Every year each college football super fan is looking for their team’s next big superstar to emerge. This is the nature of college football; players continuously moving in and out through the revolving door. This is also what makes the sport of college football so special and why people such as myself cannot wait to see what the upcoming season will bring. Here are a handful of true freshmen who could possibly make an immediate impact at the NCAA level for the 2012 season:
Tracy Howard (CB, Miami – FL)
At 5’11” and 175 lbs, Howard hails from Miramar, Florida just outside of Miami, so he will be staying “home,” so to speak, for his college football years with “The U”.
Howard is a very smart, very confident defensive back who’s mentality fits right in with the position he will be playing at Miami. Many say that Howard has the best cover skills of all the cornerbacks in the 2012 class and his fluidity and athletic abilities remind some of former Florida Gator and current Cleveland Brown, Joe Haden.
A lot of people actually thought that Howard was a shoe-in to be a Gator before he decided late in the recruiting process to go to Miami instead. The 2012 US Army All-American is not quite as brash as some players of his caliber, but is truly a hard worker who should come in and help Miami’s talented secondary from day one. Mr. Howard has always outplayed his competition, even accruing 81 tackles and 4 INTs as a sophomore in high school. He was rated the #1 CB by both ESPNU and rivals.com for 2012.
Wes Lunt (QB, Oklahoma State)
Lunt, a true freshman QB out of Rochester, IL has the not-so-envious task of replacing veteran QB Brandon Weeden, who is now playing for the Cleveland Browns in the NFL. Weeden had a stellar last couple of years in Stillwater which will be nearly impossible to top, but Lunt has already proven his mental toughness by coming into spring as an early enrollee, taking immediate charge of the Cowboy offense and beating out two guys who had already been on campus for a couple of years in the process.
The 6’5” 200 lb freshman went 15-23 in Oklahoma State’s spring game with 2 TDs. Lunt has great zip on his balls and decent mobility for his size and his accuracy will improve as his chemistry with the receivers improves. He also ran a similar offense while in high school, throwing for more than 7,000 yards and 65 TDs (with just 8 INT) in his last two years, racking up two state championships in the process. Despite the pressure that will be on him, Lunt seems to perform at his best in the spotlight, so 2012 should be a nice coming of age for the freshman quarterback.
Aaron Burbridge (WR, Michigan State)
The departure of playmaking WRs BJ Cunningham (Miami Dolphins) and Keshawn Martin (Houston Texans) to the NFL opens up plenty of room and opportunity for someone to step up and revive Michigan State’s passing attack once again. If anyone has the talent to do so, it is Burbridge – a 6’1”, 4.4-running, explosive playmaker out of Farmington Hills, MI. who was rated a 4-star receiver by rivals.com and the #16 WR in the country (also by rivals.com).
Burbridge gets downfield quicker than almost anyone and also displays good open-field moves to pick up plenty of YAC. He is not overly big and won’t fight off a ton of tackles, but his athleticism and leaping ability give him the ability to go up and get the ball over taller, more physical cornerbacks when needed.
Another trait of a great receiver which Burbridge shows is the knack for judging the ball in the air on it's flight path to the receiver’s hands. This shows good concentration and is something that Burbridge is also very good at which can sometimes mask his lack of overall size. A perfect fit for the slot WR role, showing an easy ability to outrun defenders and always looking to make a highlight-reel catch down the seam or on the outside, Burbridge could quickly make Spartans fans forget about both Cunningham and Martin this fall.
Ondre Pipkins (DT, Michigan)
The departure of DT Mike Martin will leave Michigan fans aching for another middle-of-the-line run-stuffer who can anchor their defensive line for the coming seasons under defensive coordinator Greg Mattison and the Wolverines much-improved defense.
Ondre Pipkins could and should be that guy. A huge presence in the middle, Pipkins, who hails from Kansas City, Missouri weighs in at 325 lbs in a 6’3” frame. In fact, Pipkins is a run-stuffing DT, but is also versatile enough to play in a number of schemes given his freakish athleticism for his size. There is no doubt that Mattison, one of the up-and-coming defensive minds in all of college football, will utilize Pipkins in such a way that both he and the Michigan defense as a whole will continue to improve upon 2011’s success.
The wide-bodied Pipkins was a US Army All-American for the 2012 class, was rated as the #3 DT by rivals.com (#14 nationally) and put up 50 tackles to go along with 3 sacks as a junior in high school. Look for Pipkins to come in and challenge for the Wolverines vacated DT spot right away and possibly be all over Big Ten backfields by mid-season.
TJ Yeldon (RB, Alabama)
Yeldon comes into Tuscaloosa as one of the most sought-after backs in recent memory. The 5 star rivals.com recruit out of Daphne, Alabama possesses both great size (6’2”, 205 lbs) and elusive speed (4.43) comparable to former SEC multi-purpose, all-star tailback and current Oakland Raider, Darren McFadden.
Yeldon is a versatile, all-purpose tailback who is an early enrollee for the Tide and could end up being what Trent Richardson was to Mark Ingram a few years ago. In fact, Yeldon has already displayed why he is perceived as possibly the best all-purpose back in this year’s class – he earned the MVP award for Alabama’s spring game, gaining 88 yards rushing and another 91 yards receiving and was by far the best offensive weapon on the field all game long.
He possesses great hands, is very good when given space, and has power to boot. However, his absolute best attribute may be his instincts. He reads defenses very well and is a master at finding space to burst through. These combined traits, along with one of the best coaching staffs in all of college football, will allow him to be successful in a tough SEC conference where he will consistently play against the best competition in the sport.
His 2011 senior stat line stacks up like this: 2,193 yards rushing, 31 TD, 244 yards receiving, 1 reception TD, and 1 TD pass thrown. His upright running style will remind some of past NCAA greats like Darren McFadden or perhaps even Adrian Peterson, but you can be sure that TJ Yeldon will be creating a legacy of his own for the Crimson Tide—and it starts in 2012.
Photo Credit: AP