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The best freshman seasons in college football history

Profile Picture: Dan Halverson

Dan Halverson

October 7th, 2021

Ohio State running back TreVeyon Henderson is only 18 years old and has burst onto the college football scene with an impressive start to his freshman campaign. Through his first five games he has 510 yards and seven touchdowns, and is averaging an eye-popping 9.4 yards per carry.

As we look forward to more electric runs in Henderson's career, let’s look back at the five best freshman seasons in college football history.

5. Michael Crabtree

Position: Wide receiver
Team: Texas Tech
Year: 2007

Before a long and successful career in the NFL, Michael Crabtree spent two years in a high-octane offense at Texas Tech racking up ridiculous receiving numbers. Of the two, it was his freshman year that saw him absolutely explode on the scene.

Crabtree caught 134 receptions for 1,962 yards. He had 22 touchdowns en route to averaging nearly 20 yards per catch. To this day, it is the third most receiving yards in a season in college football history, and the most by a member of a Power 5 team.

4. Ron Dayne

Position: Running back
Team: Wisconsin
Year: 1996

Prior to winning the Heisman Trophy his senior year, Ron Dayne bulldozed his way to his most rushing yards in a season his freshman year, where he totaled 2,109 yards at Wisconsin. Dayne would add 21 touchdowns, and in somewhat of a comical statistic looking back at the entirety of his career, he caught 14 balls for 133 yards as well.

Dayne was too big and powerful for the average college defender to take down by themselves, and he parlayed that into a four-year career that totaled him 7,125 yards on the ground. Dayne would go on to win the Heisman his senior year, but that was considered as much a career achievement as a stand-alone season of exceptionalism. It was Dayne’s freshman year that statistically was most impressive.

3. Trevor Lawrence

Position: Quarterback
Team: Clemson
Year: 2018

Trevor Lawrence is now a starting quarterback in the NFL after being the first overall draft pick in 2021, and we all knew he was destined for professional football when he debuted at Clemson in 2018.

With a strong arm, tall frame, and great vision, he led the 2018 Clemson Tigers all the way to a national championship against Alabama, winning 44-16 in a game that instantly started the clock on him being called first on draft night.

Lawrence threw for 3,280 yards and 30 touchdowns and led Clemson to 664 total points in the regular season.

2. Adrian Peterson

Position: Running back
Team: Oklahoma
Year: 2004

Statistically, Peterson’s freshman year wasn’t quite as impressive as Dayne’s, but his performance on the field and the game tape tell a different story.

It was said that Peterson may have been physically prepared to go straight from high school to college if not for rules prohibiting such jumps.

Once he hit the field at Oklahoma it was clear why this was being said, as he exhibited an unthinkable combination of power, speed, and fierceness. Peterson is the best college running back I’ve ever witnessed, and he hit the ground literally running his best in Norman. He ran for 1,925 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2004.

1. Jameis Winston

Position: Quarterback
Team: Florida State
Year: 2013

Jameis Winston began his career red hot on the road at Pittsburgh and never slowed down, leading the Seminoles to a national championship and earning a Heisman Trophy before being drafted first overall after his sophomore year.

In his freshman season, Winston led one of the best offenses in college football history. He threw for 4,057 yards, 40 touchdowns, and guided the Seminoles to an incredible 51.5 points per game. None of his three primary wide receivers spent more than a few seasons in the NFL, a further testament to the dominance Winston displayed in picking apart every defense he faced.