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.