There is something to marvel at when a freshman outperforms older and more experienced players.
Maybe it is just the theory of the underdog or the unthinkable, but whatever it is, it certainly is amazing.
Each college season shines light on new freshmen making a name for themselves. The 2008 season was no exception.
I fielded 10 players, five each from the BCS and non-BCS schools, to present to you what I think are the 10 most impressive offensive performances by freshmen during the 2008 season.
Bowl Championship Series
Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
Though his numbers were not particularly stellar, he performed above expectations.
Julio Jones came to Alabama as the top wide receiver recruit in the nation. His expectations were set high as the hype surrounding him took on a surreal feel.
Jones’ start in the Crimson Tide’s opening game against Clemson saw him being the first true freshman wide receiver to do so.
He ended the year with 924 yards on 58 receptions, along with four touchdowns. His receiving yards average per game increased as the season progressed, but Jones failed to connect for a touchdown reception after just the fifth game.
To start for a perennial powerhouse is difficult, especially with anticipation enclosing you. Jones performed each week, and he performed well, good enough to earn Second Team All-SEC, AP SEC Freshman of the Year, SEC Coaches’ All-Freshman Team honors, and AP All-Freshman Team honors.
Cyrus Gray, RB, Texas A&M
A name not too many have heard due largely in part to bigger names roaming the Big 12 scene, Cyrus Gray is an outstanding player. The true freshman running back also saw some snaps at receiver and quarterback.
Gray was the Aggies’ primary kickoff returner. He set a Texas A&M record with 1,169 return yards, with one return for a touchdown (against Oklahoma).
His efforts on the ground certainly helped a revived offensive squad: 363 yards rushing with a touchdown. He did so splitting carries with fellow back Mike Goodson and sophomore sensation quarterback Jerrod Johnson.
Gray led the team in all-purpose yards (294 against Oklahoma), setting a TAMU freshman record.
A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
AJ Green surprised most by leading the SEC in receiving yardage. His numbers were very respectable (56 receptions for 963 yards and eight touchdowns).
Green, like Jones, was one of the premier receivers coming up to the collegiate level. The bar for his expectations was set high, and again like Jones, his efforts were more than sufficient.
2008 saw a down year in receiving throughout the SEC. Not a single player topped 1,000 receiving yards, nor did a single player top double-digit touchdown receptions. Green placed first in both categories.
Green was named to the 2008 All-SEC First Team as well as multiple 2008 All-Freshman First Teams. The SEC coaches placed him as the 2008 SEC Freshman of the Year.
Terrelle Pryor, QB, Ohio State
The freshman with the most hype preceding any type of collegiate experience, Terrelle Pryor made a name for himself early.
Ohio State is rich in history, and to make a name for yourself on that squad is impressive. Pryor managed to do so as a freshman.
For the year, he was 8-1 as a starter, the loss coming against Penn State.
Pryor managed to score and limit mistakes. He kept his team in position to win games. He ended the year with 1,311 passing yards and a 60 percent completion percentage. He added 19 touchdowns (12 passing, six rushing, and one receiving) with just four interceptions.
Oh, and he led the Big Ten in passing efficiency, posting a mark of 146.5, good for fourth in the BCS outside of the Big 12.
Pryor made many plays happen with just his intelligence. His knowledge of the playbook could use much improvement, as well as his overall understanding of football at the FBS level. He managed to impress, and he did so on a grandeur stage.
Robert Griffin, QB, Baylor
Robert Griffin might have been the most impressive freshman in all of the NCAA. Not only was he a stellar track star, placing first in the Big 12 and NCAA 400-m hurdles, but he was also successful as a starting quarterback for the Baylor Bears.
Griffin started all but one game as a freshman, leading his team to a 4-8 record.
His 2008 stat line included 2,091 passing yards and 15 passing touchdowns to just three interceptions. He added 846 rushing yards and 13 additional rushing touchdowns. He failed to fumble the ball once all year.
Griffin is the leader of the Bears’ offense, and surprisingly at a young age (just 19 years old, and only 17 when he came to Baylor).
His efforts earned him 2008 Big 12 Newcomer of the Year honors by the coaches and multiple 2008 Freshman First Team All-American Team honors.
Non-Bowl Championship Series
Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State
Kellen Moore’s redshirt freshman season was a good one. He led his team to an undefeated regular season at 12-0. The Broncos lost to TCU in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl, 17-16. The bowl loss was the only game besides Boise State’s bout with Idaho in which Moore failed to score.
And score Moore did; he passed for 25 touchdowns, paired with 10 interceptions. His 3,486 passing yards and 157.1 passing efficiency were good enough for tops in the Western Athletic Conference, as well as his completion percentage of 69.4 percent. Moore eclipsed the 70 percent completion percentage mark eight separate times.
Moore also added a rushing touchdown against Bowling Green.
He was named the 2008 WAC Freshman of the Year and placed on the All-WAC Second Team.
Austin Davis, QB, Southern Mississippi
Austin Davis had a very successful first season starting for the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles—so successful, in fact, it brought about thoughts of a quarterback who used to play for the Golden Eagles, but we won’t get into that.
Davis finished the season with 3,134 passing yards and completed 23 of 261 completions for touchdowns. Eight of his passes were intercepted, and he ended with a completion percentage of 57.5 percent.
Despite his team finishing the regular season 6-6, the Golden Eagles took it to the Troy Trojans in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl and won 30-27. Davis finished the game with 276 yards and two touchdowns without a turnover.
For the year, Davis also added 508 yards on the ground and nine rushing scores without a fumble.
DeAndre Brown, WR, Southern Mississippi
DeAndre Brown had an absolutely stellar season as a freshman last year. He paired well with Davis in Southern Miss’ offense, catching 67 passes from him for 1,117 yards and 12 touchdowns in a little more than 11 games of play.
Brown earned All-CUSA First Team honors for his contributions, while garnering thoughts on his similarities to Randy Moss, standing 6’6”.
Bryce Beall, RB, Houston
Bryce Beall is another name not too many are familiar with, despite his great success on the gridiron.
Beall led the pass-happy Cougars in rushing this past season with 1,247 yards, adding 13 touchdowns and a whopping 6.3 yards per carry average. His efforts placed him as the only freshman running back in Houston history to run for more than 1,000 yards.
Beall was versatile last season, as he also caught 34 passes for 496 yards and four touchdowns.
Beall performed wondrously in Houston’s Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl against Air Force, earning MVP honors. He recorded 135 yards rushing on 22 attempts with one touchdown. He hauled in four passes for 92 yards receiving as well.
Beall earned 2008 Conference USA Freshman of the Year honors, as well as All-Conference USA Honorable Mention and Conference USA All-Freshman Team honors.
Damaris Johnson, WR, Tulsa
Damaris Johnson was extremely impressive last year. When he wasn’t scoring on offense, he was busy returning kicks. He managed to do a little bit of everything for the Golden Hurricane.
Johnson caught 47 passes for 608 yards last year, racking up nine receiving touchdowns. On the ground, he rushed for 327 yards with an 8.0 average and one touchdown.
In the return game, Johnson fielded 54 kickoffs. His 1,382 return yards were good enough for tops in the nation.
Johnson was rewarded with All-CUSA Second Team honors for his special teams efforts, as well as All-CUSA Honorable Mention for his offensive output.
Multiple media outlets had Johnson on their Freshman All-American First Team as a kick returner.