There’s few things more exciting in college football than watching that gem recruit take the field for your team. Freshman may sink under the pressure of the moment, but sometimes they do rise to the occasion. The key is to continue that success into their sophomore season and beyond.
Let’s look at some 2021-2022 sophomores who had stellar freshman campaigns on the offensive side of the ball:
*IMPORTANT Oklahoma QB Spencer Rattler and WR Marvin Mims were already headliners in our “Dynamic Duos” article on February 15th*
Connor Bazelak – QB, Missouri
Even though he didn’t have the greatest TD-INT ratio in year one, Bazelak is ahead of schedule compared to successful Mizzou signal callers before him. For a freshman he was highly efficient, completing 67.3% of his passes, going for 2,366 yards and seven TDs. Not completely eye popping numbers but in order to really understand his effectiveness, look at his predecessor Drew Lock.
Lock produced a lowly 49% completion percentage and a 1:2 TD to INT ratio in his first year. By the time he was a senior, he finished his career one TD shy of 100 and became a second round draft choice. Many of the other Missouri greats like Blaine Gabbert and Chase Daniel barely even saw the field as freshmen and they too became NFL draft selections.
Bazelak will have a solid sophomore season and continue the trend of Mizzou quarterbacks in the league
Season Prediction: 3,300 Passing Yards, 28 TDs, 9 INTs
Grayson McCall – QB, Coastal Carolina
Of all the surprises in college football last season, the rise of the Chanticleers had to be one of the most notable. The offense almost had a backyard feel to it, implementing a ton of play action and misdirection from odd formations. Even though it seemed a bit on the unconventional side, it was hard to stop due to McCall’s effectiveness through the air and on the ground.
He totaled 26 TDs through the air with only three interceptions, and also ran for another seven scores. McCall doesn’t have a ton of arm strength but does put the ball into really tight windows downfield, sometimes right over top of the defender’s shoulders. The ability for him to effectively target these man to man matchups stems from the run game forcing defenders into the box.
The Chanticleer offense was one of the most balanced units in the country last season, tallying 2,620 yards on the ground and 2,778 yards through the air. Also they ran for a total of 30 TDs and threw for only one less with 29. McCall should have free reign in this offense to do as he pleases after a successful freshman season, and be able to call his own shot more often next season.
Season Prediction: 2,975 Pass Yds, 28 TDs, 450 Rush Yds, 10 TDs
Bijan Robinson – RB, Texas
As a freshman Robinson only carried the ball 86 times and was able to eclipse the 700 yard mark to lead the Longhorns in rushing. This brought his average to 8.2 yards per carry, which is a great start to his career. He also averaged 13.1 yards per reception and reached a total of six TDs last season.
Robinson has an uncanny ability to start and stop, which puts the defenders on skates. He has a ton of lower body strength to move the pile and run through tackles, and upper body strength to stay upright. This ultimately is a player who will be firmly planted in the Heisman race.
Season Prediction: 1,650 Rush Yards, 350
Receiving Yards, 19 Total TDs
Deuce Vaughn – RB, Kansas State
Standing in at a towering 5’5”, Vaughn is one of the shortest players at the FBS level, but his play style wouldn’t have you thinking that. He runs aggressively but at the same time is as twitchy as they come. Gus Johnson referred to him as “lightning in a bottle” and nothing could be more true.
Vaughn will look to continue on the same high that he finished with in 2020, going for 100+ on Baylor and Texas in his last two games. His 5.2 yards per carry average was underwhelming, but the 25 receptions with a 17.4 yard average is ridiculous. The Darren Sproles reincarnation talk isn’t baseless because Vaughn seems to carry the same impact in Manhattan, while mirroring the body type. He should be getting at least 20 touches per game for the Wildcats because he’s just that dynamic.
Season Prediction: 1,230 Rush Yards, 600 Receiving Yards, 14 Total TDs
Sean Tucker – RB, Syracuse
Even though Tucker’s averages weren’t the greatest, he earned every single yard of his 626. The Orange’s 1-10 record last season was not in any way a reflection of Tucker’s effort as he was always turning negative yards into something positive. If you need some evidence on why he made this list, then go check out the Syracuse vs. Clemson game last year.
Tucker is super effective on stretch run plays as he makes his way to the edge, showing patience to find the right seam. He can put his foot in the ground hard and accelerate upfield, or cut against the grain and make it to the next level. His mindset to keep the legs churning and finish off the run helped him into the end zone a few times last season.
The only issue with his prediction is that if the Orange have no other production, he won’t find many opportunities in the run game due to score differential.
Season Prediction: 975 Rush Yds, 250 Receiving Yards, 10 Total TDs, 5.4 YPC
Kayshon Boutte – WR, LSU
Hardly anyone outside the Bayou Bengal faithful thought LSU was supposed to be a top 10 team heading into last season. The mass NFL Draft exodus following their championship season, and the opt out of the returning stars like Ja’Marr Chase and Tyler Shelvin left the Tigers in shambles. The completely open depth chart allowed for young talents like Boutte to get the early spotlight.
He seems poised to become the next Tiger wideout selected in the first round in a few years. His ability to work the middle of the field and make himself available to the quarterback will help him rack up the receptions. When hit in stride, Boutte has speed to beat defenders in a foot race and the footwork to force missed tackles.
Season Prediction: 75 Receptions, 1,100 Receiving Yards, 10 TDs
Quentin Johnston – WR, TCU
Johnston came up just 13 receiving yards shy of 500 as a freshman, and managed to do so on only 22 receptions. This put his average at 22.1 per reception, which was fifth best in the country. For a young wideout he has a great ability to make contested catches and make people miss before the sticks.
At 6’4” and having a more slender frame, there is plenty of room to grow. TCU has the run-centric offense which should allow for Johnston to have many one on one opportunities on the outside. If quarterback Max Duggan continues his maturation and improves his passing abilities, then this offense is going to be electric.
Season Prediction: 40 Receptions, 800 yards, 7 TDs, 20.0 Yards/Reception.
Peter Skoronski – OT, Northwestern
The intrigue was there before Skoronski even set foot on campus in Evanston. He was Northwestern’s fourth highest rated recruit ever, and second highest since Pat Fitzgerald took over in 2006. The thought process was to get him on the field early but not to be a cornerstone piece as a freshman.
The opt out of newly drafted Charger, Rashawn Slater, left a massive hole at left tackle and put quite a dent into the initial plan. Skoronski undertook the daunting task and turned it into a freshman All-American team performance. He will look to build upon his great success as the blind side protector and ultimately launch his draft stock during his sophomore campaign.
Season Prediction: 2 Sacks Allowed, 5 Pressures Allowed