Five for Friday: Best Freshman Seasons in OSU Football History
By Tony Gerdeman
There is a buzz around Ohio State's recruiting right now that is probably unmatched in the school's history. With four and five-star prospects banging on the Buckeyes' door, the hope is that some of these blue chip recruits will become impact freshmen.
Impact freshmen have actually been pretty rare at Ohio State. However, that doesn't mean that there haven't been a few who have made some lasting marks as Buckeyes. I'm sure you already have a working list with famous names in your head, but here are the top five (plus) who made my list.
1. Andy Katzenmoyer (1996)
Andy Katzenmoyer didn't just have the best freshman season in Ohio State football history, he had one of the best individual seasons for anybody in Ohio State football history. He became the first Buckeye freshman linebacker to start every game, finishing second on the team with 85 tackles in 1996. His 23 tackles for loss and 12 sacks remain Ohio State records for linebackers. In fact, the closest a Buckeye has come to his 23 tackles for loss since, was the 17.0 that linebacker Ryan Shazier had in 2012. Katzenmoyer's five tackles for loss against Arizona State in the Rose Bowl remains tied for a school record. He was named First-Team All-Big Ten as a freshman. He also had four interceptions, so he wasn't simply a linebacker who was sent to seek and destroy. He provided some of the most iconic images in Buckeye football history, and way before there was Katherine Webb for Brent Musburger, there was Andy Katzenmoyer.
2. Orlando Pace (1994)
Orlando Pace was the first freshman offensive lineman to start the opening game in Ohio State football history. "I knew I had a shot because of all the offensive linemen that were leaving. I knew there was an opportunity for me to play. But I didn't realize it would be this early," he said back in 1994. He started at left tackle, and ended up winning the Big Ten Freshman of the Year Award. Pace didn't give up a sack as a sophomore or junior, and I seem to recall history saying he only gave up one or two as a freshman. Pace was so good that there was never a need to move Korey Stringer from right tackle to left tackle. He should have won the Heisman trophy two years later, and he remains the most dominating college football player I have ever seen. It all started, however, when he was a freshman.
3. Maurice Clarett (2002)
There is no doubt in my mind that had Maurice Clarett been healthy all season long in 2002, he would have been the only true freshman to ever win the Heisman Trophy. As it was, he still rushed for 1,237 yards and 16 touchdowns while missing three games, and being banged up in a few others. He rushed for over 100 yards in seven of his 11 games, including 230 yards against a ranked Washington State opponent, and 175 yards in his explosive collegiate debut against Texas Tech. He is most remembered for the way his career ended, but it is hard to top the way his career began. In fact, the only thing keeping him third on this list was the injuries. As a player, he was one of the greats. He made the first man miss nearly every time, he called for the wheel route against Michigan, his strip of Sean Taylor changed the BCS National Championship Game. These plays are all indicative of the type of player that Clarett was.
4. Robert Smith (1990)
5. Archie Griffin (1972)
Robert Smith broke Archie Griffin's Ohio State freshman rushing record with 1,126 yards rushing in 1990. A bit of a surprise starter as a freshman, he averaged 6.4 yards per rush that year, which is a number that hasn't been topped since. He had five 100-yard rushing games in 1990 as well. His 1,608 all-purpose yards remains the 14th-highest total in school history. Just imagine if Ohio State could ever get a sophomore season out of one of their freshman 1,000-yard rushers. So far they are 0-2.
Archie Griffin is the most famous Buckeye football player of all-time, and remains the lone winner of two Heisman Trophies. He set a then-OSU freshman rushing record of 867 yards, including a 239-yard outing against North Carolina, which was just his second game ever. He averaged 5.4 yards per carry as a freshman. It was the first of four consecutive years in which he led the Buckeyes in rushing, which is a number that has yet to be matched, though quarterback Braxton Miller is now half way there.
Bonus: Ted Ginn Jr. (2004)
Perhaps no Buckeye posed the all-around threat that Ted Ginn did as a freshman. His four punt return touchdowns in 2004 doubled the previous school record. He averaged a ridiculous 25.6 yards per punt return as a freshman. For comparison's sake, Corey Brown, who returned two punts for touchdowns for the Buckeyes in 2012, averaged 12.8 yards per return. Ginn only touched the ball 37 times as a freshman, but was always a worry for the defense. He single-handedly beat Michigan State in East Lansing with his three-touchdown performance. He then capped the season helping the Buckeyes to a win in the Alamo Bowl against Oklahoma State, earning the game's Offensive MVP Award in the process.
Bonus: David Boston (1996)
Bonus: Michael Doss (1999)
David Boston unseated starter Buster Tillman halfway through the 1996 season. He finished with 33 catches for 450 yards and seven touchdowns. Like fellow freshman Andy Katzenmoyer, he also stepped up in the Rose Bowl, catching two touchdowns, including the game winner.
Michael Doss was a reserve for most of his freshman season, though he finally broke into the starting lineup for the final two games. He was a playmaker and a disruptor, and there was basically no way to keep him off of the field. He finished with 43 tackles and 5.0 tackles for loss.
Bonus Malcolm Jenkins (2005)
Malcolm Jenkins came to Ohio State as a rather unheralded defensive back prospect, but spent his freshman season as the Buckeyes' nickelback, playing in 10 games and finishing with 37 tackles, which was good for eighth on the team.
Bonus: Steve Tovar (1989)
Steve Tovar played in all 12 games as a freshman, finishing with 64 tackles. It would be the only season in his career where he didn't lead the Buckeyes in tackles. He is still fourth all-time in tackles at OSU with 408.
Bonus: Chris Spielman (1984)
Chris Spielman battled ankle injuries as a freshman, but he still managed to compile 45 tackles in 1984. He finished with 10 tackles in his freshman debut, all coming in the second half after finally being released from his sideline shackles.
Bonus: Antoine Winfield (1995)
Playing in the nickel as a freshman, Antoine Winfield had 56 tackles and 5.0 tackles for loss in 1995. He was an immediate contributor despite standing just 5-foot-8. He made his mark as a Buckeye before ever stepping foot on the field when he laid tight end Rickey Dudley out twice in the same practice early in preseason camp.
Bonus: Cris Carter (1984)
Cris Carter was an instant weapon for the Buckeyes, catching 41 passes for 648 yards and eight touchdowns as a freshman. Like the other outstanding freshman already mentioned, he also had a terrific bowl game, catching a Rose Bowl-record nine passes for 172 yards.
Bonus: Terrelle Pryor (2008)
Terrelle Pryor threw for four touchdowns in his first career start. He finished the season as the team's second-leading rusher (631 yards), and threw for 1,311 yards with 12 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He led the Big Ten in passing efficiency (146.6) as a freshman.
Bonus: Braxton Miller (2011)
Braxton Miller led the Buckeyes in rushing as a freshman, with 715 yards and seven touchdowns. He threw for 1,159 yards and 13 touchdowns, with just four interceptions. He had 11 rushes of 20 or more yards, which was just one fewer than Denard Robinson, and one more than Le'Veon Bell.
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