Garrett Wilson, Zach Harrison's Strong Starts Have Them Poised to Be Among the Big Ten's Next Crop of Superstars

By Andrew Ellis on November 13, 2019 at 10:10 am
Garrett Wilson and Zach Harrison have both made an early splash as true freshmen.

We've now reached mid-November with week 12 of the college football season looming. In the Big Ten, the race to Indianapolis has gone about as we expected in the East Division, but P.J. Fleck and the Golden Gophers have shaken things up in the West and surged to No. 8 in the latest playoff rankings.

With just a few weeks remaining in the regular season, the conference and national pictures are building up to the final playoff rankings which will be unveiled on Dec. 8. The Heisman race is also fairly clear-cut as everyone knows about Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Fields, J.K Dobbins, and the other heavy hitters in the Midwest and across the country. 

In the Big ten, a number of talented true freshmen have also been making their marks as the league's next wave of superstars is already taking shape.

Garrett Wilson • Wide Receiver • Ohio State • National Recruiting Rank: No. 20

Garrett Wilson arrived in Columbus this past January as one of the more heralded wide receiver prospects we've ever seen. Given the depth at the position, no one was really expecting Wilson to start or even have too immense of an impact.

Last year, it was freshman Chris Olave who emerged late in the season to make his presence felt, and some speculated it would be a similar path for Wilson. The former five-star has already recorded more receptions (18 compared to 12), yards (216 to 197), and touchdowns (4 to 3) than Olave did in 2018. 

He's flashed at times while seeing limited duty at wideout and has made an impact in the return game. With K.J. Hill, Austin Mack, and Binjimen Victor all in their final season, Wilson is looking like the next big thing for Brian Hartline and the Ohio State passing attack. 

Zach Harrison • Defensive End • Ohio State • National Recruiting Rank: No. 12 

The expectations have been sky high ever since Lewis Center's Zach Harrison sided with Ohio State over Michigan and Penn State last December. The long edge rusher has a seemingly limitless ceiling thanks to some of the more ridiculous athletic testing numbers we've ever seen for a man his size (4.47 laser-time 40 as a high school senior).

Injuries to Jonathon Cooper and the recent Chase Young situation have led to Harrison seeing plenty of action as a true freshman. He made his first career start last week against Maryland and brought his season sack total up to 2.5. Harrison should be a part of the rotation for the remainder of the season and will have more of a featured role as a sophomore in 2020. 

He seems destined to be Larry Johnson's next great pass rusher, following in the footsteps of the Bosa brothers and the aforementioned Chase Young. 

Noah Cain • Running Back • Penn State • National Recruiting Rank: No. 98

Penn State's backfield has gotten some mixed reviews this year as James Franklin has rotated back and forth between a number of different ball carriers. Sophomore Journey Brown is the team's leading rusher, but I think most would tell you that true freshman Noah Cain – who's run for 350 yards and six scores – has the brightest future.

The Texas native missed last week's contest against Minnesota thanks to an ankle injury, but he's not expected to miss significant time. The Nittany Lions will likely continue to utilize a  backfield rotation, and the 5-foot-10, 206-pounder could present a stiff challenge for the Buckeyes on Nov. 23. 

Cain looks like a safe bet to continue the long line of solid running back play in Happy Valley. Fellow freshman backfield mate Devyn Ford has also made an early impact for the Nitts.

Zach Charbonnet • Running Back • Michigan • National Recruiting Rank: No. 46

Michigan's offense hasn't exactly been the most exciting thing in the world. In his first year as offensive coordinator, Josh Gattis has seen the Wolverines go from No. 50 in total offense (in 2018) down to No. 78. A lot of the problems have stemmed from Shea Patterson's inability to hold onto the football, and it's been a disappointing season in Ann Arbor. 

Tailback Zach Charbonnet hasn't put up the most prolific numbers, but the future does seem bright for Michigan's newcomer. He's already set the school's freshman record with 11 rushing touchdowns and is up to 559 yards for the year. Listed as the country's fourth-best tailback for the 2019 class, he's seen 45 more carries than sophomore backup Hassan Haskins.

It will be interesting to see what happens with the Wolverine backfield once Patterson is gone and Josh Gattis heads into his second season at the helm.

David Bell • Wide Receiver • Purdue • National Recruiting Rank: No. 113 

Much like Noah Cain, Purdue freshman David Bell is a player Ohio State thought rather highly of during the recruiting process. It's been a rough season in West Lafayette as Jeff Brohm's team has been plagued by injuries; most notably to all-purpose star Wandale Moore and quarterback Elijah Sindelar.

The silver lining to a tough 2019 has been the play of David Bell. He's now topped 100 yards receiving in four different games and has scored five touchdowns on the season. The Indianapolis wideout is on track to finish with right around 1,000 yards and should form a formidable duo with Moore once he's back up and running. 

George Karlaftis • Defensive End • Purdue • National Recruiting Rank: No. 59

It's pretty rare that Purdue signs two players of this caliber, but it happened in 2019 with Bell and George Karlaftis. The Boilermaker pass rusher has made his presence felt since his arrival and has been starting at defensive end since the opener against Nevada. Karlaftis has recorded six sacks and recovered a fumble thus far in his freshman campaign. 

His younger brother Yanni is a four-star outside linebacker in the Class of 2021. The Buckeyes have offered and Greg Mattison already has a very strong relationship with the second-best prospect in the state of Indiana.

Wan'Dale Robinson • All-Purpose Back • Nebraska • National Recruiting Rank: No. 87

Things haven't gone as planned for Scott Frost and the preseason West Division favorites. Adrian Martinez hasn't taken that next step that most were expecting, and it's been a disappointing 4-5 season for the Huskers. Things probably aren't going to get any better this weekend when the Badgers come to town.

True freshman do-it-all weapon Wan'Dale Robinson has been one of the bright spots in Lincoln. Comparisons to Rondale Moore have been made, and Robinson has had a Rondale-lite type of season with 326 rushing yards, 453 receiving, and five touchdowns. A leg injury has hampered his season a bit, but Robinson will be fun to watch in Frost's system. 

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