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10 Freshmen to Watch

By Matt Smith
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Led by Georgia's Isaiah Crowell, here are ten true freshmen across the South who will have the biggest impact this season.

The concept of patience was lost from college football a long time ago. Coaches must win immediately or it’s on to the next guy. Therefore, freshmen are playing an increasing role, even at major programs with well-stocked talent.

1. Isaiah Crowell, RB, Georgia

Of all positions, running back provides the easiest transition from high school to college. Like Trent Richardson and Marcus Lattimore before him, Crowell will be asked to be a premier performer as a true freshman in the league’s toughest conference, after Georgia unexpectedly lost Washaun Ealey and Caleb King this offseason. The Columbus, GA native brings good size at 5’11” and almost 220 pounds, and will be tested right away facing Boise State and South Carolina in the Bulldogs’ first two games.

2. Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU

It’s no secret that the defensive lines have been the difference makers in the SEC’s five consecutive BCS Championship Game victories, and Johnson has a chance to make an early impact for the Tigers’ front four with Drake Nevis and Lazarius Levingston moving on. The 300-pounder had an impressive spring, and gets a big test early against Oregon. Conditioning is always an issue for true freshmen, and no team plays faster than the Ducks. It will be at least 2012 before he is touted as the second coming of Glenn Dorsey, but if LSU expects the 2011 season to end like 2007, Johnson will have to play a major role.

3. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina

Clowney may have been the most heralded recruit of the past decade, and will join Devin Taylor as bookends on the defensive line for the most talented team in the history of Gamecocks football. After becoming the third straight Mr. Football in the Palmetto State to sign with South Carolina, he will likely step right in to fill Cliff Matthews’ shoes opposite Taylor for what should be one of the best defenses in the SEC. The pass rush was vital in the Gamecocks’ upset of Alabama last season, and could determine whether or not South Carolina can defend their SEC East title.

4. Stephone Anthony, LB, Clemson

Clemson continued to stockpile talent in Death Valley, invading Florida as well as the rest of the Southeast for a number of top recruits in the 2011 class. Of that group, which also includes receivers Charone Peake and Sammy Watkins and fellow linebacker Tony Steward, Anthony is likely to make the most immediate impact. If you watched the NFL Draft, you’re aware of the losses Clemson suffered on defense. There are voids to fill. Dabo Swinney can’t afford to slowly develop his young players, so Anthony will likely be forced to learn on the job.

5. Malcolm Mitchell, WR, Georgia

Georgia’s 1-3 record during A.J. Green’s four-game suspension last season was not a coincidence, as the Bulldogs were without a playmaker on the outside. Green is gone for good now, and while Tavarres King returns, he’s not a #1 receiver in the SEC. Mitchell is not quite as physically gifted as Green, but he has greater upside than King. Orson Charles is the best tight end in the SEC, and will provide Aaron Murray with a big-play threat down the middle. The outside is a concern; however, and the opportunity is there for Mitchell to seize.

6. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

Miami thought they had their quarterback of the future in Bridgewater, but after dismissing Randy Shannon, the hometown star de-committed from the Hurricanes and signed with Louisville. Quarterback play has been subpar the past few seasons for the Cardinals, but Bridgewater is the program’s biggest recruit since Brian Brohm arrived in 2004. Will Stein, Bridgewater’s main competitor, could not beat out two mediocre quarterbacks a season ago, so the true freshman may be Charlie Strong’s best option.

7. Christian Westerman, OT, Auburn

Westerman was a last-minute coup for Auburn, as the massive lineman from Arizona originally committed to Texas before flipping to the Tigers. Westerman has a chance to see the field right away with four starters gone off the Tigers’ 2010 front. Brandon Mosley returns at right tackle, but the left tackle spot is up for grabs. Lee Ziemba was a staple there for most of the past four seasons, and Westerman could provide similar stability for the coming seasons on the Plains.

8. La’El Collins, OT, LSU

After recent recruiting classes highlighted by skill position stars like Russell Sheppard, Rueben Randle, and Patrick Peterson, the 2011 class was led by linemen, as the Tigers reeled in Anthony Johnson on the defensive side and Collins on the offensive side. Collins was not enrolled during spring practice, but should challenge for playing time with incumbent right tackle Alex Hurst and the projected starter on the left side, Chris Faulk, as third-round NFL Draft choice Joseph Barksdale departs.

9. Kiehl Frazier, QB, Auburn

The last two teams to lose their Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks went 8-5 the following season, which would be considered a success for 2011 Auburn after a 14-0 season a year ago. Barrett Trotter and Clint Moseley are two returning quarterbacks, but Frazier was coached by a Gus Malzahn protégé in high school, and is the most talented of the three. Unlike Cam Newton, Frazier did not participate in spring practice, so don’t expect him to start on Sept. 3rd against Utah State. However, expect to see the talented freshman on the field by mid-season especially if the Tigers get off to a slow start.

10. Mike Bellamy, RB, Clemson

Clemson has had the luxury of multiple backs over the past few seasons, with the likes of James Davis, C.J. Spiller, Jamie Harper, and Andre Ellington all rotating time. Ellington is the only one remaining of the bunch, so if new coordinator Chad Morris wants to continue with a two-back system, Bellamy should get plenty of carries in his first season in Death Valley. While the offense will be more spread-like under Morris, he emphasizes the run more so than other spread offenses, so there will be an opportunity for Bellamy to get some valuable playing time.

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.