April 14, 2024

There are just two weeks remaining in the 2023 college football regular season. After 11 weeks, we can assess which true freshmen have become instant stars, while for others, we’ll still have to wait and see.

While there have been a lot of impactful newcomers, many have come from the transfer portal, and freshmen who might have otherwise been put into bigger roles have had more time to develop or redshirt and gain another year of eligibility.

Then there are players such as Alabama safety Caleb Downs, USC receiver Zachariah Branch and Miami offensive lineman Francis Mauigoa, who have seemingly started since their first day on campus.

Here’s our breakdown of what the top 50 prospects from the 2023 ESPN 300 player rankings have done this season:

Note: No. 5 recruit Arch Manning (Texas), No. 9 Qua Russaw (Alabama), No. 12. Keon Keeley (Alabama), No. 19 Dezz Ricks (Alabama), No. 29 Eli Holstein (Alabama), No. 36 Dylan Lonergan (Alabama) and No. 46 Jahlil Hurley (Alabama) have not played this season and are on track to redshirt. They aren’t included in the top 50 below.

School: USC Trojans

2023 stats: Completed 1 of 3 passes for 0 yards in one game.

How he has fared so far: Nelson was the top recruit overall in the 2023 class, but he knew going in that he would have to sit behind Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams. Nelson didn’t have an expectation that he would play right away and has played in one game, the Trojans’ 56-28 victory over San Jose State on Aug. 26. It’s not yet known if Williams will enter the NFL draft after this season, so Nelson’s future role won’t be defined until that happens.


School: UCLA Bruins

2023 stats: Completed 91 of 175 passes for 1,344 yards with 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions in eight games.

How he has fared so far: Moore battled Ethan Garbers and Kent State transfer Collin Schlee in the preseason to take the reins of the Bruins’ offense and has shown flashes of what he’s capable of through some expected growing pains. Moore, who started five games this season before Chip Kelly went back to Garbers against Stanford on Oct. 21, was 17-of-27 for 290 yards and three touchdowns in his first career start — a 35-10 victory over San Diego State — on Sept. 9.


School: Oklahoma Sooners

2023 stats: Completed 13 of 15 passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns in four games.

How he has fared so far: Arnold was a perfect 11-of-11 for 114 yards and a score in a 73-0 shutout of Arkansas State on Sept. 2. After the West Virginia game, OU said it would try to redshirt Arnold, meaning he wouldn’t play the rest of the season. He has seen action in four games, which is the max number of games he can play in before burning his redshirt and preserving his year of eligibility. Dillon Gabriel is entrenched as the starter for the Sooners, but Arnold very well could be the future once Gabriel moves on.


School: Clemson Tigers

2023 stats: 17 tackles (12 solo) with two tackles for loss in nine games.

How he has fared so far: Woods was a versatile defensive lineman out of high school, displaying speed and power, and putting up a ton of production. He had 175 total tackles and 47 tackles for loss in his final two seasons of high school. He has played in nine of 10 games this season, playing in 227 snaps, and has 17 total tackles and two tackles for loss. Woods recorded a career-high three tackles in consecutive games against Wake Forest and Miami.


School: Miami Hurricanes

2023 stats: Miami has averaged 427.6 total yards per game, fifth in the ACC.

How he has fared so far: Mauigoa earned the starting right tackle job out of fall camp and has been a part of one of the country’s best offensive lines ever since. He has played in 615 snaps over 10 games this season and has allowed four sacks on 300 pass block snaps.


School: USC Trojans

2023 stats: 24 receptions for 260 yards and two touchdowns, seven carries for 70 yards and a touchdown, 22 kickoff returns for 390 yards and a touchdown and 15 punt returns for 309 yards and a touchdown in nine games.

How he has fared so far: Branch has proved to be a multipurpose player for USC this season. He is sixth on the team in receptions and fifth in receiving yards. He caught a 25-yard touchdown pass and had a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the Trojans’ 56-28 win over San Jose State on Aug. 26. He has accounted for 699 return yards and two scores on special teams.


No. 8. DJ Hicks, Defensive tackle

School: Texas A&M Aggies

2023 stats: 11 tackles (four solo) with two tackles for loss and one sack.

How he has fared so far: Hicks had Oklahoma, Miami and a few other big programs after him late in the process. He chose Texas A&M and has made an appearance in nine games this season. Hicks recorded a career-high three tackles and 0.5 sack in a 20-13 loss against Tennessee on Oct. 14.


School: Alabama Crimson Tide

2023 stats: 11 knockdown blocks in 507 snaps in 10 games.

How he has fared so far: Proctor earned the starting left tackle position coming into the year and has held the job all season. Alabama’s OL paved the way for a rushing attack that had 288 yards and six scores on the ground against LSU.


School: Alabama Crimson Tide

2023 stats: 83 tackles (53 solo) with 1.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery in 10 games.

How he has fared so far: Downs, who earned the starting job at strong safety out of fall camp, leads Alabama in tackles with 83 and is fifth in the SEC in that category. He tallied a career-high 13 tackles and pulled down an interception in Alabama’s 40-17 win over Mississippi State on Sept. 30.


No. 13. Makai Lemon, Wide receiver

School: USC Trojans

2023 stats: Four catches for 13 yards and five kickoff returns for 94 yards in seven games.

How he has fared so far: Lemon was high school teammates with Nelson, so the two already had a connection coming into USC. The Trojans have some experienced receivers on the roster, so it didn’t seem likely that Lemon would make a huge impact coming into this season. He does, however, give the offense a good option at the position for the future, especially if Nelson eventually takes over at quarterback. Lemon had three receptions for 13 yards in a 66-14 victory over Nevada on Sept. 2, but has limited playing time outside of that.


School: Colorado Buffaloes

2023 stats: Six tackles (three solo) and one tackle for loss in eight games.

How he has fared so far: McClain, a heralded flip for Deion Sanders after initially committing to Miami, did not play much at the start of the season and Sanders called out his practice habits. McClain has bounced back since and started in Week 11 against Arizona. McClain had two tackles apiece in losses to Oregon and Oregon State.


School: Georgia Bulldogs

2023 stats: Nine tackles (five solo).

How he has fared so far: Wilson flipped his commitment from Michigan to Georgia out of high school and was the highest ranked commitment for the Dawgs in the class. He tallied his first career sack in the Bulldogs’ 51-13 victory over Kentucky on Oct. 7, and has registered at least one tackle in seven games this year.


School: Texas Longhorns

2023 stats: 47 tackles (28 solo) with five tackles for loss, three sacks and two passes defended in 10 games.

How he has fared so far: Hill was an important commitment for Steve Sarkisian and his staff in the 2023 cycle. He was the No. 1 inside linebacker in the country, but he was also the No. 3 prospect in the state of Texas. The Longhorns needed help on defense and Hill has already made an impact. He’s third on the team in tackles, had six tackles and two sacks in a 34-24 victory over Alabama on Sept. 9, and has played in all 10 games this season.


School: Oklahoma Sooners

2023 stats: 29 tackles (17 solo) with four passes defended, one tackle for loss, one forced fumble and two blocked punts in 10 games.

How he has fared so far: Bowen’s journey to get to Oklahoma was a wild ride as he originally committed to Notre Dame, flipped to Oregon and then signed with Oklahoma all within a matter of days. The Sooners struggled on defense in the 2022 season and needed defensive help. Landing Bowen was a big win for the staff and the former five-star earned a starting job at safety coming into the year. He leads the team with four passes defended and after blocking punts in wins against both SMU and Iowa State, he recorded five tackles and forced a pivotal fumble in the Sooners’ 34-30 victory over Texas on Oct. 7.


School: Ole Miss Rebels

2023 stats: 33 tackles (15 solo) with five tackles for loss, 3 ½ sacks and one pass defended in 10 games.

How he has fared so far: Perkins, who’s tied for second on the team with 3 ½ sacks, had two sacks in a 24-10 loss against Alabama on Sept. 30. He has played in all 10 games this season for Ole Miss and took home co-SEC freshman of the week at the end of October.


School: Oklahoma Sooners

2023 stats: Six tackles (three solo) with three tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks in 10 games.

How he has fared so far: Adebawore recorded 2.5 tackles for loss in a 66-17 victory over Tulsa on Sept. 16. He has appeared in 10 games so far this season and saw praise from head coach Brent Venables for his work ethic prior to the season starting.


School: Miami Hurricanes

2023 stats: Miami has rushed for 172 yards/game – eighth in the ACC.

How he has fared so far: Okunlola played in three games before suffering a season-ending injury during the Hurricanes’ bye week in early October.


School: Alabama Crimson Tide

2023 stats: Seven carries for 22 yards in two games.

How he has fared so far: Young ran for 18 yards in a 56-7 win over Middle Tennessee State on Sept. 2. He was the No. 1 running back in the 2023 class and signed with Alabama alongside the No. 2 back, Justice Haynes. Despite their lofty rankings, Jase McClellan and Roydell Williams have taken most of the carries for the Crimson Tide this season. Young has appeared in two games so far and hasn’t had many opportunities to put together many impactful stats.


School: Tennessee Volunteers

2023 stats: Completed 7 of 14 passes for 97 yards and one TD.

How he has fared so far: Iamaleava led a scoring drive in a 49-13 victory over Virginia on Sept. 2 and saw more action in the Nov. 4 game against UConn. He had 86 yards passing and a score in that one. He came into Tennessee knowing that Joe Milton was the starter for the Volunteers and that he would have limited opportunities.


School: Alabama Crimson Tide

2023 stats: 16 carries for 95 yards in nine games.

How he has fared so far: Haynes rushed for a career-high 29 yards in a 56-7 victory over Middle Tennessee State on Sept. 2. Haynes signed with Young in the 2023 class, but has had more carries this season than his fellow freshman. Haynes has appeared in nine games so far and while he is behind McClellan and Williams, he has shown the ability to impact the run game in the future.


No. 25. James Smith, Defensive tackle

School: Alabama Crimson Tide

2023 stats: One tackle in eight games.

How he has fared so far: Smith recovered a fumble in the Crimson Tide’s 17-3 win at South Florida on Sept. 16.


School: Texas Longhorns

2023 stats: Six receptions for 107 yards in 10 games.

How he has fared so far: Cook caught a 51-yard pass in a 38-6 victory over Baylor on Sept. 23.


School: Georgia Bulldogs

2023 stats: Seven tackles (five solo), one tackle for loss and one pass defended in nine games.

How he has fared so far: Aguero had a career-high four tackles and one tackle for loss in a 49-21 victory over UAB on Sept. 23.


School: Florida State Seminoles

2023 stats: Four receptions for 71 yards and a touchdown in seven games.

How he has fared so far: Williams caught a 44-yard touchdown pass in a win over Syracuse on Oct. 14.


No. 30. CJ Baxter, Running back

School: Texas Longhorns

2023 stats: 87 carries for 390 yards and three touchdowns and 12 receptions for 63 yards in nine games.

How he has fared so far: Baxter had the eventual game-winning touchdown run in a 31-24 win over Houston on Oct. 24.


School: Arizona State Sun Devils

2023 stats: Completed 34 of 60 passes for 403 passing yards with three touchdowns and one interception in two games.

How he has fared so far: Rashada earned the starting QB job out of fall camp but hasn’t played since the first two weeks while dealing with an injury sustained in high school. He went 18-of-31 for 236 yards and two touchdowns in a season-opening victory over Southern Utah.


School: LSU Tigers

2023 stats: 23 tackles (13 solo) in 10 games

How he has fared so far: Toviano had seven tackles (five solo) in a 42-28 loss at Alabama on Nov. 4 and then followed that up with a career-high 10 tackles during a 52-35 victory over Florida on Nov. 11.


School: Georgia Bulldogs

2023 stats: Six tackles (three solo) in four games.

How he has fared so far: M’Pemba had two tackles apiece in victories over Ball State and Mississippi.


School: Ohio State Buckeyes

2023 stats: One reception for 58 yards and one touchdown in five games.

How he has fared so far: Inniss recorded his first career reception and touchdown in a 41-7 victory at Purdue on Oct. 14.


School: Georgia Bulldogs

2023 stats: Four tackles (one solo) with 0.5 tackle for loss and 0.5 sack in nine games.

How he has fared so far: Wilson had a 0.5 sack in a 43-20 victory over Florida on Oct. 28.


School: Georgia Bulldogs

2023 stats: Eight tackles (three solo) in seven games.

How he has fared so far: Harris recorded a career-high four tackles in a 45-3 victory over Ball State on Sept. 9.


School: Oregon Ducks

2023 stats: No stats

How he has fared so far: Dickey appeared in games against Portland, Hawaii and California but didn’t record any stats.


School: South Carolina Gamecocks

2023 stats: 11 receptions for 177 yards and one touchdown in 10 games.

How he has fared so far: Harbor caught six passes for 59 yards in a 30-17 loss at Texas A&M on Oct. 28.


School: USC Trojans

2023 stats: 11 receptions for 275 yards and a touchdown in nine games and one punt return for 10 yards.

How he has fared so far: Robinson caught four passes for 71 yards in a 56-10 victory over Stanford on Sept. 9.


School: Georgia Bulldogs

2023 stats: Four tackles (two solo) in four games.

How he has fared so far: Bowles had a career-high three tackles in a 48-7 victory over Tennessee Martin on Sept. 2.


School: Clemson Tigers

2023 stats: No stats

How he has fared so far: Vizzina played in the Tigers’ 66-17 victory over Charleston Southern on Sept. 9 but didn’t attempt a pass.


School: Ohio State Buckeyes

2023 stats: 13 tackles (nine solo) with one interception and three passes defended in nine games.

How he has fared so far: Mathews came down with an interception in a 63-10 victory against Western Kentucky on Sept. 16. He stepped in after Denzel Burke got hurt and played 47 snaps against Penn State.


School: Texas A&M Aggies

2023 stats: 70 carries for 232 yards and two touchdowns and eight receptions for 83 yards and eight kickoff returns for 154 yards in 10 games.

How he has fared so far: Owens ran a career-high 18 times for 40 yards, tallying a touchdown, in a 30-17 victory over South Carolina on Oct. 28. His 232 yards places him third on the Aggies in rushing.


School: Oklahoma Sooners

2023 stats: 11 receptions for 70 yards in six games.

How he has fared so far: Pettaway recorded nine receptions for 56 yards in a 73-0 victory over Arkansas State on Sept. 2.


No. 47. Jalen Hale, Wide receiver

School: Alabama Crimson Tide

2023 stats: Four receptions for 119 yards and a touchdown in nine games

How he has fared so far: Hale hauled in a 33-yard touchdown pass in the Crimson Tide’s 24-10 victory over Ole Miss on Sept. 30.


School: Oklahoma Sooners

2023 stats: Seven tackles (five solo) with a half-tackle for loss and one interception in 10 games.

How he has fared so far: Johnson had two tackles in a 73-0 victory over Arkansas State on Sept. 2 and recorded his first career interception in a 59-20 victory over West Virginia on Nov. 11.


School: LSU Tigers

2023 stats: Nine tackles (four solo) with one tackle for loss and one sack in nine games.

How he has fared so far: Womack had two tackles and a sack in a 34-31 victory over Arkansas on Sept. 23.


School: Alabama Crimson Tide

2023 stats: One tackle in two games.

How he has fared so far: Renaud had one assisted tackle in a 17-3 victory at South Florida on Sept. 16.

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