NCF Nation: Calvin Johnson

SEC newcomers to watch

April, 3, 2012
4/03/12
10:34
AM ET
Newcomers come in all shapes and sizes.

There are freshmen newcomers, junior college transfers and regular transfers. Regardless, they all come in with the expectations of playing immediately. JUCO standouts and transfers maybe more so than rookies, but the days of automatically redshirting true freshmen are over. Like, dead.

Last year, the SEC saw a few newcomers make immediate impacts. A great example is Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones, who transferred from USC back in 2010, but didn't play until last fall. All he did was lead the SEC in sacks and tackles for loss. There was Arkansas linebacker Alonzo Highsmith, who came from the JUCO ranks to be one of the Hogs' most productive linebackers.

Freshman Isaiah Crowell had an up-and-down season, but was sixth in the SEC rushing, and was named the SEC's freshman of the year. His classmate, wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell, wasn't too bad, either. You also can't forget about South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who was seventh in the SEC with eight sacks.

So, as spring practice begins to wind down around the conference, we're taking a look at five newcomers to keep an eye on in 2012. Some are on campuses, some aren't. Some are obvious choices, and you could be surprised by a couple. Top newcomers can be top league players, or players who will make big impacts on their teams at a position of need.

We're going in alphabetical order, so here's our list:
  • Denico Autry, DE, JUCO, Mississippi State: The Bulldogs are looking to replace Sean Ferguson at one of the defensive line spots, and Autry was brought in to do just that. The coaches have been extremely impressed with how the former East Mississippi Community College standout has looked in spring practice. People around the program have simply described Autry as a "beast," and the thought is that he'll enter the fall starting at one of the end spots.
  • Travell Dixon, CB, JUCO, Alabama: Dixon has had a pretty successful spring, and has had the honor of playing at Alabama's "star" (nickel) cornerback spot. That shows you just how much coach Nick Saban respects Dixon's game. Saban usually puts his most complete defensive backs at the star. That's where Javier Arenas played, and DeQuan Menzie after him. With Alabama losing Menzie and Dre Kirkpatrick at cornerback, Dixon has a chance to come in and start immediately.
  • Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Fr., Missouri: It was hard to find another 2012 recruit who received the attention that Green-Beckham did. He has drawn comparisons to A.J. Green, Julio Jones, and Calvin Johnson. That's pretty good company, and Missouri is expecting DGB to contribute immediately. DGB stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 220 pounds, making him a huge, physical target for quarterback James Franklin. DGB might arrive this summer as Missouri's most talented receiver. It also helps that he has top speed, and could be the deep threat that Missouri's offense needs.
  • Latroy Pittman, WR, Fr., Florida: Haven't heard of him? Don't worry, not many have. Pittman committed to Florida so long before national signing day, his recruitment wasn't too exciting or noticeable. However, Pittman, who was ranked the No. 24 wide receiver by ESPN recruiting services, has been very productive in spring practice. He isn't the fastest receiver, but with Florida struggling to find a true go-to receiving target, Pittman has really shined by being one of the Gators' most consistent receivers this spring. Word around Florida's program is that Pittman will definitely see playing time this fall. Receiver is wide open in Gainesville, so Pittman could play his way into quality time.
  • Shaq Roland, WR, Fr., South Carolina: With Alshon Jeffery gone, South Carolina is searching for a wide receiver to step up and become a primary target for quarterback Connor Shaw. Right now, Ace Sanders and Bruce Ellington will get the first shots, but a lot of players at the position are pretty unproven. Roland was one of the top high school receiving targets last year, and has the playmaking ability that could really spark the Gamecocks' passing game. Roland could be a deep threat or make plays over the middle. He wasn't afraid of contact in high school, and that mentality should carry over to the college level. Adding some weight will be key, but coach Steve Spurrier should have fun working him into the offense.
Oklahoma State looked like the Big 12 favorite down the stretch, but lost to Bob Stoops and Oklahoma at home in the season finale, eventually landing in the Alamo Bowl instead of getting a shot at a trip to the Fiesta Bowl. In San Antonio, they've found another Stoops: Mike, and his Arizona team that lost its last four games.

WHO TO WATCH: Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon. He'll be the best player on the field every time he steps on it, and he'll have a chance to break an impressive record as well. In all 11 of his starts this season, he's finished with at least 100 yards receiving and a touchdown. If he does it against the Wildcats, he'll be the only player in FBS history to do it for 12 consecutive games. That's especially impressive considering the caliber of receivers who couldn't duplicate his feat: Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson and Michael Crabtree, to name a few. The Biletnikoff Award winner missed one game for the Cowboys, who managed just 24 points in a win against Kansas State. The Cowboys haven't been held under 33 points in any other game, and have scored 40-plus points in eight games, ranking third nationally in scoring offense.

WHAT TO WATCH: Oklahoma State's offense. Dana Holgorsen is headed to West Virginia after the bowl game to become the coach-in-waiting, but he's sticking around through the bowl game to fulfill his duties as offensive coordinator. I wouldn't expect any big differences out of the Cowboys, but it'll be interesting to see if the transition for Holgorsen has been a distraction that manifests on the field.

WHY WATCH: Similar to the Insight Bowl, despite the pair of disappointing finishes, these are still two teams who spent time near the top of the polls this season. Arizona was 7-1 to start the season and a mainstay in the top 15 before the losing streak sent it south in the polls. Oklahoma State was inside the top 10 at the end of the season. Outside of that, these are two of the most exciting offenses in the country. Both teams threw the ball just under 500 times this season, and figure to do plenty of it in the Alamodome on Wednesday night. Arizona's Nick Foles and Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden are two of the best around at doing it, and will get plenty of chances.

PREDICTION: Oklahoma State 37, Iowa 28. Arizona doesn't have anybody who can stop Blackmon (not that anyone else does), and the Cowboys' Big Three are too much for the Wildcats to keep up with.

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Notice these guys are in alphabetical order.

Brock Berlin -- In 2003, he helped Miami score 28 unanswered points for a 38-33 comeback win against his former team, Florida.

James Davis -- Davis scored the game-winner in 2005 against rival South Carolina, a 2-yard run with 5:58 left that gave Clemson the 13-9 win. He also scored the game winner in 2006 against Florida State, a 1-yard run with eight seconds left for the 27-20 win.

 
 Boston College/Getty Images
 Doug Flutie celebrates his last-second touchdown pass to defeat Miami in 1984.

Doug Flutie -- Is there a play that defines "clutch" better than Flutie's Hail Mary pass against Miami? Flutie left school as the NCAA's all-time passing yardage leader with 10,579 yards.

Chris Gould -- Virginia wouldn't have been the ACC's most current clutch team had it not been for Gould. He kicked 16 field goals last season and his kicks in five games were the difference (game winners vs. Middle Tennessee and UConn, 5 FGs in 22-20 win over UNC, early FG vs. Maryland in 18-17 win and early FG vs. WFU in 17-16 win).

Sebastian Janikowski -- He set Florida State and ACC records with 27 field goals in 1998. A year later, Janikowski made 84.4 percent (27-of-32) and led the nation with an average of 2.23 per game.

Calvin Johnson -- The No. 1 draft pick finished with 178 career receptions for 2,927 yards and 28 touchdowns. He ranks first in school history in career receiving yards, second in receptions, first in touchdown receptions, and first in most career 100-yard receiving games with 13.

Frank Reich -- Can't forget the King of the Comeback. In 1984, trailing defending national champ Miami 31-0 at halftime, Reich completed 12 of 16 passes for 260 yards and three touchdowns for a 42-40 win and a trip to the Orange Bowl. Eight years later, he orchestrated one of the NFL's greatest comebacks. His Buffalo Bills trailed Houston, 35-3, but Reich came in for an injured Jim Kelly and won, 41-38, in overtime.

Philip Rivers -- The number of clutch plays this guys made is worth a separate entry, as he made six comeback wins his freshman year alone.

Matt Ryan -- His two-touchdown come-from-behind win over Virginia Tech in Blacksburg last season with 2:11 left on the clock will always be remembered.

David Treadwell -- Treadwell kicked game-winning field goals inside the last five seconds against Georgia in consecutive years. He kicked a 46-yard field goal on the last play in 1986 at Georgia, then kicked a 21-yarder with two seconds left to beat the Bulldogs in 1987. He also kicked a field goal on the last play of the game in 1985 to beat Virginia Tech.

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