Ranking the top 10 candidates for B1G Freshman of the Year in 2021
This year’s Big Ten Freshman of the Year race will be unlike any in league history. Since the NCAA didn’t count last year in terms of eligibility due to COVID, there are a whole bunch of contributors from 2020 who are technically still freshman.
In fact, we could have a repeat award winner for the first time. So is Northwestern’s Brandon Joseph the favorite as the reigning Freshman of the Year? Not exactly.
In a normal season, 5-star recruits like Ohio State’s J.T. Tuimoloau, Jack Sawyer and Emeka Egbuka would be among the headliners. Now, they can’t even make the top 10.
Here are 10 candidates:
10. WR Ricky White (Michigan State)
White exploded for 196 yards and a TD against Michigan, providing a glimpse of what he can do. He was suspended during the spring for a violation of team rules, but he recently returned. He was limited to 3 games last season, so he doesn’t have a ton of football under his belt at this point. Whether it’s Temple transfer Anthony Russo or Payton Thorne at QB, either is an upgrade over Rocky Lombardi.
9. RB Cam Porter (Northwestern)
Porter came out of nowhere to become Northwestern’s lead back in the final 3 games of the season, racking up 73 carries after totaling just 8 to that point. The Wildcats fed him a whopping 33 times against Auburn in the Citrus Bowl. A sign of things to come?
8. WR Rakim Jarrett (Maryland)
The former 5-star recruit flashed his explosive playmaking ability by ripping apart the Penn State defense for 144 yards and 2 TDs. He only played in 4 games but should be part of an exciting offense that includes QB Taulia Tagovailoa and WR Dontay Demus.
7. WR Parker Washington (Penn State)
Parker answered the question of who Penn State’s No. 2 wideout would be behind Jahan Dotson with 3 games of 70 yards or more in his first 4 outings as a true freshman. Even though he never had a 100-yard game (he hit 90 twice), he finished with 6 receiving TDs in 9 games.
6. RB Donovan Edwards (Michigan)
Edwards staying home and committing to Michigan was a huge get for Jim Harbaugh, so I’ve got to think he will get the freshman involved in some capacity early on—even with Hassan Haskins entrenched as the starter. The No. 41 overall recruit in the 2021 class was an early enrollee, so he should be ready to go.
5. S Brandon Joseph (Northwestern)
The lone defensive player on this list, Joseph has a chance to make some history thanks to the pandemic. He was sensational last season, leading the country with 6 interceptions. Like with most of these awards, it is the offensive skill players who typically win, as just 4 defensive players have won in the last 25 years. Joseph will have to lead the country in interceptions to win this award again.
4. RB TreVeyon Henderson (Ohio State)
There is a ton of hype with the 5-star recruit who is rated as the top running back in the 2021 class. He was ranked higher than Ezekiel Elliott and JK Dobbins, and we know what kind of careers they had. Will Henderson emerge as the feature back? In due time, probably. Master Teague is best as a sidekick, as Trey Sermon eventually overtook him in 2020.
3. RB Jalen Berger (Wisconsin)
Berger is going to get a massive workload this season, as Wisconsin only had 3 scholarship running backs in the spring (and they were all hurt!). Last season, Berger only played in 4 games but he got 15 carries in all of them. Look for that to be on the low end of what he gets in 2021. Running behind what should be an excellent offensive line, he will put up big numbers.
2. QB Graham Mertz (Wisconsin)
Mertz dealt with COVID and a shoulder injury during a tumultuous freshman season. But thanks to a sterling start against Illinois and another one against Michigan, we know what Mertz can do. With more stability in 2021, he is in line for a huge season.
1. QB CJ Stroud (Ohio State)
Unlike many of the names on this list who are on here because they got an extra season of eligibility, Stroud would’ve been here either way, as he would’ve redshirted last season behind Justin Fields anyways. Stroud is not only a candidate for this award, but also the Big Ten Player of the Year and Heisman Trophy. He hasn’t officially won the job yet, but the assumption is that he’s the guy. With perhaps the best wide receiving corps in the country, a terrific offensive line and several good running backs, Stroud is set up for success as much as any QB could hope.