Fifty years ago, the NCAA tied up a loose end. After deciding that college starters in other sports (and at other levels) would be eligible for varsity ball, he announced that the same rules would apply to major college football and basketball. In an effort to cut costs, he added more artistic coverage to an already rich sport.
“It’s not certain that all the major football and basketball powers will use players,” The New York Times reported in January 1972. “A recent poll of major college football coaches indicated they were 2 to 1 against using freshmen on varsity teams… But the NCAA members who passed this decision were faculty athletic advisors, college administration members who were concerned about saving money by eliminating freshmen teams. They save money.
Did this change make a big splash? Not necessarily. College football isn’t suddenly dominated by 18-year-olds. But without this change, the legend of College Basketball Hall of Famer Quinn Buckner — who started as a true freshman for both the basketball and football teams at Indiana in 1972-73 — wouldn’t have been as rich. Tony Dorsett wasn’t going to be the best running back in his country the moment he set foot on Pitt’s campus. Georgia would not have coached Herschel Walker to the 1980 national title. And we would not have been exposed to the greatness of some of the most amazing stars the sport has seen in the last half century.
To commemorate the change, let’s make a list! Here are the 50 best seasons by true freshmen in major college football over the past 50 years. A few went on to great careers at both the college and pro level. Others have already left. Let’s celebrate them all.
50. LB/RB Myles Jack, UCLA (2013)
Jack, a three-star recruit from Washington, not only got enough playing time to finish third in Bruins tackles (76) and tackles for loss (seven) by a first-year star, but also ranked second. Rushing touches (seven). He had five catches, 59 rushing yards and four touchdowns in a 41-31 win at Washington. That game alone might have gotten him on the list.
49. OL Reggie Green, Florida (1992)
Former NFL head coach Dick Vermeil, while working as a TV analyst for ABC, called Green “the best freshman tackle I’ve ever seen in college football” on a 1992 broadcast. He was a rock capable of shutting down Alabama all-arounder Eric Curry in the SEC Championship Game. In the year He was All-SEC in 1993, but unfortunately injuries slowed him down from there.