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College Football's Top 25 Freshmen Through Week 9

Jameis Winston

Jameis Winston

Projecting which freshmen will make an impact in any college football season is no easy task. But after nine weeks, there's enough data to know how the top newcomers are playing, so it’s time to examine how some of the top true and redshirt freshmen have performed this year.

Florida State’s Jameis Winston is a special talent that could have started right away but took a redshirt in their first season. Not only is Winston one of the leading candidates for the Heisman Trophy, but the freshman is already one of the top players in college football.

Winston’s performance through nine weeks in 2013, along with Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel’s 2012 Heisman victory,illustrate what can happen when a special, elite freshman earns a starting spot under center.

But there’s another side to recruiting and incoming freshmen. Some players may take a couple of years to develop. And some players simply never live up to their lofty recruiting rankings.

Recruiting and talent evaluation is no exact science, which is why there are always a few names from outside of the top 100 or 200 of incoming freshmen that always seem to make an impact each year.

Athlon will update this list at the conclusion of 2013, but for now, here’s a look at the top freshmen nationally after nine weeks.

College Football's Top 25 Freshmen After Week 9

1. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
Not only is Winston the top freshman in college football, he could make a strong case to be the No. 1 overall player. The Alabama native leads the ACC with an average of 311 passing yards per game, and his 11.9 yards per attempt ranks second nationally to Baylor’s Bryce Petty. Winston has tossed only four picks on 183 attempts and is completing 69.9 percent of his throws. Against ACC competition, Winston has thrown for at least three touchdowns in every game. As long as Famous Jameis continues at this pace, Florida State should finish unbeaten and in the mix for a spot in the national championship.

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2. Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida
Considering Florida already had Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson at cornerback, Hargreaves wasn’t necessarily guaranteed a prominent role in Florida’s secondary this year. However, the true freshman has been one of the Gators’ top defenders through the first seven games, recording 19 tackles, three interceptions and seven pass breakups. According to advanced data by GatorBait.net, Hargreaves has allowed just 10 catches on 36 targets this year. And another indication of how good Hargreaves has been this year was his recent selection as one of the 15 finalists for the Jim Thorpe Award.

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3. Kendall Fuller/Brandon Facyson, CB, Virginia Tech
We usually list one player per slot, but Fuller and Facyson are almost interchangeable as key cogs in Virginia Tech’s secondary. With Antone Exum missing the first seven games recovering from knee surgery, the Hokies threw Fuller and Facyson into the fire. Both freshmen responded and played at a high level from the opening snap. Fuller has more tackles than Facyson (31 to 17) and owns a slight edge in interceptions (5 to 4). However, Facyson missed one game due to injury. Thanks in part to the performance of Fuller and Facyson, the Hokies rank second nationally against the pass and have allowed just six touchdown tosses in eight games. With Exum and Kyle Fuller expiring their eligibility at the end of the year, Fuller and Facyson will headline the secondary in 2014.

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4. Alex Collins, RB, Arkansas
New Arkansas coach Bret Bielema brought the same run-first mentality to Fayetteville that he used at Wisconsin, and Collins has been a perfect fit in the new offense. The Florida native leads the Razorbacks with 797 yards and has four rushing scores on 141 attempts. Collins is averaging 5.7 yards per carry and his 797 yards rank third in the SEC. The freshman had four 100-yard efforts in his first five games and had a solid showing against Alabama (77 yards). Expect Collins to be one of the key pieces in Bielema’s rebuilding effort.

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5. A’Shawn Robinson, DE, Alabama
Robinson has quickly emerged as one of Alabama’s top defensive linemen this season. In eight appearances, the true freshman has 23 tackles (five for a loss) and four sacks. Robinson also has four quarterback hurries. In Saturday’s win over Tennessee, Robinson started at nose guard and started at end against Georgia State. At 6-foot-4, 320 pounds, the Texas native certainly doesn’t resemble a true freshman, and he will only get better with another offseason in Alabama’s weight room.

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6. Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State
Hackenberg’s numbers aren’t as impressive as Florida State’s Jameis Winston, but the Penn State starter has been solid in his first season on campus. The true freshman has started all seven games for the Nittany Lions, throwing for 1,784 yards and 12 touchdowns. Hackenberg has eight interceptions but is averaging 254.9 passing yards per game. The Virginia native has not completed more than 54.5 percent of his passes in a Big Ten contest. However, Hackenberg will get better with more time under the tutelage of coach Bill O’Brien.

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7. Su’a Cravens, S, USC
Cravens ranked as the No. 5 recruit in the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100, and the California native is already one of USC’s top defenders. In eight games, Cravens has 37 tackles (1.5 tackles for a loss), three interceptions and one forced fumble. Cravens enrolled early at USC and the experience paid off, as he has started all eight games and will be one of the centerpieces for the Trojans’ new coach to build around in 2014.

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8. Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss
Treadwell was the top wide receiver recruit in the 2013 signing class and has been as good as advertised. In eight games, Treadwell has 41 catches for 385 yards and two scores. The freshman is averaging only 9.4 yards per reception, but his emergence at the start of the season was valuable for an offense that was dealing with the absence of Vince Sanders. If Donte Moncrief leaves for the NFL after this season, Treadwell will be the Rebels’ No. 1 target in 2014.

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9. Jalen Ramsey, CB, Florida State
Ramsey’s versatility has already paid dividends for Florida State’s defense, as the Tennessee native started the season at cornerback and moved to safety after Tyler Hunter’s neck injury. In seven games, Ramsey has 29 tackles, one sack, one interception and a forced fumble. Florida State’s secondary boasts an impressive collection of speed, talent and athletic ability, and Ramsey has been a key reason why the Seminoles rank first nationally against the pass, allowing just 9.9 yards per completion this year.