SEC's impact freshmen and sophomores

August, 10, 2011
8/10/11
11:00
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Who are the top young players in the SEC, the impact underclassmen in 2011?

The first guy that comes to mind is South Carolina sophomore running back Marcus Lattimore, who rushed for 1,197 yards last season and was the unanimous choice for National Freshman of the Year.

But he's hardly the only talented underclassman in this league poised for a big season.

Here's a look at the three true freshmen and the three sophomores we think will have the biggest impacts this fall.

[+] EnlargeSouth Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesJadeveon Clowney put on a Gamecocks hat last February and coach Steve Spurrier plans to have him in a Gamecocks helmet early this fall.
TRUE FRESHMEN

DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina: He was the No. 1 prospect in the country last year and already has the look physically of a third-year veteran in the SEC. The 6-6, 254-pound Clowney has everything it takes to be a force rushing the passer, and coach Steve Spurrier said fans won't have to wait long to see him. One of the best things Clowney has going for him is that he doesn't have to come in and be Superman. The Gamecocks are deep and talented around him on the defensive line, which means teams won't be able to gang up on Clowney.

RB Isaiah Crowell, Georgia: The Bulldogs lost their top two rushers from a year ago and need a dynamic presence in the backfield. Enter Crowell, who was the running back everybody in the country wanted. The pressure is immense for him to produce right away, but he's already shown a lot of the same speed, acceleration and cutting ability in practice that made him one of the country's most sought-after players last year.

DT Anthony Johnson, LSU: Talk about teams loaded with young talent. LSU is overflowing with first- and second-year players who will make big impacts, and by this time in November, the rest of the league will be very familiar with the 6-3, 310-pound Johnson. His nickname is "Freak," and LSU coach Les Miles is using words like "unbelievable" to describe him. His teammates have been equally impressed with his quickness, his hands and how he's always around the football.

SOPHOMORES

QB Tyler Bray, Tennessee: Among freshman FBS quarterbacks last season, Bray ranked third in quarterback rating (142.73), tied for fourth in touchdowns (18) and sixth in passing yards per game (205.4). He was a big reason the Vols were able to regroup from a 2-6 start and get to a bowl game. The 6-6, 202-pound Bray has a big-time arm, one of the best in the SEC, and can fit the ball into the tightest of quarters. If he learns to read defenses better, he could have a 3,000-yard, 30-touchdown season in 2011.

RB Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina: Some of the early Heisman Trophy lists have Lattimore at or near the top. He's a workhorse who carried the ball 249 times as a freshman and has bulked up to 230 pounds to be able to absorb even more pounding this season. He's also an effective receiver out of the backfield, catching 29 passes for 412 yards and two touchdowns. The best thing Lattimore does is break tackles. He finds creases and turns 2-yard runs into 6- and 7-yard runs. He also has outstanding speed and a nose for the end zone. If you're looking for a complete runnning back, Lattimore is your man.

RB Spencer Ware, LSU: What can't Ware do? He was a quarterback in high school and threw a touchdown pass in the Auburn game last season. He also plays on LSU's baseball team. Here's betting he makes his mark this season as one of the most exciting running backs in the league. We saw a glimpse in the Cotton Bowl last season when he rushed for 102 yards on 10 carries in the win over Texas A&M. The 5-11, 223-pound Ware is also a threat catching the ball out of the backfield, and when he gets into the open field, that's when the fun begins.

Chris Low | email

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