Perhaps the biggest play of the 2010 season was made by a true freshman.
Oregon's defense believed it had brought freshman Mike Dyer down on Auburn's final possession of the BCS championship game, but nobody ever blew a whistle. Displaying the smarts of a fifth-year senior, Dyer alertly got himself up and kept on running, eventually gaining 37 yards and setting up the winning 19-yard field goal in Auburn's 22-19 victory.
Dyer's brilliant run capped a season in which he rushed for 1,093 yards, the most ever by an Auburn freshman. While Heisman-winning quarterback Cam Newton and Lombardi Award-winning defensive tackle Nick Fairley justifiably garnered the majority of the praise during Auburn's championship season, the Tigers probably don't win the title without Dyer in the backfield.
What true freshmen could make a similar impact this season? Well, we found so many true freshmen across the country who could play immediately that we couldn't limit our list to 10, 15 or 20 guys. We finally settled on 21. Let's call them the "Under 21 Club" since they're all going to be playing major minutes before they've reached drinking age.
We're not necessarily forecasting any of these guys will find themselves delivering the key play in this season's BCS championship game. But they all have a good shot to contribute immediately. In fact, the majority of them should open the season in the starting lineup.
Before unveiling this list, we must admit that we cheated a bit by including some teammates as one entry. Some teams are relying on multiple freshmen to contribute immediately.
Particulars: Agnew: 5-8/188; St. Louis DeSmet Jesuit. Cooks: 5-9/170; Stockton (Calif.) Lincoln
The buzz: Agnew and Cooks will try to help Oregon State begin the transition to the post-Rodgers brothers era. Agnew could emerge as Oregon State's main tailback now that Jacquizz Rodgers has moved on to the NFL's Atlanta Falcons. Cooks also has a good shot at opening the season in the starting lineup, particularly if senior WR James Rodgers -- Jacquizz's older brother -- isn't ready in time for the opener as he comes back from a serious knee injury. Agnew, a three-star recruit and the son of former NFL player Ray Agnew, has been working with the first-team offense in recent scrimmages. Cooks, the lone four-star prospect in Oregon State's 2011 recruiting class, has won raves for his preseason performance.
Particulars: Brown: 6-0/217; Cibolo (Texas) Steele. Shipley: 6-1/190; Brownwood (Texas) High.
The buzz: Thirteen true freshmen were listed as first- or second-team players on the depth chart Texas released Monday. We expect Brown and Shipley to have the biggest impact. Brown, the No. 1 running back and No. 10 overall prospect in the 2011 recruiting class, rushed for 6,663 yards while averaging 9.8 yards per carry in his high school career. Cody Johnson and Fozzy Whittaker return to Texas' backfield after combining for 943 rushing yards last season, but Brown should get plenty of carries early and could work his way into an expanded role later in the season. Shipley, the No. 9 receiver and No. 62 overall prospect in the 2011 class, earned a starting position for Saturday's season opener with Rice after arguably delivering the best preseason results of any receiver on the roster. His performance is offering pleasant reminders of his older brother, former All-America receiver Jordan Shipley. One more Texas true freshman to watch is CB Quandre Diggs, who also has a chance to start the season opener.
Particulars: Buie: 5-9/191; Jacksonville Trinity Christian. Garrison: 5-8/165; Pearland (Texas) High. Roberts: 5-9/184; Washington (D.C.) Dunbar
The buzz: One of these true freshmen likely will open the season as West Virginia's No. 1 running back. The lone returning player competing for that job is sophomore Trey Johnson. Roberts, an early enrollee, got a leg up on the competition by rushing for 64 yards on 10 carries in the spring game. Buie and Garrison have wasted no time catching up since arriving on campus this summer. Buie, the lone four-star recruit in the trio, has been particularly impressive. Buie rushed for 1,782 yards and threw for 772 yards last season while helping Trinity Christian win a Class 1A state title; that's where Boston College TB Montel Harris went to high school. Garrison ran for 2,842 yards and 46 touchdowns for Pearland's Class 5A state championship squad. Roberts rushed for 1,004 yards as a senior at Dunbar.
Particulars: 6-6/254; Rock Hill (S.C.) South Pointe
The buzz: South Carolina looks good at defensive end with the return of Devin Taylor and Melvin Ingram, who combined for 16.5 sacks last season. Still, we believe the Gamecocks still will find a way to get Clowney on the field as much as possible. The nation's No. 1 prospect in the 2011 recruiting class, Clowney has lived up to the hype thus far by delivering eye-catching performances in each of the Gamecocks' preseason scrimmages. Clowney had 162 tackles, 29.5 sacks and 11 forced fumbles as a high school senior. Regardless of whether he starts, Clowney figures to have a major impact on South Carolina's pass rush.
Particulars: 5-11/215; Columbus (Ga.) Carver
The buzz: Who else is going to carry the ball for the Bulldogs? Washaun Ealey, who led the Bulldogs with 811 rushing yards last season, has transferred to FCS program Jacksonville State. Caleb King, who ranked second on the team with 430 rushing yards in 2010, is academically ineligible. Carlton Thomas, the Bulldogs' third-leading rusher last year with 272 yards, was suspended for the season opener. That leaves the Bulldogs relying on Crowell, the nation's No. 4 running back and No. 23 overall prospect in the 2011 recruiting class. Crowell rushed for 1,000 yards in each of his last three years at Carver, including 1,915 yards as a junior and 1,721 yards as a senior.
Particulars: 6-3/213; Milford (N.Y.) Academy, preceded by Woodbury (N.J.) High
The buzz: After scoring three defensive touchdowns for Milford Academy last season, Davis enrolled at Syracuse in January and wasted no time locking down a starting spot at weakside linebacker. Davis' adaptability will be critical to Syracuse's success, as the Orange must replace All-Big East selections Doug Hogue and Derrell Smith in the linebacker corps. Davis certainly has the athleticism for the job: He lettered in basketball, baseball and track in high school while also catching 199 career passes as a receiver for the Woodbury football team.
Particulars: 6-3/285; Spanish Fort (Ala.) High
The buzz: After capping his high school career by helping Spanish Fort win a Class 5A state title, Dismukes could begin his college career in the starting lineup for the defending national champions. Rated as the No. 1 center and No. 79 overall prospect in the 2011 recruiting class, Dismukes enrolled at Auburn in time to participate in spring practice. He was such a big factor at Spanish Fort that he finished second in the balloting for Alabama's 2010 "Mr. Football" award. He seems to have the edge in the competition for Auburn's starting center spot.
Particulars: Henderson: 5-11/185; Norco (Calif.) High. McCulloch: 6-5/205; Albuquerque Eldorado.
The buzz: Although Henderson and McCulloch were two-star recruits who didn't get on campus in time to participate in spring practice, both could open their careers in the starting lineup. Henderson already has locked down a starting spot in Colorado's secondary, while McCulloch is listed as a co-starter at receiver. McCulloch is attempting to become the Buffs' first true freshman to start at receiver in a season opener. McCulloch didn't sign with Colorado until mid-February after missing most of his senior season of high school with a lacerated liver and spleen. He's the first New Mexico high school player to sign with the Buffaloes since 1991.
Particulars: 6-0/200; Jersey City (N.J.) St. Peter's Prep
The buzz: Rutgers averaged just 100.9 rushing yards per game a year ago to rank last in the Big East and 110th nationally. The Scarlet Knights are hoping Huggins can change that. Rated as the No. 7 running back and No. 58 overall prospect in the 2011 recruiting class, Huggins rushed for 1,891 yards and averaged 10.9 yards per carry his senior year at St. Peter's. Huggins put up those huge numbers even though he played only the first offensive series in six of his team's games. In his first scrimmage with Rutgers, Huggins rushed for 168 yards on 26 carries. Huggins does have some competition. Redshirt freshman Jawan Jamison and junior De'Antwan Williams also have performed well this summer. But it would be a major surprise if Huggins doesn't end up leading the Scarlet Knights in rushing.
Particulars: 6-0/185; Westlake Village (Calif.) Westlake
The buzz: Isham isn't the only true freshman quarterback who already has won a starting job, as Wyoming has turned over its offense to Brett Smith. What makes Isham's situation unique is that he didn't enroll early. Smith got a head start on his competition by participating in Wyoming's spring practice. Michael Nebrich, a true freshman competing for the starting quarterback job at Connecticut, also was with his team for spring practice. Isham wasn't at Louisiana Tech for spring workouts, but the former three-star recruit apparently made quite an impact once he arrived on campus. Isham was the 2010 recipient of the Old Spice national high school player of the year award, an honor that previously has gone to the likes of Cyrus Gray, Jacquizz Rodgers, Andy Dalton and Tim Tebow. Isham threw for 2,990 yards and 34 touchdowns last season.
Particulars: Johnson: 6-3/245; Gainesville (Ga.) High. Maggitt: 6-3/215; Palm Beach Gardens (Fla.) Dwyer.
The buzz: Neither Johnson nor Maggitt enrolled at Tennessee in time to participate in spring practice, but both already have locked up spots in the starting lineup. While their rapid rise says plenty about the lack of proven talent in Tennessee's linebacker corps, these two former Rivals250 recruits also deserve credit for making such a quick adjustment to the college game. Johnson had 173 tackles -- 29 for loss -- and forced eight fumbles as a prep senior. Maggitt had 17 sacks for Dwyer last fall. Tennessee conceivably could open the season with three true freshman starters on defense. True freshman Justin Coleman is competing with sophomore Izauea Lanier for a starting cornerback spot.
Particulars: 6-6/322; Hyattsville (Md.) DeMatha Catholic
The buzz: Kouandjio created some of the biggest drama of the 2011 recruiting season by announcing on National Signing Day he planned to sign with Auburn, only to change his mind and sign with Alabama instead. He has since shown exactly why both schools wanted him so badly. Although Kouandjio wasn't with Alabama for spring practice, he has played so well in preseason camp that he could open the season as the Crimson Tide's starting left tackle. In the latest depth chart released Monday, Kouandjio and junior Barrett Jones were listed as co-starters at left tackle. If Kouandjio were to win the starting spot at left tackle, Jones would move to his natural position of guard, where he earned first-team All-SEC honors last season. Kouandjio's rapid emergence shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Kouandjio was rated as the No. 1 offensive tackle and No. 4 overall prospect in the 2011 recruiting class.
Particulars: 6-3/210; Huber Heights (Ohio) Wayne
The buzz: Miller has been competing all summer with fifth-year senior Joe Bauserman for the starting quarterback job following the earlier-than-expected departure of Terrelle Pryor. Bauserman's experience likely will give him the edge, but it would come as no surprise if Miller garners playing time in the first few games and eventually takes over as the starter. Miller has more upside than Bauserman and also is the more mobile of the contenders. Rated as the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback and No. 34 overall prospect in the 2011 recruiting class, Miller threw 17 touchdown passes and ran for 17 more scores last fall while leading Wayne to the Division I state championship game. He enrolled at Ohio State in time to participate in spring practice.
Particulars: 6-6/290; Clearwater (Fla.) Countryside
The buzz:Moore, the son of former Nebraska TE Brian Moore, committed to the Huskers as a high school junior and arrived on campus in time to participate in spring workouts. That extra practice time has paid off: Moore already has moved atop the depth chart and figures to open the season as the Huskers' starting right tackle. Moore was the No. 5 offensive tackle and the No. 67 overall prospect in the 2011 recruiting class.
Particulars: 6-1/204; Burke (Va.) Lake Braddock Secondary
The buzz:Nebrich is competing with junior Johnny McEntee and redshirt freshman Scott McCummings for the starting job, and the winner might not be known until the Huskies open their season Thursday against Fordham. Although new Connecticut coach Paul Pasqualoni hasn't tipped his hand about which way he's leaning, recent reports suggest either Nebrich or McEntee will get the call. Nebrich, a three-star recruit, enrolled at Connecticut in time for spring practice after setting Virginia high school records last season for passing yards (3,831), completions (262) and all-purpose yards (4,968).
Particulars: 5-11/165; Virginia Beach (Va.) Bayside
The buzz:Nicholson, the No. 5 cornerback and No. 92 overall prospect in the 2011 recruiting class, already seems to have locked up a starting spot in Virginia's secondary. Considering Virginia's other starting cornerback is Rivals.com preseason first-team All-American Chase Minnifield, Nicholson should get plenty of passes thrown to his side of the field. Nicholson is a former two-way standout at Bayside who caught 38 passes for 597 yards and eight touchdowns last season while also starring on defense. He started in each of his four high school seasons on both sides of the ball.
Particulars: 6-0/184; Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas
The buzz:The dismissal of would-be All-America candidate Janoris Jenkins left the Gators with a giant hole at cornerback. Roberson figures to fill it. Roberson wasn't an early enrollee -- he committed to Texas Tech and Auburn before eventually opting for Florida -- but he has stood out consistently in preseason practices. Roberson's polish comes from playing for one of the nation's top high school programs. Roberson, the No. 2 cornerback and No. 37 overall prospect in the 2011 recruiting class, helped St. Thomas Aquinas win a 5A state title and earn a No. 2 ranking in the final RivalsHigh poll last year. He is expected to be joined in the starting secondary by true freshman FS DeAnte "Pop" Saunders, from DeLand (Fla.) High, who went through spring drills at corner for the Gators. He was a three-star prospect.
Particulars: Seferian-Jenkins: 6-6/258; Gig Harbor (Wash.) High. Williams: 6-2/212; Sammamish (Wash.) Skyline.
The buzz:These two former Rivals100 prospects should play a key role in helping Washington's passing attack adapt to the post-Jake Locker era. Seferian-Jenkins, the No. 2 tight end and No. 39 overall prospect in the 2011 recruiting class, is competing with redshirt freshmen Michael Hartvigsen and Evan Hudson for a starting job. He caught a school-record 126 passes at Gig Harbor. Williams' arrival should help take some of the pressure off Jermaine Kearse, who led the Huskies with 63 catches for 1,005 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. The Huskies have nobody else who caught more than two touchdown passes or had more than 352 receiving yards last season. Williams was the first person from the state of Washington to be named the Parade magazine national player of the year.
Particulars: 6-4/296; Springdale (Ark.) High
The buzz:This three-star recruit wasn't the most heralded offensive line prospect to sign with Arkansas, but he could have the most productive freshman season. Although he wasn't an early enrollee, Smothers made up for lost time once he arrived on campus. Smothers has stood out in preseason workouts so much that he likely will open the season as the Razorbacks' starting weakside tackle (Arkansas doesn't designate right and left tackles, but rather flops its tackles depending on the formation).
Particulars: 6-1/200; South Fort Myers (Fla.) High
The buzz:Of the four five-star prospects who signed with Clemson in the most recent recruiting class, Watkins seems the most likely to make an immediate impact. Watkins, the No. 3 receiver and No. 15 overall prospect in the 2011 recruiting class, gives the Tigers the playmaking wide receiver they lacked last season. Watkins graduated from South Fort Myers as the leading career receiver in Lee County history with 126 catches for 2,965 yards. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney already has indicated Watkins likely will open the season in the starting lineup. Clemson's other five-star recruits also should play this season, though they might not have as big a role as Watkins. LBs Stephone Anthony and Tony Steward figure to open the season as second-teamers, while TB Mike Bellamy should get some carries while backing up Andre Ellington.
Particulars: 6-0/192; Brookshire (Texas) Royal
The buzz:While we wanted to restrict this list to players who have a chance of opening the season in the starting lineup, we made an exception for Williams. This former five-star recruit is behind sophomore Brennan Clay, junior Dominique Whaley and sophomore Roy Finch on the depth chart for Saturday's season opener with Tulsa. But we believe he could develop into Oklahoma's top running back by the end of the season. Williams, the No. 3 running back and No. 14 overall prospect in the 2011 recruiting class, has the most upside of any running back on OU's roster. Even though he might not play much early, we couldn't overlook a guy who could end up as the leading rusher for the team that opened the season atop each of the major polls.