After a thrilling year in college football, end of year awards are in order. Often overlooked, Group of 5 Conferences can produce some top young talent even in the shadow of the Power 5. That couldn’t be more evident in the Football Writers Association of America’s Freshman All American Team. Nine players from the Group of 5 Conferences and two independent teams were nominated to the team, the most since 2012.
Ty Lee, WR, Middle Tennessee—With most of the attention on running back I’Tavius Mathers and wide receiver Richie James, Lee excelled in his first year in Murfreesboro. His 63 catches were third on the team, and the handful of his rushes produced large dividends. Lee may never be the biggest player on the field (he’s listed at 5’9” and 155 pounds), but defenses must now respect him every time he lines up offensively.
Thomas Shoaf, OL, BYU—Shoaf’s first year in the Cougars’ offense pinned him against some tough matchups, including Utah, UCLA, and Michigan State. However, the offensive line improved tremendously in his first year. Shoaf contributed to a unit that improved its rushing from 128.3 to 201.2 yards per game. While the Cougars relied heavily on the run this year, the line improved by only allowing 26 sacks after giving up 34 year year before.
Ed Oliver, DL, Houston—If you haven’t heard by now, Ed Oliver is pretty good. Coming in as the fourth-ranked recruit in the nation, Oliver made an impact immediately. His five star rating was validated each week as he constantly made plays in the offensive backfield. Finishing with 22.5 tackles for loss, Oliver elevated a group with plenty of talent. 2017 will find him as the lead star with multiple seniors graduating, but the Cougars should be in good hands for another two years.
Josiah Tauaefa, LB, UTSA—Not a bad way to start your collegiate career. After being redshirted in 2015, Tauaefa finished 2016 with 115 tackles, 9.0 tackles for loss, 6.0 sacks, and an interception. The Roadrunners know they have a rock in their defense for the years to come and will just have to build talent around their star.
Logan Wilson, LB, Wyoming—Wilson finished fourth on his team with 94 tackles. Not bad for a player who was originally recruited to be a receiver. While there were times where the Cowboys struggled, Wilson and the youthful defense filled up the box score. Wilson is one of 10 returners returning on defense heading into 2017, a year that many think will have the Cowboys atop the Mountain West. Coach Craig Bohl’s team is beginning to look a lot like the teams he coached in Fargo for North Dakota State, but they will need to improve if they want to receive the same national accolades.
Clifton Duck, DB, Appalachian State—If his name alone didn’t get him recognition, his play certainly did. With five interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), Duck certainly did what he could to put himself on an island. His eight pass breakups were first on his team and his return in 2017 will add to a defense that finished seventh in points allowed in 2016.
Javon Hagan, DB, Ohio—Inexperience in the secondary was one of the biggest issues facing the Bobcats this year, but Hagan quickly solidified his role. His 10 pass breakups were first on the team and his three interceptions were all returned 40 yards to help change field position. Hagan helped keep his team in games by keeping teams to lower scores, and sometimes that meant winning with the offense only producing field goals.
Malik McGue, PR, Army—What would you think if you say Jalen Hurts lined up to return punts for Alabama? Crazy right? Not McGue. Granted, Army had the QB positioned jammed with experience, but putting a player at his position back to return speaks volumes about his athleticism. McGue may have a chance at the starting job next year, but until then, he knows he can get on the field in a unique way.
Tony Pollard, KR, Memphis—Pollard and McGue find themselves in good company. Players that were nominated in these spots included the likes of TCU’s Kavontae Turpin, UNC’s Ryan Switzer, and even Western Michigan’s Darius Phillips. All of these guys are dynamic players at their positions and also return kicks and punts. Pollard has a chance to breakout next year at receiver with the return of quarterback Riley Ferguson and wide receiver Anthony Miller. Until then, he looks to continue being a threat returning kicks and build on a year in which he accumulated 1,068 yards and two touchdowns.
It’s nice to see the “rest” of the FBS included in this All American Team. All of these players figure to have promising careers at their schools, and many have the opportunity to take their team to the next level in competing with Power 5 schools. Just think, these players are just freshman, so it will be exciting to see what they do with a year of experience under their belts.