Opening weekend is just around the corner and, once again, new stars will emerge in college football. The number of impact freshman in the Southeastern Conference could be higher this season than any in recent memory. With 16 of the top 25 prospects according to 247 Sports committing to the league, it helps team reload after early departures. This game is one where young players are more ready to contribute than ever. I think there is no question that these five guys will make noise in the season openers.
- Robert Nkemdiche, DE Ole Miss - This is an obvious choice but imagine how good Nkemdiche will be by Week 8? I expect him to start and be a force in the opener against Vanderbilt. With a young player the most effective way for him to have an impact is to give him one move and let him go play. As the season evolves his game will too, with regards to different techniques.
- Chris Jones, DE Mississippi State - This may surprise some but I actually think Jones has a chance to have a huge opening night against Oklahoma State. He will force the Cowboys to take notice of the edge, and he should follow the same progression as Nkemdiche. He had a terrific camp and his length will be something they don't have in the Big 12.
- Vernon Hargreaves, CB Florida - Hargreaves has already moved into the nickel back position and despite a minor shoulder injury will play a lot against Toledo. I think by conference play he will easily be the No. 3 defensive back on the team. The Rockets have a spread attack and threw the ball an average of 33 times per game in 2012.
- Tray Matthews, S Georgia - This early enrollee was the talk of spring ball at safety. Matthews showed great closing speed and his tackles packed a punch. He has been slowed a bit by injuries in camp, but with Clemson in the opener you can bet he will be ready. Clemson’s offense should provide plenty of chances for Matthews to get noticed.
- Derrick Henry, RB Alabama - The powerful running back should get 10-plus carries in the opener and a touchdown. I think the No. 2 back at Alabama may take on a committee role this season. I think Henry has the potential to put up T.J. Yeldon-like numbers, but I see his production more like Keith Marshall's from a year ago.
Other guys who will make some noise on opening night
- OJ Howard, TE, Alabama
- Demarcus Robinson, WR Florida
- Alex Collins, RB, Arkansas
- Laquan Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss
- Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn
This and that...
I don't want to sound like an apologist for Vanderbilt, but I think they can overcome the suspension of receiver Chris Boyd. The Commodores have implemented an up-tempo scheme into the offensive system and should be more exciting. They are also using plenty of Wildcat, which they showcased last season during their seven-game winning streak. Jordan Matthews is still the best receiver in the league and is a very tough matchup. The Dores have good numbers on the lines of scrimmage, which is also a plus.
Nick Marshall is Auburn's quarterback and he should like what he sees in the opener against Washington State on defense. The Cougars gave up over 425 yards per game and 163 on the ground. I would expect Auburn to spread to run in the opener and you could see 40 attempts if they are having success.
Don't be surprised if the Aggies roll out another freshman for the season opener in consecutive years. Kenny Hill the true freshman from Southlake, Texas is turning some heads in camp. Of course for him to start, Johnny Manziel would have to sit, but it appears the Aggies are getting Hill ready for the season. Matt Joeckel is also in the mix, but the legs of Hill might give him the edge. Remember five-star quarterback Kyle Allen is coming to College Station next season, so there is no reason to redshirt Hill.