Editor's note: Each Tuesday from June 5 to July 17, we'll pick out a position and identify the five incoming freshmen who we think might make the biggest impact -- for better or worse -- on the field for their college teams given their current situations. Today, we look at the running backs -- a position often believed to be one of the easiest to translate from high school to college.
The No. 1 overall running back in Scout’s 2012 class, the five-star recruit clearly has the talent to burst onto the scene in Athens this season. The speedy Marshall will compete for carries in a Georgia backfield along with Isaiah Crowell and Ken Malcome.
He’ll have a little competition in the stud freshman department too -- Scout’s No. 13 overall running back, Todd Gurley, also committed to the Bulldogs -- but Marshall is clearly the more highly regarded prospect going into the fall.
Marshall enrolled early at Georgia but missed the spring game with a pulled hamstring, and Crowell and Malcome both played well, but most still expect Marshall to make his name known on the field this year.
A pair of freshmen took the reins of the Longhorns backfield last year, and Gray may well join them this season. The No. 2 overall running back in Scout’s 2012 class, Gray comes to Austin with a loaded resume -- as a senior in high school, he racked up a whopping 70 touchdowns.
It will be hard for Mack Brown to ignore that kind of talent, and indications are that Gray will get his fair share of touches this season. Gray himself told the Dallas Morning News that he and his backfield mates would be a "three-headed monster that no one wants to see."
Gray, a Texas native, certainly has lofty goals to go along with the expectations –- he has said he wants to win the Big 12 Freshman of the Year honor. If he can bring that same scoring knack over from high school, it’s not tough to imagine.
Expect a healthy dose of Duke this season. Lamar Miller is gone to the NFL, and Mike James is –- for now –- the presumptive replacement. But once the electric local product Johnson gets to campus, the competition for carries should be on.
"That’s my school," Johnson said of Miami shortly after committing. "I dreamed of going there and when I had the opportunity, I took it. Lamar Miller leaving makes it even better. Even if I don’t get a lot of carries, I’m still excited. I can play somewhere. I just always wanted to be part of their program and now I'll soon be doing that."
Don’t expect the Canes, coming off a mediocre season that was tainted by scandal, to sit on the infusion of talent that Johnson can bring.
Like the others on this list, Pender will have to fight for his carries on this Seminoles team, projected by many as a top 10 team for 2012. But his main competition is far from a sure thing. Senior Chris Thompson is coming off a back injury that kept him out most of last season. Devonta Freeman stepped in and led the team’s rushing attack as a freshman, but the numbers weren't spectacular.
Even if Thompson and Freeman are in top form, Pender is a guy who could and should work his way into playing time. Scout’s No. 6 overall running back was on campus for the spring game. He didn’t dominate in the spring, but the sheer absence of a clear-cut No. 1 option gives Pender a good shot at making waves in 2012.
A big recruiting score for the Sun Devils, Foster comes to campus with immediate expectations. New head coach Todd Graham has already expressed his desire to see Foster contribute in 2012. A super talent, Foster is a local kid who the fans will want to see playing right away.
Standing in Foster’s way is senior Cameron Marshall, who was a 1,000-yard rusher last season in Arizona State’s more pass-happy system. Marshall, coming off a minor ankle injury, has the tools to be one of the Pac-12’s best rushers, but Foster should find ways to get on the field whether or not Marshall lives up to his hype.
With Heisman Trophy winner Trent Richardson off to the NFL, it’s tailback transition time in Tuscaloosa. Eddie Lacy, who ran 95 times for 694 yards as Richardson’s backup last season, is the starter. But he was hurt during spring ball and Yeldon made the most of it. Scout’s No. 8 overall running back in the 2012 class totaled 191 yards and a touchdown in the spring game, earning MVP honors and getting a lot of Crimson Tide fans talking about his potential.