Dienhart: 12 Newcomers to watch in 2012

Every season, there are fresh faces that make impacts–true freshmen, redshirt freshmen, transfers from four-year schools, junior-college transfers. And often times, the newcomers seemingly come out of nowhere to make big impacts. Perfect example: Lavonte David two seasons ago. Following is a look at one newcomer from each Big Ten team who has a good chance to make a significant impact this season. Consider this your chance to learn about these guys now.

ILLINOIS
Josh Ferguson, RB – The diminutive redshirt freshman (5-10, 180) has a burst and extra giddy-up that make him a threat to score each time he touches the ball. And that’s good, because the Fighting Illini offense needs some home-run hitters as it transitions to the new spread attack of first-year coach Tim Beckman. Keep an eye on fellow redshirt freshman receiver Jeremy Whitlow, the team’s scout team player of year in 2011. This attack is desperate for pass catchers.

INDIANA
Jacarri Alexander, LB – He’s just what the doctor ordered for an ailing Hoosier defense that ranked last in the Big Ten in total defense, scoring defense and rushing defense. Alexander arrives from Iowa Central C.C. after eschewing offers from the likes of Pitt and Kansas State to sign with Indiana. Alexander, one of five JC transfers on the defensive side of the ball inked by the Hoosiers, took part in spring drills and impressed with his athletic ability. He must be a star.

IOWA
Greg Garmon, RB – He could have gone to many schools but opted for Iowa because of the Hawkeyes’ need at running back. Garmon—perhaps the top running back in Pennsylvania last season–had a run-in with the law earlier this summer with a marijuana charge. Still, he figures to be on the field at some point, along with fellow freshman back Barkley Hill who had over 6,000 yards rushing in high school.

MICHIGAN
Joe Bolden, LB – A touted recruit, Bolden arrived in time to participate in spring practice. He injected speed and athletic ability into a linebacking corps that coordinator Greg Mattison says must make more plays—especially as blitzers. Also, keep an eye on Ondre Pipkins, a defensive tackle who may have been the Wolverines’ top recruit. The Michigan line needs help after losing three starters.

MICHIGAN STATE
DeAnthony Arnett, WR – Michigan State needs help at receiver with its top three targets from 2011 gone in B.J. Cunningham, Keshawn Martin and Keith Nichol gone. That figures to open the door for Arnett, a Tennessee transfer who opted to head back to his home state to help tend to his ill father. He caught 24 passes last season as a true freshman at Tennessee. Also, keep an eye on true freshman wideout Aaron Burbridge, who was considered by some to be the top recruit in Michigan last season. New quarterback Andrew Maxwell needs some targets.

MINNESOTA
James Gillum, RB – He was productive in junior college, running for 2,339 yards in two seasons at Mississippi Gulf Coast J.C. Gillum is a big, physical back who lacks a top gear but could emerge as the Golden Gophers’ top back if Donnell Kirkwood can’t stay healthy. Staffers also think true freshman receiver Andre McDonald could be an instant contributor, and that’s a good thing because Minnesota needs playmakers on the perimeter.

NEBRASKA
Mohammed Seisay, CB – A big (6-2, 200) corner, Seisay graduated junior college early and part took in spring practice. His physical style should help a defense that needs a physical force in the back seven. Seisay excels in support of the run and has some lock-down ability. He could inject some needed star power into a Husker defense that has something to prove this fall.

NORTHWESTERN
Deonte Gibson, DE – The redshirt freshman emerged in the spring as pass rushing force off the edge for a defense that needs someone to bring the heat. Gibson lacks bulk (240 pounds) but has a quick first step and an uncanny burst. Staffers also are excited about redshirt freshman Nick VanHoose. With both of last year’s corners gone, VanHoose has a chance to sew up a starting job. He showed playmaking knack in the spring for a defense that must tighten.

OHIO STATE
Taylor Decker, OT -  The Buckeyes won a fierce recruiting battle with Notre Dame for Decker. The true freshman graduated high school early and took part in spring drills—and he impressed with his advanced knowledge and technique. Decker is in the mix for the starting right tackle spot with former tight end Reid Fragel and ex-defensive lineman Darryl Baldwin for a line that must replace three starters.

PENN STATE
Donovan Smith, OT – The 6-5, 310-pound Smith impressed while he was redshirting in 2011, showing a physical style and good technique. Coaches feel he has a good shot to earn a starting slot on a line that must replace four starters and is littered with questions under first-year coach Bill O’Brien.

PURDUE
Carlos Carvajal, TE – He took part in spring drills after spending a season in prep school. And he turned some heads with his speed, hands, athletic ability and knack. Staffers think he is as good as any player signed during the Danny Hope era. Now, the 6-7 Carvajal is ready to explode on the scene as a threat in the red zone and over the middle on third downs for an offense that needs playmakers.

WISCONSIN
Danny O’Brien, QB – His story has been well-documented, as O’Brien graduated from Maryland in three seasons and then transferred to Wisconsin where he will be immediately eligible with two years remaining. O’Brien, who made 17 starts at Maryland, is the second ACC quarterback in two years to join the Badgers after N.C. State’s Russell Wilson did so prior to last season with great success. If O’Brien—a good fit for the Badgers’ pro style–is half as successful as Wilson, Wisconsin’s offense again will be among the Big Ten’s best.

BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is on Twitter and Facebook, all of his work is at btn.com/tomdienhart, and you can subscribe to it all via his RSS feed. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below.

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BTN.com staff on 7/11/2012 @ 5:08pm EDT Said:

Malcolm Moulton, a junior who came from Fort Scott Community College prior to last season, was included in the Minnesota section of newcomers. We’ve made the correction in this post.

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