It is a whole new world in college football. There used to be a time when freshmen were not even eligible to play. There also used to be a time not too long ago that it was unheard of for true freshmen to start. Now they are starting and making huge contributions. Too bad we will have some of these guys for only two more seasons.
Let's look back at the Alabama Class of 2012 which was hailed the #1 recruiting class in the nation by most of the recruiting services.
Listed in order by a combination of Rivals and 247sports rankings at the time:
Landon Collins, DB 5 stars - a big contributor on special teams including a blocked punt against Mizzou and a big tackle against Notre Dame that pinned them deep. He really progressed over the season and should see regular playing time on defense.
T.J. Yeldon, RB 5 stars - a break out star at tailback. 1,000 yard rushing as a back-up. Will start in 2013.
Eddie Williams, ATH 5 stars - redshirt in 2012, arrested in 2013. The first to commit in the class might be the first to exit. It is a shame he made such foolish decisions because he is a phenomenal athlete.
Ryan Anderson, LB 4/5 stars - redshirt in 2012. Not hearing a lot about him.
Chris Black, WR 4 stars - some were saying this kid was looking better than Amari Cooper until a shoulder injury derailed his season. He took a redshirt in 2012 but was available if needed in the BCSCG. He should make the regular receiving rotation in 2013.
Reggie Ragland, LB 4 stars - played on most of the kickoff and some punt coverage teams. Should see increased play at LB in the future. He can hit a ton.
Geno Smith, CB 4 stars - started slow but finished as a major contributor and starter on defense by the end. Belue and Fulton better watch out. He will be battling for a starting spot at CB. I see him as a future NFLer.
Amari Cooper, WR 4 stars - took over the starting spot from an already deep and veteran receiving corps. 59 catches for an even 1,000 yards and 11 TDs decimated all of Julio Jones' Alabama freshman records.
Cyrus Jones, ATH 4 stars - caught a few balls but mostly returned kicks to mixed results. A solid prospect who probably just needs some reps.
Brandon Greene, OL 4 stars - redshirt in 2012. I have high hopes for him.
Tyler Hayes, LB 4 stars - played in all games on special teams and some LB. I hope he enjoyed his little game of bullying because it is all downhill from here.
Kenyan Drake, RB 4 stars - changed the meaning of the term "third string" from a bad thing into something exciting. Showed great toughness, a burst of speed and scored 5 TDs. It was mostly late in games but it was great to have his fresh legs to break the will of any opponent hoping to come back.
Denzel Devall, LB 4 stars - saw playing time increase as the season went on excelling in third-down pass-rush situations. Two sacks, three tackles for loss, and three quarterback hurries in 2012.
Korren Kirven, DL 4 stars - redshirt in 2012.
Travell Dixon, CB 4 stars - Juco player freaked out about something, transferred to Washington. Will be a fourth-year junior in Seattle with two seasons of college eligibility remaining in 2013.
Dillon Lee, LB 4 stars - played mostly on kickoff coverage and recorded an interception against Michigan.
Dalvin Tomlinson, DT 4 stars - redshirt in 2012.
Deion Belue, CB 3/4 stars -Juco became starter at cornerback opposite Dee Milliner. The rising senior will need to be the man in 2013.
Alphonse Taylor, DT/OT 3/4 stars - started out as a DT, moved to OL. Redshirted but could very well battle for a starting spot on the 2013 line.
Dakota Ball, OL 3 stars - redshirt in 2012. Not hearing a lot about him.
Alec Morris, QB 3 stars - redshirt in 2012 but it sounded like he was clearly the 2nd best QB on the practice field. Look for him to compete for the starting QB job in 2014.
Darren Lake, DT 3 stars - Jesse Williams took him under his wing and he responded finding playing time after it was thought he might redshirt. Should see more time on the D-line rotation in 2013.
Kurt Freitag, TE 3 stars - redshirt in 2012. Coaching staff is depending on him developing and backing up Brian Vogler in 2013.
Caleb Gulledge, OL 3 stars - redshirt in 2012. Not hearing a lot about him.
Adam Griffith, 3 stars - highly regarded placekicker should be taking over for the departing Jeremy Shelley and maybe Cade Foster if he doesn't continue to improve. I am sure we will get a nice preview at A-Day, April 20th.