, Texas Tech
The biggest impact newcomer for Tech has to be this starting offensive lineman. The 6-foot-3, 310-pounder hails from Rockdale, Texas, and will be charged with protecting the team's two most valued weapons in quarterback Seth Doege and tailback Eric Stephens.
Spencer Drango, OL, Baylor
No pressure for Drango in 2012. Following the Year of the Bear, the youngster from Cedar Park, Texas, could be responsible for protecting new quarterback Nick Florence's blind side. He checks in at 6-foot-6 and 305 pounds and should benefit from playing alongside Cyril Richardson. These two give Baylor one of the biggest tackle tandems in the country.
Devonte Fields, DL, TCU
The Frogs have been dealing with injuries all over the depth chart and with the recent issues along the defensive line, Fields has had his chance to showcase his talents in camp. He has been impressive and it has earned him the chance to see the field as a key reserve (if not more). From Arlington, Texas, he is one of the highest-rated recruits in TCU history and Gary Patterson is hoping he can provide a spark in the pass rush.
Jonathan Gray, RB, Texas
No high school running back has ever been as productive as Gray was at Aledo High School. He sits behind two elite sophomores in Joe Bergeron and Malcolm Brown, but Gray could see upwards of 100 touches this fall. He has the power, the speed, the receiving skills, the upside, the toughness and the agility. There is nothing he cannot do on a football field and it should make him an All-American in short order.
Daje Johnson, AP, Texas
The Texas version of De'Anthony Thomas could be a big-time play-maker for Mack Brown this fall. Unfortunately, he is already starting to act big-time, getting suspended for the season opener for a violation of team rules. His all-purpose ability, however, won't be kept down long as he will catch passes, get carries and possibly get involved on special teams. He can score from anywhere on the field — once he is on the field, of course.
Wes Lunt, QB, Oklahoma State
There was a heated quarterback battle in Stillwater all spring and summer long. So it came as a bit of a surprise when the underdog from Rochester, Ill., was named the starter relatively early in the process by Mike Gundy. His 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame gives Gundy what he craves from a quarterback: a big, tall, accurate, pocket passer who makes quick decisions. There will be plenty of growing pains and learning experiences for Lunt, but this coaching staff clearly loves what they have in the true freshman.
Trey Metoyer, WR, Oklahoma
This prep-schooler has fans in Norman boiling over with anticipation. He has drawn huge reviews in camp and could possibly overtake Kenny Stills as the No. 1 option. His all-around skillset fits better on the outside and, for a unit that played inconsistently in support of Ryan Broyles last fall, will be a welcome sight for Landry Jones. Freshman All-American status wouldn't be over-reaching.
Offensive Line, Kansas State
The right side of the Wildcats offensive front will feature a pair of freshman starters. Cody Whitehair is a 6-foot-5, 300-pounder from Abilene, Kan., and appears to be locked into the right tackle spot while the right guard spot will be manned by Andover, Kan., prospect Boston Stiverson, who checks in at 6-foot-4 and 306 pounds. Look for KSU's strength on offense to be the left side until these two can pick-up the speed of the game.
Tre Parmalee, WR, Kansas
A local prep super star in Overland Park, Kan., Parmalee should be a factor for the Jayhawks much like Tyler Lockett was for Kansas State last year and Jordan Thompson (WVU) and Daje Johson (Texas) this fall. He isn't a big player at 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds, be he has plenty of quickness and agility. He could be used in the pass, run and return games.
Jordan Thompson, WR, West Virginia
This little guy has speed to burn and has proven he belongs on the field as a freshman. In a four-wide receiver set, Thompson has earned a starting spot on the inside. He is as small a football player as there is — he is listed at 5-foot-7 and 167 pounds — but is also as dynamic as any athlete in the league. The Katy, Texas, product could post big numbers as a freshman.
Freshman Position Battles To Watch:
Cayleb Jones, Kendall Sanders and Marcus Johnson, WR, Texas
All three have already cracked the two-deep, but significant playing time is a long shot. The future is bright with this group, however.
Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Aviante Collins, OL, TCU
Injuries have forced a lot of movement on the Frogs' OL depth chart and these two big freshmen have impressed thus far.
Durron Neal and Sterling Shepard, WR, Oklahoma
Metoyer will get the first crack and most of the headlines, but these two have loads of talent and big upside.
Tyler Pankey and Adam Orlosky, OL, West Virginia
Both come to Morgantown from Ohio and both have locked up spots on the two-deep as key reserves along the line.
Dalton Santos and Peter Jinkins, LB, Texas
A reworked position has allowed both players to see the field plenty in camp. Expect plenty of reps from these two.
Karl Joseph and K.J. Dillon, S, West Virginia
These two stellar safeties are listed as No. 2's but both will play a ton this fall according to the coaching staff.
Javares McCroy and Derek Edwards, WR, Texas Tech
Both have worked their way onto the field this summer — be it special teams or in the slot.
Deante Gray and Kolby Griffin, DB, TCU
These two youngsters will push the vets for playing time now that injuries have opened up opportunities.
Connor Brewer and Jalen Overstreet, QB, Texas
Yes, David Ash is the starter, but both of these kids are talented enough to push for time should Ash and Case McCoy falter.
Other Names To Watch:
Christian Brown, DT, West Virginia
Isaiah Bruce, LB, West Virginia
Ty Darlington, C, Oklahoma
A.J. Hilliard, LB, TCU
Taylor McNamara, TE, Oklahoma
Jordan Phillips, DT, Oklahoma
Alex Ross, RB, Oklahoma
Frank Shannon, LB, Oklahoma
Brandon Shepard, WR, Oklahoma State
Gary Simon, CB, Oklahoma
Charles Tapper, DE, Oklahoma
Duke Thomas, CB, Texas
- by Braden Gall