March 01, 2011
Renewing the annual templates of spring. Monday: The Dueling Quarterbacks. Today: The most intriguing new faces already on campus.
• JEFF DRISKEL, QB, Florida. Ostensibly, "Plan A" for the rehabilitation of the Gator offense remains the incumbent, fifth-year senior John Brantley, whose strengths as a statuesque fireballer should be much better served in Charlie Weis' pro-style attack than they were last year in the spread option. That's what Florida fans are telling themselves in their heads, anyway. Deep down, they're really hoping for an instant spark from Driskel, who comes in with NFL-ready size (6-3, 225 pounds), unanimous hosannas from the recruiting sites and the inevitable comparison to the last true freshman hit in Gainesville, Tim Tebow.
Even the miraculous Tebow Child was relegated to spot duty his first year on campus, behind much-maligned senior Chris Leak. But that team started the 2006 season in the top 10 and went on to win a BCS championship in Urban Meyer's second year as head coach. The 2011 edition is in full-on rebuilding mode in the first year of the Muschamp/Weis administration, and if Brantley hasn't clearly distanced himself from Driskel by the "Orange and Blue Debut" on April 9, the benefit of the doubt could go to the fresh face.
• ANTHONY JOHNSON, DT, LSU. The Tigers lost the disruptive rock of the interior line, All-SEC tackle Drake Nevis, but the resulting void could turn out to be a convenient opportunity if the 6-4, 295-pound Johnson lives up to his hype as the No. 1 defensive tackle in the incoming class according to everyone. Nevis was such a singular force up front in 2010 – no other true defensive lineman finished among the Tigers' top dozen tacklers – that any of the many, many polls projecting LSU as a serious, top-five contender this fall almost has to be assuming Johnson is going to emerge as an instantly formidable presence in the middle of the line.
• AARON LYNCH and ISHAQ WILLIAMS, DEs, Notre Dame. Williams (right) and Lynch are two of the three headliners (along with five-star Stephon Tuitt) of a group of defensive ends widely hailed as the most impressive position group signed by any school last month, and maybe the most impressive collection of freshman defensive ends ever. The Irish won't have to wait long to find out: Lynch is expected to push senior Kapron Lewis-Moore for time in the one "true" end position in Notre Dames 3-4 scheme, and Williams will have a chance to move right into the outside linebacker/hybrid role vacated by Kerry Neal.
• BRAXTON MILLER, QB, Ohio State. It would be hard to script a better opportunity for a hyped heir apparent than Miller (top) will have over the next six months, throughout which he'll be the fan favorite to keep Terrelle Pryor's seat warm while the former phenom serves his five-game suspension to start the season. Miller is a local, a celebrated athlete in the Troy Smith mold, and should get every opportunity to establish himself as the Next Big Thing in Pryor's absence – without the overwhelming pressure of putting a Big Ten frontrunner on his shoulders in the course of a temporary audition. Of course, he first has to beat out pedestrian senior Joe Bauserman next month, but a failure on that front would be an even more ominous sign for the future than Miller playing poorly after winning the job.
• BRANDON WILLIAMS, RB, Oklahoma. One of the few knocks on the Sooners' credentials as the undisputed preseason frontrunner for the national championship is the backfield void left by DeMarco Murray, who capped his mercurial career last year with a Big 12-best 2,067 all-purpose yards and 20 touchdowns. Williams is already in the fold as a five-star speedster out Texas who's drawn comparisons to Darren McFadden – a little over the top, for now, but not by so much that Williams can't be counted on to emerge as a missing piece in OU's title run if he shows even a fraction of that kind of explosiveness this spring.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.