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Stan Becton | | July 12, 2023

Cooper Kupp vs. Adrian Peterson: Who had the greatest freshman season in FCS history?

Cooper Kupp’s top FCS playoff highlights at Eastern Washington

The FCS (or I-AA) has had legendary football players coming in and out of the subdivision since its origins in 1978. However, as in every level of football, a freshman can rarely enter college and dominate right away. Yet, two all-time legends did just that: Eastern Washington's Cooper Kupp and Georgia Southern's Adrian Peterson.

While Peterson was a true freshman and Kupp was a redshirt freshman, both had arguably the two best seasons from any freshman in FCS history. But who had the better season between the two? 

To answer that question, we'll look at a side-by-side breakdown of the freshman seasons of Kupp and Peterson, from the statistics to the accolades.

Keep in mind, this is a comparison of FCS careers ONLY, so NFL and professional accomplishments do not factor in. Professionally, Eastern Washington's Kupp starred for the Los Angeles Rams, winning the NFL Offensive Player of the Year and Super Bowl MVP in 2021. Meanwhile, Georgia Southern's Peterson played for the Chicago Bears — and even shared an NFL division with the other Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings — for most of his professional career.

That said, let's get into the comparison.


Eastern Washington School Georgia Southern
6'2'' Height 5'10''
195 pounds Weight 214 pounds
2013 Year 1998

Kupp and Peterson each stood a formidable size for their positions. Kupp stood 6-foot-2, 195 pounds. While that's not huge for a receiver, he was far from small at any level, especially the FCS. Peterson at 5-foot-10 and 214 pounds was a bigger running back, with the speed to match.

LEGENDS: Jerry Rice vs. Cooper Kupp career comparison

Wins and Losses

15 Games played 15
12-3 Record 14-1
Semifinals Postseason finish Runner-up

Peterson had more team success as a freshman than Kupp, as Georgia Southern began the season undefeated before losing in the FCS title game to finish 14-1. Meanwhile, Eastern Washington lost in the FCS semifinals to finish 12-3 with a regular season FBS win. Kupp and Peterson won the Big Sky and SoCon conference titles, respectively.

FCS CHAMPIONSHIP: How the FCS playoffs work | Schools with most titles | Full championship history

Freshman stats

Cooper Kupp

Here are Cooper Kupp's regular season and postseason stats in college.

Reg. 12 77 6.4 1,376 114.7 17.9 18
Post. 3 16 5.3 315 105 19.7 3

🐐: We picked the top-5 players all-time for Eastern Washington football

Adrian Peterson

Here are Adrian Peterson's regular season and postseason stats in college.

Reg. 11 258 23.5 1,932 175.6 7.5 25
Post. 4 107 26.8 674 168.5 6.3 9

LEGENDS: Brian Westbrook vs. Adrian Peterson career comparison

Best Game

Cooper Kupp

Kupp had many standout performances as a freshman, catching multiple touchdowns in seven games and going over the century receiving mark eight times, including a game against Idaho State where he caught eight passes for 205 yards (a season-high) and two touchdowns. However, Kupp's best game as a freshman was his first. He caught five passes for 119 yards and two touchdowns in his first-ever college game — a 49-46 ranked FCS-over-FBS upset against then-No. 25 Oregon State — to burst onto the scene.

MORE: See all of Cooper Kupp's career stats, highlights and records

Adrian Peterson

There are plenty of games to choose from as Peterson's best from his freshman year. He ran for four touchdowns in three games, including a win over UConn in the FCS quarterfinals. But his best game came during the regular season against The Citadel, when he ran for 231 yards and five touchdowns on 22 carries. Peterson ran for one of his longest touchdowns of the season in that game, scoring a 51-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.

FCS-OVER-FBS UPSET HISTORY: All-time victories, upsets, wins vs. ranked teams 

Records set

Cooper Kupp

FCS freshman records

  • 1st in FCS freshman receptions: 93 receptions
  • 1st in FCS freshman receiving yards: 1,691 yards
  • 1st in FCS freshman receiving touchdowns: 21 touchdowns
  • 1st in FCS freshman consecutive games with a receiving touchdown: 14 games

Adrian Peterson

FCS freshman records

  • 1st in FCS freshman rushing yards: 1,932 yards
  • 1st in FCS freshman rushing yards per game: 175.6 ypg
  • 1st in FCS freshman 100-yard rushing games: 11 games

Of note: There's no category for FCS freshman rushing touchdowns listed in the NCAA Record book.

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Awards won

Cooper Kupp

Here are the awards and honors Kupp won as a freshman in 2013:

  • 2013 Jerry Rice Award
  • Big Sky Conference Freshman of the Year
  • Phil Steel first-team freshman All-American
  • First-team All-Big Sky Conference Wide Receiver
  • Consensus (AFCA, AP, STATS) FCS All-American
  • WCFF first-team FCS All-American

Adrian Peterson

Here are the awards and honors Peterson won as a freshman:

  • 1998 Walter Payton Award finalist
  • First-Team FCS All-American
  • Consensus (Coaches, Media) First-team All-SoCon Running Back
  • Consensus (Coaches, Media) SoCon Offensive Player of the Year
  • Consensus (Coaches, Media) SoCon Freshman Player of the Year

Of note: The Jerry Rice Award, which goes to the best freshman in the FCS, wasn't created until 2011, meaning Adrian Peterson didn't have a chance to win the award.

AWARDS: Walter Payton Award history | Buck Buchanan Award history | Jerry Rice Award history

Who had the best season?

Both Kupp and Peterson dominated from their first days on campus. Kupp won the Jerry Rice Award after quickly making an impact in the high-flying Eastern Washington attack, while Peterson bulldozed his way in a triple-option rushing attack. 

You've seen how all-time FCS great freshmen Kupp and Peterson stack up and compare. The stats, the facts and the data have been presented and each has a strong case for being better than the other.

So, who had the better freshman season between Cooper Kupp and Adrian Peterson?

That's for you to decide.

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