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August 26, 2010

True freshmen set to make early impact

Pittsburgh's Dion Lewis headed into last season as a highly touted freshman fighting for a job.

He apparently didn't need much time to establish a niche. Lewis ran for 1,799 yards and 17 touchdowns as a true freshman and ranked third in the nation in rushing yards per game.

Lewis' example shows that a true freshman doesn't necessarily need a lot of time to adjust to the college game. Each season, a significant number of true freshmen are making immediate impacts on the field soon after they've entered the classroom.

While it's too soon to tell whether any of this season's newcomers will match Lewis' accomplishments from a year ago, the following true freshmen should make major contributions this fall. The players are listed alphabetically. (Click here for redshirt freshmen to watch this season.)

TRUE FRESHMEN TO WATCH

California WR Keenan Allen
Particulars: 6-3/195; Greensboro (N.C.) Northern Guilford
The buzz: The No. 5 overall prospect in the nation, Allen was the jewel of a California's 11th-ranked recruiting class. He should get an immediate opportunity to prove the hype was justified. Allen, who was recruited as a safety and wide receiver, already has moved atop California's depth chart at wide receiver. Allen picked off eight passes, recorded 145 tackles and scored 53 offensive touchdowns his senior year in high school. He's the half-brother of California quarterback Zach Maynard, who is redshirting this season after transferring from Buffalo, where he was the starter last season.

Purdue CB Ricardo Allen
Particulars: 5-9/175; Daytona Beach (Fla.) Mainland
The buzz: Allen joined wide receiver Chevin Davis and O.J. Ross and kicker Jonathan Linkenheimer in making the long-distance move from Mainland High to Purdue. Allen has made quite an impression in preseason camp and is in the thick of competition for a starting spot. If Allen cracks the starting lineup for the season opener, he could face quite a test right off the bat. Purdue opens the season at Notre Dame, so the 5-9 Allen might have to line up against All-America candidate Michael Floyd, who is 6-3.

UCLA WR/RB Anthony Barr
Particulars: 6-5/228; Los Angeles Loyola
The buzz: Barr was born in South Bend, Ind., and is the son of former Notre Dame fullback Tony Brooks, so the No. 50 prospect in the 2010 recruiting class opened some eyes when he picked UCLA over the Irish. He already has established a niche in Westwood as the "F-back" in UCLA's pistol offense. The F-back position requires running, power blocking and receiving, so it should be a natural fit for someone as versatile as Barr. Recruiting analysts predicted Barr could play effectively on either side of the ball.

Utah S Brian Blechen
Particulars: 6-2/203, Moorpark (Calif.) High
The buzz: This former high school quarterback, linebacker, safety and punter has found a home in Utah's secondary. Blechen, a three-star prospect, is working out with Utah's first-team defense and is expected to begin the season in the Utes' starting lineup. Blechen will turn into a great human-interest story if he can keep the job. In high school, he lettered in swimming, basketball and track as well as football. His grandfather, Bob Blechen, was drafted by the Detroit Lions in 1956 and reportedly continued playing organized football until the age of 64.

Penn State QB Robert Bolden
Particulars: 6-4/208; Orchard Lake (Mich.) St. Mary's
The buzz: Bolden is a true freshman who didn't enroll in time to participate in spring practice and Penn State's second game of the season is at defending national champion Alabama. So it's hard to imagine Bolden opening the season as Penn State's starting quarterback. But every time this former four-star prospect takes the practice field, he makes this improbable possibility seem more realistic. Bolden certainly has generated more preseason attention than sophomores Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin, the other two contenders for the position. Even if Newsome or McGloin, who began his career as a walk-on, is starting the Sept. 4 opener against Youngstown State, don't be surprised if Bolden takes over at some point in the season.

Michigan State DE William Gholston
Particulars: 6-7/250; Detroit Southeastern
The buzz: Gholston, the No. 21 overall prospect in the 2010 recruiting class, forced 10 fumbles and had 27 sacks as a high school senior. He spent much of preseason camp working out at linebacker before it was announced this week that he would play exclusively at end. Gholston may need to play catch-up in the next couple of weeks after getting so many reps at linebacker, but he still should see plenty of playing time this fall. Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio has a history of playing true freshmen. Gholston is the cousin of former Ohio State star and current New York Jets defensive end Vernon Gholston.

BYU QB Jake Heaps
Particulars: 6-1/194; Sammamish (Wash.) Skyline
The buzz: Heaps arrived at BYU as the No. 1 pro-style quarterback prospect in the 2010 recruiting class. He also graduated from high school early and enrolled at BYU in time to participate in spring practice. Heaps is locked in a competition with Riley Nelson for the right to replace the departed Max Hall. Nelson backed up Hall last season and is a former starting quarterback at Utah State. Nelson's experience could help him win the right to open the season as BYU's starting quarterback, but we expect Heaps to have the job by the end of the year. The situation could work out much the way it did last season at Utah, when true freshman Jordan Wynn took over for Terrance Cain in the second half of the season.

Texas A&M OT Luke Joeckel
Particulars: 6-6/304; Arlington (Texas) High
The buzz: You could make a good case that Texas A&M quarterback Jerrod Johnson is the most indispensible player in the Big 12 this season. If that's the case, Joeckel has one of the conference's most important jobs: He's the guy who has to protect Johnson's blind side. The No. 5 offensive tackle and the No. 39 overall prospect in the 2010 recruiting class, Joeckel enrolled in time for spring practice. He already is penciled in as Texas A&M's starting left tackle. Jake Matthews, another true freshman offensive lineman, could end up joining Joeckel in the starting lineup. Joeckel's twin, Matt, is a freshman quarterback for the Aggies.

Notre Dame WR TJ Jones
Particulars: 5-11/187; Gainesville (Ga.) High
The buzz: Jones enrolled early and made enough of an initial impression that he exited spring practice as a starter, though he had dropped to second on the depth chart by the start of preseason camp. Whether or not he opens the season in the starting lineup, Jones should earn plenty of playing time in a spread offense that typically has at least three receivers on the field at one time. Jones caught 76 passes for 1,399 yards and 18 touchdowns as a senior in high school, when he was known as Tai-ler Jones. His dad, Andre Jones, was a defensive end on Notre Dame's 1988 national championship team, and his godfather is Notre Dame legend Raghib "Rocket" Ismail.

South Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore and QB Connor Shaw
Particulars: Lattimore: 6-0/218; Duncan (S.C.) Byrnes. Shaw: 6-1/202; Flowery Branch (Ga.) High
The buzz: Lattimore was the No. 1 running back and No. 10 overall prospect in the 2010 recruiting class. He rushed for 6,375 yards and 104 touchdowns in his high school career, and he also caught 48 passes for 675 yards his senior year. Kenny Miles is back for South Carolina after rushing for a team-high 626 yards last season, but Lattimore still should get plenty of carries. Shaw is pushing incumbent Stephen Garcia for the starting quarterback job. Considering South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier's history of impatience with struggling quarterbacks, Shaw looks to have an excellent chance to win the job at some point in the season.

Oregon K Alejandro Maldonado
Particulars: 5-10/198; Colton (Calif.) High
The buzz: A few true freshman kickers could have an impact on the national title chase this season. Alabama's Cade Foster and Ohio State's Drew Basil are competing for jobs at their respective schools, but we included Maldonado on this list instead because he seems the most likely of these three freshmen to open the season as his team's main kicker. Maldonado went 8-of-12 on field-goal attempts and made all 53 of his extra-point tries as a high school senior. He also produced 60 touchbacks on 70 kickoff attempts.

USC WR Kyle Prater
Particulars: 6-5/210; Hillside (Ill.) Proviso West
The buzz: Prater was the No. 3 overall prospect in the 2010 recruiting class after catching 64 passes for 1,151 yards and 13 touchdowns as a high school senior. He arrived on campus early, but thumb and hamstring injuries slowed him in spring practice. Now that he's healthy again, Prater has created quite an impression with his performance in preseason camp. He ought to help USC fill the void created by the departure of All-Pac-10 receiver Damian Williams. Prater's big frame should make him a matchup nightmare for Pac-10 foes.

Syracuse LB Marquis Spruill
Particulars: 6-2/223; Fork Union (Va.) Fork Union Military Academy, preceded by Hillside (N.J.) High
The buzz: After recording 109 tackles -- including 22 for loss -- his senior year at Hillsdale, Spruill spent last season at Fork Union before arriving at Syracuse in time for spring practice. He was the No. 13 prep-school prospect in the 2010 recruiting class and has emerged as the front-runner to crack the starting lineup at middle linebacker, though he is competing with junior Ryan Gillum.

Oklahoma WR Kenny Stills
Particulars: 6-0/183; Carlsbad (Calif.) La Costa Canyon
The buzz: Oklahoma needs a receiver to complement All-America candidate Ryan Broyles, who caught more than twice as many passes as any of his teammates last season. Stills may be the guy. He enrolled in time for spring practice and already has moved atop the depth chart. Stills, a four-star prospect, caught six passes for 84 yards and a touchdown in the spring game.

Colorado State QB Pete Thomas
Particulars: 6-5/218; El Cajon (Calif.) Valhalla
The buzz: This four-star prospect committed to Arizona State, but he looked elsewhere after the Sun Devils fired offensive coordinator Rich Olson. He enrolled at Colorado State in January and already has been named the Rams' starting quarterback for their Sept. 6 opener with Colorado. He threw for 5,553 yards, 52 touchdowns and 11 interceptions while completing more than 66 percent of his passes in his last two high school seasons.

Illinois TE Evan Wilson
Particulars: 6-6/237; Woodstock (Ga.) High
The buzz: Wilson was relatively lightly recruited after catching 13 passes as a high school senior while playing in a run-oriented offense. He committed to Middle Tennessee before a late visit to Illinois lured him to the Big Ten. He now figures to get more passes thrown to him in college than he ever saw in high school. Illinois offensive coordinator Paul Petrino likes to utilize the tight end in the passing game, and Wilson has turned heads this summer with his receiving ability. Wilson's lack of bulk -- his listed weight of 237 is a bit generous -- makes his blocking a concern, but his pass-catching skills will get him on the field.



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