The first Wednesday in February for college football coaches is almost like Christmas morning. With national signing day in the books, each coach can officially talk about their recruiting class after months of hard work, which includes anywhere from 10-30 prospects. While no coach will admit they aren’t happy with their signing class, there are plenty of clear winners. Alabama brought in another loaded class, which includes standouts Robert Foster, Derrick Henry, Reuben Foster, Dee Liner and O.J. Howard. In addition to Alabama, Ohio State, Florida, Ole Miss and Notre Dame reeled in some of the nation’s top classes.
It’s never easy to predict which freshmen could make an early impact in 2013 but here’s an early look at 10 players that can make a big splash on the gridiron next season.
10 True Freshmen Likely to Make an Impact in 2013
Max Browne, QB, USC
Lane Kiffin’s 2013 signing class suffered some late hits, but Browne never waivered in his commitment to the Trojans and will be in the mix to win the starting job this season. Matt Barkley missed the last two games of the season due to a shoulder injury, which allowed redshirt freshman Max Wittek to get an early start on the starting quarterback competition. However, Wittek’s two-game trial was a mixed bag of results. He threw for 388 yards and three touchdowns but also tossed five picks and completed just 52.2 percent of his throws. Browne enrolled early and has an opportunity to surpass Wittek and sophomore Cody Kessler on the depth chart. The Washington native ranked as the No. 1 quarterback recruit by Athlon Sports in the 2013 signing class.
Greg Bryant, RB, Notre Dame
With Theo Riddick out of eligibility and Cierre Wood leaving for the NFL, the Fighting Irish are counting on Bryant to play right away. George Atkinson III rushed for 365 yards last season but is best suited to play in a change of pace role. Bryant ranked as the No. 46 overall prospect in the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100 and brings a good blend of power and elusiveness to South Bend. Atkinson and Amir Carlisle will start ahead of Bryant in spring practice, but Brian Kelly and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin will find it difficult to keep Bryant on the sidelines.
Kendall Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Fuller’s commitment to Virginia Tech really came as no surprise since he had three older brothers play their collegiate career in Blacksburg. However, his commitment to the Hokies became even more important when Antone Exum suffered a torn ACL during the offseason and is questionable to play in the season opener. Fuller ranked as the No. 4 defensive back in the 2013 recruiting class by Athlon Sports and the No. 16 overall prospect. At 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, Fuller has the size and athleticism to match the top receivers in the ACC. With Exum’s status in doubt, Fuller could join his brother Kyle in the starting lineup.
Derrick Green, RB, Michigan
Although Michigan ranked fifth in the Big Ten in rushing last season, one of the top spring priorities for Brady Hoke and coordinator Al Borges was finding a go-to running back. Quarterback Denard Robinson led the team with 1,266 rushing yards last season, with the top rushing total from a running back being Fitzgerald Toussaint with 514 yards. Toussaint suffered a leg injury late in the year and won’t return to the team in time for spring practice. With Toussaint hobbled and no clear No. 1 option, Green will be awarded an opportunity to play right away. The Virginia native ranked as the No. 5 running back recruit by Athlon Sports and has the size and power to be an every down back. With Devin Gardner entrenched as the starting quarterback, if Green is as good as advertised, the Wolverines could be the favorites to win the Legends Division in 2013.
Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State
Matt McGloin thrived in his only season under Bill O’Brien, throwing for 3,271 yards and 24 touchdowns to only five interceptions. With all of the turmoil surrounding the program in the offseason, the senior quarterback was a stabilizing force for an offense that lost running back Silas Redd to a transfer and had to break in four new starters on the line. With McGloin out of eligibility, O’Brien is searching for a new No. 1 passer. Sophomore Steven Bench has the most experience on the roster, completing two of eight passes for 12 yards. However, Bench will face plenty of competition in spring ball. Junior college recruit Tyler Ferguson has three seasons of eligibility remaining, while Hackenberg ranked as the No. 2 quarterback by Athlon Sports in the 2013 signing class. In his senior year at Fork Union Military Academy, Hackenberg threw for 2,144 yards and 24 scores. Hackenberg isn’t a lock to see any action in 2013, but if he gets on the field, he should thrive under O’Brien’s tutelage. The Nittany Lions have a tough road to navigate, especially with the loss in scholarships and no postseason appearances over the next few years. However, if Hackenberg is as good as advertised, Penn State may not take as big of a step back as most anticipated after the NCAA sanctions were announced last summer.
Robert Nkemdiche, DE, Ole Miss
By landing a top-10 recruiting class, the Rebels were the biggest surprise of signing day. And after a 7-6 season under first-year coach Hugh Freeze, the future of Ole Miss football is very bright. The Rebels’ recruiting class has plenty of names that can make an instant impact but none bigger than Nkemdiche. The Georgia native has the potential to be a game-changer for Ole Miss’ defense, similar to South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney. Nkemdiche ranked as the No. 1 recruit in the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100 and will immediately bolster a defensive line that allowed 129.3 rushing yards and generated 2.9 sacks a game. Even if Nkemdiche doesn’t become an All-SEC player in 2013, he will be a valuable contributor in the rotation.
Ricky Seals-Jones, WR, Texas A&M
The Aggies' high-powered offense took the SEC by storm last year, averaging 44.4 points and 558.5 yards a game and producing a Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Johnny Manziel. Coordinator Kliff Kingsbury left to be the head coach at Texas Tech, but Texas A&M isn’t expected to miss much of a beat on offense next year. Coach Kevin Sumlin recruited Manziel plenty of help on the recruiting trail, including Seals-Jones and Sebastian Larue at receiver. Seals-Jones is a big target at 6-foot-5, 230 pounds but is still developing as a receiver after playing a variety of positions during his high school career. With the Aggies losing Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu, Seals-Jones' size and physical presence will be needed in the red zone and across the middle of the field.
Anu Solomon, QB, Arizona
After the Wildcats averaged 526.2 yards and 38.2 points a game last season, it’s safe to say Rich Rodriguez’s debut as Arizona’s head coach wasn’t a disappointment. Now the Wildcats head into 2013 with a question mark under center, as Matt Scott expired his eligibility after the New Mexico Bowl. Former USC quarterback Jesse Scroggins will compete with last season’s backup (B.J. Denker) and redshirt freshman Javelle Allen this spring, but the real battle will begin in the fall when Solomon arrives on campus. The Las Vegas native ranked as the No. 17 quarterback in the 2013 signing class by Athlon Sports and has the skill set to thrive in Rodriguez’s offense. Starting a freshman quarterback is nothing new for Rodriguez, as Pat White started after a redshirt season at West Virginia, while Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson saw playing time as true freshmen at Michigan.
Kelvin Taylor, RB, Florida
Even though Florida finished last season 11-2 and made an appearance in the Sugar Bowl, Will Muschamp has a lot of work to do if the Gators want to remain in the hunt to win the SEC East in 2013. Improving the offense is the top priority, especially a passing attack that finished 114th nationally last season. While quarterback Jeff Driskel remains a work in progress, Florida must find a replacement for Mike Gillislee. The departing senior ran for 1,152 yards and 10 touchdowns last season and there’s no proven backup on the roster. Matt Jones rushed for 275 yards on 52 attempts last year and will likely open spring practice as the No. 1 back. Taylor is the son of former NFL standout Fred Taylor and ranked as the No. 3 running back in the 2013 signing class by Athlon. Even if Jones starts the opener, look for Taylor to see plenty of action next season.
Thomas Tyner, RB, Oregon
Even though Chip Kelly bolted for the NFL, the Ducks aren’t expected to miss a beat in 2013. New coach Mark Helfrich spent the last four seasons as Kelly’s offensive coordinator and isn’t expected to change Oregon’s up-tempo attack in 2013. Despite the return of De’Anthony Thomas and Byron Marshall, the Ducks need some help at running back. While Tyner may not handle 25 carries a game, he is expected to contribute significantly in the backfield rotation. The Oregon native has excellent speed and is another big-play threat for the Ducks to use in 2013.
15 More Recruits to Watch:
Alex Collins, RB, Arkansas
Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama
Vernon Hargreaves III, DB, Florida
Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama
Frank Herron, DE, LSU
O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama
Ty Isaac, RB, USC
Dorian Johnson, OL, Pittsburgh
Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn
Jalin Marshall, WR, Ohio State
Marquez North, WR, Tennessee
Jalen Ramsey, DB, Florida State
Max Redfield, DB, Notre Dame
Robbie Rhodes, WR, Baylor
Jaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame
Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss
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