Today, freshmen are making more of an impact in college football than ever. Many new recruits from each signing class are finding themselves avoiding red-shirts because of their talent and potential to make big plays over some of their older teammates. And the same will hold true going into Week 9.
As the BCS and conference races tighten their grip on those teams looking to make the cut, several freshmen will be essential in helping those teams win their respective divisions. And, search for that elusive at-large BCS bowl bid for those who may just miss the cut, but are high enough to be invited.
But what freshman could make that big of an impact that they could mean the difference between a BCS invitation or a trip to a less glamorous, non-BCS bowl?
A versatile player, this young defensive back has been an important piece in a transitioning Clemson Tiger defense under first-year defensive coordinator Brent Venables. He has mostly been played as the nickel back in passing situations, splitting time with linebacker Quandon Christian.
Essentially a third safety, Blanks is part of a Clemson secondary where he is arguably the lone bright spot, and while his long term future lies at safety, the coaches have yet to move him there full-time.
But, he brings a hard-hitting mentality that this Clemson defense needs, and does well playing close to the line of scrimmage and is an effective blitzer off the edge.
This dynamic wide receiver is a key piece in a struggling Maryland offense that was hit with injuries early in the season, yet they still sit at 4-3 in the ACC. Diggs is a dynamic receiver that has the ability to take it the distance whenever the ball is in his hands.
Diggs will be an important factor for a Terrapin team looking to make it to a bowl game, as their close 20-18 loss against the NC State Wolfpack may have effectively knocked them out of contention for the Atlantic Division.
The freshman running back is the Miami Hurricanes leading rusher heading into this week. The Canes are still not out of the Coastal Division race, despite their loss against Florida State, putting them behind the Duke Blue Devils—who are in control of their own destiny thanks to the Seminoles.
The Hurricanes must lean on its running game, and Johnson must be the back to carry the load if they want to make it to Charlotte, North Carolina for the ACC Championship Game.
The Ducks' freshman defensive end has been a key part of an Oregon defense that has been able to get opposing offenses off the field on a more consistent basis.
The Ducks are in control of their own destiny, and are looking to make it back to the National Championship game. Armstead will be counted upon to augment a pass rush that has been unlike most Ducks pass rushers in several seasons, which has seen its share of struggles in the past few.
The Oregon State Beavers have been one of the Pac-12 surprises of the season, as they, along with Oregon, are one of the lone undefeated teams in the conference. Part of it is thanks to the Beavers' 14th-ranked passing attack led by quarterback Sean Mannion.
But, it's running game has struggled, ranking 11th in running the ball. It will be up to freshman Storm Woods, who is one of the team's leading rushers, to run the ball effectively for the Beavers.
To take pressure off of Mannion in this second half stretch, the Beavers must run the ball more effectively, and that means a little more of Woods' running to keep defenses honest. That will slow down what will inevitably become an attempt to put Mannion under more constant pressure. Woods will be essential in that respect.
One of two highly touted running backs for the Georgia Bulldogs, Marshall is one of the top leading rushers on the team. He forms an effective one-two punch for the Bulldogs with fellow running back Todd Gurley.
Marshall is part of a Bulldog rushing attack that ranks 30th in the nation. Quarterback Aaron Murray works best with a running game, and in their upcoming matchup against Florida, they must run the ball effectively. If the Gators defeat the Bulldogs this week, they lock up the SEC East.
The leading rusher for the Bulldogs, Gurley has been one of the most explosive players in the SEC this season, and has been a threat to score anytime he has the ball in his hands. He is effective both offensively as a running back, as well as a kick returner on special teams. Gurley has been a little hampered the last two weeks with Georgia getting creamed by South Carolina and narrowly avoiding an upset against Kentucky.
Gurley must help to jumpstart the Bulldogs' rushing attack and become a factor in the Bulldogs' matchup against the Gators, which will decide whether the Gators clinch the SEC East that week or not.
Freshman TJ Yeldon fits the mold of an Alabama running back perfectly, and has been part of a bruising Crimson Tide rotation. Yeldon has been essential in keeping the running game strong after the departure of former running back Trent Richardson.
Together with upper-classman Eddy Lacy, Yeldon has been a big threat for the Crimson Tide in the backfield, scoring two touchdowns in their win over the Tennessee Volunteers the previous week. Yeldon must continue his solid production if the Crimson Tide want to make it back to the SEC Championship and the National Championship.
In need of a threat in the passing game, the Crimson Tide found a big one in Amari Cooper, who scored two touchdowns in Alabama's 44-13 win over Tennessee. Cooper has been one of the best options for an Alabama offense that was exposed as underwhelming last season. This was despite somehow losing the SEC West division, and somehow winning the national championship in a rematch game over the LSU Tigers.
But with an improved AJ McCarron at quarterback, Cooper will be counted upon as a primary target in this second half stretch of the season.
The Ducks' decision in starting a freshman quarterback was met with some questions. But head coach Chip Kelly knew what he was doing. The Ducks are still undefeated and the offense is as fast paced and explosive as ever.
Mariota has done well so far, and the Ducks' hopes for a national championship berth will fall on him. The Ducks have firm control over their own destiny, and it will be up to this freshman quarterback to lead them back without any late season stumbles. And with an explosive offense like the Ducks have, Mariota will have his work cut out for him.