The 10 Best Freshmen of the 2012 College Football Season

Lisa HornePac-12 and Big 12 Lead WriterDecember 13, 2012

The 10 Best Freshmen of the 2012 College Football Season

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    Remember when incoming freshmen were coddled and treated like kids by coaches?

    Those days are gone. 2012 was "The Year of the Freshman."

    One freshman even broke the barrier and hauled in the 2012 Heisman. 

    Ten freshmen across the country dazzled us with their superb performances and wet our palettes for what lies ahead in the 2013 season. 

     

    Note: Both true freshmen and redshirt freshmen were eligible for this list.

J.W. Walsh, QB, Oklahoma State

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    Oklahoma State quarterback J.W. Walsh threw for 1,478 yards, 11 touchdowns and three interceptions this season. Walsh's passer rating of 165.67 led all Big 12 starting quarterbacks. 

    Against Iowa State, Walsh went 32-of-47 for 415 yards with one touchdown and rushed for 46 yards with one touchdown. Unfortunately, after the game he was hurt with what was later deemed a season-ending injury

    Walsh did recover in time to make appearances in the Cowboys' games against Texas Tech and Baylor. 

    At season's end, he was named the Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year.

Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama

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    Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper made a huge splash in his debut with the Crimson Tide. The true freshman led all Tide receivers with 895 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. 

    Cooper had four games with over 100 receiving yards—in Alabama's SEC Championship game against Georgia, he caught seven passes for 127 yards and one touchdown.

    Cooper was named to the SEC coaches’ All-Freshman Team. 

Deion Barnes, DE, Penn State

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    Penn State defensive end Deion Barnes led the Nittany Lions in sacks this year with six, including two in the Nittany Lions' home opener against Ohio. 

    Barnes also led his team with 10 tackles for loss.

    The 6'4", 246-pound redshirt freshman was named the Big Ten's Freshman of the Year. 

Duke Johnson, RB, Miami

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    Miami running back Duke Johnson turned heads this year when he posted four games with at least 100 yards rushing. In the Hurricanes' last game of the season against Duke, Johnson had 16 carries for 176 yards and three touchdowns.

    Johnson finished the year with 2,070 total all-purpose yards—947 of those were rushing yards, breaking Miami's previous freshman rushing record of 838 yards, set in 1999 by Clinton Portis. 

    As a specialist, Johnson's kick-return average of 33.04 yards led the ACC, and two of his kickoff returns resulted in touchdowns. 

    The speedster was tabbed both the ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year and ACC Rookie of the Year.

Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA

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    UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley changed the look of the Bruins' offense with both his arm and his legs. 

    Hundley threw for 3,411 yards, 26 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in his first year as the Bruins' field general. He also rushed for 365 yards and nine touchdowns.

    Against cross-town rival USC, Hundley went 22-of-30 for 234 yards and one touchdown and also rushed for two more scores. 

Devonte Fields, DE, TCU

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    TCU defensive end Devonte Fields made a huge impact in the Big 12 this year. Fields led his team and was second in the league this year with nine sacks. 

    Fields also forced two fumbles and led the Big 12 in tackles for loss with 17.5.  

    He was named the Defensive Freshman of the Year by Scout.com, Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year by the Associated Press and was the unanimous pick by Big 12 coaches as the Defensive Freshman of the Year. 

Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia

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    Georgia running back Todd Gurley rushed for 1,260 yards and 16 touchdowns. Only Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, the 2012 Heisman winner, scored more rushing touchdowns in the SEC.

    Against Alabama's stout defense, Gurley rushed for 122 yards and two touchdowns. The true freshman was named to both the Associated Press' and SEC coaches' All-SEC freshman first teams.

Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

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    Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota wasn't the projected starting quarterback for the Ducks in the preseason, but in Oregon's home opener against Arkansas State, Mariota silenced any doubters, going 18-of-20 for 200 yards and three touchdowns.

    Mariota is an electric dual-threat; he was the Ducks' second-leading rusher (690 yards) and passed for 2,511 yards, 30 touchdowns and only six interceptions.

    Mariota was named the Pac-12's Offensive Freshman of the Year and was the only freshman named to the coaches' All-Pac-12 team.

    According to the Pac-12's official website, Mariota "is the first freshman quarterback since Todd Marinovich in 1989 to be named to the first team." 

T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama

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    Alabama's T.J. Yeldon continued the legacy of great Crimson Tide running backs after a brilliant debut in the SEC.

    Yeldon rushed for 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns and was the second-leading rusher on his team behind Eddie Lacey.

    He had four games of 100-plus rushing yards, but saved his best performance for the Tide's game against Georgia in the SEC Championship: 25 carries for 153 yards and one touchdown.

    He joins teammates Amari Cooper (WR), Ryan Kelly (C) and  D.J. Pettway (DL) on the SEC coaches’ All-Freshman Team. 

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

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    Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel has done what no other freshman has ever done in college football: take home the Heisman.

    Manziel was also honored with the Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award. 

    "Johnny Football" threw for 3,419 yards, 24 touchdowns, eight interceptions and rushed for 1,181 yards and 19 touchdowns. Manziel led all rushers in the SEC and set the conference's new standard of total offense with 4,600 yards.

    Manziel was selected by SEC coaches to first team All-SEC and was named their SEC Freshman of the Year. He was also the Associated Press' SEC Offensive Player of the Year.