The 2018 college football season is important for everyone, but in order to sharpen the focus of what it means to have an important player, one must necessarily focus on teams with national championship or at least conference championship aspirations. In the ACC, Pac-12, SEC and Big Ten, here are the most important freshmen in the country, the first-year players who are in a position to become the biggest difference-makers on their respective teams. What these freshmen do will have a huge impact on the national title race and the chase for the College Football Playoff.
Jackson Carman, Offensive Lineman, Clemson
The Clemson offensive line loses three starters this upcoming season, so Carman will be in the line of fire, asked to go against the best defensive linemen from Florida State, Louisville and North Carolina State. How Carman performs on a reshuffled line could have a lot to do with the way the Tigers operate on offense this season. Clemson was totally shut down by Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinals last season. If the Tigers want to get back to that level of achievement and then take the next step by returning to the national championship game, Carman will need to be a central star on the offensive line.
Amon-Ra St. Brown, Wide Receiver, USC
The Trojans, as people are well aware, will not be without quarterback Sam Darnold this year. The top-three NFL Draft pick left college early, leaving USC with the need to find a new answer under center. That new quarterback, whoever he will be, will need a trusted and dependable wide receiver. Among the freshmen in the USC recruiting class, St. Brown stands out the most. Being able to work in concert with the veterans in the USC receiver corps will give the Trojans more diversity in their offense. St. Brown will need to be a strong possession receiver so that USC’s offensive line isn’t overtaxed in its attempt to provide pass protection for a new quarterback who might hold onto the ball more than Darnold did.
Zamir White, Running Back, Georgia
The Bulldogs lost Sony Michel and Nick Chubb to the NFL, so behind lead back De’Andre Swift, it will be very important for Georgia to develop a No. 2 running back who can spell Swift for several carries a game and keep him physically fresh throughout the regular season. According to the recruiting service 247Sports, White was the No. 9 recruit in the country. If he is anywhere near as special as many people think he is, Georgia will not lose much at all in its 2018 running back rotation, which is exactly what can enable the Bulldogs to return to the national championship game after losing to Alabama in overtime this past January.
Asa Martin, Running Back, Auburn
The Auburn situation is similar to Georgia’s. Auburn lost its workhorse running back, Kerryon Johnson, to the NFL. Coach Gus Malzahn needs a young body he can plug in along with the more established running backs in the room. The Tigers don’t need Martin to be a superstar, but they do need him to do his fair share and enable the wealth to be spread around Auburn’s running backs this season.
Justin Shorter, Wide Receiver, Penn State
The Nittany Lions, unlike USC, will bring back their quarterback. Trace McSorley will be a Heisman Trophy contender in 2018. Yet, he will lack three dependable pass-catchers this season: DaeSean Hamilton, Saeed Blacknall, and Mike Gesicki. With three prime vertical threats out of the picture, Penn State will need quality depth at receiver, and Shorter is just the man to provide it.
Odds To Win 2018 National Championship
Ohio State 15/2
Penn State 15/1
Florida State 30/1
*Odds courtesy of BetDSI.
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