NCF Nation: 061113 first year player

You never know who will break out in their first year in the league. Last season, we saw a true freshman in TCU's Devonte Fields capture the league's Defensive Player of the Year Award, and plenty of other freshmen, redshirt freshmen and juco transfers had major impacts across the league.

Here are a few first-year players to keep an eye on this season.

Robbie Rhodes
Scott Drucker/IntersportBaylor commit Robbie Rhodes was rated as one of the nation's top receivers in the ESPN 150 in 2013.
Cassius Sendish, CB, Kansas: Sendish was part of the juco blitz that came to KU this spring, but had an immediate impact on and off the field. Coach Charlie Weis loves his leadership, and he provides a big boost in the secondary that badly needed one after ranking eighth in the league in pass defense. The 6-foot, 187-pounder already made an impression on everybody in the program with his wit and the way he carries himself, and he should be fun to watch this fall.

Jake Waters, QB, Kansas State: Waters hasn't officially won Kansas State's quarterback job yet, but he was the nation's No. 78 overall juco prospect and earned plenty of notoriety for breaking some guy named Cam Newton's completion percentage record on the way to a national title last season. He's still got to beat out Daniel Sams to be able to replace Collin Klein, but the 6-foot-2, 215-pounder could bring some accuracy to the table that's been missing awhile.

Robbie Rhodes, WR, Baylor: Rhodes is one of the highest-ranked recruits to ever step foot on Baylor's campus, and could have an immediate impact for a receiving corps trying to replace Lanear Sampson and Terrance Williams. He was ranked as the nation's No. 3 receiver and No. 35 overall recruit, as well as the fourth-best player in Texas. The Bears beat out TCU and Texas for his services, and the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Fort Worth, Texas native could crack the field very early. Only two players in the Big 12 were ranked higher than Rhodes in the class of 2013.

Kevin White, WR, West Virginia: White is a big body at 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds and a different kind of receiver than West Virginia is used to suiting up, but after losing Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, a ton of targets will be available in a receiving corps that has little experience, even with the boost of Ivan McCartney's return. He already showed his ability in the spring game, turning a screen pass into a 46-yard score. He'll get plenty of opportunities to do that some more this fall.
Notre Dame has landed consecutive top-10 recruiting classes. Which players from those groups have the best chances of making an impact as first-year players this fall?

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame's C.J. Prosise
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsC.J. Prosise had a 35-yard touchdown reception during the Blue-Gold Game this spring.
C.J. Prosise, WR: The 6-foot-2, 208-pound Prosise redshirted a safety last season. He switched to the offensive side of the ball before spring practices this year, and the early returns have been positive. The Petersburg, Va., native had a long touchdown catch in the open field during an open scrimmage this spring, and his 35-yard touchdown reception in the Blue-Gold game marked the only time the Irish offense reached the end zone in the spring contest. With the spring transfers of second-year receivers Davonte Neal and Justin Ferguson, the opportunity is wide open for Prosise to seize the vacant slot position. He will likely enter camp as the leading candidate to bolster Notre Dame's struggling punt return unit, too.

Greg Bryant, RB: Bryant will not officially enroll at Notre Dame until June 17, but he has the potential to become an immediate contributor to the Irish offense. The ESPN150 prospect form Delray Beach, Fla., was ranked second nationally among running backs, making him one of the top running back recruits Notre Dame has landed in recent memory. The 5-foot-11, 197-pound Oklahoma de-commit should get a chance to compete in a deep but untested backfield after the departures of Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood.

Malik Zaire, QB: The early enrollee drew rave reviews from the staff this spring and figures to have a shot to play this fall after the suspension of Everett Golson. The southpaw is a dual-threat signal caller from Archbishop Alter in Kettering, Ohio. ESPN rated Zaire No. 6 among quarterbacks from the Class of 2013, and coach Brian Kelly said that he will get an opportunity to compete like everyone else in camp for the starting spot.

Corey Robinson/James Onwualu, WR: Both players enrolled this spring and found themselves getting plenty of time all over the field after Neal and Ferguson left the program. The 6-foot-4.5, 197-pound Robinson, the son of hoops Hall of Famer David, has the size and speed to go up and get anything in sight on the outside, as evidenced by a deep, diving, juggling catch he made during an open scrimmage. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Onwualu should also get a chance to contribute inside immediately after displaying flashes of athleticism early.
The 2013 season is less than three months away, and few things generate more excitement among fans than the first chance to see certain players compete in games. Every year, the Big Ten produces a handful of first-year stars, whether they're true freshmen, redshirt freshmen or transfers.

Who are the first-year Big Ten players to watch in 2013? Here are five of them.

[+] EnlargeDanny Etling
AP Photo/Daryl Quitalig via Triple Play New MediaFreshman Danny Etling will battle senior Rob Henry for the Boilers' starting quarterback job.
Purdue QB Danny Etling, freshman: It didn't take long for Etling to impress Darrell Hazell, John Shoop and the rest of Purdue's new coaching staff. A decorated recruit and an Elite 11 finalist, Etling enrolled early and went through spring practice. He made a strong push late in the session and leapfrogged Austin Appleby to join senior Rob Henry in the top group entering fall camp. Although Henry is an excellent leader who has waited a long time to be the starter, don't be surprised if Hazell and the staff decide that the future is now and go with Etling, despite his youth. "Danny's work ethic puts him in a position," Hazell told "He's a smart guy, gets himself out of trouble and is accurate when he's moving around in the pocket."

Michigan RB Derrick Green, freshman: Until Jabrill Peppers' commitment last month, no Michigan recruit in the Brady Hoke era has generated more excitement than Green, a late pickup in the 2013 class. The Wolverines are looking for a feature running back in their pro-set offense and struggled to find one last season, when quarterback Denard Robinson had more than twice as many rush yards (1,266) as any other player. Green plays a position where true freshmen can make an immediate impact, and he has a sturdy frame at 6-foot, 215 pounds. Michigan has been waiting for a power back like Green, and if he can grasp the protection schemes and outperform Fitzgerald Toussaint in camp, he'll likely play a lot this season.

Nebraska DE Randy Gregory, junior: It's no secret Nebraska needs help on defense, especially up front, where the Huskers lose three starters from 2012 and need a difference-maker to emerge. Gregory comes in from the junior-college ranks with an excellent chance to start or at least log significant playing time. The 6-foot-6, 230-pound junior from Arizona Western Community College missed last season with a broken leg but recorded 21 tackles for loss, including nine sacks, in 2011 as he helped Arizona Western to the NJCAA title game. The one-time Purdue recruit could fill the pass-rushing void left by Eric Martin.

Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg, freshman: Although Hackenberg didn't enroll early like Purdue's Etling, he also enters preseason camp with an excellent chance to become a Big Ten starting quarterback as a true freshman. After Steven Bench's transfer, Penn State's quarterback race is down to Hackenberg and junior-college transfer Tyler Ferguson, who went through the spring and slightly outperformed Bench. RecruitingNation rated Hackenberg as the No. 1 quarterback in the 2013 recruiting class, and he has all the mental and physical skills to play early in his career. He'll be challenged to grasp O'Brien's complex, NFL-style offense in several weeks this summer, but unless Ferguson creates significant separation, expect to see plenty of Hackenberg during the season.

Minnesota LB Damien Wilson, junior: The Gophers need immediate help at linebacker after losing Mike Rallis and Keanon Cooper, and they expect to get it from Wilson, a junior-college transfer from Mississippi. Head coach Jerry Kill was excited about Wilson's addition on signing day, and Wilson showed some promising signs during his first spring session with the Gophers. The 6-foot-2, 254-pound Wilson ranked fourth nationally in the juco ranks with 122 tackles last season and recorded six tackles for loss, two sacks and two pass breakups. Barring a preseason surprise, he'll play a significant role for Minnesota's defense this fall.
Just about every Pac-12 team will play at least a couple of true freshmen or incoming junior college recruits this year. The days of redshirting an entire recruiting class are long gone.

Sometimes, it seems fairly clear a guy is going to play immediately, particularly the JC guys who aren't signed to sit. But every year somebody who is supposed to be ready to play isn't, and someone comes from no where to make a major impact.

So... who are some first-year guys who will see action this year?

Glad you asked.

Arizona: While B.J. Denker may win the starting job at quarterback, both JC transfer Jesse Scroggins and incoming freshman Anu Solomon are solidly in the picture. It would be hard to believe one or the other won't see significant action this fall.

[+] EnlargeThomas Tyner
John Albright/Icon SMIThe Ducks are hoping ESPN 150 running back Thomas Tyner succeeds in his first season.
Arizona State: The Sun Devils believe JC transfer Jaelen Strong will provide a good -- perhaps great -- answer to their questions at receiver.

California: The Bears will need some help at defensive end if Chris McCain's academics aren't in order, so JC transfer Kyle Kragen looks like a good candidate to step up and fill a sudden need.

Colorado: Freshman linebacker Addison Gillam was one of the top performers this spring, and he topped the post-spring depth chart at Mike linebacker.

Oregon: While RB Thomas Tyner is the biggest name in the recruiting class and likely to be immediately in the mix, you probably can arrive at more certainty with kicker/punter Matt Wogan. Of course, Ducks fans most certainly do not have a strong opinion about their field goal kicking the past two years, which hasn't cost them any big games or anything.

Oregon State: The Beavers have three JC transfers at defensive tackle: Edwin Delva, Siale Hautau -- who both participated in spring practices, at least until Hautau broke his hand -- and Kyle Peko. It's likely two of them will start and the other will play.

Stanford: It's possible no incoming freshmen will see significant action for the veteran Cardinal, but if you were to guess a name, receiver Francis Owusu is a possibility, considering receiver is the team's most unproven position.

UCLA: The Bruins are replacing all four starters in their secondary, so expect to see at least a couple of youngsters on the depth chart in the back-half. Tahaan Goodman is a good bet to start at safety.

USC: The Trojans had a handful of freshmen arrive early for spring drills, many of whom are certain to play, but safeties Leon McQuay and Su’a Cravens immediately looked like prospects to start, or at least see significant action.

Utah: JC defensive tackle Ses Ianu is a candidate to start at a position of extreme need after the departure of Star Lotulelei and Dave Kruger. He was listed as an "Or" on the post-spring depth chart with senior LT Tuipulotu.

Washington: The Huskies are a veteran team with 20 starters back, so it's unlikely any incoming players will win starting jobs, at least other than kicker Cameron Van Winkle, who could challenge returning starter Travis Coons. May also want to keep tabs on Damore'ea Stringfellow at receiver.

Washington State: While the Cougars are deep at receiver and need help on the offensive line, the most likely incoming player to contribute is JC transfer Vince Mayle at receiver, the team's highest rated newcomer. Mike Leach's offense thrives when it can spread the field, and Mayle has the physical skills to help do that.

First-year players to watch

June, 11, 2013
There are plenty of first-year players to watch in the soon-to-be renamed Big East this fall. Here is a quick look at those with the potential to have breakout seasons.

[+] EnlargeLouisville Cardinals Red Team running back Brandon Radcliff
Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY SportsLouisville Cardinals running back Brandon Radcliff really stepped up in the spring game.
Brandon Radcliff, RB, Louisville. With Senorise Perry out this spring, Radcliff got an opportunity to show what he can do. Radcliff ended up with 56 yards on five carries in the spring game and seems poised for more. Perry's status for the start of the season remains up in the air, so watch for Radcliff and Dominique Brown to carry the load early on.

Prescott Line, RB, SMU. His brother, Zach, was a constant in the Mustangs' backfield over the last several seasons but now he's gone. That leaves big shoes to fill. Line is next in line to help carry the load, as he had a good spring and should see plenty of action this year with Traylon Shead in the backfield.

Chris Muller, RG, Rutgers. Muller was a huge get for Rutgers when he signed back in 2012, and now he is poised to see some serious game time as a redshirt freshman. He is listed on the post-spring depth chart as the co-starter at right guard with veteran Antwan Lowery.

Averee Robinson, DT, Temple. Robinson, the younger brother of former Owls standout Adrian Robinson, enrolled in January and made his presence known in the spring, earning reps with the second team. He had a great performance in the spring game (four sacks) and certainly will be in the Owls rotation come fall.

Luke Adams, DE, UCF. Adams was easily one of the bright spots for the revamped Knights' defensive line in the spring and finished camp penciled in as the starter.
The days of freshmen football players going through the motions are long gone, as every year true freshmen are asked to do more and more for their respective teams.

Mo stars, mo problems.

[+] EnlargeTray Matthews
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsTray Matthews is almost a lock to start and impressed the coaching staff during the spring.
A few true freshmen really jumped onto the scene the right way last year. Todd Gurley, T.J. Yeldon and Jeremy Hill had exceptional seasons at the running back spot. Alabama's Amari Cooper finished the year as one of the SEC's top receivers, while Florida found quite the third down pass-rusher in Dante Fowler Jr.

Yet again, a solid bunch of true freshmen could make immediate impacts this fall. Here are five to keep an eye on (in alphabetical order) in 2013:

  • Alex Collins, RB, Arkansas: Collins is the type of back first-year coach Bret Bielema needs to get his offense going. He can be both a tough, downhill runner and a slasher. The Hogs don't have much experience at running back, so Collins will be expected to step in right away.
  • O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama: Howard is just a missmatch waiting to happen with his 6-foot-6, 237-pound frame and receiver-like speed. He enrolled early and seemed to catch everything thrown his way this spring. He does have to improve his blocking, but with Michael Williams gone, Howard should be a very valuable receiving weapon.
  • Tray Matthews, S, Georgia: The Bulldogs are rebuilding all over on defense, but the free safety spot is more than covered by Matthews. He was outstanding this spring and was pegged as a starter the moment he stepped on campus. He's not only a big-hitter but can cover a ton of ground with his speed.
  • Robert Nkemdiche, DE, Ole Miss: The No. 1 recruit in the nation should play immediately. The coaches know that hype could be a distraction, but they also know that Nkemdiche already has the talent to see the field now. He has to get comfortable with the playbook, but people around the program think he can have a Jadeveon Clowney-like impact.
  • Demarcus Robinson, WR, Florida: The Gators are desperately looking for a go-to receiver. Robinson possesses the skill to be that guy, but he has to get his head in the playbook more during summer workouts. He certainly got a head-start by enrolling early and made a lot of plays stretching the field and making the tough catches this spring.
Few if any coaches will tell you point-blank this time of year which first-year players are likely to see the field and get a chance to contribute immediately, but there were a few hints across the ACC this spring. For some players, like Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, the spotlight was unavoidable. For others, like Miami freshman linebacker Alex Figueroa, their success was more under the radar. Based on what we learned this spring, here are five first-year players worth watching this fall in the ACC in no particular order:

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesJameis Winston's intelligence might be as impressive as his physical tools, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said.
Clemson TE Jordan Leggett: He enrolled in January and wasted no time impressing the coaching staff. When Sam Cooper tore his ACL, the door opened for Leggett, who had seven catches for 97 yards and a touchdown in the spring game, and he played well in the last two scrimmages. He’s not listed as the starter yet, but he is good enough to earn the job by the opener against Georgia.

UNC RB Khris Francis: Another early enrollee, Francis opened some eyes with a stellar performance in the spring game. With the early departure of standout Giovani Bernard to the NFL, the Tar Heels are in need of a running back to step up. While A.J. Blue and Romar Morris are the leading candidates to do that, Francis showed some big-time potential this spring. He had a game-high 101 yards on 20 carries in the spring game.

Miami LB Alex Figueroa: Figueroa also enrolled in January, and Miami’s coaches have praised his progress -- evidenced by his spot at the top of the post-spring depth chart at outside linebacker. The son of two U.S. Marines, Figueroa has been lauded by those within the program for his tireless work ethic. According to, coach Al Golden said that Figueroa earned the No. 1 Sam linebacker spot in the spring because he outworked everyone during Miami's UTough program.

Florida State QB Jameis Winston: The hype has grown larger than the 6-foot-4, 218-pound two-sport phenom, but he hasn’t even officially been named the starter. Following the transfer of former quarterback Clint Trickett, though, and an outstanding performance in the spring game, many FSU fans have already anointed Winston the starter, even if coach Jimbo Fisher hasn’t. At the very least, Winston’s 12-for-15, 205-yard passing performance in the spring game made him the clear front-runner.

(tie) Virginia Tech cornerback Brandon Facyson and tackle Jonathan McLaughlin: They were both early enrollees and played well enough this spring to work their way into the two-deep. McLaughlin played his way to first-team left tackle, ahead of junior Mark Shuman, and Facyson spent time with the second-team defense behind starter Kyle Fuller.