In an era of college football where true freshmen getting significant playing time is the norm, there will be plenty of young stars becoming household names throughout the SEC this fall.
The majority of those first-year contributors will come from the list of early enrollee prospects who flocked to their respective schools in January and went through practices this spring.
Here are the five early enrollees with the most hype following spring practice:
Georgia QB Jacob Eason
If the expectations surrounding Jacob Eason weren’t already high enough when he arrived in Athens in January, his performance during UGA’s spring game left fans salivating at thought of having Eason running the Bulldogs offense for the next three years.
Coach Kirby Smart has yet to name UGA’s starting quarterback this fall, but many predict Eason to eventually overtake veteran Greyson Lambert and be a big-time player for the Bulldogs in his first collegiate season.
As there is with all first-year quarterbacks, there will be some adversity for Eason to push through (just look at UCLA’s Josh Rosen from last season). Throughout the growing pains will be signs of brilliance, but ultimately, the rate of Eason’s development may determine how successful Smart’s debut season is at UGA.
Alabama OT Jonah Williams
It’s rare to see a true freshman offensive tackle get significant playing time, much less start, in the SEC. But Jonah Williams may stray from the usual path and be a big piece to Alabama’s offensive line this fall.
His importance is even more relevant now than when he was going through spring drills with Charles Baldwin, another early enrollee, being dismissed from the Crimson Tide after violating team rules. Add in All-American Cam Robinson’s offseason trouble, which includes an arrest for gun and drug charges, and things get dicey for Alabama’s big uglies.
If Williams can continue to play like an SEC veteran and overcome the struggles that may come his way, he will be a vital player to stabilize a shaky position for the Crimson Tide.
Auburn QB John Franklin III
Hype might be the wrong word to describe John Franklin III, but the Auburn faithful are crossing their fingers that the junior college transfer signal caller will get Gus Malzahn’s offense back to steamrolling the SEC.
Franklin will continue to battle Jeremy Johnson and Sean White in the fall, but some folks on The Plains are hoping Franklin can win the job and push Auburn back into the SEC West limelight.
There will be plenty of early skepticism even if Franklin wins the job — but patience might be the best thing for the Tigers, who face Clemson, Arkansas, Texas A&M and LSU before the calendar turns to October.
South Carolina QB Brandon McIlwain
Another first-year quarterback who looks poised for a ton of playing time in his debut season is South Carolina’s Brandon McIlwain, who distanced himself from the rest of the competition during spring practices.
McIlwain got the help of injuries taking veterans Perry Orth and Lorenzo Nunez out of play during the spring, and he took advantage of his opportunity.
With the Gamecocks in rebuilding mode as Will Muschamp heads into his first year, McIlwain might be the best option to build from the ground up and gear up for a year or two down the road.
Auburn DE Marlon Davidson
Despite having a ton of talent along the defensive line, Auburn defensive end Marlon Davidson is making a strong case to be in the Tigers’ rotation during his first year in the SEC.
Davidson really impressed the Auburn coaching staff with his play throughout the spring, and many think he may push former five-star defensive end Byron Cowart for a starting role this fall.
There will likely be ups and down for Davidson throughout his first year, but if he continues to live up to high expectations, the Tigers could be one of the best pass-rushing teams in the conference with Davidson, Cowart and Carl Lawson in the fold.
Other Notable Early Enrollees
- Ole Miss DE Benito Jones: The Rebels depth along the defensive line probably pushes Jones into the second rotation, but the five-star product had an impressive spring and is in line for a lot of playing time this fall.
- LSU CB Saivion Smith: For a program that continues to produce elite defensive backs, Smith looks to be the next Tiger in line to create havoc for opposing quarterbacks. His play throughout the spring will assuredly get him on the field early and often this season.
- Arkansas DE McTelvin Agim: The Razorbacks return a lot of key pieces from last year’s defensive line, so it might be tough for Agim to win a starting spot from day one. However, the talented five-star prospect will get ample opportunities to work his way up the depth chart in 2016.
- Ole Miss QB Shea Patterson: With Chad Kelly returning as the SEC’s top quarterback, Patterson doesn’t have to be a hero in year one at Ole Miss. However, the nation’s top quarterback in the class of 2016 impressed the coaching staff throughout the spring and should see playing time as Kelly’s backup this fall.