Top 21 College Football Underclassmen

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Joe Broback

Contributor at Champion Insiders
Joe is a writer covering the NFL, NBA, NHL and college football. He also currently writes for SB Nation’s Underdog Dynasty, covering the American Athletic Conference since 2016. Joe enjoys collecting shoes, playing sports, and anything fitness related.
Joe Broback
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When did college football get so young? A few years ago, freshman rarely saw the field. Now, they compete for starting spots right away. Some of the best college football players are still teenagers, but these underclassmen commanding the spotlight. We know about some of the best (Trevor Lawrence, Justyn Ross, etc.), so we won’t dive into them. Instead, we take a look at 21 underclassmen who are already stars that you should know.

Others to watch: Justyn Ross, Clemson; Trevor Lawrence, Clemson; Jake Ferguson, Wisconsin; Creed Humphrey, Oklahoma; K’Lavon Chaisson, LSU

Penei Sewell, Oregon

After this year, Sewell becomes the only returning starter with four seniors on Oregon’s offensive line. He stepped into the starting spot as a freshman and never gave it back. While the seniors garner most of the attention, Sewell’s potential remains the highest of them all.

Daniel Faalele, Minnesota

His size became the talk of the town when he came to campus, but it was his play that took over from there. Faalele is tough to miss on film at 6’9″, 380 pounds, but he also played well. In the spring, the Gophers let him run the ball in for a touchdown, and that gives Big Ten coaches something to worry about until they face Minnesota.

Adrian Martinez, Nebraska

When Martinez is on, he’s one of the most electric players in college football. In case you haven’t noticed, Martinez and the Huskers are generating a ton of hype. Scott Frost is the biggest reason both are getting attention, but it very well could turn into a Heisman run.

Alan Bowman, Texas Tech

Anytime I see the name Alan, I immediately think of Coach Yoast calling for Alan Bosley when Petey Jones quits on the team. Then he gives a speech that will give you goosebumps. Speaking of goosebumps, Bowman’s game can give you them. The Red Raiders offense thrives under his leadership, and he’s just a sophomore. He needs to stay healthy for the Texas Tech offense to excel.

Justin Fields, Ohio State

Fields gave it a go at Georgia, but it didn’t work out. Now he’s the man at Ohio State. Surrounded by four and five star talent. With Dwayne Haskins leaving for the NFL, and a few other quarterbacks transferring in the offseason, Fields fills an important role. With Michigan chomping on their heels, the Buckeyes needed a threat at quarterback.

Kennedy Brooks, Oklahoma

It’s next man up mentality with the Sooners. When Rodney Anderson went down with an injury, Brooks and Trey Sermon stepped up. Both return and are capable of eclipsing 1,000 yards each this year.

CJ Verdell/Travis Dye, Oregon

Oh, would you look at that? Two undersized and lightning quick Oregon Duck running backs. Where have we seen this before? Dye and Verdell are a pair. You can’t talk about one without the other, and both hurt you with the ball in their hands.

Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma State

Justice Hill gave the Cowboys an incredible back, but Hubbard quietly produced over 700 yards as his backup. Now, the job is his, and he’s proven to be a little more durable than his predecessor. Oklahoma State’s a quarterback away from having a dangerous offense this year.

Jermar Jefferson, Oregon State

It’s safe to say no one saw this coming. Jefferson was off everyone’s radar coming in to last year. That changes quickly after a 1,380 yard and 12 touchdown season. It’s even more impressive given the team he’s playing for currently.

Rondale Moore, Purdue

He’s only 5’9″, 175 pounds, but he squats 600 and is a touchdown waiting to happen. We all knew Rondale Moore was going to be good, but we didn’t expect it to be this good and this soon. What’s scary is that his 1,471 yards and 14 touchdowns were just the beginning.

Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon

Instant impact player who should start for the Ducks Week 1. Thibodeaux comes in as the second best recruit in the nation. He’ll join Jordon Scott and Austin Faoliu on the line, and gives Pac-12 lineman something new to worry about each week. Underclassmen are tough to find on the Ducks roster, but Thibeodeaux sticks out.

Xavier Thomas, Clemson

Thomas managed to make 8.5 tackles for loss with 3.5 sacks as a backup to the greatest defensive line in Tigers history. All four stars are gone, and he gets a chance to start. Some say he’s better then his predecessors, and Clemson needs it to help move on from those four.

Micah Parsons, Penn State

Parsons wasted little time integrating himself into the Nittany Lions defense as a freshman. Now, he has a full year under his belt and can grow as a player. Penn State’s defense returns quite a bit of experience, and Parsons is a rising star among that group.

Paulson Adebo, Stanford

Scouts already love his game at corner, and it won’t be long before he’s in the NFL. Adebo’s just the latest Cardinal defender to be one of the best in college football. His length and instincts make him a potential first round pick, and Stanford should enjoy him while he’s still on campus.

Andre Cisco, Syracuse

Cisco found out the best way to get noticed as a freshman: make plays. He picked off seven passes last year at safety, making him one of the most dangerous underclassmen returning this year. The Orange defense could be great this year at all levels.

Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati

Normally, you don’t expect underclassmen to make a huge impact on your season. Ridder elevated the Bearcats offense to a new level, and the result was an 11-win season. The dual-threat returns and joins Michael Warren II in the backfield, and both will help Cincinnati compete for a conference title.

Jaylen Waddle, Alabama

While everyone focuses on Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III, Waddle’s quietly becoming the next electric receiver for the Tide. He’s already just as fast as those two, and there will be more touches for him once both Jeudy and Ruggs move on to the NFL.

KJ Hamler, Penn State

Penn State’s coaching staff continues to find any way to get the ball in Hamler’s hands. That’s the reputation he already has after just one season of college football. After losing both Trace McSorley and Tommy Stevens in the offseason, the Nittany Lions might as well line Hamler up at quarterback.

Derek Stingley Jr., LSU

As if LSU didn’t have enough talent already on their roster, they bring in a freshman who’s ready to contribute in the secondary immediately. Stingley’s showing he’s ready for the college game, and he’ll fight for a starting spot in an already loaded secondary.

Hank Bachmeier, Boise State

Boise State’s coaching staff found the perfect time to bring in a highly touted quarterback. With Brett Rypien exhausting his eligibility, the Broncos need a new starter. Bachmeier comes in as one of the highest rated recruits in Boise State’s history, and it wouldn’t shock anyone to see him under center against Florida State.

Joey Gatewood, Auburn

Underclassmen will play huge roles for the Tigers. Bo Nix will challenge Gatewood for a spot that has tremendous influence over Gus Malzahn’s future. Jarrett Stidham’s talents are in the NFL, leaving a vital position open. Gatewood appeared to be the starter in the spring, and has big shoes to fill.