Freshmen should play a bigger role in college football than ever this season, thanks to a rule change instituted by the NCAA.
The NCAA is allowing players to participate in up to four games and still qualify for a redshirt season that would enable them to maintain four years of eligibility. That rule change should put more freshmen on the field than ever before.
"It's a seismic change in our world," Baylor coach Matt Rhule said.
Of course, more and more freshmen have been making an impact on the game well before this rule change. With a growing number of freshmen enrolling in school early and participating in spring practice rather than preparing for their senior proms, newcomers already have been delivering big performances on college football's biggest stage.
The latest example of that came in last year's College Football Playoff championship game, when freshman Tua Tagovailoa came off the bench in the second half to rally Alabama to an overtime victory over Georgia.
"I know the freshmen are more ready now than maybe ever before," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "Back when I first got into coaching, 95 percent of your freshman class would redshirt. Now it's probably less than 50 percent."
Here is a rundown of some true freshmen with the opportunity to make a major impact this fall.
WRs Ja'Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall
LSU doesn't return any wideouts who had more than 219 yards receiving last season, so the Tigers could use some playmakers in the passing game. Chase and Marshall fit the profile. Chase was LSU's leading receiver in a scrimmage Saturday and has earned praise from LSU coach Ed Orgeron. "He has big hands," Orgeron said. "He has 10 ½-inch hands. He can catch the ball well. He's very strong, fast, runs great routes. Very mature. He just has a natural knack for catching the football." Marshall was the nation's No. 3 receiver and No. 13 overall prospect in his class according to a composite ranking of recruiting sites compiled by 247Sports . Chase also was a top-100 recruit.
QB JT Daniels and WR Amron St. Brown
These former high school teammates at Santa Ana (California) Mater Dei already are accustomed to connecting for touchdowns. St. Brown was the nation's No. 2 receiver and No. 11 overall prospect, according to the 247Sports Composite. Daniels was ranked second among pro-style quarterbacks and 16th overall. Daniels is competing with sophomore Matt Fink and redshirt freshman Jack Sears for the right to replace New York Jets first-round draft pick Sam Darnold as USC's starting quarterback. Daniels threw three touchdown passes to St. Brown at a recent scrimmage.
QB Trevor Lawrence
Lawrence is so promising that he's forged a legitimate preseason competition with incumbent starter Kelly Bryant, who helped the Tigers win an Atlantic Coast Conference title and reach the College Football Playoff last season. Lawrence was the nation's No. 1 overall prospect in his class according to the 247Sports Composite. He enrolled at Clemson early and was 11-of-16 for 122 yards with a touchdown pass and no interceptions in the Tigers' spring game. While it wouldn't be a surprise if Bryant hangs onto his job for the start of the season, Lawrence figures to get a chance at some point this year.
DB Brendan Radley-Hiles
Oklahoma has played championship-caliber offense the last few seasons but hasn't had a defense to match. Radley-Hiles could help change that. The Sooners have high hopes for the top-50 recruit and expect him to contribute right away. Big 12 media selected him as the conference's preseason newcomer of the year.
CB Patrick Surtain Jr.
Alabama needs immediate help in the secondary after losing its top six defensive backs from last year's national championship team. That should create an early opportunity for Surtain, rated by the 247Sports Composite as the nation's No. 1 cornerback and No. 6 overall prospect in his class. Surtain is the son of former Miami Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Patrick Surtain, a three-time Pro Bowl selection.
RB Maurice Washington
The most valuable player of the 2018 Under Armour High School All-America game has been the talk of Nebraska's camp. Washington qualified academically just a few days before the start of preseason practice but has performed well enough already that Nebraska coach Scott Frost has said "he's going to be a pretty special player." ''He's definitely opening some eyes," Frost said. "I think he's got a bright future here." Other freshmen to watch for Nebraska include cornerback Cam Taylor and quarterback Adrian Martinez, who is competing with redshirt freshman Tristan Gebbia for the starting spot.
Six more true freshmen who could make a major impact this season:
- Zack Annexstad, QB, Minnesota
- Keaontay Ingram, RB, Texas
- Dante Stills, DL, West Virginia
- Alontae Taylor, CB, Tennessee
- Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
- Jaiden Woodbey, DB, Florida State