College football's 50 greatest true freshman seasons of all time

#1

YankeeVol

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#1
ESPN+ article. 2 Vols make the list

43. RB Jamal Lewis, Tennessee (1997)
Want to make a memorable impression as a first-year guy? Try rushing for 232 yards against Georgia in front of 106,656 fans. It worked for Lewis, at least. Lining up next to Peyton Manning, he finished his debut season with 1,364 rushing yards, 266 receiving yards and 9 combined touchdowns as the Vols won 11 games, won the SEC East and played in the Orange Bowl.

33. DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee (2014)
A four-star freshman from the Nashville area, Barnett had three games with at least three TFLs and two with at least three sacks. He keyed a defense that improved enough to lead the Volunteers to their first bowl in four seasons. He finished his three-year career with 52 TFLs and 32 sacks (and then had a strip sack that clinched the Super Bowl as an NFL rookie).
 
#6

VOLfrombama

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#6
10. OL Bill Fralic, Pitt (1981)
Offensive lineman Bill Fralic took over for an All-American as a freshman and became a two-time unanimous All-American himself at Pitt. George Gojkovich/Getty Images
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Pitt had as much elite and future pro talent as any roster in the country. Fralic still became an immediate standout, replacing All-American Mark May with almost no drop-off whatsoever. By the end of his college career, he was a two-time unanimous All-American and saw his No. 79 retired at Pitt, then he became a four-time Pro Bowler and a member of the NFL's all-1980s team.

9. RB Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma (2004)
As good as quarterback Jason White had been in 2003, Oklahoma was held back at times by a merely decent run game. That was not a problem in 2004. Peterson not only stepped into the lineup as a freshman but carried a huge load, rushing 339 times for 1,925 yards and 15 touchdowns as the Sooners charged to 12-1 and a third Big 12 title in five years.

8. LB Luke Kuechly, Boston College (2009)
A Cincinnati native, Kuechly was a relatively anonymous recruit, choosing BC over offers from the likes of Duke and Illinois. But he instantly became one of the country's best defenders, finishing 2009 with 158 tackles, 13 TFLs and a pick-six. And then he somehow got even better, averaging 187 tackles over his next two seasons, then becoming the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year by 2013.

7. RB Tony Dorsett, Pitt (1973)
Freshmen didn't get too many chances to stand out during that initial 1972 season. Then came Dorsett. The pride of Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, exploded for 1,686 yards and 13 touchdowns as the Panthers jumped from 1-10 to 6-5-1 in Johnny Majors' first year in charge. By 1976, Dorsett was rushing for more than 2,000 yards and carrying Pitt to the national title. He rushed for 6,526 yards in college, then went for 12,739 yards in the pros. He was an all-time great, and it started the moment he set foot on campus.

6. LB Andy Katzenmoyer, Ohio State (1996)
College football had plenty of hard hitters in 1996 -- Pat Fitzgerald, Peter Boulware, Chris Canty, Mike Vrabel -- but Katzenmoyer was the most intimidating defender in the country from his first snap. His freshman stats were something you would expect from a video game create-a-player: 85 tackles, 23 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 6 pass breakups. He took an already-loaded defense to a completely different level.

5. RB Ron Dayne, Wisconsin (1996)
Billed as a Jerome Bettis clone, the 250-pound Philadelphia native -- and one of the best high school discus throwers ever -- stuck with his Wisconsin commitment despite a late push from Ohio State and immediately began producing seemingly impossible stats. He rushed for 2,109 yards and 21 touchdowns as a freshman, then finished his career with 7,125 yards, 71 scores, a Heisman and a pair of Rose Bowl wins. Absurd.

4. QB Trevor Lawrence, Clemson (2018)
All Trevor Lawrence did his freshman year was throw for 3,280 yards and 30 touchdowns in leading Clemson to the national title. AP Photo/Gerald Herbert
One of the most highly touted recruits in history, Lawrence somehow lived up to the hype. He threw for 3,280 yards, 30 touchdowns and just four interceptions, and he somehow improved down the stretch: In his last four games, he completed 66% of his passes and threw for 1,185 yards, nine touchdowns and no interceptions as the Tigers charged to a 15-0 record and their second national title in three years.

3. OL Orlando Pace, Ohio State (1994)
Take it away, Luke Fickell: "Here's a guy that's 6-foot-8, 330 pounds -- 50 pounds heavier than me -- and I can't even come close. I've always said, 'God is fair.' But I don't know if I believe that anymore because I'm working my butt off and I can't even come close to running with this guy."

Maybe the best offensive lineman in college football history was the best from nearly his first practice in Columbus.

2. RB Herschel Walker, Georgia (1980)
"My god, a freshman!"

Sometimes the passage of time creates legends that surpass how good a player really was. That's not the case with Walker. Georgia had gone just 6-5 in 1979 and might have done so again in 1980 if not for the impossibly strong freshman, who rushed for 1,616 yards and 15 touchdowns and saved an extra gear for whenever the Dawgs needed it. And in the Sugar Bowl, with the national title on the line, Walker fought through an injured shoulder to rush for 150 yards and two touchdowns in a 17-10 win over Notre Dame.

1. DE Hugh Green, Pitt (1977)

Jimbo Covert ... Mark May ... Russ Grimm ... Rickey Jackson ... Pitt was blessed with some of the best line talent that college football has ever produced in this era, but Green still stood out immediately. The Natchez, Mississippi, native was two players at once: On one hand, he was an elite and speedy linebacker who made 92 tackles as a freshman, then averaged more than 120 over the rest of his career. On the other hand, he was the best defensive end in the sport, credited with 12 sacks, 5 forced fumbles and 21 quarterback hurries as a freshman, then replicating that for each of the next three seasons (four-year average: 13.3 sacks, 19 hurries). Linebackers weren't supposed to be this dangerous, and defensive ends weren't supposed to be this ridiculously fast.

Green was a second-team All-American in his first year, and honestly that might have been an injustice. But voters made up for it, naming him a consensus first-teamer for each of the next three seasons.
 
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#8

YankeeVol

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#8
Thought berry might be on there
I was surprised he wasn't


Berry turned in several big plays during his freshman season en route to being named the SEC Defensive Freshman of the Year by the Sporting News.[7] His 222 return yards (on five interceptions) broke the 37-year-old Tennessee record by 43 yards.[8] Berry led all SEC freshmen in tackles with 86. He twice was named SEC Freshman of the Week for his play over the regular season's final three games.[9] After the season, he was also named 1st team Freshman All-American by Rivals.[10]
 
#13

GregAmsler

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#13
10. OL Bill Fralic, Pitt (1981)
Offensive lineman Bill Fralic took over for an All-American as a freshman and became a two-time unanimous All-American himself at Pitt. George Gojkovich/Getty Images
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Pitt had as much elite and future pro talent as any roster in the country. Fralic still became an immediate standout, replacing All-American Mark May with almost no drop-off whatsoever. By the end of his college career, he was a two-time unanimous All-American and saw his No. 79 retired at Pitt, then he became a four-time Pro Bowler and a member of the NFL's all-1980s team.

9. RB Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma (2004)
As good as quarterback Jason White had been in 2003, Oklahoma was held back at times by a merely decent run game. That was not a problem in 2004. Peterson not only stepped into the lineup as a freshman but carried a huge load, rushing 339 times for 1,925 yards and 15 touchdowns as the Sooners charged to 12-1 and a third Big 12 title in five years.

8. LB Luke Kuechly, Boston College (2009)
A Cincinnati native, Kuechly was a relatively anonymous recruit, choosing BC over offers from the likes of Duke and Illinois. But he instantly became one of the country's best defenders, finishing 2009 with 158 tackles, 13 TFLs and a pick-six. And then he somehow got even better, averaging 187 tackles over his next two seasons, then becoming the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year by 2013.

7. RB Tony Dorsett, Pitt (1973)
Freshmen didn't get too many chances to stand out during that initial 1972 season. Then came Dorsett. The pride of Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, exploded for 1,686 yards and 13 touchdowns as the Panthers jumped from 1-10 to 6-5-1 in Johnny Majors' first year in charge. By 1976, Dorsett was rushing for more than 2,000 yards and carrying Pitt to the national title. He rushed for 6,526 yards in college, then went for 12,739 yards in the pros. He was an all-time great, and it started the moment he set foot on campus.

6. LB Andy Katzenmoyer, Ohio State (1996)
College football had plenty of hard hitters in 1996 -- Pat Fitzgerald, Peter Boulware, Chris Canty, Mike Vrabel -- but Katzenmoyer was the most intimidating defender in the country from his first snap. His freshman stats were something you would expect from a video game create-a-player: 85 tackles, 23 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 6 pass breakups. He took an already-loaded defense to a completely different level.

5. RB Ron Dayne, Wisconsin (1996)
Billed as a Jerome Bettis clone, the 250-pound Philadelphia native -- and one of the best high school discus throwers ever -- stuck with his Wisconsin commitment despite a late push from Ohio State and immediately began producing seemingly impossible stats. He rushed for 2,109 yards and 21 touchdowns as a freshman, then finished his career with 7,125 yards, 71 scores, a Heisman and a pair of Rose Bowl wins. Absurd.

4. QB Trevor Lawrence, Clemson (2018)
All Trevor Lawrence did his freshman year was throw for 3,280 yards and 30 touchdowns in leading Clemson to the national title. AP Photo/Gerald Herbert
One of the most highly touted recruits in history, Lawrence somehow lived up to the hype. He threw for 3,280 yards, 30 touchdowns and just four interceptions, and he somehow improved down the stretch: In his last four games, he completed 66% of his passes and threw for 1,185 yards, nine touchdowns and no interceptions as the Tigers charged to a 15-0 record and their second national title in three years.

3. OL Orlando Pace, Ohio State (1994)
Take it away, Luke Fickell: "Here's a guy that's 6-foot-8, 330 pounds -- 50 pounds heavier than me -- and I can't even come close. I've always said, 'God is fair.' But I don't know if I believe that anymore because I'm working my butt off and I can't even come close to running with this guy."

Maybe the best offensive lineman in college football history was the best from nearly his first practice in Columbus.

2. RB Herschel Walker, Georgia (1980)
"My god, a freshman!"

Sometimes the passage of time creates legends that surpass how good a player really was. That's not the case with Walker. Georgia had gone just 6-5 in 1979 and might have done so again in 1980 if not for the impossibly strong freshman, who rushed for 1,616 yards and 15 touchdowns and saved an extra gear for whenever the Dawgs needed it. And in the Sugar Bowl, with the national title on the line, Walker fought through an injured shoulder to rush for 150 yards and two touchdowns in a 17-10 win over Notre Dame.

1. DE Hugh Green, Pitt (1977)

Jimbo Covert ... Mark May ... Russ Grimm ... Rickey Jackson ... Pitt was blessed with some of the best line talent that college football has ever produced in this era, but Green still stood out immediately. The Natchez, Mississippi, native was two players at once: On one hand, he was an elite and speedy linebacker who made 92 tackles as a freshman, then averaged more than 120 over the rest of his career. On the other hand, he was the best defensive end in the sport, credited with 12 sacks, 5 forced fumbles and 21 quarterback hurries as a freshman, then replicating that for each of the next three seasons (four-year average: 13.3 sacks, 19 hurries). Linebackers weren't supposed to be this dangerous, and defensive ends weren't supposed to be this ridiculously fast.

Green was a second-team All-American in his first year, and honestly that might have been an injustice. But voters made up for it, naming him a consensus first-teamer for each of the next three seasons.
Herschel should be #1.
 
#21

dduncan4163

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#21
I see why Green is number1. Those numbers would be insane for a Senior not to mention DE is one of the hardest positions to learn coming out of high school.
 
#24

Backwards K

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#24
Johnny redshirted Carl Pickens and Chuck Webb.........as the team started the year 0-6. Have to think those two could have made a difference
 
#25

wmcovol

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#25
Walker should be #1. He took a team of bozos who were 6-5 the season before to 12-0, won a national championship with a separated shoulder playing with a QB who didnt complete a pass the entire NC game!
 

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