While every recruits’ goal is to play in their first year on campus, it is a feat that is achieved by few. Of course, this does not mean that these players won’t have successful college careers but rather they have not been able to crack the top of the depth chart yet. With conference play just starting to heat up, freshman have had a few weeks to fight their way towards the top of the depth chart at their respective position. As a disclaimer: All freshman, redshirt freshman, and anyone who transferred into a MAC school without any prior FBS playing experience was considered for this list. For example, JoJo Natson is excluded from this list since he saw playing time at Utah State.
With that disclaimer out of the way, here’s a rundown of which first year players are making the biggest impact:
Honorable Mention: DB Sean Bunting (CMU), QB James Morgan (Bowling Green), QB Noah Wezensky (Miami)
Bunting has played admirably so far at defensive back, accumulating 11 total tackles and one interception so far. Meanwhile, Morgan and Wezensky were the stars of their respective recruiting classes. Wezensky made his first start last week and left a lot to be desired, however it is clear that the talent is there. Look for him to settle in once he starts gaining more experience. Morgan has two starts under his belt and also has struggled a bit, throwing seven interceptions in six appearances. It will be interesting to monitor both quarterbacks’ progress moving forward as it is clear each team is looking to build towards the future.
Hazelton Jr. was severely under-recruited out of high school as Florida Atlantic and Kent State were his only other reported FBS offers. Where Hazelton really has made an impact is in the redzone as he has snagged a team leading two touchdowns thus far. Hazelton Jr. has quickly stepped up into the WR2 role and is becoming one of Riley Neal’s favorite targets.
Ever since P.J. Fleck has been at WMU, freshman have always made some sort of an impact. While the program is at the point where they don’t need freshman at the skill positions to come in and contribute immediately anymore, they still have recruited at an extremely high level. Hampton earned the job over the summer and hasn’t looked back. Hampton has nailed all 35 of his extra point attempts as well as a 47-yard field goal against Northwestern.
3. WR Antoine Porter/Sergio Bailey, EMU
This is more of a 3a and 3b type situation. Due to graduation as well as various transfers, EMU was in a real predicament at wide receiver before the season started. After signing day, both Porter and Bailey signed to play for the Eagles as junior college transfers. These two signings have already paid dividends as they are EMU’s two leading receivers so far. What Porter lacks in height, he makes up for in speed. Porter can absolutely fly and is a great weapon out of the slot. Bailey also is reliant upon his speed to get open, however possesses more height. Bailey’s ability to stretch the field, and reliable pass-catching ability have helped propel him to EMU’s number one wide receiver. It also doesn’t hurt that Bailey came up clutch with a 40-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter against Bowling Green. This unlikely duo is a big reason why EMU is 4-2.
For a team that desperately needed an offensive spark, Rankin has provided just that for the Golden Flashes this year. The duo of Nick Holley and Rankin has proved to be rather difficult to stop over the past few weeks, despite not having a true quarterback under center. Rankin is an all-purpose back who has wasted no time making his impact as a true freshman. He has nearly as many receiving yards as he does rushing, compiled 271 and 305 respectively. While the two touchdowns is slightly disappointing considering his yardage numbers, Holley has poached a fair amount of touchdowns from him. Moving forward, Rankin should be a solid staple in the Golden Flashes’ backfield.
At the beginning of the year most people had Iowa State transfer, Grant Rohach tabbed as the starter in Buffalo. However a slow start to the year led the staff to turn the keys over to Jackson. Jackson was highly touted out of high school as Buffalo had to hold off UConn who was looking to poach Jackson at the 11th hour before Signing Day. After redshirting last year, Jackson has been worth the hype so far. He is a true dual threat quarterback compiling four passing touchdowns on top of three rushing touchdowns. Jackson struggled against Boston College, but so did their entire team as they mustered up just three points to BC’s 35. So far Jackson seems to be the frontrunner for MAC Freshman of the Year.