Sometimes, a struggling program just needs a little new blood.
That definitely was the case in the Big Ten with Illinois freshman wide receiver Arrelious Benn and Michigan State freshman linebacker Greg Jones making immediate impacts that helped their struggling programs reverse their fortunes.
The versatile Benn, the Rivals.com Big Ten offensive freshman of the year, injected excitement into Illinois' offense and helped the Illini to a 9-3 record and a berth in the Rose Bowl. Jones, the defensive freshman of the year, notched more than 70 tackles and helped Michigan State rebound from a four-win season in 2006 to post seven victories in '07.
Several other freshmen in the Big Ten took advantage of injuries to starters to distinguish themselves.
Injuries to starting tailback P.J. Hill and wide receiver Luke Swan thrust Zach Brown and Kyle Jefferson into Wisconsin's lineup, and both responded with solid showings that helped boost the Badgers to another bowl appearance and offered a glimpse of a bright future.
Although Iowa endured an inconsistent season, Hawkeyes faithful can at least gain consolation in knowing the passing attack should be solid for the next two or three years after Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and James Cleveland both caught more than 35 passes and proved themselves capable starters in the Big Ten.
Rivals.com Freshman All-Big Ten Team
QB Adam Weber, Minnesota, (RS), 6-3, 210 HIGH SCHOOL: Shoreview (Minn.) Mounds View BUZZ: Although he had growing pains with 19 interceptions, Weber completed 57.5 percent of his attempts (258 of 449) for 2,895 yards and 24 touchdowns.
RB Evan Royster, Penn State (RS), 6-1, 211 HIGH SCHOOL: Fairfax (Va.) Westfield BUZZ: Mainly used as a backup, Royster still averaged 6.1 yards per carry en route to rushing for 448 yards and four touchdowns. He gained at least 68 yards in five games.
RB Zach Brown, Wisconsin, 5-11, 198 HIGH SCHOOL: Royal Palm Beach (Fla.) High BUZZ: When injuries sidelined starter P.J. Hill, Brown stepped in and rushed for 539 yards. He had 358 yards and four touchdowns in the last two games of the season.
WR Kyle Jefferson, Wisconsin, 6-5, 195 HIGH SCHOOL: Cleveland Glenville BUZZ: He helped bolster an injury-depleted receiving corps with 23 grabs for 385 yards and two touchdowns. He had a season-best six catches for 124 yards against Penn State.
WR Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, Iowa (RS), 6-1/205
HIGH SCHOOL: Youngstown (Ohio) Cardinal Mooney BUZZ: He led the Hawkeyes with 38 receptions for 482 yards and two touchdowns. He had a season-best eight catches for 119 yards against Northwestern.
WR James Cleveland, Iowa (RS), 6-1/195 HIGH SCHOOL: Baytown (Texas) Lee BUZZ: Cleveland had at least four catches in five games en route to finishing with 36 receptions for 464 yards.
OT Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin (RS), 6-8/292 HIGH SCHOOL: Cottage Grove (Wis.) Monona Grove BUZZ: Replaced All-America Joe Thomas and helped the Badgers' rank second in the Big Ten in rushing. The Badgers averaged 413.9 yards per game overall.
OT Stephen Schilling, Michigan (RS), 6-5/297 HIGH SCHOOL: Bellevue (Wash.) High BUZZ: A consistent starter for the Wolverines, who averaged 373.5 yards per game.
G Bryan Bulaga, Iowa, 6-6/290 HIGH SCHOOL: Woodstock (Ill.) Marian Central Catholic BUZZ: Bulaga, who started five games, is one of 11 true freshmen who played for the Hawkeyes this season.
G Stefen Wisniewski, Penn State, 6-3/283 HIGH SCHOOL: Pittsburgh Central Catholic BUZZ: Saw action in a backup role on an offense that averaged 399 yards per game.
C No freshman played enough to warrant consideration.
DE Cameron Heyward, Ohio State, 6-6/282 HIGH SCHOOL: Suwanee (Ga.) Peachtree Ridge BUZZ: Heyward, son of former NFL running back Craig "Ironhead" Heyward, began starting midway through the season and finished with nine tackles for loss.
DE Kirk DeCremer, Wisconsin (RS), 6-5/238 HIGH SCHOOL: Middleton (Wis.) Verona Area BUZZ: He was used in a reserve role for most of the season before starting the final two regular-season games. He has 5.5 sacks.
DT Adrian Clayborn, Iowa (RS), 6-3/275 HIGH SCHOOL: St. Louis Webster Groves BUZZ: Clayborn was credited with 20 tackles, including two sacks. He forced a fumble, blocked a kick and was credited with two quarterback pressures.
DT Ollie Ogbu, Penn State (RS), 6-1/293 HIGH SCHOOL: New Berlin (N.Y.) Milford Academy BUZZ: Ogbu finished the season with 17 tackles. He had nine tackles for loss, a sack and a forced fumble.
LB Greg Jones, Michigan State, 6-1/220 HIGH SCHOOL: Cincinnati Moeller BUZZ: Led Michigan State with 73 tackles, the highest amount of tackles for a freshman in the Big Ten. He had 35 unassisted tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.
LB Eric Gordon, Michigan State (RS), 6-0/220 HIGH SCHOOL: Traverse City (Mich.) West BUZZ: Was fourth on the team with 57 tackles, including 6.5 tackles for loss. He also had a sack and broke up two passes.
LB Obi Ezeh, Michigan (RS) 6-2/243 HIGH SCHOOL: Grand Rapids (Mich.) Catholic Central BUZZ: He posted 66 tackles, including four for loss, and two sacks. He also had an interception and forced a fumble.
CB Chimdi Chekwa, Ohio State (RS), 6-1/180 HIGH SCHOOL: Clermont (Fla.) East Ridge BUZZ: Posted 29 tackles with two for losses. He had 10 pass breakups and an interception.
CB Donovan Warren, Michigan, 6-0/173 HIGH SCHOOL: Long Beach (Cal.) Poly BUZZ: Gettis started 10 games for the Tigers and posted 45 tackles. He had an interception, one pass breakup and two tackles for loss.
FS Brett Greenwood, Iowa (RS) 6-0/200 HIGH SCHOOL: Bettendorf (Iowa) Pleasant Valley BUZZ: A starter in the Hawkeyes' secondary, Greenwood posted 45 tackles. He intercepted two passes and had seven pass breakups.
SS Mitchell Evans, Indiana, 6-3/190 HIGH SCHOOL: West Milton (Ohio) Milton Union BUZZ: He posted 12 tackles, had two interceptions and broke up a pass.
K Daniel Murray, Iowa (RS) 5-10/175 HIGH SCHOOL: Iowa City (Iowa) Regina BUZZ: Murray converted 7-of-10 field-goal attempts, including 3-of-4 from 40 yards or more. His longest field goal was from 47 yards.
P Ryan Donahue, Iowa (RS), 6-3/175 HIGH SCHOOL: Evergreen Park (Ill.) St. Rita BUZZ: He averaged 41.1 yards on 86 attempts to rank fourth among Big Ten punters. He also had a long kick of 82 yards.
KR Harold Howell, Minnesota, 5-8/160 HIGH SCHOOL: Jacksonville (Fla.) Mandarin BUZZ: He averaged 23.1 yards on 30 returns. That included a season-long return of 51 yards.
PR David Gilreath, Wisconsin, 5-11/160 HIGH SCHOOL: New Hope (Minn.) Robbindale Armstrong BUZZ: Gilbreath ranked 11th in the country in punt returns with a 14.91 average on 23 attempts. His longest return covered 56 yards.
ALL-PURPOSE Arrelious Benn, Illinois, 6-2/215 HIGH SCHOOL: Washington (D.C.) Dunbar BUZZ: Caught 49 passes for 596 yards and rushed for 158. He also averaged 29.4 yards on kickoff returns and had a touchdown.