February signees have been arriving at campuses across the Big 12 with bright eyes and hopes of stepping onto the field to make an immediate impact.
But what programs have made playing true freshman a common practice? And which ones prefer to redshirt the bulk of their recruiting classes with the hope of maximizing their potential by the end of their fifth season in the program?
Here is a school-by-school look at which programs have played the highest percentage of true freshmen since TCU and West Virginia joined the Big 12 in 2012. To be clear, only freshmen who arrived on campus are included in the following breakdown with no junior college signees included.
1. TCU: 53.1 percent (38 redshirts, 43 played as true freshmen)
Notable true freshmen: S Derrick Kindred (2012), WR KaVontae Turpin (2015)
Summary: The Horned Frogs go in cycles with 16 true freshman playing in 2012 and 17 playing in 2015. It’s clear Gary Patterson is willing to turn to first-year freshmen with the confidence he can mold them into productive players in Year 1. Even though TCU has a high percentage, it’s hard to say the Horned Frogs consistently -- year in and year out -- play a lot of freshman after playing three in 2013 and seven in 2014.
2. Texas: 48.8 percent (42 redshirts, 40 played as true freshmen)
Notable true freshmen: DT Malcom Brown (2012), LB Malik Jefferson (2016)
Notable redshirts: DE Naashon Hughes (2013), DT Hassan Ridgeway (2012)
Summary: Charlie Strong’s arrival has had a big impact on Texas’ numbers with the Longhorns playing 24 true freshman combined in the last two seasons. As Strong tries to transform Texas into his vision, he has leaned on players he recruited, who have responded by being the best players on the roster. Jefferson, tackle Connor Williams and safety Jason Hall are just a few of the true freshmen who made significant impacts under Strong. It will be interesting to see if the trend continues as the roster morphs towards Strong’s vision.
3. Oklahoma: 45.7 percent (44 redshirts, 37 played as true freshmen)
Notable true freshmen: RB Samaje Perine (2014), WR Sterling Shepard (2012)
Notable redshirts: CB Zack Sanchez (2012), DL Charles Walker (2013)
Summary: The Sooners tend to play a lot of freshmen, even if those freshmen don’t always become significant contributors during their first seasons. Charles Tapper and Eric Striker are two examples of guys who could be returning as fifth-year seniors this fall but instead had a minimal impact on defense as true freshman. However, Oklahoma’s philosophy makes sense in some ways as the Sooners often lose players early to the NFL or recruit better players who surpass older players on the depth chart anyway.
4. Kansas: 43.4 percent (26 redshirts, 20 played as true freshmen)
Notable true freshmen: QB Ryan Willis (2015), WR Tre Parmalee (2012)
Summary: The state of the Jayhawks program when David Beaty took over forced the new head coach to play 10 true freshman in 2015. In fact, Kansas has played 18 in the past two years. Thus, the Jayhawks have been forced into playing true freshman out of necessity more than anything else. One of Beaty’s goals moving forward will be to drop this percentage and be in a position where he can redshirt the bulk of his recruiting class each year.
5. Oklahoma State: 35.2 percent (46 redshirts, 25 played as true freshmen)
Notable true freshmen: WR James Washington (2014), CB Kevin Peterson (2012)
Notable redshirts: DE Emmanuel Ogbah (2012), T Zachary Crabtree (2013)
Summary: The Cowboys tend to redshirt freshmen unless they are needed to play a specific role or simply force their way onto the field like Washington did in 2014. Unlike Kansas State or Baylor, a true freshman on the field does not automatically mean we should circle their name as one to watch as a potential star in the future.
6. Texas Tech: 31.8 percent (45 redshirts, 21 played as true freshmen)
Notable redshirts: S Jah’Shawn Johnson (2014), WR Reginald Davis (2012)
Summary: Kliff Kingsbury has shown more of a willingness to count on true freshman playing 19 in his three seasons in charge. However, the Red Raiders don’t tend to burn seasons unless they’re expecting a consistent role as first-year players. Similar to Baylor and Kansas State, special players often play if they arrive ready to make an impact (like Mahomes), even if they play a position that already has quality depth.
7. West Virginia: 26.6 percent (44 redshirts, 16 played as true freshmen)
Notable true freshmen: RB Wendell Smallwood (2013), S Karl Joseph (2012)
Summary: As Dana Holgorsen has improved the overall depth on his roster, West Virginia has been able to redshirt more signees. The Mountaineers played five true freshmen during the past two seasons after playing 11 first-year freshmen during the first two seasons in the Big 12.
8. Baylor: 15.7 percent (59 redshirts, 11 played as true freshmen)
Notable true freshmen: DT Andrew Billings (Class of 2013), WR KD Cannon (2014)
Notable redshirts: WR Corey Coleman (2012), NB Travon Blanchard (2013)
Summary: It takes a pretty special player to play immediately at Baylor with Billings and Cannon as examples of immediate impact freshmen who became a significant part of the squad during their first seasons. Meanwhile, even special players like Coleman, who was a dominating force as a redshirt junior a year ago, did not play immediately. Baylor’s tendency to redshirt will pay off for Jim Grobe, who will enter his first season with fifth-year seniors Seth Russell, Orion Stewart, Kyle Fuller and Shock Linwood to build around this fall.
9. Kansas State: 13.4 percent (67 redshirts, 9 played as true freshmen)
Summary: Defensive end Jordan Willis and cornerback Duke Shelley are additional examples of Wildcats who played as true freshman and grew into significant roles. In general, any Wildcat who plays himself out of a redshirt season becomes a key contributor and/or starter by their sophomore season and cements himself as a name to know in the future.
10. Iowa State: 9.3 percent (68 redshirts, 7 played as true freshmen)
Summary: The Cyclones tend to have more developmental prospects on their signee list, so a redshirt season is often the best way to go. In fact, Tribune was the only true freshman to play in 2012 or 2013. In addition, Iowa State rarely has a problem with players leaving early for the NFL so it makes sense to take advantage of the potential production of a fifth-year senior over the hopeful upside of a first-year freshman.