"When I was young I knew everything." - Steve Spurrier, moments after signing his Redskins contract.
Texas A&M released the depth chart for the opener vs. South Carolina this past week, which was notable for two reasons: 1. Kenny Football! 2. Whoa, there are a lot of new names on this thing. A quick glance shows the Aggies with a whopping 12 true freshmen on the two deep, a number that grows to 14 if redshirt freshmen are included.
The first and obvious question is where, exactly, are the upperclassmen? Well, given the NFL Draft, the fallibility of college students, and outright tragedy, the 2011, 2012, and 2013 recruiting classes are already missing 29 names, a huge number even in the absurd world that is college football roster turnover. The second, and more pressing question: Well, surely everyone has this sort of freshman influx, right? Maybe? And does Williams-Brice Stadium serve alcohol?
Let us take a look at the Aggies' week one opponent, South Carolina. The Gamecocks appear to have four true freshmen playing significant roles, primarily in the secondary (that's good news, Kenny Hill Fan Club members). Nick Saban has no depth chart, because life is but an empty void of endless stimulation without satisfaction, and he is essentially Jonathan Franzen running the 3-4. Nevertheless, the Tide look set to start a true freshman at left tackle, Tony Brown will get some snaps at corner, and there will be a bunch of angry, process filled 21- and 22-year-olds running downhill rather quickly.
Similar situations reveal themselves in Oxford and Starkville, and while preseason LSU articles prominently feature the word 'Young!' in headlines, even Les Miles' bunch currently only shows two true freshmen in the two deep, along with five redshirts and a sixth-grader, because, Hat.
Looking back on the 2014 National Championship, Auburn had exactly one freshman starter, defensive end Carl Lawson, who could provide a pretty good template for Myles Garrett this fall. Florida St. featured none, although several true freshmen saw extended playing time on defense, as well as a certain seafood-loving redshirt freshman leading the way at quarterback.
While every program is forced to occasionally rely on freshmen due to depth, scheme, or pure talent, what A&M is trying to do this fall—especially on defense—is almost unprecedented in the big, bad SEC West. Even the great Ole Miss Youth Movement of 2013 only saw three freshman starters, and of those only one on defense, certified freak Robert Nkemdiche.
The initial A&M defensive line rotation should feature nine players, four of whom are true freshmen (and two are true sophomores). The primary backups at two of the three linebacker positions are true freshmen, and there is a strong possibility that a freshman will be starting at both cornerback and free safety when the Aggies take the field Thursday night. Add two more freshman wide receivers into the starting mix, plus a true freshman backup at quarterback, and there are suddenly a lot of very wide 18-year-old eyes staring up into the palmetto-framed evening.
Good news: The 2014 class is deep, athletic, talented, and—along with the 2013 and expected 2015 classes—should form the underpinnings of squads expected to compete for titles, both SEC and beyond, in the years to come.
Sobering news: Ready or not, the majority of those guys will be getting snaps, many in key positions, starting August 28th. Myles Garrett, Nick Harvey, Armani Watts, Otaro Alaka, and Zaycoven Henderson are going to be counted on immediately to plug defensive holes, and Speedy Noil merely has to live up to his billing as the nation's number one wide receiver. No pressure.
Sink or swim, the 2014 recruiting class will be on display early and often this year, and A&M coaches are keeping their fingers crossed that the old axioms that correlate losses with freshmen played don't apply to this potentially special group.