Fifty years ago, the NCAA made ends meet. Having already ruled that college freshmen playing other sports (and at other levels) would be eligible for varsity balls, he stated that the same rules would apply in core college football and basketball. In an effort to cut costs, he added an extra layer of expertise to an already rich sport.

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“It is not certain that all famous football and basketball figures will use players whom coaches may consider too inexperienced,” The New York Times reported in January 1972. the use of freshmen on varsity teams… However, the members of the NCAA who made this decision were faculty athletic advisors, those members of college administration who cared about saving money. They believe that by eliminating the freshman teams they will save money.”

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Did this change cause a massive outcry? Not necessary. College football was not suddenly dominated by 18-year-olds. But without that change, college basketball legend and Hall of Famer Quinn Buckner, who started out on both the basketball and football teams as a real freshman in Indiana in 1972-73, would have become less wealthy. Tony Dorsett wouldn’t have become the best runner in the country the moment he set foot on Pitt’s campus. Georgia would not have led Herschel Walker to the 1980 national title. And we wouldn’t be faced with the majesty of some of the most incredible stars the sport has seen in the past half century.

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To celebrate the changes, let’s make a list! Here are the top 50 real freshman seasons in major college football over the past 50 years. Some have gone on to illustrious careers both in college and at the professional level; others dried up early. Let’s celebrate them all.


50. LB/RB Miles Jack, UCLA (2013)

A three-star rookie from Washington, Jack not only found enough playing time to finish fifth with the Bruins in tackles (76) and third in tackles to lose (seven) as a Year 1 star, he also finished second in rushing touchdowns (Seven). He had five tackles, 59 yards and four touchdowns in a 41–31 win over Washington. This game alone could make it to the list.


49. OL Reggie Green, Florida (1992)

Former NFL head coach Dick Vermeil, who worked for ABC as a television analyst, called Green during a 1992 broadcast “the best freshman tackle I’ve ever seen in college football.” He was the rock to stop Eric Curry’s Alabama’s worldwide end in the Securities and Exchange Commission’s championship game. By 1993, he was an All-SEC, but unfortunately, injuries slowed his progress.