It’s not too soon to start thinking about college football as identifying impact freshmen early on could give bettors an early advantage.
The college football season does not kick off for another three months, but it is never too early to start preparing as the more information you have early on, the better your chances will be of finding winning college football picks over the first few weeks when the lines are the softest.
Now one common area that bettors look at is returning starters, which is all well and good and certainly important. However, it is just as important to get a good read on incoming freshmen, as those that are ready to make an impact immediately can help offset cases where the starters are not returning, and knowing who those impact freshman are early can help give you an edge on the betting lines.
To that end, here are our top 10 freshmen to watch for 2012. Note that these are not necessarily the 10 best freshmen in the country, but rather the 10 that should have the biggest impact immediately due to a lot of playing time right away, as opposed to some more highly regarded freshmen that may be riding the bench this season. Note that all star-ratings and rankings are from Rivals.com.
1 - D.J. Humphries (Offensive Tackle, Florida): The Gators had the third ranked recruiting class in the country, and Humphries was the biggest catch of all. Humphries is a five-star recruit, the top ranked tackle and the second ranked recruit overall in the country. He has excellent feet and flexibility and he is adept at both run blocking a pass protection. One knock against Humphries is that he is considered a tad light at 262 pounds, but he looked awesome in the All-American Bowl in January while exploding through bigger defenders. He will compete for the starting left tackle spot on the Gators, but word is he would simply start on the right side instead if he loses that battle, so he will definitely be on the field from Week 1.
2 - Shaq Thompson (Safety, Washington): Thompson is the top safety of this recruiting class and the fourth ranked freshman overall. Thompson has great closing speed and he is a big hitter when he gets there, which is something Pac-12 receivers are probably not looking forward to this season. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.57 seconds and recorded a 30-inch vertical leap to boot. Thompson also has nice size at 6-foot-2 and great body control. He is already penciled in as the starter at free safety for the Huskies.
3 - Stefon Diggs (Wide Receiver, Maryland): Now we get that wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham is the top ranked recruit overall in the country this year, but we feel that Diggs will have more of an immediate impact as Green-Beckham will feel the pinch of Missouri moving to the SEC and facing those defenses very week. Diggs has an easier go in the ACC and he is a five-star recruit in his own right. He is extremely versatile as he lined up as both a wide receiver and as a running back in high school, and he is very quick with his cuts in traffic. He can be used in a variety of ways by the Terrapins so he will be on the field one way or another, and he has also seen reps as a kick returner during spring practice.
4 - Wes Lunt (Quarterback, Oklahoma State): Oklahoma State returns 11 starters from the team that went 12-1 last season, but unfortunately Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon are not two of them. Lunt is a four-star recruit that will step right in and replace Weeden, as the freshman won the job by passing for over 200 yards in the Cowboys’ spring game. Now Lunt may be ranked just seventh among pro-style incoming quarterbacks, but he may be in the best position to succeed as freshman, as he already has the starting job in a system that is as quarterback-friendly as any on college football. Lundy should throw the ball close to 40 times per game in Mike Gundy's offense.
5 - Andrus Peat (Offensive Tackle, Stanford): Stanford returns only nine starters from last year’s 11-2 team, but they bring in a great freshman class including two offensive linemen that made this list, starting with Peat, who is a five-star recruit that has been told he will compete for starting job. Odds are that he will win it too, as the sixth ranked tackle and 32nd ranked recruit overall stands 6-foot-7 and weighs 307 pounds and yet is still growing into his huge body. He will only get stronger in the next year or two, but what Peat lacks in pure strength now he makes up for by playing at a surprisingly low pad-level for someone of his size. He is very flexible and has great feet, and we see him starting right away.
6 - Ellis McCarthy (Defensive Tackle, UCLA): Last year, UCLA qualified for the Kraft Fight For Hunger Bowl despite a 6-7 record, as the seventh loss came in the inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game to Oregon. This year, the Bruins look to improve under new Head Coach Jim Mora and the improvement on the defensive end should start with McCarthy, a five-star recruit ranked fourth among defensive tackles and 21st overall. McCarthy gets great leverage from his 6-foot-5, 311-pound frame, he plays with good aggressiveness and he has a very quick first step that makes him hard to block. He is a premier run-stopper that is also solid at rushing the passer. The Bruins lost quite a bit from their defensive line since last season so McCarthy is ready to step right in to the starting lineup.
7 - Taylor McNamara (Tight End, Oklahoma): Oklahoma has national championship aspirations this year after falling short in that quest last season, and the biggest news is that quarterback Landry Jones has returned for his senior year. That is good news for the entire Oklahoma receiving corps including the four-star tight end recruit McNamara, as remember that Jones loves throwing to his tight ends and that Oklahoma has sent a few of them to the NFL in recent years. McNamara is a tremendous athlete that was a multi-sport star in high school. He is already a polished pass-catching tight end with soft hands, quick feet and crisp route-running ability, and he appears to still be growing into his current 6-foot-5, 235 pound frame. He will see plenty of playing time even if he does not beat out JUCO transfer Brannon Green for the starting job as the Sooners often employ two tight ends, especially in the red zone.
8 - Josh Garnett (Offensive Guard, Stanford): We have already mentioned that Stanford recruited the sixth-ranked tackle and 32m ranked recruit overall in Peat, and they also landed the second ranked guard and 33rd overall recruit in Garnett, so their offensive line should be set for the next three years at least. Garnett can probably play any position on the offensive line at 6-foot-5, 295 pounds, as he has both great flexibility and a high football IQ. He is considered by many scouts to have the best drive-blocking skills in this class, so he appears ready to step right in and start at the guard spot vacated by NFL first-round draft pick David DeCastro.
9 - Travis Blanks (Cornerback, Clemson): Blanks is a four-star recruit that was ranked 60th overall, and he steps into a good situation at Clemson, albeit by changing positions. Blanks was highly regarded as a safety in high school, but he impressed at cornerback during Clemson’s spring practice and he will have plenty of opportunity to get playing time there, as the Tigers are thin in the secondary after losing three top players from last season including All-American DeAndre McDaniel. Blanks is a great physical specimen that at 6-foot-1, 194 pounds has still bench pressed 290 pounds and squatted 335 pounds, and he also has a 33-inch vertical jump.
10 - Randy Johnson (Running Back, Miami-FL): The Hurricanes finished at just 6-6 last season and they declined to go to a bowl game due to pending NCAA sanctions. That did not deter Johnson from signing on with the Canes though. Johnson is a five-star recruit with blazing speed and great elusiveness, and he could help fill the void created when Lamar Miller declared for the NFL Draft. Now the knock on Johnson is that he is undersized, and it is true that he may need to put on some weight before becoming an every-down back. Still, he is far too talented to keep off the field and he will continue to grow into the running back position as the season goes on. He will also probably be returning kicks from Day 1, further showing off the electricity he provides.