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College Football Power Rankings: Top 10 Freshman Quarterbacks Of 2012

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Top 10 Freshman Quarterbacks Of 2012

Johnny Manziel
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College football has seen a youth movement this season with freshman players stepping up all over the country to make huge contributions to their teams in their very first season of action. Nowhere has it been as impressive, however, as at the quarterback position.

This season, several teams turned to young guns to lead their offenses. Some were forced to because of injuries, but some chose to after seeing the spectacular talents and deciding they had to be on the field. For the most part, the young signal callers stepped up and impressed despite their youth and inexperience.

College football fans got to see freshmen quarterbacks do things that no other freshman has ever done in the history of college football. Some of the highest-flying offenses were led by first-year players suiting up for their very first games at the highest level of college football. The Pac 12 Championship game this year was played between a pair of freshman quarterbacks. The Heisman Trophy? Yeah, that went to a freshman quarterback for the first time ever.

The level of play has never been higher for freshman as the development of players starts earlier and earlier these days. These young men stepped onto campus ready to contribute. When given the opportunity, most of them did. There were the usual hiccups that one would expect from young quarterbacks, but all of them were impressive at some point.

The future is bright for the quarterback position in college football. So without further ado, we count down the top 10 freshman quarterbacks from the 2012 season.

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10. Wes Lunt, Oklahoma State Cowboys

Wes Lunt
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Wes Lunt made a splash in Stillwater when he enrolled early with the Oklahoma State Cowboys so he could participate in spring practices and win the starting job for the following fall as a true freshman. Lunt impressed with his arm strength and playmaking ability, which led many to believe the young quarterback was on his way to a breakout season for the Pokes.

However, Lunt’s freshman campaign turned into a frustrating one, as interceptions and injuries plagued the young quarterback in year one. Lunt played in just five games this season after getting injured in Week 3 against the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns and again in his second game back from his initial injury against the Kansas State Wildcats.

Lunt finished the year completing 80-of-128 passes for 1,096 yards with six touchdown passes to seven interceptions. He showed what he was capable of in his second career start on the road against the Arizona Wildcats when he threw for 436 yards and four touchdowns. The freshman is expected to come back healthy next season and compete once again for the starting job.

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9. Nick Sherry, UNLV Rebels

Nick Sherry
Troy Babbitt - USA TODAY Sports

Nick Sherry was named the starting quarterback for the UNLV Rebels during fall camp and was tasked with breathing life into a passing attack that gained just 1,315 yards with 10 touchdowns during the 2011 season, good for No. 118 out of 120 Division I teams in passing yards. Sherry’s talent and potential proved to be too much for head coach Bobby Hauck to sit, and the freshman certainly made things more exciting in the passing game.

The freshman put his big arm and fearless playing style on display early and often for the Rebels this season, as he beat the 2011 numbers (low bar or not) by gaining 2,544 yards through the air and found the end zone 16 times. However, the young QB had some trouble with his accuracy, connecting on just 53.1 percent of his passes. He also had a tendency to be too fearless, throwing into coverage to the tune of 17 interceptions.

While the bright spots for Sherry were nice, they didn’t turn into very many wins for UNLV, who finished just 2-11. However, Sherry is going to be the foundation on which Hauck builds his turnaround for the Rebels. Sherry will be the man in Las Vegas for years to come and will have the opportunity to do some very good things down the line.

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8. Travis Wilson, Utah Utes

Travis Wilson
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Travis Wilson was thrust into the starting role after Jordan Wynn suffered a career-ending shoulder injury and senior Jon Hays turned in some underwhelming performances. Wilson was expecting to sit on the sidelines and watch this season, but was inserted as the starter in Week 7 against the UCLA Bruins. Kyle Whittingham looked to Wilson to provide a spark for the Utes, who sputtered to a 2-3 record up to that point.

Wilson was pretty good over the last seven games, finishing the season completing 62.7 percent of his passes for 1,311 yards with seven touchdowns and six interceptions. He went just 3-4 as a starter and had a pretty terrible effort in the Utes’ loss to the Washington Huskies (8-of-23, 55 yards, 1 int), but showed great mental toughness by bouncing back for his best game of the season the following week against the Arizona Wildcats (28-of-40, 311 yards, 2 touchdowns).

The young quarterback knows that he will need to continue to improve to keep his starting job for next season. However, with Hays graduating, Wilson is the future for the Utes and will be looked to as the leader of Whittingham’s offense as they attempt to break through in the Pac 12.

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7. Austin Brown, UAB Blazers

Austin Brown
Thomas Campbell - USA TODAY Sports

Redshirt freshman Austin Brown made a strong push in the quarterback race during fall camp for the UAB Blazers. He planted himself firmly behind junior starter Jonathan Perry when the season opened. When Perry was unimpressive starting the first three games of the season, he was demoted for the younger Brown who came in early in the Blazers’ Week 3 loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes and started every game the rest of the season.

Brown impressed the coaching staff with his athletic ability and his high school experience coming out of a spread passing attack made him comfortable throwing the ball around. He finished the season completing 57.7 percent of his passes for 2,673 yards with 15 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He threw for 300 yards or more and three touchdowns in three different games this season, including a 409-yard, three touchdown performance against the Tulane Green Wave.

The young quarterback figures to have the inside track at the starting job next year, though Perry will be returning as a senior. Brown will need to cut down on the mistakes as he had two separate games with three interceptions. He would also be well served to utilize his athleticism more to make some plays with his feet and avoid sacks after getting taken down behind the line 36 times this season.

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6. Trevone Boykin, TCU Horned Frogs

Trevone Boykin
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The TCU Horned Frogs turned their starting quarterback job over to young Trevone Boykin after Casey Pachall was suspended indefinitely for a DWI arrest. Boykin took over in TCU’s fifth game of the season against the Iowa State Cyclones and gave head coach Gary Patterson hope for the future of his offense.

While his record as a starter (3-5) is far from pristine, Boykin displayed the leadership, toughness and ability that will make him the long-term solution for the Horned Frogs’ offensive questions. He has a strong arm and great athletic ability who has earned his teammates’ respect and can effectively lead the team to wins.

On the season, Boykin completed 58.6 percent of his passes for 1,853 yards with 15 touchdowns to nine interceptions. He also added 380 yards rushing with three touchdowns on the ground as he showed off his running ability when he needed to. Boykin has earned the starting job in Waco and will be poised to take TCU to the next level in the Horned Frogs’ second season in the Big 12.

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5. J.W. Walsh, Oklahoma State Cowboys

J.W. Walsh
Richard Rowe - USA TODAY Sports

The Oklahoma State Cowboys had a pretty good problem to have with a pair of freshman quarterbacks ready to contribute right away. We’ve already discussed Wes Lunt, but it was J.W. Walsh who turned in the more impressive season in 2012. Walsh came on in relief of Lunt when he was injured in Week 3 before having his own season cut short with a knee injury four games later.

In those four games, though, Walsh was excellent. He completed 66.7 percent of his passes for 1,478 yards with 11 touchdowns and three interceptions. In his four-game stint, he threw for no less than 255 yards with three games of 300-yards or more. He came on in relief against Louisiana-Lafayette and threw for 347 yards and four touchdowns. In the game he hurt himself against Iowa State, Walsh stayed in the game and played through his injury, throwing for 415 yards and a touchdown.

When Walsh went down, Oklahoma State was second in the Big 12 in points per game and first in total offense, averaging 605.3 yards per game. Walsh was fifth in the conference in yards per game at the time of his injury and he left the starting lineup with a QB rating of 163.78. Whoever comes out on top in Oklahoma State’s race for the starting quarterback job next fall, Mike Gundy is going to be in good shape.

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4. Brett Hundley, UCLA Bruins

Brett Hundley
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The UCLA Bruins weren’t expected to do too much this season, but they surprised everyone with a Pac 12 South division title thanks to the play of their outstanding freshman quarterback Brett Hundley. Hundley’s athleticism and huge arm were key in turning around the Bruins’ offense under first-year head coach Jim Mora.

On the season, Hundley completed 68.2 percent of his passes for 3,411 yards with 26 touchdowns to 11 interceptions. He added 365 yards rushing with nine touchdowns on the ground. He threw at least one touchdown pass in all 12 regular season games, including a four touchdown, 274-yard performance against the Arizona State Sun Devils.

Hundley’s signature moment of the season, however, was when he led UCLA over the USC Trojans to secure the Pac 12 South for the second straight year. His three total touchdowns (1 passing, 2 rushing) were the difference and helped make a statement to the rest of the country that this Bruins’ team was for real. This year, Hundley took his team to the brink of their first Rose Bowl berth since 1999, but came up a long field goal short. Next season, he’ll be looking to take UCLA all the way back to the Granddaddy of them all.

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3. Kevin Hogan, Stanford Cardinal

Kevin Hogan
Kirby Lee - USA TODAY Sports

The Stanford Cardinal were in a pretty good position with junior Josh Nunes at quarterback for the first two-thirds of the season. The running game was playing well and the defense was stout, so Stanford sat at 6-2 after eight games with a home-stretch that could net them a Pac 12 title. Nunes’ play had been underwhelming, though, so David Shaw turned to freshman Kevin Hogan to give the Cardinal a spark.

Hogan responded by igniting the Stanford offense in its blowout win over the Colorado Buffaloes off the bench and then winning his first four starts over ranked opponents, including a 17-14 overtime road win over the Oregon Ducks. His accuracy and athleticism added some much needed pop to the Stanford attack and took the team to the Pac 12 North division title and Pac 12 Championship.

In his five games, Hogan completed 72.9 percent of his passes for 973 yards with nine touchdowns and three interceptions. He added 209 yards rushing with a pair of touchdowns on the ground as well. Hogan’s calm and cool demeanor keep the talented freshman cool and collected even the biggest moments, and he will only continue to get better as he grows into the offense.

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2. Marcus Mariota, Oregon Ducks

Marcus Mariota
Kirby Lee - USA TODAY Sports

The most impressive freshman quarterback in the Pac 12 didn’t even get to play in the conference championship game. Marcus Mariota won the starting job for the Oregon Ducks late in fall camp and quickly became the most talented quarterback that Chip Kelly has ever coached in his offense. Mariota’s blend of athleticism and throwing ability, along with his unbelievable maturity, made the transition to a new quarterback this season absolutely seamless.

Mariota is a unique blend of qualities that makes him the first exceptional quarterback who happens to be a gifted athlete in Kelly’s blur offense rather than the more common exceptional athlete who happens to be playing quarterback. The freshman from Honolulu brought a combination of smooth athleticism and effortless accuracy that made the Ducks the No. 2 ranked scoring offense in college football and got them to 11-1 with an at-large bid into the BCS.

On the season, Mariota completed 69.9 percent of his passes for 2,511 yards with 30 passing touchdowns and six interceptions. He also gained 7.0 yards per carry while rushing for 690 yards with four touchdowns on the ground. Most exceptional is that Mariota racked up very impressive numbers while only playing the first half in most games. Given another year, and the opportunity to play in some additional second halves, there’s no telling how high Mariota might rise.

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1. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M Aggies

Johnny Manziel
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In a year where a freshman quarterback won the Heisman Trophy, was there ever any doubt who would be number one on this countdown? Johnny Manziel took the country by storm this season with the Texas A&M Aggies, overcoming a pair of tough losses to put together one of the best freshman campaigns in the history of college football.

Manziel’s 4,600 all-purpose yards this season set an SEC record, previously held by fellow Heisman-winner Cam Newton. He set the SEC single-game all-purpose yardage record in a 576-yard, six touchdown performance against the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs. His 1,181 rushing yards led the SEC for all rushers and his 43 total touchdowns were tied for the most in college football.

His signature moment came when he led the Aggies into Tuscaloosa and toppled the previously unbeaten Alabama Crimson Tide where he threw for 253 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 92 yards. He did things this year that no freshman in history has ever done, culminating in his Heisman win, and now the whole world will watch to see what Johnny Football does next.