MADISON, Wis. -- Braelon Allen had modest expectations for his first season at Wisconsin.
"I didn't really expect to play at all," he told ESPN.
His initial goal, like many true freshmen at a program that prides itself on player development, was to simply get on the field. Special teams provided the likeliest path. Maybe he could mix in a few carries as a short-yardage back. Allen didn't enroll early, as he was playing a pandemic-delayed high school season in the spring of 2021. He began college as a 17-year-old, a factoid that would follow him throughout his first fall as a Badger.
As it turned out, so would other numbers.
After injuries to older running backs created opportunity, Allen sparked a struggling Wisconsin offense by rushing for 100 yards or more in seven consecutive games, the longest stretch by a freshman in team history. Despite only four starts, Allen joined Ron Dayne, James White and Jonathan Taylor as the only Wisconsin true freshmen to eclipse 1,000 rushing yards in a season. He led the Big Ten in runs of 30 yards or longer (9), was stopped behind the line of scrimmage on only 4.8% of his attempts, and finished by earning Las Vegas Bowl MVP honors in a win over Arizona State.
"Obviously, it wasn't anything like I expected going into the year," Allen said.
Allen has much higher expectations for his second season. A massive back at 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds, he wants to uphold Wisconsin's rich running back tradition while forging his own path. He's one of several second-year players around the country who could factor into national awards races and help their teams compete for conference championships and possibly more.
The list of second-year stars includes the most talked-about quarterback transfer of the offseason, a hero from Georgia's national championship run, Clemson's next great defender and another Big Ten running back from a notable team.
Here's a closer look at Allen, and other second-year players (true sophomores, not redshirt sophomores) to know around college football heading into the 2022 season.