Going to college is an adjustment for any 18-year-old. Moving away from home, meeting new friends and living life independently is no small change.
Now, imagine combining that with competing against players that are (perhaps) three or four years older than you, and it’s easy to see why plenty of freshmen ride the pine in their inaugural season. It’s still very possible to become a college football star without seeing much time right away.
But some newcomers are so special that their coaches can’t afford to keep them off the field. We’ve seen as much in 2015.
With that in mind, here are nine freshmen that have had a great impact on the college football season thus far.
QB Josh Rosen – UCLA
‘The Rosen One,’ as many call him, looks like a seasoned veteran in the pocket for UCLA so far. The Bruins signal caller has been superb outside of the BYU game – against Virginia, UCLA and Arizona, he threw six touchdowns to just one interception while completing 66 percent of his passes.
Sure, it’s convenient to take out his BYU clunker. But that’s going to happen for freshman quarterbacks, and luckily for Rosen, he has a superb team around him at UCLA that allowed the Bruins to still emerge victorious.
Despite losing defensive studs Myles Jack and Eddie Vanderdoes, Rosen has UCLA fans looking giddy thanks to throws like this.
WR Christian Kirk – Texas A&M
Congratulations, Aggie fans. You really have something special on your hands.
Kirk is already one of the most electrifying players in college football, and he’s only scratching the surface of his potential.
The freshman blur has topped 100 receiving yards in three of his four outings, and he seems to haul in anything in his zip code. Texas A&M has a talented crop of receivers in Speedy Noil and Ricky Seals-Jones, but from day one, Kirk has been the most productive.
WR Calvin Ridley – Alabama
Ridley hasn’t quite put up the type of numbers Kirk has, but his talent is obvious. The Tide is searching for that next stud receiver to replace Amari Cooper in Lane Kiffin's offense, and Ridley could eventually be that guy.
He has 17 receptions so far this season, which is solid, but the yardage hasn’t really been there. Still, being a true freshman and producing for Alabama is nothing to scoff at, so don’t be surprised if Ridley takes off once the Tide resolves its quarterback situation.
LB Malik Jefferson – Texas
Texas’ defense hasn’t quite been as stout as it has in years past. But Jefferson is still wreaking havoc on opposing backfields for the Longhorns.
Jefferson recorded nine total tackles in each of his first three games and a few highlight moments, such as the one above. The Big 12 is certainly more known for its offense than for its defense, but as a true freshman, Jefferson is already one of the most feared linebackers in the Big 12.
QB Kyler Murray – Texas A&M
Texas A&M fans – any room on the bandwagon for the author of this piece? I promise I’ll bring snacks.
No? OK. Anyway, nobody in the country has more exciting young talent on offense than the Aggies right now. Kyle Allen is playing great for Texas A&M, and he’s just a sophomore, so it’s tough to forecast when the job will be Murray’s.
The freshman has been a bit quiet as of late, but Murray flashed his potential in the season opener against Arizona State. He gained 69 yards on six rushing attempts and showed off his all-world athleticism that had folks raving for years. He’ll likely remain a change-of-pace quarterback for this season, but he has the explosiveness to impact several key games down the stretch.
RB Saquon Barkley – Penn State
Barkley carried the rock once in Penn State’s 27-10 loss Week 1 loss to Temple. Since then, he has 41 carries for 373 yards and four scores (one was receiving). The Nittany Lions are 3-0 in those three games.
Coincidence? I think not.
Barkley has provided a spark to a Penn State offense that desperately needed it. Akeel Lynch is set to return to the Nittany Lions’ backfield, but it’s hard to imagine sitting a guy averaging almost nine yards per carry. Hopefully for Penn State, this newfound rushing success will take pressure off of the often-sacked Christian Hackenberg.
QB Jake Browning – Washington
Browning has been up and down as a starter for Washington, but that’s to be expected from any true freshman quarterback. He’s 2-2, and in his two wins, he’s averaging 347 passing yards per game, has tossed 5 TDs and has thrown one pick. In his two losses, he’s averaging 151 yards, has tossed three interceptions and zero TDs. Funny how that works, right?
Browning is going to experience growing pains in Chris Petersen’s offense, but as the season progresses, the good should outweigh the bad. And the experience he gets this season will only help him in years down the road.
QB Tanner Mangum – BYU
Mangum has impacted this season because of this.
HAIL MARY! Trailing by 1, BYU's prayers are answered w/ a 42-yd TD pass on the last play at Nebraska. Wow. WATCH: http://t.co/PgkMuk91Of— ESPN (@espn) September 5, 2015
And, of course, this.
Still a true freshman at 22 years old, Mangum has experienced a roller-coaster ride in his first season at BYU. There have been ups and downs, but for the sake of college football fans everywhere, let’s hope ‘Mangum Magic’ has a few more tricks up his sleeve for the rest of 2015.