20 B1G true freshmen who could have a major impact in 2020
Each year, several freshmen in the B1G are able to come in to the conference and make an immediate impact for their team. Sometimes, it’s the 5-star recruit that everyone was trying to land, and other times it’s a 2- or 3-star freshman who comes in better than advertised.
The 2020 season will be no different. There are a ton of talented incoming true freshman who will be looking to take on significant roles early in their B1G careers. Which players are most likely to see major playing time early in their careers?
Here are 20 candidates we expect to see make some noise as freshmen this fall.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State
Ohio State is replacing three of its top five receivers from last season, opening the door for true freshmen to make an impact early in their careers in Columbus. Smith-Njigba comes in as a former 5-star recruit and has been impressive during his first camp with the Buckeyes. In a class loaded with talented wide receivers, Smith-Njigba was also the first Ohio State freshman to lose his black stripe. He’s on track to carve out a significant role for himself early in his career with the Bucks.
Caziah Holmes, RB, Penn State
Even though Holmes walked into a loaded running back room at Penn State, the freshman has an incredible skill set and could climb his way up the depth chart quickly. You don’t have to look further than his Saquon Barkley-like hurdle in practice to see this newcomer is a special talent. Holmes may not be able to bump Journey Brown or Noah Cain out of the top two spots, but it would be surprising if he didn’t see a significant number of touches.
Gus Hartwig, OL, Purdue
Hartwig was the highest-rated offensive lineman in Purdue’s 2020 class and head coach Jeff Brohm calls him one of the best he’s recruited at the position. The 6-foot-5, 300-pound Hartwig has been labeled as “wise beyond his years’ by Brohm, which likely indicates the freshman will see plenty of early playing time. And considering how poorly the Boilers were up front in 2019, it’s probably a good thing.
Angelo Grose, DB, Michigan State
He may not pop off the page in terms of recruiting rankings, but cornerbacks Harlon Barnett seems pretty excited about the former 3-star defensive back, who enrolled early at Michigan State to get a head start on his college career. Despite spring ball being called because of the pandemic, Barnett said he expects Grose to “do great things” in East Lansing and that he was one of the secrets of MSU’s recruiting class. Expect him to see some significant snaps as a freshman.
Rakim Jarrett, WR, Maryland
Maryland needs a lot of help offensively and Jarrett will provide it immediately. The 5-star wide receiver flipped from LSU to join Mike Locksley in College Park and he’ll quickly be one of the best players on the field for the Terrapins. There have already been some highlight-reel catches Jarrett has made throughout fall camp, and he’ll be expected to make plenty of big plays in his first year at Maryland.
Rashawn Williams, WR, Indiana
The wide receiver out of Detroit is one of the 10 highest-ranked recruits in the history of Indiana football. The Hoosiers have some talented players at the position on the roster, but with Nick Westbrook departed, the Hoosiers need someone who can stretch the field. Williams can be that guy for quarterback Michael Penix Jr. in the IU offense. Whop Philyor will still be the No. 1 target, but Williams can serve as that deep threat for the Hoosiers as a freshman.
A.J. Henning, WR, Michigan
Offensive coordinator Josh Gattis had some high praise for Henning, who said he was as talented a freshman player as he’s ever been around. His speed, awareness and play-making ability in practice has been eye-opening for the second-year coordinator at Michigan, which probably means Henning will work his way into the Wolverines’ passing attack in some capacity. And with three of the top four receivers from the 2019 squad departed, U-M could use his talent.
Peny Boone, RB, Maryland
The top two running backs from Maryland last season — Anthony McFarland and Javon Leake — are both gone. The Terrapins need a skill player to add depth to the backfield, a role Boone is capable of filling. The former 4-star back was heavily recruited out of Detroit after rushing for nearly 2,500 yards at the high school level. Boone should see plenty of playing time in his first year in College Park.
Reggie Love, RB, Illinois
Offensive coordinator Rod Smith said Love is probably the most “the most impressive” freshman that Illini have on that side of the football right now. Illinois does have some depth at the running back spot, so there aren’t any guarantees for Love, but there have been some injury issues with that room, so keeping guys fresh and healthy may allow the true freshman to see some carries this fall.
Jah Joyner, DE, Minnesota
Minnesota has a solid defensive line, but Joyner and fellow incoming freshman Gage Keys should provide some depth on the edge for the Golden Gophers. Both guys could potentially see playing time this fall, but Joyner might be slightly more prepared for the B1G stage with his explosiveness.
Alante Brown, WR, Nebraska
Scott Frost did an excellent job recruiting receivers with the 2020 class, several of which could make an early impact for the Huskers. Brown could be the most talented of the group and may have a Wan’Dale Robinson-type of breakout season in his first year in Lincoln. In an offense that wants to play up-tempo, Brown should be targeted plenty in the passing attack. He’ll get his opportunity to have a strong freshman year and add another weapon to Nebraska’s passing game.
Julian Fleming, WR, Ohio State
Another member of Ohio State’s loaded freshmen wide receiver group. Fleming was the highest-ranked player at the position in the 2020 recruiting class and the Buckeyes love to get talent on the field. Much like Smith-Njigba, Fleming should be able to carve out a role in Ohio State’s offense early in his career and could serve as a reliable target for Justin Fields as the season progresses.
Peter Skoronski, OL, Northwestern
The struggles Northwestern had across the board offensively last season present plenty of opportunities for incoming freshman to earn some early playing time. Skoronski probably has the best shot along the offensive line, as he was ranked as the No. 113 overall player in the 2020 class and was the top-ranked prospect in the Wildcats’ class. Skoronski may not be able to land a starting gig in Evanston in his first year, but he should at least be part of the rotation.
Max Melton, CB, Rutgers
Because of the unique circumstances the 2020 season presents — and Rutgers’ struggles over the last four years — Greg Schiano may be more inclined to give younger guys a bigger role this fall. Melton may have been a candidate to see the field early on anyway, but it’s even more likely now. Rutgers needs to get talent on the field, and Melton certainly has enough to be competitive in the Scarlet Knights’ secondary, even as a true freshman.
Turner Corcoran, OL, Nebraska
Nebraska’s offensive line should actually be in much better shape than it was a year ago, but that doesn’t mean Corcoran can’t be part of the rotation. The 6-foot-6, 300-pound lineman came to Nebraska as one of the top 50 players in the class and one of the best linemen in the country. The Huskers won’t let his size, strength and ability sit on the sideline during the 2020 season. Whether or not he’ll be a starter is yet to be seen, but Corcoran should get plenty of live reps this fall.
Jalen Berger, RB, Wisconsin
Berger will be an interesting player to keep an eye on this fall, as he may not see many touches right out of the gate. The Badgers need to replace Jonathan Taylor, so it’s likely Paul Chryst implements a “running back by committee” approach to this season. Berger may start lower on the depth chart, but if Wisconsin needs fresh legs or a spark off the bench, the freshman could get an opportunity to show what he can do. Maybe that results in more carries at the end of the year than at the beginning of the season.
KeAndre Lambert-Smith, WR, Penn State
The wide receiver position has been an issue (to some degree) for Penn State the past few seasons. Now, the Nittany Lions are led by Jahan Dotson, but it’s a relatively inexperienced group behind the No. 1 guy. Penn State needs a few of its younger guys to step up as pass catchers this fall, and Lambert-Smith is a prime candidate to do exactly that. Working with new offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca and receivers coach Taylor Stubblefield, the former 4-star WR should be ready to play from the opening kick.
Ruben Hyppolite II, LB, Maryland
Maryland’s defense needs help and quickly. Hyppolite has already been labeled as a “leader among the freshman” by teammate Cortez Andrew, who calls the freshman linebacker a “special” player. For some guys, it takes time to earn that kind of respect from teammates. The fact that Hyppolite isn’t just a skilled athlete, but a vocal leader early in his career in College Park suggests that he’ll see ample playing time as a member of the Terrapins defense.
Tirek Murphy, RB, Purdue
Last season, Purdue’s rushing attack was awful. Part of that was because the Boilermakers lacked an explosive ball carrier, another was because the offensive line play was bad. The Boilers have some experienced players in the backfield, but there isn’t one guy who pops off the page as the true No. 1. Purdue will likely use several running backs in the offense this year, and there’s no reason to believe Murphy will be left out of that mix.
Ricky White, WR, Michigan State
Michigan State is without its top two receivers from last year — Cody White and Darrell Stewart Jr. — which creates plenty of openings at the position. White is a member of Mel Tucker’s first recruiting class and has already been tabbed as a player who could soon be the top target in the Spartans offense early in his career, though maybe not in 2020. MSU’s offense is desperate to find playmakers for the upcoming season, and White could provide that spark.