11 College Football Freshmen Who Have Been Unexpected Stars

Amy DaughtersFeatured ColumnistOctober 1, 2013

11 College Football Freshmen Who Have Been Unexpected Stars

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    While almost everyone has heard the fantastic tale of Florida State’s Jameis Winston wowing the nation as a freshman quarterback, what about the untold heroics of the other successful freshmen in the nation?

    Yes, who else listed among the 126 FBS rosters has made a name for himself only mere months after leaving the high school ranks?

    These are the young athletes who have achieved the improbable, making a mark in big-time college football as novices, rookies or neophytes.

    Stats courtesy of ESPN and College Football Statistics

Alex Collins, RB, Arkansas

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    As the No. 1 rusher in the SEC in 2013, true freshman Alex Collins has racked up 597 yards and three touchdowns in five games.

    Collins has eclipsed the 100-yard mark in all but one of the Razorbacks' first five contests (he ran for 63 yards versus Rutgers), and he is the leading rusher on a squad that ranks No. 21 nationally in rushing yards.

    According to Paul Myerberg of USA Today, Collins is the first player in SEC history to rush for more than 100 yards in each of his first three career games.

    All this adds up to Collins being the No. 6 back in the nation in yards.

Jared Goff, QB, Cal

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Only six guys in the nation have averaged more passing yards per game than Cal’s true-freshman quarterback, Jared Goff.

    Goff’s 1,312 passing yards ranks No. 13 nationally, a number that is even more impressive when you remember that he got pulled early from the rainy Oregon game due to concerns that he couldn’t hold on to the ball.

    According to Jeff Faraudo of the San Jose Mercury News, Goff is the first freshman ever to pass for 935 yards in his first two games.

    And remember, Goff didn’t redshirt last season. He is an 18-year old true freshman who enrolled early at Cal in January.

Tyler Boyd, WR, Pitt

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    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

    Ranked No. 22 nationally in receiving yards and No. 17 in yards per game, Tyler Boyd has racked up more than 100 yards receiving in each of Pitt’s last three games.

    Boyd’s best performance came at Duke in Week 4, when he caught eight passes for 154 yards and three touchdowns.

    But Boyd’s accomplishments as a true freshman aren’t limited to his work as a receiver. 

    No, Boyd also ranks No. 11 nationally in all-purpose yards, with 178 kick-return yards and 98 yards rushing to go along with his 425 yards receiving.

Zack Ryan, LB, Ball State

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    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    A freshman linebacker for the 4-1 Ball State Cardinals, Zack Ryan has made a big enough splash as a rookie to be ranked No. 30 nationally in tackles.

    Ryan has racked up 42 tackles, two-and-a-half tackles for a loss and one-and-a-half sacks so far this season. His best performance came in Ball State’s 51-20 drubbing of Eastern Michigan, when he registered 10 tackles and one-and-a-half sacks.

    Ryan has deep football family ties. His grandfather was a defensive tackle at Xavier, his father played wide receiver at Wake Forest, his brother Jake is a standout linebacker at Michigan and his other brother, Connor, is a wide receiver and teammate at Ball State.

Leonard Floyd, LB, Georgia

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    Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

    The guy who sacked LSU’s Zach Mettenberger during the final drive of the Georgia-LSU thriller, Leonard Floyd has made a serious impact as a freshman.

    Floyd’s three sacks in 2013 tie him for the seventh most in the nation and the third most in the SEC, while his four tackles for a loss ties him for the fifth most in the conference.

    No small thing for a guy who was listed as the No. 2 outside linebacker on the Bulldogs’ opening season depth chart.

Brandon Facyson, DB, Virginia Tech

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    Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

    Tied for the most interceptions in the nation in 2013, true-freshman cornerback Brandon Facyson is part of a Hokie defense that ranks No. 5 nationally against the pass.

    Facyson has four interceptions this season, including two in Virginia Tech’s narrow 15-10 win over East Carolina in Week 3.

    According to Andy Bitter of the Roanoke Times, Facyson registered three tackles, broke up two passes, recovered a fumble, forced another fumble and intercepted a Vad Lee pass in the Hokies’ 17-10 triumph over undefeated Georgia Tech.

B.J. Singleton, DT, Houston

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    Brandon Wilson returns B.J. Singleton's blocked field goal 78 yards for a touchdown.
    Brandon Wilson returns B.J. Singleton's blocked field goal 78 yards for a touchdown.Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

    Houston freshman defensive tackle B.J. Singleton has single-handily created three of the Cougars’ 14 defensive turnovers in 2013.

    Singleton blocked a PAT kick in Houston’s 31-26 win over Rice in Week 4, and he also blocked a field goal and contributed an interception in the Cougars’ 59-28 win over UTSA in Week 5. 

    The blocked field goal in the UTSA game came late in the third quarter and resulted in a 78-yard touchdown that extended the Cougars’ lead to 10 points.

    Singleton is one of only five FBS players with two blocked kicks in 2013.

James Conner, RB, Pitt

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    A guy who—according to Nate Barnes of the Pitt News—wasn’t even listed on Pitt’s two-deep depth chart coming into the season, true freshman James Conner leads the team in rushing.

    Conner has 353 yards and four touchdowns on 62 carries, including a dazzling 173-yard performance in Pitt’s 58-55 win over Duke in Week 4.

    Conner’s surprise performance makes him the No. 40 back in the nation in yards per game with 88.25.

Robert Aguayo, K, Florida State

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Replacing Dustin Hopkins, who had been the kicker at Florida State since 2009, freshman Robert Aguayo is a perfect 7-of-7 on field goals in 2013.

    Included in the total are a 45-yard boot in the 54-6 win over FCS Bethune-Cookman and a 40-yarder in the 48-34 win over Boston College.

    All in all, Aguayo has scored 47 (or 23 percent) of Florida State’s 205 points this season. This makes him the No. 6 point scorer in the nation.

    While this might not sound like a huge deal now, if the Seminoles get in a tight spot in their quest for a national title this season, Aguayo may be a guy who saves the day.

Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson

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    Lawson taking on Purdue in his "other" sport.
    Lawson taking on Purdue in his "other" sport.Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

    A redshirt freshman listed as a backup on the depth chart, defensive end Shaq Lawson has been one of the breakout players in Clemson’s No. 25-ranked scoring defense in 2013.

    According to Ed McGranahan of The State, Lawson dreamed of the NBA, “until he realized not too many D2 colleges were offering scholarships for 6-foot-4, 260-pound posts.”

    With 11 tackles, four-and-a-half tackles for a loss, one sack and one quarterback hurry, Lawson’s change of heart doesn’t look too shabby four games into his backup career plan.

    Lawson is second only to junior end Vic Beasley in team tackles for a loss and is tied for the sixth most in the ACC.

Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida

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    In a mere four games, Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves has managed to rack up three interceptions for 39 return yards, seven tackles and four broken-up passes.

    Hargreaves is tied for No. 2 nationally in interceptions and is tied for No. 1 in the SEC.

    Hargreaves, a true freshman, went from being listed as a backup on the opening week depth chart to being—according to Antonya English of the Tampa Bay Times—a starter by Week 5’s game versus Kentucky.