They saw redshirt freshman Darren Evans set an ACC freshman rushing record two years ago by running for 1,265 yards. Then, after Evans tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee last summer, they watched redshirt freshman Ryan Williams break his teammate's record by rushing for 1,655 yards and 21 touchdowns.
We're not saying any of the guys on our list of 16 impact redshirt freshmen will match the production of Evans in 2008 season or Williams in '09 campaign. But all figure to have major roles and the vast majority will open the season in the starting lineup.
Arkansas G Alvin Bailey Particulars: 6-5/323; Broken Arrow (Okla.) High
The buzz: Bailey, who didn't allow a sack as a high school senior, has worked with the first-team offense throughout preseason camp and is likely to be in the starting lineup for the Razorbacks' Sept. 4 season opener against Tennessee Tech.
Alabama OT D.J. Fluker Particulars: 6-6/340; Foley (Ala.) High
The buzz: Fluker arrived at Alabama as the No. 3 overall prospect in the 2009 recruiting class. He spent his redshirt season getting in better shape to acquire the stamina necessary to compete in the SEC. Fluker reportedly has admitted weighing close to 400 pounds when he first got to Tuscaloosa. Fluker now is listed at 340, though he probably weighs about 330. Fluker still is rather large -- he wears a size-22 shoe -- but he has trimmed down enough to have the inside track on a job as Alabama's starting right tackle.
Michigan FS Cameron Gordon Particulars: 6-3/207; Inkster (Mich.) High
The buzz: Gordon, a two-way player in high school, began his college career as a receiver before moving to the secondary this spring. At the end of spring practice, Gordon received the John F. Maulbetsch Award given to a Michigan freshman athlete on the basis of desire, character, leadership capacity and potential for future success. That success better come soon. Gordon will start at free safety for a secondary reeling from the losses of Donovan Warren to the NFL draft and Troy Woolfolk to a dislocated ankle and broken leg.
Texas DT Calvin Howell and G Mason Walters Particulars: Howell: 6-4/290, San Antonio Warren. Walters: 6-6/300, Wolfforth (Texas) High
The buzz: Howell and Walters give Texas at least one redshirt freshman starter on each side of the line of scrimmage. Howell played three games in a reserve role last season before a knee injury caused him to miss the rest of the season and take a redshirt. He needs to have a big season because junior Kheeston Randall is the Longhorns' only experienced defensive tackle. A preseason foot injury to Tray Allen likely will result in a starting assignment for Walters, who sat out the '09 season in part because of his own foot problems.
Georgia Tech G Will Jackson and LB Brandon Watts Particulars: Jackson: 6-3/285, Knoxville (Tenn.) Farragut. Watts: 6-2/230, Sandersville (Ga.) Washington County
The buzz: Watts already has earned a spot as a starting inside linebacker for Tech's Sept. 4 season opener with South Carolina State. Jackson hasn't locked up a starting role, but he appears to have moved ahead in his competition with redshirt freshman Ray Beno and sophomore Nick McRae. Watts won raves for his efforts on the scout team last fall, and he followed that up with an outstanding performance in spring practice. Watts already might rank as Georgia Tech's most athletic linebacker.
Florida LB Jelani Jenkins Particulars: 6-1/223; Olney (Md.) Our Lady of Good Counsel
The buzz: Jenkins arrived at Florida as the No. 1 outside linebacker and No. 10 overall prospect in the 2009 recruiting class, but he appeared in only two games last season while struggling with an ankle sprain. Now that he's healthy again, Jenkins is competing with sophomore Jon Bostic for the right to replace second-round pick Brandon Spikes as the Gators' starting middle linebacker. Coaches rave about Jenkins' speed and hitting ability.
Oregon DT Wade Keliikipi Particulars: 6-3/289; Wai'anae (Hawaii) High
The buzz: After sitting out the '09 season while recovering from shoulder surgery, Keliikipi could step right into the starting lineup this season for the reigning Pac-10 champions. The Ducks almost certainly will have a newcomer starting on the defensive line. The only question is if it will be Keliikipi or true freshman Ricky Heimuli.
Wisconsin DT Jordan Kohout Particulars: 6-3/290; Waupun (Wis.) High
The buzz: Rated as the top prospect from the state of Wisconsin in the 2009 recruiting class, Kohout headed into preseason camp as a likely starter for a team that lacks experienced tackles. A minor injury has limited Kohout in the preseason, but he still seems likely to crack the starting lineup for the Sept. 4 season opener at UNLV.
Clemson WR Bryce McNeal Particulars: 6-1/175; Minneapolis Breck
The buzz: Clemson's top returning receiver is senior Xavier Dye, who caught just 14 passes last season. That lack of experienced targets for quarterback Kyle Parker creates a golden opportunity for McNeal as well as true freshman DeAndre Hopkins. McNeal, the No. 75 overall prospect in the 2009 recruiting class, used his redshirt season to add some necessary bulk to his 6-foot-1 frame. He already provides enough speed to give Clemson a legitimate deep threat.
Miami RB Lamar Miller Particulars: 5-11/210; Miami Killian
The buzz: Miller's big-play ability has made him the talk of Miami's preseason camp. He scored on an 83-yard run in a Monday scrimmage and has made a number of other long gains throughout the preseason. UM already has plenty of talented running backs; Damien Berry ran for 616 yards last year, and Graig Cooper still could return from a knee injury after leading the Hurricanes in rushing in each of the past three seasons. But even if Cooper makes a complete recovery, Miller still should get the ball quite often. He has too much talent to stay on the sideline.
LSU DE Sam Montgomery Particulars: 6-5/250; Greenwood (S.C.) High
The buzz: LSU didn't have a single player with more than 4.5 sacks last season, so the Tigers could use a dynamic pass rusher. Maybe Montgomery can fill that void. He had five sacks and a team-high 23 tackles in four spring scrimmages. That performance helped Montgomery emerge as a likely starter. LSU seems likely to open the season with two newcomers starting at end: Montgomery and Copiah-Lincoln (Miss.) Community College transfer Kendrick Adams.
Georgia QB Aaron Murray Particulars: 6-1/209; Tampa Plant
The buzz: As the starting quarterback of a traditional SEC heavyweight, Murray arguably faces more pressure than any other freshman in the nation. Murray's high school career suggests he's ready for the assignment. He suffered a broken fibula early in his senior season, yet returned in time to lead Plant to its second state title in three seasons. He threw a combined 84 touchdown passes with only 11 interceptions his last two seasons at Plant.
Florida State CB Xavier Rhodes Particulars: 6-1/209; Miami Norland
The buzz: Rhodes played two games last season before a hand injury knocked him out and caused him to take a redshirt. The hard-hitting Rhodes recovered in time to participate in spring practice and was competing with incumbent starter Ochuko Jenije for a first-team role throughout the preseason. But Jenije was moved to safety earlier this week, opening the door for Rhodes to start the opener.
Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase Particulars: 6-3/195; Kansas City (Mo.) Rockhurst
The buzz: This four-star prospect performed well enough in practice last season that Illinois coaches considered playing him as a true freshman. Scheelhaase instead took a redshirt and performed well enough in spring practice to be named the Illini's starting quarterback in June. He helped Rockhurst win a state title as a high school junior. As a senior, he threw for 1,726 yards and 17 touchdowns while rushing for 864 yards and 18 more scores.
Missouri WR L'Damian Washington Particulars: 6-4/190; Shreveport (La.) Green Oaks
The buzz: Washington is expected to open the season in the starting lineup as the Tigers attempt to replace star wide receiver Danario Alexander, who caught 113 passes for an NCAA-leading 1,781 yards last year. He already has shown plenty of fortitude just to get this far. Washington was 5 when his father died, and he lost his mother when he was 15.
Oklahoma LB Tom Wort Particulars: 6-1/225; New Braunfels (Texas) High
The buzz: Wort expected to compete with junior Austin Box this summer, but Box's back injury has left Wort as the clear choice to open the season as the Sooners' starting middle linebacker. Wort took a redshirt last year after tearing an ACL during the preseason. Wort has an interesting background: He began playing football after moving to the United States from England while in junior high school.