Tuesday, April 23, 2024
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Ohio State’s Jeremiah Smith, Nebraska’s Dylan Raiola among freshmen to watch in college football spring games

While the transfer portal has shaken up the college football world, there’s also a new crop of early enrolled freshmen poised to take the sport by storm. Twenty players are gone from the 2023 CBS Sports All-America first team, putting plenty of playing time up for grabs at some of the biggest programs in America. 

Spring games mark a first look at some of the freshmen who could quickly become contributors, including a few truly pushing for starting slots. A handful of legacies lead the way, including Nebraska’s Dylan Raiola and Texas Tech’s Micah Hudson, both of whom will be asked to make an early impact on their respective programs. 

Several freshmen played major roles in the College Football Playoff race last season. Safety Caleb Downs led Alabama’s defense before transferring to Ohio State. USC’s Zachariah Branch emerged as one of top returners in the country. Purdue safety Dillon Thieneman is a star in the making.

Which young players look ready to step into big roles this year? Here are 10 early enrollee freshmen to watch in upcoming spring games across college football. 

Jeremiah Smith, WR, Ohio State

Spring game: April 13 | 12 p.m. (FOX)

Even for a program that has become accustomed to hyped wide receiver recruits, the anticipation surrounding Smith’s debut stands out. The Opa Locka, Florida, native finished No. 1 in the 247Sports rankings and has quickly turned heads since arriving on campus. Smith “lost his black stripe” faster than any freshman since the tradition began in 2012. At 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, he already possesses the physical maturity to step into a contributing role next to returners Emeka Egbuka and Carnell Tate. After an impressive offseason, the Buckeyes are title or bust. Smith is special enough to swing Ohio State’s hopes. 

Dylan Raiola, QB, Nebraska

Spring game: April 27 | 12 p.m.

Raiola shocked the recruiting world when he flipped from Georgia to Matt Rhule’s staff at Nebraska. Raiola is a Nebraska legacy whose father’s No. 54 jersey is retired at the school. He held offers from nearly every program in the country and even spent a stint as the No. 1 overall recruit. The Cornhuskers return part-time starter Heinrich Haarberg, but the path is open for Raiola to steal the starting job. Raiola drew a comparison to Matthew Stafford from 247Sports analyst Andrew Ivins based on his impressive arm and imposing stature. 

Jordan Seaton, OT, Colorado

Spring game: April 27 | 3 p.m. (Pac-12 Network)

Seaton was ranked as the No. 1 offensive tackle in the Class of 2024 by 247Sports and became a surprising addition to Colorado’s class when he picked the Buffs over countless options. Few freshmen in the country carry the pressure and expectations of Seaton. The Buffaloes fielded perhaps the worst offensive line in the nation last season, finishing near the bottom in essentially every rushing and protection category. Two starters hit the portal, leaving Colorado starting nearly from scratch. Seaton will man the left tackle position, but transitioning to the college game is no joke. The program needs him to hit. 

Cameron Coleman, WR, Auburn

Spring game: April 8 | 2 p.m. (SEC Network+)

Auburn’s passing offense was a joke in 2023, but Coleman adds an instant shot of adrenaline to the unit. Listed as the No. 5 overall player in the Top247, Coleman is one of the most exciting young prospects in the class. With a 6-foot-3 frame and impressive length, he should provide an instant safety blanket for Auburn’s middling quarterback room. Combined with fellow top-40 recruit Perry Thompson, the Tigers should quickly find some answers in the outside passing game. 

Kyngstonn Viliamu-Asa, LB, Notre Dame

Spring game: April 20 | 1 p.m. (Peacock)

Notre Dame has recruited the front seven exceptionally well, and Viliamu-Asa has a chance to quickly develop into a special playmaker. The No. 4 linebacker in the Top247 picked the Fighting Irish over Ohio State and USC and has a chance to factor into the rotation. Viliamu-Asa is the whole package, with the frame to stop running backs at the line but mobility to cover in space. 

KJ Bolden, S, Georgia

Spring game: April 13 | 1 p.m. (SEC Network+)

Star safety Malaki Starks is out for the spring for Georgia, but that’s opened opportunities for Bolden to get early reps. Bolden is a freak athlete who was a track star in both running and jumping at Buford (Georgia) and his athleticism and closing speed translate to the football field. While his frame is smaller than some other elite safeties, Bolden brings an air of physicality that has already turned heads in Athens. The ‘Dawgs lost a few players to the draft, clearing space for Bolden to enter the rotation. 

DJ Lagway, QB, Florida

Spring game: April 13 | 1 p.m. (SEC Network+)

Lagway was the crown jewel of Billy Napier’s recruiting class and ultimately stuck with the Gators despite late pushes from several contenders. While he will back up Graham Mertz in 2024, there’s no question that Lagway is the future of the program. Lagway should push for the No. 2 spot on the depth chart and has an opportunity to build some confidence this spring. 

Micah Hudson, WR, Texas Tech

Spring game: April 20 | 2 p.m. (ESPN+)

Texas Tech has put together a strong collection of receivers over the years, but Hudson has a chance to be the best yet. The Lake Belton (Texas) prospect ranks as the top recruit in program history and a consensus five-star prospect. What sets Hudson apart is his versatility. He can line up anywhere on the field and go over the top or right through defenders. Injuries hampered Texas Tech’s potential breakout season last year, but Hudson is the kind of athlete who immediately raises the Red Raiders’ floor. 

Davon Mitchell, TE, Oklahoma

Spring game: April 20 | 2 p.m. (ESPN+)

The Sooners have several tight ends on the roster, but early returns of Mitchell have been off the charts. Originally a member of the Class of 2025, Mitchell reclassified down a year and has already made an impact. Listed at 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds, he already boasts the requisite frame and strength to play in the SEC. While snaps may not come early, Mitchell is the future of the position at OU. 

Elijah Rushing, EDGE,Oregon

Spring game: April 27 | 4 p.m.

Rushing flipped from his in-state Arizona program to Oregon, giving the Ducks one of the most dynamic edge rushers in the recruiting class. The 6-foot-6 specimen has the length and athleticism to play either with a hand down or standing up, giving him the versatility to get on the field right away in Dan Lanning’s defensive scheme. 

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