College football 2022 preseason true freshman All-America team


The college football season is right around the corner, which means a bevy of true freshmen around the country are fighting to earn spots on the field. Transfers and upperclassmen are trying to hold the newcomers off, but every season, there are a number of first-year players who come in and earn a starting job.

Last year, Caleb Williams supplanted Spencer Rattler midway through the season and became Oklahoma’s starter. Running backs TreVeyon Henderson at Ohio State and Braelon Allen at Wisconsin were breakout stars, and Georgia tight end Brock Bowers quickly became one of the best offensive players in the country.

The list of players who contributed in their first seasons at the college level goes on, and it’s safe to say we are expecting a new group of freshmen to show up this year and become playmakers for their respective teams.

Tom Luginbill and Tom VanHaaren go position by position in selecting the preseason true freshman All-America team for the 2022 season, a list that is based on need, opportunity and talent level entering Week 1.

Luginbill and VanHaaren: QB Cade Klubnik

Clemson | 2022 ESPN 300 ranking: 29

Clemson won 10 games in 2021 and returns nine starters on offense, including QB DJ Uiagalelei, but he’s going to have a short leash because the more accurate and mobile Klubnik is nipping at his heels. The dynamic could be a similar situation to the 2019 season between Kelly Bryant and Trevor Lawrence. — Luginbill

The quarterback position has become more and more difficult to predict when it comes to success for true freshmen, especially since transfers have filled a lot of opportunities. Klubnik is arriving at Clemson at an interesting time with Uiagalelei struggling last season. Klubnik has every opportunity to play early if Uiagalelei doesn’t improve. — VanHaaren

Penn State | 2022 ESPN 300 ranking: 57

Keyvone Lee may be back for Penn State, but Singleton is too fast and too refined to not have a significant role this fall. He brings game-breaking ability to the offense, and when he’s in space, produces big, explosive plays that the Nittany Lions’ offense has been lacking. — Luginbill

Penn State ranked 115th in rushing yards, 118th in rushing yards per game, 121st in yards per rush and 117tth in rushing touchdowns last season. To say the run game needed help is an understatement. The staff also lost Noah Cain and John Lovett, but added Singleton and Kaytron Allen in the 2022 class. Both have a big opportunity to contribute right away. — VanHaaren

North Carolina | 2022 ESPN 300 ranking: 90

Like Singleton, British Brooks may be listed ahead of Pettaway on the depth chart, but Pettaway brings a different dimension with his sudden explosiveness and ability to make defenders miss. With Brooks and Pettaway, Mack Brown’s offense could resemble UNC’s 2020 run game, which featured the outstanding duo of Michael Carter and Javonte Williams.

USC | 2022 ESPN 300 ranking: 64

Brown was committed to Oklahoma, but flipped to USC once Lincoln Riley took the head-coaching job for the Trojans. Brown was ranked No. 64 overall, and while he isn’t the biggest back at 5-foot-8, 185 pounds, he will be able to contribute to the run game, the pass game and return game.

Missouri | 2022 ESPN 300 ranking: 5

I just so happened to call the Missouri spring game in April. Let’s just say Burden was the best player on the field for the Tigers on offense. That’s pretty much all you need to know. The real question is can they get him the ball consistently?

TCU | 2022 ESPN 300 ranking: 58

I agree with the Burden pick, but I’m going to cheat a little bit to get another name on the list. Hudson was the No. 58 prospect in the 2022 class and signed with TCU after Sonny Dykes left SMU to take the Horned Frogs’ head-coaching job. The offense has a lot of experience returning at receiver, but Hudson might be too good to keep off the field. He has size (6-1, 180) and speed to play early and should factor in to some extent.

Luginbill and VanHaaren: WR Evan Stewart

Texas A&M | 2022 ESPN 300 ranking: 13

There’s a lot of hype surrounding Stewart, and so far, it appears to be real. The Aggies have a need for game-breakers, and with his 10.5-meter track speed and ability to stretch the field, Stewart should join Ainias Smith as one of the top two targets for whoever is playing quarterback this fall. — Luginbill

The Aggies lost tight end Jalen Wydermyer, running back Isaiah Spiller and receivers Demond Demas and Caleb Chapman, who all factored into the pass game last season. Stewart will have Haynes King and Max Johnson at quarterback, so stability under center should give Stewart a chance to succeed early. — VanHaaren

Texas A&M | 2022 ESPN 300 ranking: 107

Johnson may be the most heralded tight end in the Aggies’ 2022 class, but the reality is Texas A&M could see three true freshmen occupy the position this fall with Donovan Green and Theo Melin Ohrstrom. For now, Johnson is a jumbo-sized WR (6-5, 210) morphing into a tight end.

Arizona | 2022 ESPN 300 ranking: 209

The Wildcats brought in quarterback Jayden de Laura from Washington State, who had 2,798 yards and 23 touchdowns as a freshman last season. The passing game is likely to improve and Burnett has an opportunity to play early alongside fellow tight end Alex Lines.

North Carolina | 2022 ESPN 300 ranking: 8

Rice, an early enrollee, started the spring game at right tackle and eventually could play both spots. Rice is clearly ready for the jump and did not look like a freshman during spring ball. He still needs to get stronger, but skill-wise, he is ready to go.

Clemson | 2022 ESPN 300 ranking: 259

The Tigers need help along the offensive line, and despite Walker Parks already having a role at right tackle, Miller has a chance to play early. That could entail Parks moving to guard, but if that happens, it’s a good problem for Clemson, given it means Miller has played his way into a starting role.

Kentucky | 2022 ESPN 300 ranking: 44

The Wildcats are replacing four of five starters on the offensive line, so Goodwin’s arrival this spring could not have come at a more opportunistic time. The 6-8, 330-pound left tackle should be a mainstay for Kentucky for at least the next three seasons. He has All-America potential. — Luginbill

Goodwin doesn’t lack size, nor does he lack strength, which is typically a big part of what holds a freshman back from starting right away along the offensive line. Combine that with the need at Kentucky, and Goodwin should have a productive season for the Wildcats. — VanHaaren

Luginbill and VanHaaren: OL Will Campbell

LSU | 2022 ESPN 300 ranking: 14

LSU is very inexperienced up front on offense, and Campbell could not have arrived at a better time. At 6-6, 275 pounds, he’s physically capable of holding up and could be a three-and-out guy if he stays healthy. Campbell fits a desperate need for the Tigers and enters a plug-and-play situation. — Luginbill

Campbell very well could be the starting left tackle for the Tigers this season as a true freshman. That is a good indicator of his ability and how much new coach Brian Kelly and the rest of his staff trust him. — VanHaaren

Luginbill and VanHaaren: OL Cole Hutson

Texas | 2022 ESPN 300 ranking: unranked

Hutson, a four-star prospect, started Texas’ spring game at guard and clearly took advantage of being an early enrollee in a position group that sorely needs to be revamped. There is a youth movement for the Longhorns up front, but long term it will pay off. — Luginbill

This position group is going to be interesting because there is so much youth up front. Hutson and incoming five-star DJ Campbell are going to battle, but no matter what happens, it’s a positive for Texas to have this much competition along the offensive line. — VanHaaren

Texas | 2022 ESPN 300 ranking: 33

In fairness, there are three freshmen that likely will be starting or in the two-deep for the Longhorns come September. Banks and Hutson get the nod because Campbell did not enroll early. Banks has a head start … for now. — Luginbill

Banks is in the same conversation as Hutson and Campbell. He has a chance to play early; it’s just whether or not he can take advantage of it. — VanHaaren

TCU | 2022 ESPN 300 ranking: unranked

The four-star steal out of California earned rave reviews as an early enrollee this spring and is expected to be a key cog in the middle of the Horned Frogs’ defense. Though slightly undersized from a height standpoint (6-1), he is powerful enough to collapse the pocket and handle double teams.

Stanford | 2022 ESPN 300 ranking: 123

It’s unusual to see a true freshman contribute at Stanford, but Bailey was an ESPN 300 recruit who is versatile enough to play early. He can rush the quarterback, and considering Stanford lost Thomas Booker IV, Ryan Johnson and Tucker Fisk, the defense will need Bailey’s presence.

Luginbill and VanHaaren: DL Walter Nolen

Texas A&M | 2022 ESPN 300 ranking: 1

We might as well include the entire class of defensive lineman here for the Aggies — they landed the Nos. 1 and 2 defensive tackle and defensive end recruits — but Nolen gets the nod due to his tireless work ethic and competitive temperament. He’s a worker with talent and that’s a scary combination in a young player. — Luginbill

As Luginbill mentioned, Texas A&M hauled in a ridiculously talented defensive line class with four five-star linemen and seven ranked in the ESPN 300. Nolen was the No. 1 prospect overall and can help fill a void up front this season. — VanHaaren

Luginbill and VanHaaren: DL Cyrus Moss

Miami | 2022 ESPN 300 ranking: 75

Moss may be light at 6-5, 210 pounds (hopefully bigger now that he has had time in Miami’s strength program), but he showed flashes of dominance with three sacks in Miami’s spring game. At the very least, he will be used as a designated pass-rusher early on until he gets bigger and stronger. — Luginbill

Zach McCloud and Deandre Johnson led Miami in sacks last season, and both are off the roster. The staff brought in USC defensive end transfer Jacob Lichtenstein, but Moss has the talent to contribute as a pass-rusher early for the Hurricanes. — VanHaaren

Georgia | 2022 ESPN 300 ranking: 24

Somebody has to play with all their departures, right? Why not choose the most versatile of the group in Williams? As an edge, three technique or second-level rusher, Williams can play everywhere. In one-on-one situations, he is a pass rush nightmare for offensive tackles. — Luginbill

Williams was an ESPN 300 defensive lineman and was a recruit the Georgia staff worked hard to land in the class. The coaches lost Travon Walker, Devonte Wyatt and Jordan Davis from last season, so there will be quite a few fresh faces this year. — VanHaaren

Texas Tech | 2022 ESPN 300 ranking: unranked

As a late flip from USC, new coach Joey McGuire may have found an instant-impact player at a position on defense that loses its top three performers from 2021. Kana, a three-star recruit, was a standout during the spring and should be a situational or rotating starter early.

LSU | 2022 ESPN 300 ranking: 4

The Tigers have former Clemson linebacker Mike Jones Jr., as well as Micah Baskerville, but Perkins was a five-star in the 2022 class. He’s not likely going to start right away, but word out of LSU is that he might be too good to keep off the field, be it in a rotation or eventually earning his way into the starting lineup.

Oklahoma | 2022 ESPN 300 ranking: 133

The Sooners already have a strong linebacking corps, but Kanak is going to be a great player. Whether it’s special teams or in a hybrid safety/linebacker role (like Isaiah Simmons at Clemson under Venables), Kanak is too good a football player to keep out of the lineup.

Indiana | 2022 ESPN 300 ranking: 43

The Hoosiers need to replace Micah McFadden, who led the team in total tackles, tackles for loss and sacks. McCullough was the highest-ranked recruit Indiana has landed since ESPN started its rankings in 2006. At 6-5, 230 pounds, he has size the rest of the linebacking corps don’t have. He should be a factor in the defense right away.

Maryland | 2022 ESPN 300 ranking: 137

Maryland got more experienced at linebacker during the offseason as a result of the transfer portal, but how much more talented did they get? This is why Barham should make an impact as the season wears on. He can play both inside and outside and could be used in pass rush situations. — Luginbill

Maryland lost Lawtez Rogers, Chop Robinson, Branden Jennings and Deshawn Holt at linebacker. Ruben Hyppolite II, Ahmad McCullough and Gereme Spraggins return, and VanDarius Cowan transferred from West Virginia, but the defense is going to need more help. Barham should be able to work himself into a rotation. — VanHaaren

Luginbill and VanHaaren: DB Travis Hunter

Jackson State | 2022 ESPN 300 ranking: 2

He’s an elite Power 5-caliber prospect who’s playing at the FCS level. Hunter will be impactful, perhaps in all three phases of the game at cornerback, wide receiver and as a returner. — Luginbill

He made history as the first five-star to sign with an FCS program after decommitting from Florida State. Hunter has talent the roster doesn’t have anywhere else, and at 6-1, 165 pounds, he should be an immediate impact player. — VanHaaren

Cincinnati | 2022 ESPN 300 ranking: unranked

Sauce Gardner, Coby Bryant and Bryan Cook are all gone in the secondary. Enter Hardaway, a 6-2 corner that can shut down one side of the field. He is the type of signee that helps Cincinnati prove it belongs in the Power 5.

Notre Dame | 2022 ESPN 300 ranking: 275

The Irish are returning corners Clarence Lewis and Cam Hart, but Mickey has already stood out in his limited time on campus. If he continues on the path he is on, he should be contributing a lot in the secondary this season.

Luginbill and VanHaaren: DB Will Johnson

Michigan | 2022 ESPN 300 ranking: 23

If Johnson wasn’t as smooth and fluid as he is, I’d be a little concerned given his size, but despite being 6-3, he moves like he’s 5-11. By midseason, he could be the boundary corner opposite sophomore DJ Turner. — Luginbill

Michigan lost corner Vincent Gray and safeties Daxton Hill and Brad Hawkins from last season. The team returns Turner, Gemon Green and moved receiver Mike Sainristil over to defense. Johnson is college ready, though, and given the lack of depth, he should play very early. — VanHaaren

Iowa | 2022 ESPN 300 ranking: 155

The Hawkeyes return a great player in Riley Moss at corner, but the rest of the secondary is gone, and Iowa rarely picks up a prospect at the skill positions the likes of Nwankpa. Expect him to occupy one the two safety spots immediately. — Luginbill

Typically, Iowa recruits take a few years to develop, but Nwankpa is an ESPN 300 safety the staff fought hard to get because he can impact the game right away. Safety Jack Koerner is gone from last season, and Nwankpa should have an opportunity to play his way onto the field this season. — VanHaaren

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