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August 2, 2007

The freshmen who will make an impact

MORE: RIVALS FIVE | Top 10 Redshirt Freshmen

If you're reading this story, you almost certainly have heard of Jimmy Clausen.

Rivals.com's No. 1 player in the 2007 recruiting class has received an avalanche of publicity before taking a regular-season snap for Notre Dame.

If you haven't seen the photos of Clausen taking a limousine to the College Football Hall of Fame to announce his college choice, then you've seen the highlights of him throwing one of his 146 career touchdown passes during a high school career in which he never lost a game.

And you've undoubtedly heard all the whispers about how much Clausen will be able to play this fall as he recovers from an offseason medical procedure.

But who are some of the other true freshmen who could make an immediate impact?

As we continue our Countdown to Kickoff coverage at Rivals.com, we decided to provide a list of 10 other true freshmen who could step into major roles with their new teams.

Not all of these players came directly from high school. In fact, three of the guys on this list spent the last year at prep schools or military academies.

Rivals.com Top 10 freshman
1. Illinois WR Arrelious Benn
Benn in action
This former five-star prospect immediately becomes Illinois' best receiver and could emerge as one of the top deep threats in the Big Ten this season. Illinois quarterback Juice Williams has plenty of accuracy problems - he completed less than 40 percent of his passes last year - but he knows how to throw the deep ball. Williams undoubtedly will be throwing long passes to Benn early and often. Benn enrolled at Illinois in January and showed a hint of things to come by catching five passes for 145 yards in the Illini's spring game.
2. Georgia OT Trinton Sturdivant
Sturdivant in action
How's this for pressure? When Sturdivant begins his college career Sept. 1 against Oklahoma State, the Bulldogs will probably be counting on him to protect quarterback Matthew Stafford's blind side. Sturdivant arrived on campus in time to participate in spring practice and rose up the depth chart so dramatically that this former four-star prospect enters preseason practice as the Bulldogs' starting left tackle. Georgia probably will enter the season with two first-year players - Sturdivant and redshirt freshman guard Chris Davis - on the left side of the line.
3. North Carolina DT Marvin Austin
Austin in action
Rated as the No. 1 defensive tackle recruit in the nation by Rivals.com, Austin joined the Tar Heels and helped give North Carolina coach Butch Davis the Atlantic Coast Conference's top recruiting class. Austin could earn an immediate starting assignment, and will try to help shore up a North Carolina run defense that ranked last in the ACC and 100th out of 119 Division I-A teams a year ago.
4. South Florida RB Mike Ford
Ford in action
Quarterback Matt Grothe led South Florida in rushing last year, so the Bulls certainly could use a running back capable of gaining 1,000 yards. South Florida may have found that guy in Ford, a former five-star prospect who originally signed with Alabama before spending last year at Hargrave (Va.) Military Academy. Ford rushed for at least 200 yards in 11 games at Sarasota (Fla.) High School.
5. Miami RB Graig Cooper
Cooper in action
How good is this arrival from Milford (N.Y.) Prep? Consider this: Javarris James looked like the next great Miami running back last year while rushing for 767 yards as a true freshman. Cooper performed so well this spring before breaking his pinkie finger that he earned a featured role in a backfield that already included James. Cooper should split carries with James all year long. The James-Cooper combination should give Miami an outstanding one-two punch at running back for at least the next couple of seasons.
6. Tennessee WR Brent Vinson
Vinson in action
Tennessee needs someone to catch Erik Ainge's passes after losing its top three receivers from last year, including All-American and first-round draft pick Robert Meachem. Vinson should make the most of the opportunity. This former five-star prospect from Hargrave Military Academy has the combination of size (6-foot-2) and speed (4.4) that ought to help him continue Tennessee's tradition of outstanding receivers.
7. Michigan CB Donovan Warren
Warren in action
Michigan is loaded with talent on offense, but the Wolverines' chances of contending for a national title depend on how well they fill holes on defense. Michigan desperately needs to find someone who can start alongside Morgan Trent at cornerback. The Wolverines may need an early contribution from Warren, a former five-star prospect who was rated by Rivals.com as the No. 3 cornerback in the 2007 recruiting class.
8. North Carolina QB Mike Paulus
Paulus in action
Redshirt freshman T.J. Yates and sophomore Cam Sexton enter the preseason as the top contenders in North Carolina's quarterback competition, but there's little doubt that Paulus represents the Tar Heels' future. The younger brother of Duke point guard Greg Paulus is a former four-star prospect who threw 52 touchdown passes his final two seasons at Christian Brothers Academy in Syracuse, N.Y. Don't be surprised if Paulus has taken over the starting job by mid-October.
9. Southern California RB Joe McKnight
McKnight in action
The Trojans already have plenty of other talented running backs with more experience, but they'll have to find a way to get the ball in the hands of someone this explosive. Rated as the No. 2 overall prospect in the 2007 recruiting class by Rivals.com, McKnight was versatile enough to have 14 touchdown runs and 13 touchdown catches his senior year at John Curtis High in River Ridge, La. McKnight possesses such big-play ability that he averaged 15.5 yards per carry and 30.8 yards per catch last season.
10. Clemson S DeAndre McDaniel
McDaniel in action
Quarterback Willy Korn has earned the most attention of anyone in Clemson's freshman class, but McDaniel could end up having a bigger season. While Korn still must beat out front-runner Cullen Harper for the starting quarterback job, McDaniel already is working his way up the depth chart and could earn immediate playing time in a secondary that lacks experienced upperclassmen.
The Rivals five
One easy way to predict early playing time for true freshmen is to find a highly rated prospect who signed with a school that doesn't typically attract that caliber of player. Illinois wide receiver Arrelious Benn and North Carolina's Marvin Austin and Mike Paulus certainly fit that criterion. Here are five more highly touted players who ended up at surprising locations.
1. Southern Mississippi RB Antwain Easterling
Easterling in action
This former four-star prospect rushed for 2,831 yards and 33 touchdowns while leading Miami Northwestern to Florida's Class 6A state title, but higher-profile programs shied away from him following his arrest on charges of lewd and lascivious conduct after having sex with a 14-year-old girl. One of the most highly touted prospects in Southern Mississippi history could join forces with Damion Fletcher to give the Golden Eagles one of the nation's top backfield tandems.
2. Rutgers OL Anthony Davis
Rutgers produced more evidence that it finally has turned the corner as a program when it persuaded the No. 2 prospect in the state of New Jersey to stay home. This former four-star recruit likely will begin his college career as the Scarlet Knights' starting right guard.
3. Colorado OL Ryan Miller
Miller in action
The Buffaloes have signed many four- and five-star prospects in the past, but teams that just went 2-10 rarely land players as talented as Miller. Rated as the No. 2 offensive tackle in the 2007 recruiting class by Rivals.com, Miller could develop into a four-year starter for his home-state school.
4. Connecticut LB Jarrell Miller
Miller in action
The first four-star player ever signed by Connecticut will attempt to find playing time in a linebacking corps that returns seniors Danny Lansanah and Ryan Henegan. Miller, who originally signed with North Carolina, spent the fall semester at Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy before enrolling at Connecticut in January.
5. Baylor LB Earl Patin
Patin in action
This former four-star prospect chose Baylor after compiling a total of 224 tackles his last two years at Southern Lab in Baton Rouge, La. Patin had received offers from Florida, Clemson, Nebraska and Alabama among others.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.

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