Frosh Phenoms: Freshmen Making Immediate Impact
Before the mid-'90s, freshmen were written off as pieces for the future and young teams were considered less-promising because of a lack of experience.
But, as players have gotten bigger, faster and stronger much earlier, freshmen are now setting the tone for many college powerhouses.
With such exciting performers as AJ Green, Terelle Pryor, and Darrell Scott setting the standard last season, Matt Barkley, Rueben Randle, and Trent Richardson are just a few of the potential game-changers taking the field in 2009.
To get you ready for the college football season, here is a look back at some of the top freshman seasons in college football history (in alphabetical order):
Sam Bradford, QB - Oklahoma (2007)
Before Sam Bradford's collegiate career is over, he could hold every major passing record in existence and it all started with his record-shattering freshman season.
Following previous starter Rhett Bomar's dismissal from the team, Bradford won the starting job in the spring, beating out upperclassman Keith Nichol.
Bradford immediately set the tone for the Sooners, throwing three touchdowns in his first half of college football against North Texas.
Bradford would lead Oklahoma to the Big 12 Championship and a Fiesta Bowl appearance on the strength of a NCAA freshman record 36 touchdowns and 3,121 yards, with just 8 interceptions.
Few freshmen have had the impact on their respective programs as Bradford, who has since won the Heisman Trophy and lead his team to a National Championship Game appearance.
Reggie Bush, RB/KR - USC (2003)
In 2003, college football fans were introduced to one of the the most exciting game-changers the sport has ever seen: Reggie Bush.
Surrounded by a wealth of talent, Bush proved to be a home run threat in the backfield, as a receiver and in the return game; racking up 1,521 all-purpose yards and eight touchdowns.
Teams had to gameplan around Bush like no other player, which opened up the field for Matt Leinart, LenDale White, and Mike Williams to make plays as the Trojans won their first National Championship in 25 years.
Bush earned consensus freshman All-American honors and was named the Pac-10 Newcomer of the Year.
In the seasons to follow, Bush lead the Trojans to another National Championship and took home the 2005 Heisman Trophy, solidifying him as one of the greatest college football players in history.
Michael Crabtree, WR - Texas Tech (2007)
Thriving in Texas Tech's wide open, high-powered offense, Michael Crabtree became one of the top receivers in college football.
And it started with a stellar freshman season that saw Crabtree set NCAA freshman records for receptions (134), receiving yards (1,962) and touchdowns (22), as well as winning the Biletnikoff and Warfield awards; recognizing him as the nation's top receiver. Crabtree also lead the Red Raiders to an upset win over Virginia in the Gator Bowl.
With a rare mix of size, speed, hands and route-running ability, Crabtree became the premier receiver in college football in just his first season.
Ron Dayne, RB - Wisconsin (1996)
One of the greatest running backs in college football history, "The Great Dayne" enjoyed his finest season in his first year with the Badgers.
The New Jersey native rushed for a freshman record 1,863 yards and 21 touchdowns, averaging 162 yards per game. Dayne also lead Wisconsin to a Copper Bowl victory over Utah, running for 246 yards, and being named the game's MVP.
A work-horse to the core, Dayne was an every-down back from the start, finishing his collegiate career with 1,220 carries for an NCAA record 6,397 yards. "The Dayne Train" lead the Badgers to two straight Rose Bowl wins and received the Heisman Trophy in 1999.
Dayne's downhill, battering-ram style of running has rarely been seen in college football since his time at Wisconsin. His freakish size and athleticism, coupled with his numbers and accolades, have ensured Dayne's place among college football's greatest.
Percy Harvin, WR/RB - Florida (2006)
Lining up at receiver, running back and even quarterback, Percy Harvin was utilized everywhere in the Gators' National Championship season of 2006.
Gifted with extraordinary speed and quickness for his size, Harvin was too much of an asset to keep off the field. He thrived playing with athletic quarterbacks Chris Leak and Tim Tebow in Florida's QB Choice offense.
Coach Urban Meyer took notice and used his speed and quickness in misdirection and counter plays for sizable gains.
Despite battling injuries most of the year, Harvin gained 855 total yards and 5 touchdowns, including a highlight reel 67-yard touchdown run in the SEC Championship Game against Arkansas, where he was named MVP.
For his efforts, Harvin was named SEC Freshman of the Year and became one of several Gators defensive coordinators were forced to gameplan around.
Darren McFadden, RB - Arkansas (2005)
Bad teams are often where young players shine and this was the case for Darren McFadden, who thrived on a 4-7 Arkansas team.
McFadden rushed for 1,113 yards and 11 touchdowns in his freshman campaign, becoming just the 7th SEC running back to rush for 1,000 yards as a freshman.
McFadden hit his stride against one of the SEC's top defenses when he ran for 190 yards and two scores against Georgia. And followed that game with 187-yard performance against South Carolina.
For his stellar freshman campaign, McFadden earned Freshman All-American honors and was named SEC Freshman of the Year.
McFadden's unique combination of size and speed helped turn the tide of Arkansas' program and put them on the fast track to success in college football's "toughest conference."
Knowshon Moreno, RB - Georgia (2007)
Injuries create opportunities. A perfect example of this addage is Knowshon Moreno. The New Jersey native began his freshman season sharing the backfield with senior Thomas Brown, but a broken collarbone to Brown brought Moreno's superb talent to the surface.
In the three games after being named the starter, Moreno rushed for 157, 188 and 196 yards and six total touchdowns. Moreno propelled the Bulldogs to six straight wins to close out the season and a Sugar Bowl victory over Hawaii, where Moreno ran for two more scores.
Moreno finished an outstanding freshman campaign with 1,336 yards and 14 touchdowns, joining Herschel Walker as the only Georgia freshmen to rush for over 1,000 yards. Moreno was also the first Georgia running back since Walker to rush for over 100 yards in five straight games.
For his efforts, Moreno was named first team All-SEC and the unanimous SEC Freshman of the Year.
Moreno helped escalate the Georgia program, that had been on the cusp for several seasons, to the next level.
Adrian Peterson, RB - Oklahoma (2004)
When great freshman seasons are talked about, the conversation begins and ends with Adrian Peterson. The Oklahoma running back set freshman records for rushing yards (1,925), consecutive 100-yard games (9) and total 100-yard games (11) and lead the nation with 339 carries.
Peterson's stellar season spearheaded the Sooners' Orange Bowl berth and "A.D." finishing second in the Heisman voting and being named a first team All-American.
None of Peterson's seasons quite compared to his first as he suffered through nagging injuries the rest of his collegiate career, but his numbers have set the standard for all future players.
Ben Roethlisberger, QB - Miami (OH) (2001)
Small schools often create opportunity for freshmen to play right away. As was the case for Ben Roethlisberger at Miami of Ohio.
Despite playing quarterback just one year in high school, "Big Ben" was anointed the RedHawks' starter as a redshirt freshman. Roethlisberger was up to the task, throwing for 3,105 yards, 25 touchdowns (both school records) and just two interceptions.
He also set marks for completions (241), completion percentage (.663) and total offense (3,294 yards).
Roethlisberger lead freshman quarterbacks in nearly every category and was named MAC Freshman of the Year, the first RedHawk to earn the honor since 1992.
Roethlisberger's talent was undeniable and he continued to improve each year, culminating in Miami's undefeated 2003 season and a win over Louisville in the GMAC Bowl.
At 6'5", Roethlisberger was the definition of "a big fish in a small pond." But his results speak for themselves and gave small schools a reason to give unproven talent a chance.
Tim Tebow, QB - Florida (2006)
While his numbers are not as gaudy as some others, Tebow, like fellow freshman teammate Percy Harvin, was an invaluable part of Florida's National Championship run in 2006.
Despite being the backup to Chris Leak, Tebow was utilized by head coach Urban Meyer for his strength, running ability and, to a lesser degree, passing skills to give Florida one of the top offenses in the nation.
Thriving in the Gators' Choice offense, Tebow was a perfect change of pace to cross up opposing defenses and the ultimate goal line asset.
The Jacksonville native was Florida's second leading rusher to the tune of 469 yards on the ground and 8 touchdowns. He also threw for another five scores and had a QB rating of over 200.
Tebow's skills were brought to light in the Gators' win over LSU, where he accounted for all three of Florida's touchdowns (2 passing, 1 rushing).
For the skill he showed in his first season, Tebow was immediately named the starter and has become one of the top quarterbacks in college football; leading the Gators to another National Championship and picking up the Heisman Trophy.
For the future...
As you will notice by this list, defensive players making significant contributions as freshmen are rare.
But, as Florida showed last season, upperclassmen are not necessary for a defense to be great. As players get bigger, faster and stronger even earlier, impact freshmen on the defense will almost be a certainty.
Some newcomers expected to contribute this season:
-Rueben Randle, WR - LSU
-Tate Forcier, QB - Michigan
-Matt Barkley, QB - USC
-Andre Dubose, WR - Florida
-Bryce Brown, RB - Tennessee
-Craig Loston, S - LSU
-DJ Fluker, OT - Alabama
-Ray Ray Armstrong, S - Miami
-Manti Te'o, LB - Notre Dame
-Alex Okafor, DE - Texas
-Trent Richardson, RB - Alabama
-Jacobbi McDaniel, DT - Florida State
-Vontaze Burficit, LB - Arizona State
-Dre Kirkpatrick, CB - Alabama