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Ten freshmen most likely to make an immediate impact in 2010


A five-star recruit becomes a zero-star the moment he straps on pads and takes the practice field with his college teammates. In preseason camp, a sterling evaluation from or means nothing.

Today, we'll look at 10 freshmen who have lived up to the recruiting hype. These players, many of whom also took part in spring practice, have impressed coaches and teammates since their arrivals on their respective campuses. When the season begins next week, they'll be poised to make an immediate impact.

Baxter is suspended for USC's opener against Hawaii. Trojans coach Lane Kiffin hasn't publicly attached a transgression to the punishment, but Baxter stands accused of fabricating a tale about schools trying to contact him almost immediately after the NCAA sanctions against USC were revealed (which still doesn't make any sense), and the Los Angeles Times quoted a source saying Baxter was the student referenced in a USC Department of Public Safety report that detailed someone "violating a team curfew" and "being under the influence of a controlled substance." So while Baxter hasn't had an auspicious first year as a Trojan, he has made an impression on the field. When he suspended Baxter, Kiffin acknowledged that the San Diego native is "potentially the most talented player on the team." Kiffin is correct about that; when Baxter does get on the field, jaws will drop.

Dyer didn't have to do much blocking while ringing up 2,502 rushing yards and 31 touchdowns as a senior at Little Rock (Ark.) Christian, but he'll need to pick up Auburn's blocking schemes before offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn is comfortable using him on a regular basis. Malzahn has said Dyer already has the chops to carry the ball, so if he learns the less glamorous stuff quickly, he could be a key cog in the Tigers' offense.

The self-proclaimed LeBron-Bosh-Wade of the gridiron, freshmen defensive linemen Dominique Easley, Ronald Powell and Sharrif Floyd, haven't earned a place in the Gators' regular rotation yet, but Elam has. The safety -- whose commitment waffling generated headlines on New Year's Eve and left him with a Palm Beach Post Player of the Year story illustrated by him wearing Florida State gear -- wowed coaches and teammates in the spring. Veterans Will Hill and Ahmad Black raved about him this summer. When the Gators open against Miami (Ohio), Elam is set to play in nickel situations and back up Black at strong safety.

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The 6-foot-3, 200-pounder from Goodyear, Ariz., is already challenging for a starting job. Coach Mike Stoops' decision to move Robert Golden, last year's starting strong safety, to cornerback opposite Trevin Wade has opened up a spot. Even if Flowers doesn't win a starting safety job, he could wind up playing nickel to start the season.

The 6-7, 260-pound Gholston spent the first two weeks of Spartans camp playing linebacker, but he asked coach Mark Dantonio this week if he could return to the position he played at Detroit's Southeastern High. Dantonio happily complied. Gholston is too special an athlete to keep off the field, so it's paramount that he play a position that feels comfortable for him.

The Seminoles have two potential superstars at cornerback in redshirt freshman Xavier Rhodes and sophomore Greg Reid, but Joyner is too athletic to keep off the field. He may play in sets that require an extra defensive back. Coach Jimbo Fisher said Thursday that Joyner will start alongside Reid as a kick returner. If Fisher and his staff are as smart as they appear, they may also find other ways to get Joyner into the game.

Heaps stood a chance to become the first true freshman in BYU history to open the season as the starting quarterback, but his quest for sole possession of the title fell just short. Coach Bronco Mendenhall has decided Heaps and junior Riley Nelson will share the QB job when the season begins next week. Mendenhall cited the different styles Nelson and Heaps bring as a way to keep defenses guessing, but Heaps may not be splitting snaps for long. On Wednesday he offered a reminder of why he was one the nation's top QB recruits, lofting a touchdown strike to receiver Rhen Brown on a third-and-23 play.

The 6-foot, 210-pound Lattimore looked like a workhorse back when he starred for Byrnes High in Duncan, S.C. While he probably isn't ready for 25 carries a game right away, it shouldn't be long before he is. If the Gamecocks' line can open holes for him, Lattimore can ease the strain on South Carolina's quarterback (be it Stephen Garcia or Connor Shaw), who will be under enough pressure now that Coach Steve Spurrier has the confidence to yank one signal-caller for the other.

The San Diego native was the breakout star of Oklahoma's spring game, and he already is listed as a starter on the Sooners' depth chart. While Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops is expecting a big year from senior tailback DeMarco Murray, that doesn't mean quarterback Landry Jones will stop flinging the ball around. Stills gives Jones another target if veteran Ryan Broyles draws too much of the defense's attention.

Unlike Heaps, Thomas has already locked down the starting job. Rams coach Steve Fairchild announced on Aug. 16 that the 6-5, 220-pound slinger from El Cajon, Calif., would take the first snap when Colorado State opens against Colorado. Thomas was Colorado State's highest ranked recruit in years, and he played like it from Day 1.