- David M. Hale, ESPN Staff Writer
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In the aftermath of Florida State's ACC championship game win over Georgia Tech, coach Jimbo Fisher sat at a podium flanked by the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback who helped him win the national championship a year ago and the freshman tailback who might be the key to a second straight title, and a reporter posed a curious question.
Dalvin Cook had just run 31 times -- a high for any FSU running back under Fisher -- for 177 yards, a workhorse performance that helped Florida State eke out a two-point win and secure a place in the first College Football Playoff, and the reporter wanted to know when Fisher had last seen a freshman look so impressive.
Fisher turned toward Jameis Winston, who'd rewritten the school's record book as a freshman just a year earlier, and grinned.
"Last year," Fisher beamed.
A day earlier, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota had put the finishing touches on his own Heisman campaign by dismantling Arizona to win the Pac-12 while another freshman tailback handled much of the dirty work. Royce Freeman ran 21 times for 114 yards in that game, the eighth straight contest in which he topped 100 yards of total offense. The media there started looking for apt comparisons for Oregon's fab freshman, too.
"There's not anybody I've ever been around," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said of comparisons for Freeman.
The Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual offers perhaps the most intriguing undercard of the bowl season: a matchup of elite freshmen tailbacks toiling in the shadows of Heisman-winning QBs. At Florida State, Cook rescued the season while Winston battled turnovers and turmoil. At Oregon, Freeman shattered the image of the up-tempo tailback and set a Ducks record for freshman runners in the process.
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193dJared Shanker and Chantel Jennings