Thursday August 21st, 2008

The days of redshirting the bulk of a recruiting class and waiting for star prospects to take root and blossom have long since passed. Most programs must count on at least a few freshmen to contribute immediately. Even the top teams in SI's preseason rankings aren't immune. With the exception of No. 3 USC, four of SI's top five teams will enter the season needing freshmen to do more than lift weights and chow down at the dining hall. Here's a look at the freshmen who will be counted on to help early, in the top five and beyond.

1. Georgia: The Bulldogs didn't have many holes, but the loss of offensive tackle Trinton Sturdivant to a knee injury could force a shuffle that would land freshman Ben Jones in the lineup. Chris Davis, Georgia's projected starting center, is a jack-of-all-trades who may have to slide to another position. That could open the center spot for Jones, who enrolled in January and impressed coaches during spring practice. "He's competing very well," Georgia coach Mark Richt told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week. "I just think he'll play. Chris we know is going to play. Ben will play." Jones may not be alone. Also look for A.J. Green, a 6-foot-4 receiver from Summerville, S.C., to catch a few passes from junior quarterback Matthew Stafford.

2. Ohio State: You might have read Terrelle Pryor's name one or two thousand times in the weeks leading up to -- and coming out of -- national Signing Day. Get ready to read even more about Pryor. The 6-6, 235-pound quarterback from Jeannette, Pa., should back up senior Todd Boeckman, and the Buckeyes likely will use Pryor the same way Florida used Tim Tebow during its national title run in 2006 and LSU used Ryan Perrilloux during its title run last season. Will Pryor be the player who finally gets Ohio State over the hump should the Buckeyes make a third consecutive BCS title game? Only time will tell.

4. Missouri: In seven years in Columbia, Tigers coach Gary Pinkel hasn't played more than five true freshmen in a given year. That will change this year. Pinkel told reporters this week that he expects at least eight freshmen to play this season. The most intriguing of the bunch is Beau Brinkley, a 6-5, 220-pound walk-on who appears to have locked down the Tigers' long-snapping job. Sure, Brinkley won't be starting on offense or defense, but he will be the starter at a position of critical importance. Not convinced? Think about how much a game's momentum can swing on a botched punt or field goal snap.

5. Florida: The Gators could have true freshmen all over the field. Will Hill is trying to unseat sophomore Ahmad Black for the starting strong safety job, while young tailback Jeff Demps -- an elite sprinter who may wind up on the U.S. Olympic team in 2012 -- may return kicks or earn carries in a backfield that has yet to produce a star in the Urban Meyer era. Florida coaches would love to see more from defensive tackle Omar Hunter, who was limited early in camp after suffering a back injury while lifting weights. Hunter is strong, quick and smart, and the Gators need help at his position. Meanwhile, kicker Caleb Sturgis, who enrolled in January, is fighting senior Jonathan Phillips for the starting job.

The teams further down the rankings also will need help from their freshmen. Meet some of the up-and-comers who may have to hurry up and develop.

Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson: Bowers remains on the second team behind Kevin Alexander, but expect him to see plenty of snaps when the Tigers face Alabama in Atlanta on Aug. 30. That's because whenever Clemson scrimmages, the quarterback seems to get sacked when Bowers is on the field. The 6-5 Bowers said he feels fast again after coaches allowed him to drop the weight they suggested he pack on during the summer. Bowers felt sluggish at 275 pounds, but he feels just right at 265. "I felt like I was overweight," Bowers said, "because that was the first time for me playing with all that weight." Bowers isn't the only Clemson freshman expected to make an impact. Jamie Harper, a 227-pound running back from Jacksonville, Fla., should help the Tigers on short-yardage downs.

Dan Buckner, WR, Texas: The 6-4, 213-pounder from Allen, Texas, is one of several players competing to assume the role Limas Sweed performed so admirably for the Longhorns. Buckner should play this season, but how prominent a role he'll have remains to be seen.

Josh Haden, RB, Boston College: The younger brother of Florida cornerback Joe Haden enrolled in January and finished spring practice as a starter. Haden is fast and deceptively strong for his 190-pound frame, and he should thrive behind BC's young but talented line.

Julio Jones, WR, Alabama: A photo taken by's T.G. Paschal has circulated on the Web showing Jones ignoring the laws of gravity to haul in a pass at practice. Jones, one of the nation's most sought-after recruits, might be John Parker Wilson's top target by the time the Crimson Tide open the season against Clemson next weekend. If Jones isn't open, Wilson may look for freshman B.J. Scott, who has flourished in the slot position during camp.

Marvin Jones, WR, Cal: Cal coaches may have been tipping their hand a bit when they assigned numbers. They gave Jones No. 1, worn the past few seasons by gamebreaker extraordinaire DeSean Jackson. With Jackson and Lavelle Hawkins gone, the Bears will need more reliable targets. So far in camp, Jones has made a case that he should play early and often.

Sam McGuffie, RB, Michigan: If you haven't seen McGuffie on YouTube, check him outhere. Now that you've reeled your jaw back from the floor, you probably are wondering whether McGuffie's acrobatics can translate to the Big Ten. Apparently, Wolverines coach Rich Rodriguez thinks they can. McGuffie should start the season in Michigan's tailback rotation.

Philip Pierre-Louis, WR, Auburn: The Auburn press corps has spent part of preseason camp dreaming up a nickname for the speedy freshman from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The leader in the clubhouse? "Sacre Blur." Though it remains unclear who exactly will throw him the ball, Pierre-Louis is a home-run threat who should help the Tigers stretch defenses.

Darrell Scott, RB, Colorado: Scott isn't slated to start for the Buffaloes -- that would be sophomore Demetrius Sumler -- but expect the class of 2008's top tailback recruit to get his share of carries. Also, don't be surprised if Scott, from Ventura, Calif., lines up at punter on occasion. As a senior at St. Bonaventure High, Scott averaged 36.9 yards a kick. Coach Dan Hawkins could send out Scott for a fake punt, but if the pre-snap read looks funky, Scott could simply boot the ball away.

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