Offensive Freshman of the Year: QB J.T. Barrett, Ohio State
QB J.T. Barrett, Ohio State
When Braxton Miller went down with a season-ending injury in August, it looked as if the Buckeyes’ title hopes went on the shelf with him. That No. 4 Ohio State is playoff-bound as the Big Ten champ can be traced directly to the improbable evolution of Barrett. He shook off a slow start to deliver a record-breaking debut that included 3,772 total yards and 45 total touchdowns. Far more important, though, was the way he bounced from a rough Week 2 outing versus Virginia Tech to lead OSU to 10 straight wins.
RB Nick Chubb, Georgia
No Gurley, no problem. Chubb stepped out of Todd Gurley’s prodigious shadow to rank second in the SEC with 1,281 yards and 12 touchdowns on only 186 carries. The First Team All-SEC pick also added a pair of scores as a receiver, filling in impeccably after the starter was suspended and then injured. Chubb has deftly blended power with speed to become the first Dawg since Herschel Walker in 1982 to rush for 100 yards in seven straight games.
RB Samaje Perine, Oklahoma
Think second coming of Ron Dayne. The 5-11, 243-pound Perine has lit a charge beneath the Sooner ground game, running with a bulldozing, north-south style that would have made Bud Wilkinson proud. Perine leads the Big 12—and all freshmen—with 1,579 punishing yards and 21 scores on 240 carries, including an FBS-record 427 yards and five touchdowns against Kansas on Nov. 22.
WR KD Cannon, Baylor
It wasn’t long before Cannon emerged as one of the newest toys in the high-octane Baylor attack. When the Bears needed to offset injuries to the receiving corps, the rookie jumped all over the opportunity with three 100-yard games in the campaign’s first half. Cannon ended the regular season with 50 receptions for 833 yards and six touchdowns, advertising the separation speed to blow the top off the defense.
WR Artavis Scott, Clemson
Scott was asked to immediately contribute after Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant left for the NFL Draft, and he has certainly delivered. Explosive in the open field, he leads the Tigers with 68 receptions for 851 yards and seven touchdowns. And he’ll only become more dangerous after the catch as he develops chemistry with fellow true freshman QB Deshaun Watson.
TE Bucky Hodges, Virginia Tech
Hodges arrived in Blacksburg as a quarterback, but he’s quickly emerging into a seam-busting tight end. He’s a phenomenal all-around athlete, and at 6-6 he can create matchup problems with linebackers and defensive backs. Hodges, along with true freshman WR Isaiah Ford, was the brightest light in an otherwise dim Hokie offense, hauling in 42 balls for 517 yards and seven touchdowns.
OT Mason Cole, Michigan
Over the last four decades, only six true freshmen have started a game along the O-line in Ann Arbor. Cole is the first to start an entire season, testament to his maturity and potential. The foundation is already in place for the 6-5, 292-pounder, whose athleticism and improving strength allow him to make all of his blocks. Once Cole tightens up his technique and becomes a more consistent knee-bender, he’ll have All-Big Ten potential.
OG Billy Price, Ohio State
Price has been one of the microcosms of the rebuilt Buckeye front wall this season, consistently improving as the campaign has unfolded. After playing some center in the spring, he settled in at right guard, where his strength, physicality and mean streak have helped support a ground game that averages 260 yards a game and 5.8 yards per carry.
C Tejan Koroma, BYU
What the 6-0, 280-pound Koroma lacks in ideal size, he’s made up for with ideal technique and intensity. The rookie from Allen, Tex. has been a revelation in Provo, first winning the job and then going on to become one of the team’s most consistent all-around blockers. Koroma drive blocks with a nasty streak and the leverage to pancake opposing linemen by getting beneath their pads.
OG Viane Talamaivao, USC
Talamaivao is an immovable mauler at the point of attack, a perfect catalyst for a Trojan running game that excels at powering the ball between the tackles. Originally committed to play for Nick Saban in Tuscaloosa, the 6-3, 330-pound second-year freshman has already been recognized as an honorable mention All-Pac-selection for his work as a road grader.
OT Cam Robinson, Alabama
That Robinson is starting at left tackle in his first season is impressive. That he’s played so well at this level is rather astonishing. The 6-6, 323-pounder is the prototype in a blindside protector, with the long arms and the light feet to neutralize even the SEC’s better edge rushers. At this pace, Robinson is headed toward being a three-and-out pillar before being chosen early in the 2017 NFL Draft.
QB Anu Solomon, Arizona
RB Jarvion Franklin, Western Michigan
RB Royce Freeman, Oregon
WR Devonte Boyd, UNLV
WR DaeSean Hamilton, Penn State
TE Cam Serigne, Wake Forest
OT Roderick Johnson, Florida State
OG Jacob Alsadek, Arizona
C Alex Officer, Pittsburgh
OG Sean Welsh, Iowa
OT Toa Lobendahn, USC
QB: Kyle Allen (Texas A&M), Reggie Bonnafon (Louisville), Brad Kaaya (Miami), Taylor Lamb (Appalachian State), Patrick Mahomes (Texas Tech), Deshaun Watson (Clemson)
RB: Sherman Badie (Tulane), Mike Boone (Cincinnati), Dalvin Cook (Florida State), Leonard Fournette (LSU), Wayne Gallman (Clemson), Alex Gardner (Florida International), Brian Hill (Wyoming), Jon Hilliman (Boston College), Jalen Hurd (Tennessee), Justin Jackson (Northwestern), Johnny Jefferson (Baylor), Ray Lawry (Old Dominion), Marlon Mack (South Florida), L.A. Ramsby (Georgia Southern), Demario Richard (Arizona State), Larry Rose (New Mexico State), Ralph Webb (Vanderbilt), Nick Wilson (Arizona), Shaun Wilson (Duke), Joe Yearby (Miami)
WR: Devon Allen (Oregon), Mike Dudek (Illinois), Malachi Dupre (LSU), Isaiah Ford (Virginia Tech), Bo Hines (NC State), Allen Lazard (Iowa State), Roger Lewis (Bowling Green), Jalin Marshall (Ohio State), Speedy Noil (Texas A&M), Dijon Paschal (Arkansas State), Travis Rudolph (Florida State), Ricky Seals-Jones (Texas A&M), JuJu Smith (USC), Jordan Villamin (Oregon State)
TE: Jeb Blazevich (Georgia), Austin Hooper (Stanford), Charles Jones (Tulane), Chad Olsen (Fresno State), Jake Roh (Boise State)
OL: Brian Allen (Michigan State), Reggie Bain (Florida Atlantic), Jake Campos (Iowa State), Austin Corbett (Nevada), Chavis Dickey (UCF), Ului Lapuaho (BYU), Conor McDermott (UCLA), Ramsey Meyers (Kentucky), Tyshon Mosley (Utah State), Andrew Nelson (Penn State), Coleman Shelton (Washington), Coleman Thomas (Tennessee)
DEFENSE & SPECIAL TEAMS
Defensive Freshman of the Year: DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee
DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee
It didn’t take long for Barnett to validate being the first Volunteer true freshman to ever start an opener at defensive end. He was physically ready to contribute from the moment he arrived in Knoxville in May, and his work ethic has been outstanding. The instinctive Barnett leads all freshmen with 20.5 stops for loss to go along with 69 tackles and 10 sacks.
DT Davon Godchaux, LSU
Sure, it’s early, but Godchaux has shown hints of being the latest interior star for a program accustomed to developing next-level tackles. Despite missing his senior year to a knee injury, he’s shown no rust in 2014 after cracking the lineup in Week 3. Godchaux has helped stabilize the middle of the Tiger line, making 34 tackles as an up-and-coming run-stuffer.
DT Lowell Lotulelei, Utah
Lotulelei hopes to follow in the footsteps of his big brother, Star, who used Salt Lake City as a launching point to the first round of the NFL Draft. Little brother is off to a promising start. Lotulelei has started eight games with the Utes, the last seven at the nose. He has the strength to anchor the line, yet also notched four sacks, en route to being named honorable mention All-Pac-12.
DE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
Garrett has exploded on to the scene this season to become one of the premier young predators in the country. Playing as if shot from a cannon, he’s been an unstoppable blend of get-off, closing speed and strength, laying the groundwork for a brilliant career ahead. Garrett’s opening act has included 11 sacks to obliterate Jadeveon Clowney’s SEC freshman record.
LB Ja’Whan Bentley, Purdue
While Bentley wasn’t supposed to be a focal point in his first season, he stepped up like a veteran after injuries struck the Boilermaker linebackers. The 250-pound rookie from Maryland began the year at weakside before shifting inside when veteran Sean Robinson went down. Bentley wound up second on the team with 76 tackles, adding 3.5 stops for loss and three fumble recoveries.
LB Darron Lee, Ohio State
Lee has been one of the young faces of a Buckeye defense that has gotten better as the season has progressed. The formerly undersized safety was a surprise to even start this season, but he’s gone on to make 78 tackles, five interceptions and six pass breakups from strongside. Lee plays with outstanding intensity, as well as the range to be an effective pass defender.
LB Raekwon McMillan, Ohio State
Backing up Curtis Grant on the inside couldn’t keep McMillan from showing off his blue-chip set of tools. He’s had an instant impact off the bench, making 49 tackles, six stops for loss, 2.5 sacks and a pick-six. McMillan’s skills are advanced for a rookie, from his physicality and nose for the ball to the way he defends the pass. Grant’s a senior, so McMillan may not play second fiddle to a teammate until his NFL career is over.
CB Mackensie Alexander, Clemson
A lot was expected of Alexander this season. And a lot has been delivered by the 2013 blue-chip recruit. He’d have played last year, but a groin injury forced him to redshirt. Now healthy, Alexander is headed to becoming one of the game’s elite young lockdown corners. The honorable mention All-ACC pick has started every game, and his modest four pass breakups are testament to quarterbacks’ quest to avoid him.
S Budda Baker, Washington
The ground floor is down. Baker will spend the next three years building on it. The gem of Chris Petersen’s first recruiting class in Seattle has started every game, steadily improving as the season unfolded. Baker needs to add weight, especially if he stays at safety, but his elite speed and athleticism set him apart. He’s parlayed 76 tackles and six passes defended into honorable mention All-Pac-12 recognition.
S Quin Blanding, Virginia
Blanding has been as good as advertised. Nah, he’s actually been a whole lot better. Blanding is authoring one of the great all-time seasons for a first-year Cavalier defender, leading the team and all FBS rookies with 123 tackles. He was fittingly named ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year, showcasing the maturity, work ethic and tackling skills to make this his first of many All-American appearances.
CB Adoree’ Jackson, USC
Jackson is one of those rare athletes whose impact has no boundaries. He’s been a three-way player in his Trojan debut, starting at cornerback, while chipping in as a receiver and a special teamer. Yet, more than just a top-flight athlete, he’s also flush in intangibles and football intellect. The Pac-12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year has the all-around star power to be a household name by this time next year.
PK Matthew McCrane, Kansas State
McCrane has gone the entire regular season with just one missed field goal on 17 tries. And to think he wasn’t even the starter when the year began. He replaced an ineffective Jack Cantele in Week 4 and has solidified the Wildcat kicking game ever since. While there’s room for improvement, McCrane is off to a great start, including 2-of-2 from outside 50 yards.
P JK Scott, Alabama
The rookie from Denver hasn’t simply been capable in his debut; he’s been a difference-maker for the Crimson Tide defense. Scott ranks among the nation’s leaders in punting average, yet also displays the finesse and leg extension to pin opponents deep in their own territory. Just a few months removed form high school, he’s already a Ray Guy Award finalist.
DE KeShun Freeman, Georgia Tech
DT Steven Richardson, Minnesota
DT Tashon Smallwood, Arizona State
DE Marquis Haynes, Ole Miss
LB Nigel Bowden, Vanderbilt
LB DJ Calhoun, Arizona State
LB Lorenzo Carter, Georgia
CB Eli Apple, Ohio State
S Jamal Adams, LSU
S Armani Watts , Texas A&M
CB Ranthony Texada, TCU
PK Rafael Gaglianone, Wisconsin
P Will Gleeson, Ole Miss
DL: Dajuan Drennon (North Carolina), Wendell Dunn (Wake Forest), Nate Hoff (Indiana), Nazair Jones (North Carolina), Ja’Von Rolland-Jones (Arkansas State), Graysen Schantz (Rice), Gus Schwieterman (Bowling Green), K.J. Smith (Baylor), Kemoko Turay (Rutgers)
LB: Lorenzo Featherston (Florida State), Jerod Fernandez (NC State), Derek Ibekwe (New Mexico State), Alvin Jones (UTEP), Peter Kalambayi (Stanford), Elijah Lee (Kansas State), Andrew Motuapuaka (Virginia Tech), Quentin Poling (Ohio), Craig Suits (Tulsa), Taylor Young (Baylor)
DB: Nigel Bethel (Texas Tech), Oren Burks (Vanderbilt), Sean Chandler (Temple), Kamari Cotton-Moya (Iowa State), Jalen Davis (Utah State), Tre Flowers (Oklahoma State), Jason Hall (Texas), Dravon Henry (West Virginia), Nick Johnson (Bowling Green), Josh Jones (NC State), Sidney Jones (Washington), Jarvis McCall (Arizona), Parry Nickerson (Tulane), Steven Parker (Oklahoma), Ramon Richards (Oklahoma State), Justin Strong (Oregon State), Jalen Tabor (Florida), Jaleel Wadood (UCLA), Charleston White (Washington State)
PK: Daniel Carlson (Auburn), Andrew Gantz (Cincinnati), Cole Murphy (Syracuse), Austin MacGinnis (Kentucky), Aaron Medley (Tennessee), Trevor Moore (North Texas), Mike Weaver (Wake Forest)
P: Jordan Dascalo (Washington State), Spencer Smith (Memphis)