When I first started watching football freshmen were not eligible to play college football. Each school had unlimited scholarships they could give out every year and they had enough players to field a freshmen team.
Freshmen became eligible in 1972 and along came scholarship limitations and those pretty much ended the days of the freshman teams.
Quality freshmen football players soon followed with guys like Archie Griffin at Ohio State who played as a freshman the very first year they were eligible. Griffin played as a Tee-formation halfback as a true freshman and gained 867 yards. Before his sophomore season, the Buckeyes switched to the I-formation to feature Griffin and he answered with 1,577 yards at 6.4 yards per carry and 7
Griffin would go on to become the one and only 2 time Heisman Trophy winner, taking the trophy in 1974 and 1975. Griffin also broke the all time career rushing record because he had 4 years to play instead of the old 3 years of eligibility standards from before 1972.
The following year, there was Tony Dorsett at Pittsburgh who busted onto the scene in 1973 as a skinny freshman out of Aliquippa, Pennsylvania.
Dorsett rushed for 1,586 yards as a true freshman leading the Panthers to their first winning season in 11 years.
The Pitt Panthers won the national championship in 1976 along with Dorsett winning the Heisman Trophy. Dorsett also broke Archie Griffin’s one year old career rushing record. Dorsett was a first round draft pick by the Dallas Cowboys and he was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year as the Dallas Cowboys won the Super Bowl.
Probably the most incredible freshman to ever come along was Herschel Walker from tiny Wrightsville, Georgia. The Bulldogs were an average college team in 1979 and finished the year at 6-5. When Herschel Walker came along, in 1980, the Bulldogs became an instant contender for the national championship. Walker rushed for 1,616 yards as a true freshman in 1980 and scored 15 Touchdowns on the ground. The Georgia Bulldogs actually did win the national title in 1980 by beating Notre dame in the Sugar Bowl. They were contenders again in 1981 and 1982.
Herschel Walker also became the first college junior to leave early for professional football by joining the now defunct USFL after the 1982 college football season and Walker finished with 5,259 yards and 49 rushing Touchdowns.
No doubt that Herschel Walker would have broken Tony Dorsett’s career rushing record if he had stuck around at Georgia for his fourth season.
There has been a number of talented freshmen come along over the years whether as a true freshman or as a redshirt freshman.
But, I don’t ever remember a season like 2014 with the number of true freshmen popping up at programs all over the country and making a huge difference.
There has always been a true freshman Running Back or a Wide Receiver occasionally. But, I have never seen so many true freshmen Offensive Linemen as I have seen this season that are starting and actually playing well.
It’s almost incredible to watch.
2014 is the year of the Freshman.
The best freshman Offensive Lineman in the nation, and possibly the best freshman of the entire class, is Alabama Left Tackle Cam Robinson from West Monroe, Louisiana. When the Crimson Tide lined up in the Spring Game, Cam Robinson was the starting Left Tackle which is the most important position in the Offensive Line since he protects the Quarterback’s back side while dropping back to pass. Robinson gave up a sack on the very first play of the Spring Game when Xzavier Dickson just ran right around him. But, he adjusted and put a stop to that move and at 6-6, 325 pounds he is difficult to get through or around.
Robinson was one of the top overall recruits in the country last season and the consensus top Offensive Lineman. He played high school football at West Monroe, Louisiana. My neighbors lived in Monroe, Louisiana and described it as racially charged.
When Alabama opened the season against West Virginia in the Georgia Dome, Left Guard Arie Kouandjio reached over and held out his hand telling young first time starter Cam Robinson that it was going to be all right. Robinson slapped his hand, giving him five as they would say, and everything was all right for Cam Robinson.
Robinson hasn’t missed a beat and he might develop into one of the all time greats. In fact, I believe he will develop into another Anthony Munoz, Tony Boselli, or Orlando Pace type of Offensive Tackle. He is a man among boys on any level. I am going to go ahead and pick him as a top 3 pick in 2 years.
Also, playing as freshmen for the Crimson Tide is 5 star Cornerback Tony Brown from Beaumont, Texas. Plus, 5 star Defensive End Da’Shawn Hand and 4 star Linebacker Rashaan Evans.
Out in the West, USC starts a true freshman at both Offensive Guard positions. Right Guard is huge Damian Mama who is an absolute beast of a man at 6-5, 370.
Left Guard Toa Labendahn started from day one as well. He’s a tiny fella compared to Damian Mama at 6-3, 280. The Trojans also play true freshman Center Viane Talamaivao. These guys all went toe to toe with outstanding Stanford Defensive Linemen and did pretty well. Over the decades, nobody has had better Offensive Linemen than the USC Trojans and these guys are along those lines.
The recruiting services rated Southern California’s class as middle of the pack with ESPN ranking them at 14th. They may want to reconsider.
The USC Trojans have to be one of the youngest teams in college football with 6-4, 240 Bryce Dixon playing at Tight End and JuJu Smith and Adoree Jackson at Wide Receiver. Dixon runs like a much smaller man and is tremendously athletic at 240 pounds and a good blocker. JuJu has been a play maker for the Trojans with 14 catches so far. Adoree Jackson plays both ways at Wide Receiver and Cornerback. Jackson plays so well at Cornerback that the Trojan defensive coaches put him up against Stanford’s Ty Montgomery, one of the top Wide Receivers in the nation.
Normally, a school will take a freshman Offensive Lineman and redshirt him allowing him the time to fill out and get in shape and learn the offense.
That’s not happening much this season.
The Michigan Wolverines are having the football season from Hell. Head football coach Brady Hoke could be fired at any moment, but they have an outstanding freshman Offensive Lineman at Left Tackle in Mason Cole from Tarpon Springs, Florida. Like Cam Robinson, Cole started at Left Tackle in the Spring Game. But, unlike Robinson, Cole is more of a human sized person at 6-5, 290.
He’s not on the same level as Cam Robinson, but who is other than maybe Superman.
The Wolverines also have super freshman, Jabrill Peppers from Paramus, New Jersey. Peppers is starting at Nickel back and returns punts. Comparisons to former Michigan great and Heisman Trophy winner and still active in the NFL and future Hall of Fame member Charles Woodson are inevitable. There’s no way to avoid that.
Bryan Monet plays at Defensive Tackle and should play more as the season progresses.
The Tennessee Volunteers must be the youngest team in the entire country. They brought in a recruiting class of 35 this year and a lot of them are seeing the field and helping the team. The Vols start 2 true freshmen in the Offensive Line with Coleman Thomas at Right Tackle and Jashon Robertson right next to him at Right Tackle.
They are blocking for fellow true freshman Running Back Jalen Hurd who leads the team in rushing presently.
Wide Receiver Josh Malone is one of the Vols leading receivers and Tight Ends Ethan Wolfe and Daniel Helm are especially good down by the goal line.
On the other side of the ball, Derek Barnett is a standout at Defensive End, and Todd Kelly Jr is starting at safety.
Dillon Bates was playing at Linebacker before being injured and lost for the season. Dimarya Mixon is playing at Defensive End and Cortez McDowell is playing at Linebacker. Plus, Evan Berry is contributing at Defensive Back.
The Vols are going to be good when these guys gain some experience.
Then, there’s the Miami Hurricanes. Miami had Senior Quarterback Ryan Williams in line to start and he was injured in the Spring. His replacement was supposed to be redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen, but he got in some trouble and was suspended.
Miami wound up starting true freshman Brad Kaaya from West Hills, California. Kaaya has started every game for the Hurricanes so far and has thrown for over 1,200 yards and 12 Touchdowns.
Joseph Yearby is a talented young true freshman at Running Back for the Canes and will clearly be a future star.
Blocking for both Kaaya and Yearby are outstanding true freshmen Offensive Linemen Trevor Darling at Offensive Guard and KC McDermott at Offensive Tackle.
The Canes also have true freshman Braxton Barrios making a difference.
The Hurricanes bitter rival, Florida State, is the defending national champion. The Seminoles are deep and talented but even they have some talented true freshmen playing a lot. Joseph Yearby’s rival Running Back in the high school ranks in Miami was Dalvin Cook. Both Cook and Yearby are going to be special college football players.
On defense, the Seminoles have an outstanding Defensive End Lorenzo Featherston. Featherston is a 6-7, 220 true freshman that needs to muscle up a bit, but his potential is nearly unlimited. The same is true for freshman Linebacker Jacob Pugh.
LSU has the most famous freshman of all in #1 ranked Leonard Fournette at Running Back.
They also have talented true freshmen Wide Receivers Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn. New Starting Quarterback Brandon Harris hopes to be the Tigers’ savior over the next few weeks. Over on the defense, LSU has Texas bred safety Jamal Adams.
Kentucky and Virginia Tech also have a lot of true freshmen at the skill positions.
Clemson’s starting quarterback is Deshaun Watson who was the #1 rated player at his position last year.
Oh, and don’t forget about Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine. I said in my Oklahoma Preview that I thought Perine was going to be better than their much more heralded Running Back from California, Joe Mixon. Mixon got in trouble right away and Perine rose to the top. Perine is from Pflugerville, Texas and right under the noses of the University of Texas. They wonder why Texas has slipped.
1. Cam Robinson- Alabama OT
2. Deshaun Watson – Clemson QB
3. Leonard Fournette – LSU RB
4. Malachi Dupre – LSU WR
5. JuJu Smith – USC WR