It was a slow process at first, and one that involved changing recruiting rules and scholarships. But when the NCAA dropped the ban on freshmen playing college football their first year on campus in the early-1970s, it changed the sport forever.
While we did see impact freshmen almost from the start, it wasn't until the mid-90s that it really took off. And increasingly, we're seeing freshmen play bigger and bigger roles in the success of college football teams, the evidence clear to see in the last two Heisman Trophy winners.
Granted, Johnny Manziel in 2012 and Jameis Winston this past season were frosh of the redshirt variety, but those redshirts aren't being handed out to 1st-year players as routinely as they once were. Some of that has to do with the fact so many collegians bolt for the NFL after they've used up their second seasons of NCAA eligibility.
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Will Another Trojan
QB Strike Heisman Gold?
If another redshirt freshman quarterback is going to follow Manziel and Winston in the chase for the Heisman Trophy, it very well could be Southern Cal's Max Browne. One of the top-rated quarterbacks in the Recruiting Class of 2013, Browne was held back last season by then-Trojans coach Lane Kiffin, but you can bet new head coach Steve Sarkisian is going to be open to Browne winning the starting QB job in '14.
Browne will have to beat out Cody Kessler who threw for nearly 3,000 yards last year for the Trojans. Kessler's backup in 2013 was Max Wittek, who has chosen to leave USC, and it's very likely a part of that reason is he didn't want to fall to No. 3 on the depth chart behind both Kessler and Browne.
Another redshirt frosh who could earn his way to the top of the depth chart is Notre Dame's Malik Zaire. The Irish offense was directed by senior Tommy Rees in '13, and the battle to replace him will is between Zaire and Everett Golson, MIA last season due to suspension.
Two more players who saw a little action in 2013 before being granted medical redshirts are Florida State linebacker Matthew Thomas (shoulder) and Texas A&M wide receiver Ricky Seals-Jones (knee). College football bettors will want to monitor their recoveries from the surgeries, as it could give them an edge over the College Football odds.
Fournette Tops SEC
Haul In Class of -14
A big reason why the LSU Tigers placed second in the most recent recruiting wars, and a factor in being among the favorites to win the new CFP Championship at 18/1 on the college football futures odds, is running back Leonard Fournette. The top-ranked recruit from the Class of 2014, Fournette should play a roll in the Tigers' offense despite the return of Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard.
Alabama was the consensus pick for the top recruiting class, thanks to landing the top offensive lineman, Cameron Robinson, defensive end Da'Shawn Hand plus corners Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey.
Coming in at No. 4 on the recruiting trail was Texas A&M, and all three of the Aggies' top recruits could make an impact in 2014. Myles Garrett, the top-rated defensive end, is the one most likely to see ample time on the field, but spring and summer camps could also push both Kyle Allen, the top-ranked quarterback, and receiver Speedy Noil into starting roles.
Can Peppers Follow
Woodson's Formula To Heisman Glory?
Michigan was ranked 18th on ESPN's list of top 2014 recruiting classes, but by all accounts, Brady Hoke and the Wolverines landed the best athlete along the way, and quite possibly the freshman who will make the biggest impact this season.
Jabrill Peppers consistently ranked behind Leonard Fournette in the class of 2014, but Peppers' path to stardom should be immediate while Fournette deals with returning veterans ahead of him in Baton Rouge. The 6-2, 210-pound star out of Paramus Catholic High School in New Jersey is expected to move right into a starting cornerback position for the Wolverines, and he'll also be considered for returning kicks.
If he can make a splash with a strong freshman season in a dual role for Michigan, Peppers could be among the leading Heisman Trophy contenders in 2015. That would put Peppers' name alongside former Wolverines star Charles Woodson, who won the honors in 1997 playing primarily on defense and special teams.