6 freshmen who are crushing it early in their college careers

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (in-game guitar lessons sold separately in Coral Gables):

More Forde-Yard Dash: Chaos reigns | Ranking one-loss teams | Gary Andersen, OSU part ways


Coaches are more willing to play freshmen than ever before, knowing that, for the best ones, their NFL clock is ticking and they can enter the draft after three years in college. Why keep a potential future pro on the bench if he’s ready to play? The Dash offers a (partial) list of freshmen making an immediate impact in 2017:

Jonathan Taylor (21), Wisconsin running back. Where he was a year ago: Salem High School in New Jersey. Where he is now: Fourth nationally in rushing yards per game at 153, and third in yards per carry among players with 75 or more carries at 7.91. He and Stanford standout Bryce Love are the only players in the nation with two games of 200-plus rushing yards. Taylor looks like the next great one in a long line of Badger backs.

Walker Little (22), Stanford offensive tackle. Where he was a year ago: Episcopal High School in Houston. Where he is now: Starting at left tackle for the Cardinal. The 6-foot-7, 304-pound Little was inserted in the starting lineup in the third game of the year, the first true freshman to start at left tackle at Stanford since 2000. The Cardinal have not allowed a sack in the last three games and are averaging 310 rushing yards per game in that time.

J.K. Dobbins (23), Ohio State running back. Where he was a year ago: Sitting out his senior season at La Grange (Texas) High School with a broken leg. Where he is now: Second to Wisconsin’s Taylor in the Big Ten in rushing yards per game at 111.5, despite averaging just 15 carries per game. Dobbins broke Maurice Clarett’s Ohio State freshman debut rushing record with 182 yards in the season opener against Indiana, and since then has split carries with sophomore Mike Weber.

Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins, top, celebrates his touchdown against Army during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

Josh Jackson (24), Virginia Tech quarterback. Where he was a year ago: Redshirting behind Jerod Evans. Where he is now: Leading the Atlantic Coast Conference in pass efficiency at 158.2, just ahead of defending Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson. He’s thrown for more than 200 yards in every game, and has completed 69 percent of his passes over the last four games.

Greg Dortch (25), Wake Forest receiver/kick returner. Where he was a year ago: Redshirting to add some muscle to his 5-9, 165-pound frame. Where he is now: Second in the ACC in all-purpose running at 136 yards per game. Dortch has five touchdown receptions on the year and had 10 catches for 110 yards against Florida State’s elite secondary. Probably just a matter of time before he breaks a punt or kickoff return for a touchdown as well.

Shaka Toney (26), Penn State rush end. Where he was a year ago: Redshirting to put on some Big Ten bulk. Where he is now: In the opponent’s backfield. Playing primarily in passing situations, the 233-pound speed rusher leads the Nittany Lions with three sacks and is second on the team with 5.5 tackles for loss. He had two sacks Saturday against Northwestern.

Honorable mention: Jake Fromm, quarterback, Georgia; Tariq Thompson, safety, San Diego State; Dez Fitzpatrick, wide receiver, Louisville; Ryan Bowman, linebacker, Washington; Terrell Carter, defensive back, Memphis; Andraez “Greedy” Williams, defensive back, LSU; Travis Etienne, running back, Clemson; Kellen Mond, quarterback, Texas A&M; Quincy Roche, defensive end, Temple; Darnay Holmes, defensive back, UCLA.


It’s time for that Dash staple, honoring the last full-time FBS quarterback to throw the ball to the other team. The contestants have whittled themselves to just four heading into this week’s action. The list:

Ryan Finley (27), North Carolina State. Zero interceptions in 223 attempts. The senior was the LIP runner-up last year to Western Michigan’s Zach Terrell, lasting until Oct. 15, 2016, without throwing a pick. (Last time Finley threw a September interception was 2015.) Next up: at Pittsburgh on Saturday. The Panthers have six interceptions on the year and are picking off 3.2 percent of their opponents’ passes.

Baker Mayfield (28), Oklahoma. Zero interceptions in 134 attempts. The senior hasn’t thrown an oskie since Nov. 19 of last year. Next up: Texas in the annual Red River rivalry game. The Longhorns have eight interceptions on the year and are thieving 4.8 percent of their opponents’ throws.

Caleb Evans (29), Louisiana-Monroe. Zero interceptions in 129 attempts. The sophomore has come a long way in terms of ball security since his freshman year, when he threw two picks in 14 attempts in the season finale against Louisiana-Lafayette and had six picks on the season. Next up: Georgia State on Saturday. The Panthers have just two interceptions on the season, picking off just 1.8 percent of their opponents’ passes.

Jalen Hurts (30), Alabama. Zero interceptions in 111 attempts. Hurts knows how to keep Nick Saban happy, by minimizing major mistakes. In an offense built around the running game and protecting leads, he hasn’t attempted more than 22 passes in a game this season. Next up: Arkansas on Saturday. The Razorbacks have only three interceptions on the season, picking off just 1.9 percent of opponents’ passes.

Handicapping the field, The Dash has established Hurts as the 5-2 favorite to win the LIP, and the coveted loot that goes with the title. This year’s gift bag includes two ball-point pens, an XL golf shirt from a to-be-determined conference media day, and a 2005 Insight Bowl notebook. Let the competition intensify.

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