The 2012 college football season saw a redshirt freshman (Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel) win the Heisman Trophy for the first time. The number of young starting quarterbacks for major conference programs likely has never been higher. And while the rule requiring players to spend three seasons in college before making the jump to the NFL makes sense for most, there are some NFL-ready true sophomores.
Michigan will see one of them -- South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney -- on Jan. 1 at the Outback Bowl.
The ESPN Scouts Inc. crew of Todd McShay, Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl have ranked the nation's top 25 underclassmen -- true freshmen, redshirt freshmen and true sophomores -- for the 2012 season. They evaluated them based on tape from the season and based the evaluations on the players' impact in college, not their NFL potential.
Three Big Ten players made the list:
No. 4: Ohio State QB Braxton Miller, true sophomore
No. 12: Ohio State LB Ryan Shazier, true sophomore
No. 22: Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah, true sophomore
All worthy selections here. Miller won Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors and finished fifth in the Heisman voting. Shazier put up monster numbers in Big Ten play and was a candidate for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Abdullah did a terrific job filling in for injured Huskers star I-back Rex Burkhead, racking up 1,089 rush yards and eight touchdowns.
Who else merited consideration from the Big Ten? Penn State wide receiver Allen Robinson, a true sophomore, won the Big Ten's Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year award after leading the league in receptions (77), receiving yards (1,018) and receiving touchdowns (11). Robinson isn't USC's Marqise Lee, but I can make a good case he was one of the nation's top 25 underclassmen this season.
Robinson's teammate, Penn State redshirt freshman tight end Kyle Carter, also made our All-Big Ten team (along with Robinson, Miller and Shazier; Abdullah was a second-team selection). Carter ranked second on the team in both receptions (36) and receiving yards (453).