Preseason All-Redshirt Freshman Team
Alabama RB Dee Hart
Alabama RB Dee Hart
Posted Jul 30, 2012

What redshirt freshmen appear to be ready to step up and become major factors? Which new stars are about to blossom and become a new star. Check out the CFN 2012 Preseason All-Redshirt Freshman Team.

Preview 2012

All-Redshirt Freshman Team

By Richard Cirminiello 

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CFN All-Redshirt Freshman Teams 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007

- 2012 CFN All-Redshirt Freshman Defense 

For hundreds of true freshmen in every corner of the map, last season was likely the most frustrating of their athletic careers. Of course, there was plenty of development and maturation taking place, both physically and intellectually, but there were no games to be played, no popping of pads on Saturdays and no box scores containing their names.

For a number of reasons, these idle warriors were redshirted in 2011, with the expectation that they'd return this year a little thicker, a little stronger and a lot better prepared to start paying dividends for all of those recruiting trips, phone calls and text messages during the courtship process.

Redshirt freshmen are college football enigmas. While hardly the same young men they were on Signing Day 18 months ago, have they truly blossomed enough to be every-down contributors this fall? As is often the case, it all depends on the athlete in question and the opportunities on the depth chart. 

QB Michael Eubank, Arizona State – If excitement and anticipation were job requirements, 6-5, 242-pound Eubank would have already blown away the competition. The gem of the 2011 class is the fans' clear choice to nab the opening created by Brock Osweiler's departure. His mix of uncommon size, speed and pocket presence is going to conjure up images of an unproven Cam Newton. However, Eubank will only beat out sophomore Mike Bercovici if he proves he's ready to command the offense, and evolve into a complete, mistake-free passer.

QB Everett Golson, Notre Dame
The Irish are pining for better production out of the quarterbacks, and Golson is hoping to be the guy that supplies it. He's the best fit at the position that Brian Kelly has had in South Bend, with the elusiveness and arm strength to operate the spread. Golson is obviously light on experience, meaning he'll need to raise the bar a little higher in order to fend off incumbent Tommy Rees, sophomore Andrew Hendrix and even hotshot rookie Gunner Kiel.

QB Brett Hundley, UCLA
The future at quarterback almost certainly belongs to the 6-4, 225-pound Hundley, one of the nation's top-rated dual-threats of 2011. However, does the future begin this September or next? Obviously, he's young and still undeveloped with his mechanics, but possesses all of the physical tools that programs look for in a franchise player. His arm is strong, his legs are dangerous and his ceiling is enormous. This will be a big summer for Hundley, who'd be wise to soak up all of the knowledge he can from new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone.

QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon
Just about everyone was handing the ball to sophomore Bryan Bennett in April ... except head coach Chip Kelly and Mariota. The 6-4, 196-pound product of Honolulu chose a most opportune time to deliver a breakout moment, stealing the spotlight in the spring game. Poised in the pocket and a fluid, long-strider as a runner, he appears to have the right demeanor to win this job, even at such a young age. Compared to Bennett, Mariota is a tad rawer as a thrower, something he'll be working on in August.

RB Dee Hart, Alabama
Hart's first hurdle will be proving that he's all the way back from the knee injury that shelved him for the entire 2011 season. His next objective this summer will be to navigate a deep backfield that'll include starter Eddie Lacy, blue-chip newcomer T.J. Yeldon and bulldozing 240-pounder Jalston Fowler. Even if it winds up being in spot duty, Hart possesses the big-play ability and quickness to provide a much-needed change of pace for this offense as a runner or as a receiver.

RB Michael Holmes, Virginia Tech
For the second straight year, the Hokies are moving on without an all-star who left school early for the NFL Draft. This time around, though, there's no David Wilson waiting in the wings. Next in line will be Holmes, who has impressed the staff in practice. Lightly recruited out of high school, he's excelled as a between-the-tackles runner, with the strong lower body needed to fight for more yards. He's not going to be Wilson in terms of explosiveness, but is capable of keeping the chains moving, while wearing defenses down with his relentless running style.

WR Maurice Harris, Cal
The Bears need someone to take a little heat off All-American wide receiver Keenan Allen. Someone like Harris, for instance. The 6-3, 206-pounder has taken a lead in the race to fill the void left by the graduation of Marvin Jones. One of the program's top recruits from 2011is at his best on jump balls, when he can elevate high enough to pluck the ball out of the air. He has big hands and the body control to consistently make plays in traffic. If the spring was a good indicator, Harris has a Freshman All-American ceiling.

WR Nelson Spruce, Colorado
The Buffs are improved at quarterback now that Texas transfer Connor Wood is available, and are auditioning go-to receivers in the aftermath of Paul Richardson's torn ACL on April 9. No one has stepped up at the position more than Spruce, whose play even caught the coaching staff by surprise. The 6-2, 200-pounder has practiced like a different player in his second year, running good routes, rarely dropping balls and getting behind defenders with a long stride and deceptive speed. Even if Richardson's remarkable recovery gets him back on the field in the fall, Spruce still might be good for 35-plus catches.

TE M.J. McFarland, Texas
McFarland is the prototype of the new-age tight end, a plus-sized wide receiver who'll do more damage as a pass-catcher than a blocker. At 6-6 and 260 pounds, he'll provide the Longhorns quarterbacks with a can't-miss target whose hands are the size of a first baseman's glove. Texas has been looking for a playmaker at the position since Jermichael Finley left school five years ago. McFarland could provide some answers in the passing game, especially if he can earn more reps than cagey veteran D.J. Grant.

TE Jay Rome, Georgia
Few doubt that Rome is headed toward stardom in Athens. It's a matter of when and not if. The 6-6, 260-pounder is a big athlete who harbors uncommon agility and athleticism for his size. Last season was spent learning behind Orson Charles and Aron White, while flashing his versatility and footwork on the Bulldogs basketball team. Although Rome is expected to share snaps with junior Arthur Lynch, the rookie has the enormous ceiling and the advanced pass-catching skills to be on the field when it's third-and-long.

OL Austin Blythe, Iowa
Blythe is a part of the next generation of Iowa O-linemen eager to open holes for the team's running backs. He only received a half-dozen, in part because schools weren't sure if he'd choose wrestling over football. Fully committed to the gridiron, the 6-3, 275-pounder has taken a lead over junior Conor Boffeli at right guard. Blythe is tenacious at the point of attack, and as expected for a former state champion wrestler, he uses his hands extremely well. He has a promising future as either a guard or a center in Iowa City.

OL Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech
The Red Raiders could have juggled a few veterans in order to avoid leaning on youth, but Clark is on the verge of eliminating that necessity. Sure, he got schooled at times in April, but he also showcased enough potential to take a lead in the race to start at right tackle. The four-star prospect, with multiple Big 12 offers out of high school, has added more than 60 pounds since arriving in Lubbock in order to handle the rigors of a full-time assignment.

OL Spencer Drango, Baylor
Drango is already showing signs of being worth the hype, when the Bears needed to beat out the likes of Texas and Stanford to land his signature. The 20th-ranked tackle of the 2011 recruiting class has been so impressive this offseason that the staff has already slotted him in as the starting left tackle. He has a great frame for the job, from long arms to a solid base, and carries his weight very well. At a program that's been producing NFL linemen at an increasing rate, Drango will take his first step in that direction this fall.

OL Ryker Mathews, BYU
 Mathews was supposed to be a part of the rotation in 2011, but a torn plantar plate in his foot altered the plan. Instead, he'll be looking for a do-over and a chance to succeed four-year starter Matt Reynolds at left tackle. As one of the most heralded O-line recruits to ever come out of Utah, the expectations are high, but Mathews is not short on confidence … or ability. The 6-6, 313-pounder explodes out of his stance, and plays with the requisite nastiness to be an effective run blocker.

OL Jordan Rigsbee, Cal
The Bears are searching for a successor at left guard for Brian Schwenke, who has shifted to center. Rigsbee believes he might be the solution. The four-star recruit, who hopes to line up next to older brother Tyler, will bring athleticism and assertive run blocking skills once he earns reps. Geoffrey Gibson was supposed to battle Rigsbee for the job, but might be needed in the lineup on the right side now that projected starter Dominic Galas might miss the first half of the year with a torn pec muscle.

OL Greg Robinson, Auburn
 Robinson didn't play a down in 2011, but that couldn't stop him from turning heads, especially during the lead up to the Chick-fil-A Bowl. With a year of seasoning behind him, he's set to take over at left tackle in college football's toughest league for protecting the pocket. The Tigers are convinced Robinson is the total package up front, with the athleticism, strength and size to lay the foundation in 2011 of a career that garners All-SEC attention before too long.

OL Brandon Shell, South Carolina
Steve Spurrier has had his share of struggles with his offensive lines in Columbia. Now that Shell is available, though, the hope is that the future is beginning to look brighter. The local five-star mega-recruit seized the opportunity at left tackle in the spring, and calmed a lot of concerns within the coaching staff. Not only is he a massive 6-6, 331-pounder, but his blocking technique has improved, and his feet will serve him well when protecting Connor Shaw's blindside. x

- 2012 CFN All-Redshirt Freshman Defense