Between opt-outs for the NFL Draft and players entering the transfer portal, it's almost impossible for a team not in the College Football Playoff to enter bowl season with its roster completely intact anymore. While dealing with heavy losses can be frustrating for a team that wants to send a successful year out on a high note, it also offers fans an exciting glimpse at the future. 

Coaches will often use bowls as an opportunity to give some run to players that don't normally see the field through the course of the regular season. A lot of times, that means freshmen can play a key role off the bench -- or even start -- especially since bowl games don't count against redshirt eligibility. 

This bowl season was no exception when it came it showcasing some exciting first-year players. Two top-10 quarterback prospects from the class of 2023 -- Tennessee's Nico Iamaleava and Kansas State's Avery Johnson -- got their first career starts and led their respective teams to wins. Several skill position players that barely so much as sniffed the field over the first 12 games took on huge roles in a bowl and broke out with stellar performances. 

Here's a look at the true freshmen that turned heads during Bowl Season and improved their stock entering the 2024 campaign. 

Rickey Hunt, RB, Ohio 

Hunt got Bowl Season started with a bang. He quite literally carried a shorthanded Ohio team to victory against Georgia Southern in the Myrtle Beach Bowl. Hunt was responsible for all five of the Bobcats' touchdowns in the 41-21 win, rushing for four and catching another. He led all rushers with 115 yards on just 17 carries. Hunt had just six rushing attempts on the season and played in two games entering the bowl, but seized the opportunity after Ohio's top two running backs -- Sieh Bangura and O'Shaan Allison -- entered the transfer portal. 

Nico Iamaleava, QB, Tennessee

After an up-and-down year from super senior Joe Milton III, Tennessee fans pining to see the future at quarterback finally got their wish in the Vols' Citrus Bowl clash against Iowa. Milton opted out, which paved the way for Iamaleava, the No. 2 overall prospect in the 2023 class (according to 247Sports) to get his first start. The highest-ranked prospect to sign with Tennessee in the modern era of recruiting lived up to his lofty billing. Iamaleava scored three rushing touchdowns on an Iowa defense that had allowed just four scores on the ground all year coming in. He also completed 12 of his 19 pass attempts for 151 yards and another touchdown, leading the Vols to a 35-0 win against the reigning Big Ten West champs. Iamaleave showed great accuracy and poise for a true freshman, especially given the immense amount of pressure he faced all game from Iowa's ferocious defensive front. The potential for a stellar 2024 season is evident.

Amier Washington, DL, Texas Tech 

Washington was a complete unknown entering Texas Tech's Independence Bowl matchup against California. The former lightly-recruited three-star prospect out of Orange, Texas, made a brief appearance way back on Sept. 30 against Houston but spent the rest of the year biding his time on the bench. He wasn't even listed as a starter against Cal but emerged as one of the game's most prominent figures. He wrecked the Bears' offense all night, registering four tackles (all for loss), three sacks with one forced fumble. The Red Raiders are set to lose three seniors along the defensive line, allowing Washington to seamlessly step into a bigger role next season after this statement performance. 

Gio Lopez, QB, South Alabama 

A product of James Clemens (Madison, Alabama) High School, Lopez reported five FBS offers and eventually signed with South Alabama over the likes of Charlotte and UAB. The 6-foot-1 Lopez made his first career start Nov. 2 against Troy with Carter Bradley sidelined due to injury. His second start in 68 Ventures Bowl against Eastern Michigan earned him MVP honors. Bradley tallied 280 total yards and four touchdowns while completing 14 of his 19 pass attempts in the 59-10 rout. His 97.2 total quarterback rating ranks third among quarterbacks in the postseason, trailing only USC's Miller Moss and Washington's Michael Penix Jr. The Jaguars have their quarterback of the future, and Lopez will be a name worth monitoring among the non-power conference ranks going forward. 

Ja'Kobi Lane, WR, USC

USC quarterback Miller Moss, starting in place of former Heisman Trophy winner and potential No. 1 NFL Draft pick Caleb Williams, stole headlines with his six-touchdown performance in USC's 42-28 win against Louisville in the Holiday Bowl. But Lane, a 6-foot-5 freshman that worked his way into the rotation near the end of the season, deserves a nod as well. He played a career-high in snaps against Oregon and UCLA and parlayed that into a breakout performance against the Cardinals, hauling in three catches for 60 yards and two touchdowns. He showcased his immense catch radius and tremendous leaping with a highlight-reel catch over two Louisville defensive backs late in the third quarter. 

Avery Johnson, QB, Kansas State 

One of the most ballyhooed recruits to ever sign with Kansas State, Johnson played sparingly this season while honing his craft under veteran Will Howard. Howard entered the transfer portal on Dec. 4, opening the door for the No. 8 quarterback in the 2023 class to get his first career start in K-State's Pop-Tarts Bowl clash against NC State. He was named player of the game (and thus got first dibs at consuming college football's first edible mascot) after leading the Wildcats to a 28-19 win. He threw for 178 yards and two touchdowns, adding 71 yards and another score on the ground. It's clear that Johnson is Kansas State's unquestioned starter moving forward, giving the Wildcats more upside at the position than they've had in a very long time. 

Jordan Faison, WR, Notre Dame 

Notre Dame saw three of its leading receivers enter the transfer portal and parted ways with position coach Chansi Stuckey in the weeks leading up to Dec. 29's Sun Bowl against Oregon State. Factor in quarterback Sam Hartman's decision to opt out and most expected a rough outing for the Irish offense. Enter Faison, who stole headlines early in the season when he scored a 36-yard touchdown in a marquee game against Louisville. The a former walk-on and converted lacrosse player fell back off the national radar for the rest of the regular season, with limited playing time and a marginal impact in blowout wins. He got the start at slot receiver in the Sun Bowl and quickly emerged as replacement QB Steve Angeli's favorite target, hauling in five catches for a game-high 115 yards and a touchdown. He displayed a great ability to find open spots on the field and did some damage after the catch. Plenty of wide receiver snaps are up for grabs moving forward for the Irish and Faison did all he could to stake his claim for a good share of them. 

Shelton Lewis, CB, Clemson 

Lewis, a three-star freshman out of Stockbridge, Georgia, came on strong very late into Clemson's season, earning ACC Rookie of the Week honors after logging five pass deflections and pick-six in Nov. 11's win against Georgia Tech. He parlayed that into a starting role in Clemson's Gator Bowl game against Kentucky with normal starters Nate Wiggins opting out and Toriano Pride Jr. entering the transfer portal. He answered the bell with two pass deflections and an interception that ended Kentucky's final drive of the game, sealing a 38-35 win for the Tigers.