Truth be told, most coaches probably would like to redshirt all their freshmen, have them spend all year in the weight room and practicing and reap the benefits in Year 5. But that's not how college football works in most cases, and some freshmen are simply too talented not to play right away.
The Big Ten wasn't blown away by superstar freshmen in 2011, but there were some awfully good ones. Here are our choices for the best true and redshirt freshmen (and a little later on, we'll have our Big Ten all-freshman team).
Freshman offensive MVP
Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State
We've spilled a lot of words on Miller already, and with good reason. He started the final eight games for the Buckeyes, mirroring the career trajectory of Terrelle Pryor. At least we hope for him that his career doesn't end the way Pryor's did. Miller is a different player at this stage than Pryor, far more of a runner than a thrower. But he should continue to improve and make great strides under new coach Urban Meyer.
Freshman defensive MVP
Marcus Rush, DE, Michigan State
Rush started all 13 games for the Spartans and was part of a formidable defensive front. He finished with 51 tackles, including 10 for loss and four sacks, plus a forced fumble. He made the most consistent impact of any freshman defensive player in the league.
Honorable mention: Blake Countess, CB, Michigan; Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State; Jake Ryan, LB, Michigan; Michael Bennett, DL, Ohio State.
Freshman special-teams MVP
Ameer Abdullah, KR/PR, Nebraska
Abdullah wins this in a close nod over Purdue returner Raheem Mostert and Michigan State punter Mike Sadler. Abdullah ranked 10th nationally in kickoff returns and handled punt returns for the Huskers. He also got some looks at backup running back, and his role figures to increase in 2012.
One to watch in 2012
Angelo Mangiro, OG, Penn State: Mangiro redshirted in 2011 but was rated as one of the top offensive line prospects in the nation last year. With the Nittany Lions needing to replace both guards, he will play a key role next season.