For Duck fans, Rocye Freeman is now a household name. The freshman phenom burst onto the scene to replace the injured Thomas Tyner, and with Byron Marshall moving to the slot, Freeman took over as the Ducks‘ primary back in Week 4. Since then, he amassed at least 75 yards in every game on his way to 1,299 yards and 16 touchdowns, breaking the majority of Duck freshman rushing records.
His signature performance was rushing for a season-high 169 yards and four touchdowns against one of the Pac-12‘s best run defenses: Washington. I think it’s beyond fair to say that the Ducks wouldn’t be in the situation they are now without the push Freeman has given them.
On the other side of the tracks though, there is another freshman. Dalvin Cook of FSU, although needing more time to emerge as the dominant back, has quickly become one of the most dangerous backs in all of CFB and one of the staples of the FSU offense. Cook has only seen more than 20 carries three times this season, but in each of those three games he ran for more than 100 yards. He also managed 110 yards on nine carries in a game against a solid Louisville team, averaging 12.2 yards every time he ran the ball.
It took a while for Cook to get where he is now. In fact the FSU freshman didn’t see more than 25 carries through the Seminoles’ first five games. Then, in Week 6 against Syracuse, he broke out. Both starters Karlos Williams and Mario Pender were out with injuries, so with Cook now thrust into the leading role he ran for 122 yards and a touchdown.
Since that game, coach Jimbo Fisher didn’t hesitate to use Cook in key situations. The most evident example of that came when Cook received the role of the lead back in the ACC Championship Game. The freshman did not disappoint. Cook won MVP honors after accumulating 220 yards and a touchdown, and his 31 carries were the most for an FSU running back in 12 years. Recently, Cook told the New York Times, “It’s always been in me. It’s just my time to take over.”
In a game centered around the past two Heisman winners and their veteran leadership, both Fisher and coach Mark Helfrich find themselves in an odd position. Although yes, the veteran QBs will lead their teams, for both FSU and Oregon the result of the game could hinge on a true freshman’s shoulders.
Top photo from Kevin Cline