With the regular season wrapped up, we’re bringing back the Top 10 lists.
This week’s topic: Best seasons by true freshmen.
1. Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma: Joe Mixon was the most hyped running back recruit the Sooners brought in this offseason, but he had major issues off the field. Instead, it was Perine who emerged as a star in 2014. The 5-foot-11, 242-pound powerhouse has evoked some comparisons to former Oregon star Jonathan Stewart, put up a whopping 1,579 yards rushing and 21 TDs while making headlines for his FBS-record 427 yards against Kansas. He also went for 242 at West Virginia and 213 at Texas Tech. Perine had 20 TDs in nine Big 12 games. "The guy is a just a friggin’ beast," said one Big 12 defensive coordinator.
2. Derek Barnett, DL, Tennessee: Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett got more hype but it was Barnett who made an even bigger impact for the even younger Vols. The 6-3, 267-pounder ranked fourth in the country with 20.5 tackles for loss, along with 10 sacks and 69 tackles. Barnett notched three sacks each in games against Ole Miss and South Carolina. More impressively, Barnett had 18 TFLs in eight SEC games. "He’s so mature, really mature beyond his years. I never been around a freshman with the consistency in his approach as he has," UT coach Butch Jones said, adding that Barnett also has really good get-off and uses his hands very well. "He’s also extremely competitive and just, very, very tough physically and tough mentally."
3. Myles Garrett, DL, Texas A&M: The Freakiest freshman in the country and the nation’s No. 1 recruit was as advertised, setting a record for SEC freshmen with 11 sacks to go along with 12.5 tackles for loss. He also caused a countless number of holds — a few of which the SEC refs even called. "He is a truly gifted player," former A&M DC Mark Snyder said. "He’s the best athlete on the D-line I’ve ever coached. He can bend. He’s twitchy, explosive and so powerful, and he’s a good hard worker, great kid. It’s all there. The only ingredient he doesn’t have is playing time. So there is still a lot for him to learn technique-wise, but his ‘hit ratio’ was pretty damn good in terms of getting the ball out of the quarterback’s hand, causing false starts, hold penalties and all of that."
4. Quin Blanding, S, Virginia: The former five-star recruit, a rangy 6-4, 215-pounder, became the first freshman safety to start an opener for the Cavaliers in 38 years. He also was one of the lone bright spots for UVA in a shaky season as he piled up 123 tackles — ranked second in the ACC and 12th nationally — and picked off three passes for what was a pretty solid defense that ranked No. 30 overall and No. 20 against the run.
5. Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama: The 6-6, 323-pounder has started every game for the Tide at left tackle. Robinson is a team leader in pancakes and knockdowns and also has consistently graded out as one of Bama’s top O-linemen for an offense that leads the SEC in fewest sacks allowed.
6. Adoree’ Jackson, CB/WR/KR, USC: Another highly touted recruit who wasted no time backing up the hype in college. Jackson won Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year after making 42 tackles and breaking up nine passes. He also caught seven passes for two TDs on offense and returned a kickoff for a TD.
7. Brad Kaaya, QB, Miami: The 6-4, 215-pound Californian is the biggest reason for optimism around UM these days. Entering the season, Cane coaches praised his accuracy and poise and both were on display as Kaaya blossomed as the year went on, leading the ACC in touchdowns (25) while only throwing 11 interceptions. He was one of two terrific true freshman QBs in the ACC that shined this fall, along with Clemson’s Deshaun Watson who probably would’ve made this list if not for injury.
8. Budda Baker, DB, Washington: After watching him at The Opening two summers ago, I was convinced Baker was going to be a star whether he played offense or defense, and it looks like for now it’s in the secondary for the Dawgs as he was the standout in a very, very young group. The 5-10, 173-pound Baker finished third on the team with 76 tackles to go along with six passes defended and two forced fumbles
9. De’Mornay Pierson-El, PR, Nebraska: Only 5-9 and 175 pounds, the Virginian provided a huge jolt to the Huskers special teams, running back three punts for touchdowns. He also caught three TD passes and threw for another TD.
10. Jarvion Franklin, RB, Western Michigan: There are a bunch of impressive backs who could’ve made this spot (UGA’s Nick Chubb, LSU’s Leonard Fournette, Oregon’s Royce Freeman, Arizona’s Nick Wilson and FSU’s Dalvin Cook) but I’ll go with the bruising Franklin, a 220-pounder from Illinois who ran for 1,525 yards and 24 TDs while mauling MAC opponents. Franklin got rolling early, running for 163 yards and three TDs in the opener at Purdue. He provided a big spark for one of the pleasant surprises in college football as a program that went from 1-11 last year improved to 8-4 this season.