Daily Blog •June 22, 2013

How can you pick XXX on your All-Conference Team…He never played a down of College Football?

For years now I have wanted to put different articles in my magazine, but many of you know there is not much available room remaining to squeeze in more information. However through the internet and on my website I can produce 2 or 3 pages of information and not have to worry about space limitations. I have been asked the question of the article above so many times during my radio show circuit that I keep giving the same type of answers over and over.

Similar to my Top 40 and conference order projections, everything that you see in my magazine is a projection of where and what the season will look like at the end of the season. The same goes for my All-Conference teams. Several times I project upperclassmen who have had rather disappointing careers to have breakout seasons and place them on my All-Conference team. Also on occasion I even place true freshmen on my All-Conference teams meaning that I project them to have really big first years. While a true freshman starting an entire year is uncommon, keep in mind on average at least 1 or 2 true freshman make their way into the starting lineup at some point in the year on nearly every team. While freshman standouts who end up being All-Conference or All-American caliber are rare, there usually is 1 or 2 breakout freshman each year in college football (see Alabama’s TJ Yeldon and Amari Cooper and Georgia’s Todd Gurley last year).

Here is brief history of all the very successful FIRST year players in college football through the years (in date order).

1. Tony Dorsett rushed for 1,586 yds as a freshman at Pitt in 1973 and was the first freshman All-American since Army’s Doc Blanchard did it in1944.

2. Herschel Walker ran for 1,616 yds in 1980 and finished in the Top 3 of the Heisman Trophy Voting while leading the Bulldogs to the National Title.

3. NFL Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith gained 1,341 yds and 13 TD’s and finished No. 9 in the 1987 Heisman Trophy Voting as a freshman RB at Florida.

4. Marshall Faulk broke 10 individual NCAA records as a freshman when he rushed for 1,429 yds and 21 TD’s in 1991.

5. In 1996 Ron Dayne ran for 1,863 yds and 18 TD’s as a frosh. Ironically, Dayne’s freshman season provided the most yds of any of his four seasons and he finished his career as the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher.

6. Virginia Tech’s Michael Vick holds the NCAA FBS mark for the highest passing efficiency rating by a freshman, with 180.4 while totaling 2,425 rush/pass yds and 20 TD’s in 1999. Most impressively he led VT to the national title game vs Florida St that same year!

7. Jared Lorenzen had 3,827 pass yds as a freshman at Kentucky in 2000 and holds the NCAA record for most pass yds gained by a freshman in a season.

8. Brad Smith is the only freshman QB in college football history to have gained both 2,000 yds pass and 1,000 yds rush when he accomplished this in 2002.

9. In 2004, Oklahoma’s Adrian Peterson had the most rushing yds by any NCAA freshman in history with 1,925 and was a Heisman finalist.

10. In 2007, Texas Tech WR Michael Crabtree broke several NCAA freshman records with 134 rec for 1,962 yds and 22 TD’s.

11. Jeremy Maclin in 2007 broke the FBS record for all-purpose yards by a freshman when he racked up 2,776 total yds. It included 375 rush yds, 1,055rec yds and 1,346 yds on returns.

12. Sam Bradford threw for 3,121 yds and 36 TD’s (an NCAA record by a freshman) and only eight picks during his freshman campaign at Oklahoma in 2007. He also completed 69.5 % of his passes, which is the FBS record for highest completion % by a freshman in a season with at least 200 attempts.

13. In 2009, Pittsburgh RB Dion Lewis had 1,799 rush yds, the best rookie performance by a back since North Texas’ Jamario Thomas had 1,801 yds in 2004.

14. Last year’s #2 Pick in the NFL Draft, Robert Griffin III threw for 2,091 yds and 15 TD’s and then rushed for 843 additional yds and 13 TD’s as a rookie in 2009.

15. In 2011, Sammy Watkins did it all as a freshman at Clemson and racked up 2,297 yds in total offense and was a 1st Tm AA as a true frosh. Watkins gained 1,219 yds as a receiver, 231 yards on the ground, 826 yards as a kick returner.

There were numerous examples last year of freshman and redshirt freshman who went on to have tremendous seasons including Todd Gurley of Georgia would go on to run for 1,385 yards while being named 1st Tm SEC. For those of you out there who do not think you can win with an inexperienced QB, last year there were four freshman quarterbacks who disproved that assertion. Redshirt frosh Johnny Manziel was not even the starter of out of spring, but would go on to set the SEC total offense record while becoming the first freshman to take home the Heisman and led the Aggies to their best season in more than a decade. Marcus Mariota had 3,429 yards of offense including a 32-6 ratio while leading the Ducks to a #2 finish. Brett Hundley set the UCLA single season record for total offense with 4,095 yards while leading the Bruins to their best season since 2005. Finally, Everett Golson finished the season strong (226 pass ypg, 10-3 ratio last 8 starts) for Notre Dame while leading them to the National Championship game.

Two years ago I took a lot of flack for putting freshman South Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore on my preseason All-SEC team before he even played a down. In the end, he did not disappoint me when he ran for 1,197 yds (4.8) and was the National Frosh of the Year in 2010! In 2011, I put South Carolina freshman phenom DE Jadeveon Clowney on my preseason list and despite not being a regular starter, he had 12 tfl’s and was 2nd Team SEC at the end of the year!

This year, Robert Nkemdiche of Ole Miss (top HS player in country) made my preseason All-SEC team and I expect Florida State’s Jameis Winston to be this year’s breakout redshirt freshman quarterback as he made my preseason All-ACC team and will lead the Noles back to a BCS game.

As you can see from all the above examples it is not very uncommon for a freshman to step in and make an immediate impact in their inaugural season and this is why each year you will find at least 1 or 2 true freshman who have never played a down of college football make my All-Conference team.