DALLAS – The 2020 Football Writers Association of Freshman All-America Team features two defensive starters from national champion Alabama, a quarterback-receiver tandem that helped Oklahoma win the Big 12 championship, the two national interception leaders amid a top-flight secondary and six schools that have a pair of players on the roster.
This is the 20th season the FWAA has honored Freshmen All-Americans.
Perhaps in no other season have freshmen played such an important part of a college football season than in 2020. Teams were constantly stretched on their depth charts and player participation varied by the day. It was a challenge that no other freshman class has had to face starting their collegiate careers in the middle of a pandemic. Their learning curve and adjustments had to come fast, and so many delivered. So as the FWAA recognizes the impressive seasons from 32 first-year players, it also salutes all the true and redshirt freshmen who contributed to start, and finish, the oddest and most challenging college football season on record.
The Southeastern Conference led all conferences with eight members followed by the Atlantic Coast’s five and four from the Big 12. The American Athletic, Big Ten and Sun Belt each had three representatives among all 10 conferences and one independent represented. Of the 32 players, 15 are redshirt freshmen.
A 13-person panel of nationally-prominent college football experts represented each of the FBS conferences along with independents in the selecting the team. Both true freshmen (17 players) and redshirt freshmen (15 players) were considered for the team and are so noted. Following is the complete, 32-man 2020 FWAA Freshman All-America Team:
2020 FWAA FRESHMAN ALL-AMERICA TEAM
National champion Alabama stands out with two starters from its defense punctuated with jack linebacker Will Anderson Jr. earning the Shaun Alexander National Freshman Player of the Year Award. Anderson started every game and led the SEC and all national freshmen with 7.0 sacks while also adding 10.5 tackles for loss. His 52 total QB pressures were second nationally.
Four of the SEC’s eight members make up the six-man secondary. Alabama’s star (nickel) back Malachi Moore was an every-game starter and grabbed three interceptions to earn All-SEC Freshman honors. The last ‘Bama secondary member on the Freshman All-America team was in 2018, Patrick Surtain II, who this year was a Bronko Nagurski Trophy finalist and a consensus All-American. Alabama has had a pair of selections in three consecutive seasons.
LSU continues to produce outstanding young cornerbacks. Eli Ricks’ four interceptions were second in the SEC and tied for eighth nationally and he gives the Tigers a third Freshman All-American in the last four seasons at corner (Derek Stingley Jr. in 2019, Greedy Williams in 2017). The SEC’s leading pick-man is also on the team, Emmanuel Forbes of Mississippi State, who had five in 10 games, returning two for scores. Forbes’ 617 defensive snaps played were sixth in the nation among true freshmen. Forbes is only the third Bulldog to earn Freshman All-America status. Arkansas safety Jalen Catalon had 99 tackles, more than any other freshman. Catalon is the first Arkansas defensive back to be a Freshman All-American since Lawrence Richardson on the initial team in 2001 and the Hogs’ first overall since 2015.
Also in the secondary is Brandon Joseph, one of two Northwestern players and the Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Joseph’s six interceptions tied for the national lead. Derrick Canteen of Georgia Southern also had six picks and added 10 PBU’s in eight games to become the first Eagles player to receive any postseason honor from the FWAA.
The Sun Belt trio also boasts its Player of the Year in redshirt quarterback Grayson McCall, who keyed Coastal Carolina’s upstart 11-1 season with 29 total touchdowns against just two interceptions. He led the Sun Belt in passing efficiency and passing yards. Willie Lampkin, Coastal’s left guard, is on the team as an every-game starter for the nation’s 15th-best rushing offense who allowed just one sack this season. It’s been quite an FWAA postseason debut for Coastal Carolina – McCall and Lampkin join head coach Jamey Chadwell (Eddie Robinson Award as Coach of the Year) and defensive end Tarron Jackson (First Team All-American) as the Chanticleers’ first postseason honorees by the FWAA.
Oklahoma’s tandem of Spencer Rattler and Marvin Mims helped the Sooners claim another Big 12 title. Rattler joins McCall at the helm of the team after an All-Big 12 and Big 12 Newcomer of the Year season, leading the nation’s freshmen in passing touchdowns (25), passing offense (278.4 ypg) and total offense (290.4 ypg). Mims became his prime target, as the Big 12 second-teamer led the Sooners with 37 catches and an Oklahoma freshman-record nine touchdowns. Oklahoma has freshman All-America selections for a fourth straight season and seventh of the last eight.
Kayshon Boutte is LSU’s first receiver to be a Freshman All-American and gives the Tigers (along with Ricks) at least one member on five of the last seven teams. Boutte finished with three straight 100-yard games against Alabama, Florida and Ole Miss, where he set the SEC’s single-game record with 308 yards on 14 catches with three touchdowns – which is the FWAA’s Freshman Performance of the Year. Memphis’ Tahj Washington is the school’s fourth Freshman All-American in the last five seasons and follows Kenneth Gainwell, last year’s Shaun Alexander National Freshman Player of the Year. Washington had 670 receiving yards and six touchdowns.
The All-America backfield has the ACC Rookie of the Year, Notre Dame’s Kyren Williams, and the American Athletic Offensive Rookie of the Year, Ulysses Bentley IV of SMU. Williams led all FBS freshmen in rushing yards (1,061) and touchdowns (12) in helping take the Irish to the College Football Playoff. He is only Notre Dame’s second Freshman All-American on offense and its first since 2006. Bentley led the Mustangs with 913 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns to set a SMU freshman single-season record. He is SMU’s first Freshman All-American.
Joining Lampkin on the line is Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski, the Wildcats’ first Freshman All-American (along with Joseph) since 2017 and its first on offense since 2005. Skoronski allowed only two sacks in 587 snaps filling in at left tackle after veteran Rashawn Slater opted out. From the SEC is Ole Miss’ Jeremy James, the Rebels’ first Freshman All-American since 2012 who started all nine games at right guard for an offense that averaged 40.7 points per game. Georgia’s Warren McClendon was an All-SEC Freshman selection and gives the Bulldogs a freshman All-American in five straight seasons and an All-American offensive lineman in three of the last four.
Tulsa left tackle Tyler Smith started all eight games for a team that was picked eighth in its conference but closed playing for The American title. Tulsa’s last Freshman All-American came in 2018 with linebacker Zaven Collins, this year’s Bronko Nagurski Trophy winner as the nation’s top defensive player. Matt Goncalves is Pitt’s first Freshman All-American on offense since 2015.
Pitt’s other honoree is Calijah Kancey, part of an impressive foursome of young pass rushers who already stand out among the national leaders. Kancey gives the Panthers a defensive lineman on both the First Team All-America squad (Rashad Weaver) and its Freshman All-America Team after he filled into the starting lineup when 2019 All-American Jaylen Twyman opted out for the season. He answered with 21 quarterback pressures, 27 tackles and 7.0 TFL’s. TCU’s Khari Coleman, the Big 12 Co-Defensive Freshman of the Year, led all freshmen nationally and was seventh overall with 15.0 TFL’s to go with 3.0 sacks. He had at least two TFL’s in six of his last seven games. TCU has had a Freshman All-American in three of the last four seasons.
Clemson’s defense is restocked on the line with tackle Myles Murphy, who finished fourth on the team with 34 tackles, led the Tigers with 9.0 TFL’s and had three forced fumbles. The ACC’s Co-Newcomer of the Year is Clemson’s first Freshman All-American since quarterback Trevor Lawrence in 2018. WKU’s Ricky Barber finished as perhaps the top pass rusher from the Group of Five programs. Barber’s 43 tackles were ninth nationally among defensive linemen to go with 6.0 TFL’s and four sacks in 10 games. He is the fourth Freshman All-American at WKU, which now has two in the last three seasons.
Anderson leads the four-man linebacking crew but watch out west for another name to rise next season. Noah Sewell at Oregon made an immediate impact posting sacks in his first two games and finishing with 44 tackles and 6.5 TFL’s in just seven games. The Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year and the younger brother of 2019 Outland Trophy winner Penei Sewell, Noah Sewell is only the second Oregon linebacker to be named a Freshman All-American (Troy Dye in 2016) and gives the Ducks a freshman All-American in four of the last five seasons. Stefon Thompson is Syracuse’s sixth Freshman All-American and its first at linebacker. He set the Orange record for a freshman with 4.0 TFL’s against Louisville, the most in a single game by a rookie there since the statistic has been kept (1994).
Tyler Grubbs made the Conference USA All-Freshman team, leading Louisiana Tech and finishing 25th in the FBS with 9.9 tackles per game (99 total) with 9.5 TFL’s. He posted 16 tackles in his collegiate debut and had double-digit totals in five of 10 games. Grubbs is Louisiana Tech’s fourth Freshman All-American and its first since 2017.
Deuce Vaughn lit up Big 12 defenses from multiple positions and closed the regular season as one of two FBS players to have at least 600 rushing yards and 400 receiving yards, the other being the FWAA’s all-purpose First-Team All-American, Travis Etienne of Clemson. The Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year racked up 1,221 all-purpose yards that including a K-State freshman-record 642 rushing yards and a team-leading 434 receiving yards. Of the Wildcats’ eight Freshman All-Americans, four have been on special teams or all-purpose.
Tory Taylor of Iowa finished with a 44.1-yard average to lead all FBS freshmen. The 23-year-old Australian is only the fourth Freshman All-American at Iowa and its first non-lineman. John Hoyland of Wyoming was tops in the country in field goals made per game (2.17) missing only one kick, which was sixth nationally by percentage (92.9) and he averaged 9.2 points per game. He is the Cowboys’ first special teams Freshman All-American and gives them a member for a third consecutive season and fifth in the last six years.
NIU’s Trayvon Rudolph was a MAC first-teamer and led the nation in kickoff return yards (717) averaging 23.9 yards per return with six returns of 30 or more yards. Rudolph is NIU’s first Freshman All-American since 2015 and its first on special teams. Demario Douglas gave Liberty its first punt return touchdown in five seasons and was 10th nationally with an 11.1-yard average. He is Liberty’s second Freshman All-American.
The Freshman Coach of the Year is Colorado’s Karl Dorrell, who led the Buffaloes to their first winning record since 2016 at 4-2 after Colorado started its conference season 3-0 for the first time since 2002.
From this Freshman All-America team, Texas was the home state for seven of the players – each playing for a different program – to lead all others, followed by Georgia’s five and Florida and Louisiana with three each. The team also included a player (Noah Sewell) from an American territory for the first time, and Iowa’s Taylor is the fifth Australian to earn a Freshman All-America honor. No freshmen made the FWAA All-America Team this season.
About Shaun Alexander
Shaun Alexander is a former All-Pro running back with the Seattle Seahawks (2000-07) and Washington Redskins (2008) and a former All-SEC player at Alabama (1995-99). He finished a four-year career with the Crimson Tide holding 15 records including 3,565 career rushing yards and most touchdowns (5) in a game. He was drafted by Seattle as the 19th overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft, and in his second season had a breakout year with 1,318 yards and 14 touchdowns, including a franchise-record 266 yards on 35 carries in a memorable ESPN Sunday Night Football game against Oakland. Today Alexander travels the country speaking and teaching people about the things he is passionate about – his Christian faith, marriage, fatherhood, football, winning, leading and love.
About the Football Writers Association of America
The FWAA consists of 1,300 men and women who cover college football. The membership includes journalists, broadcasters and publicists, as well as key executives in all the areas that involve the game. The FWAA works to govern areas that include game-day operations, major awards and its annual All-America team. For more information about the FWAA and its award programs, contact Steve Richardson at firstname.lastname@example.org.