Mon Jul 06 10:15am EDT
Here are the rules for this team: All players are second or third-year guys -- no incoming freshmen or junior college transfers -- set to start for the first time this year, or otherwise to contribute heavily after a redshirt year or a season (or two) as a backup. No one on the team was feted with awards or freshman All-America notices, and none has more than a couple career starts; most have none. Because they weren’t "instant impact" types, you won’t find many of these guys near the top of the preseason position lists, but you should expect to be well-acquainted with all of them by this time next year. Click here for the All-Up-and-Coming offense.
If your team’s budding star was left off, it’s probably because we know too much about him already. And what’s the fun in that?
Defensive Tackle: Mike Martin • Michigan
Aside from punting, run defense was the only halfway respectable aspect of the entire Wolverine operation last year, and the best aspect of the run defense may have been that Martin held his own as a regular part of the rotation as a true freshman -- with both starters graduating, the middle of the line remains one of the team's many red sirens. Most importantly, Martin earned the MGoBlog seal of approval, which is no small feat.
Defensive Tackle: Ethan Johnson • Notre Dame
Other than occasionally spectacular receiver Michael Floyd, Johnson made about as much of a dent as any member of Notre Dame's touted "Wake Up the Echoes" class of '08 with three nondescript starts in the regular season. The arrow is pointing up, though, after the finale: Johnson had one sacks along with a season-high five tackles off the bench against USC, earning his fourth start in the Hawaii Bowl, where he had two sacks and tightened his grip on the position.
Defensive End: Sam Acho • Texas
While the Longhorns were waiting for more hyped recruits Eddie Jones, Lamarr Houston and Russell Carter to round into form, Acho quietly worked his way onto the field immediately in 2007, notched three sacks last year off the bench and slides into a starting role this fall at a position that's produced four draft picks (Brian Orakpo, Tim Crowder, Brian Robison and Cory Redding) in the last seven years.
Defensive End: Pep Levingston • LSU
There's a great defensive end factory in Baton Rouge, too: The Tigers have put at least one edge rusher in the draft six of the last eight years. Levingston -- like Acho, a relatively so-so recruit who's beaten out more star-studded guys for playing time off the bench the last two years -- ascends to Tyson Jackson's vacated position, a source of much disappointment during last year's overall defensive implosion.
Linebacker: Chris Galippo • Southern Cal
Obviously: Conventional wisdom says the only reason Galippo, Rivals' No. 1 OLB recruit in 2007, isn't a star already is that he spent the last two years sitting behind four draft picks -- whom SC may not miss all that much, actually.
Linebacker: Akeem Ayers • UCLA
Ayers emerged from a redshirt year in 2007 at least 25 pounds heavier and, even off the bench in nine of 12 games, as one of LA's best pass rushers -- he finished third on the team in sacks (four) and fourth in tackles for loss (five), partly an example of the Bruins' general mediocrity on defense but still good for honorable mention All-Pac-10 despite starting all of two conference games.
Linebacker: Etienne Sabino • Ohio State
Three linebackers under Jim Tressel -- Matt Wilhelm, A.J. Hawk, James Laurinaitis -- left as All-Americans and Butkus Award finalists. Sabino comes with more hype than any of them. The main obstacle preventing Galippo's successor at the top of the '08 linebacker crop from the same heights as his predecessors in the middle may be the pesky line of succession: Fifth-year senior Austin Spitler remains at the front of the queue.
Cornerback: Aaron Williams • Texas
Williams was mostly restricted to nickel and dime (it is the Big 12) roles as a true freshman, a reasonable destination for him again considering Texas returns two of its three front line corners, Chykie Brown and Deon Beasley, and another reserve, Curtis Brown, who played more than Williams in '08. But Williams apparently lived up to his outsized recruiting hype in the spring, exiting with an inside track on deposing Beasley as a regular starter.
Cornerback: Boubacar Cissoko • Michigan
Mssr. Cissoko's lone start as a true freshman did not go well. But that was also the game the Wolverines went with a 3-3-5 experiment that left little bluebirds circling even the veterans' heads. Otherwise, Cissoko flashed the promised athleticism on kick returns and moves into four-year starter Morgan Trent's position with high hopes intact.
Safety: Vaughn Telemaque • Miami
The L.A. import was so good last summer before going down with a shoulder injury that Randy Shannon was still lamenting the loss and comparing Telemaque to Ed Reed after the bowl game. He apparently supplanted returning starter JoJo Nicholas in the spring and left at least one of his classmates feeling expendable.
Safety: Robby Green • Alabama
He's not likely to stand out on this defense -- there are nine starters back, all of them plausible All-SEC candidates -- but Green came to 'Bama with offers from Florida, USC, Michigan, et al, was good enough to avoid a redshirt as a true freshman and fended off more hyped classmate Mark Barron in the spring for Rashad Johnson's spot at free safety despite spending his rookie year at cornerback. Just fitting in with this group is endorsement enough.
Even though everybody's doing it, there will be no special teams, traditionally the province of the next next big thing on the way up. But I'll be keeping my eyes open.