Harold Lamb (Harold Lloyd), a bright-eyed but naïve young man, enrolls at Tate University. On the train there, he meets Peggy (Jobyna Ralston). They are attracted to each other.
Harold decides that the best way to ensure his popularity at school is to emulate his movie idol, The College Hero, down to mimicking a little jig he does before greeting anyone, and taking his nickname, "Speedy". However, the College Cad (Brooks Benedict) quickly makes him the butt of an ongoing joke, of which the freshman remains blissfully unaware. Harold thinks he is popular, when in fact he is the laughingstock of the whole school. His only real friend is Peggy, who turns out to be his landlady's daughter. She is described in one of the film's title cards as "the kind of girl your mother must have been".
One day, Harold tries out for the university football team. The coach (Pat Harmon) is unimpressed, but as Harold has damaged their only practice tackle dummy, the coach uses him in its place. At the end of practice, though, he approves of Harold's enthusiasm (undiminished after repeated tackling). The coach is about to dismiss the freshman when Chet Trask (James Anderson), the captain and star of the team, suggests making him their water boy, while letting him think he has made the squad.
Harold is persuaded to host the annual "Fall Frolic" dance. His tailor is late making his suit; with the dance well underway, it is barely being held together by basting stitches, but Harold puts it on and hopes for the best. During the party, his clothes start to fall apart, despite the efforts of the tailor (hiding in a side room) to effect repairs. When Harold sees the College Cad being too forward with Peggy, working as a hatcheck girl, Harold knocks him down. The incensed Cad then tells him just what everyone really thinks of him. Peggy advises him to stop putting on an act and be himself.
Harold is determined to prove himself by getting into the big championship football game. His chance comes when the other team proves too tough, injuring so many of Tate College's players that the coach runs out of substitutes. Hounded by Harold and warned by the referee that he will forfeit if he cannot come up with another player, the coach reluctantly lets Harold go in. The first few plays are disastrous. Finally, he breaks free and is on his way to winning the game, but, mindful of a referee's prior instruction that he is to stop playing when he hears the whistle, he drops the football just outside the end zone when a non-football whistle sounds. The other team recovers the ball with only a minute left to play. His teammates are disheartened, but Harold rouses them to make a final effort. He chases down the opposing ball carrier, knocks the football loose, scoops it up and runs it all the way back for the winning touchdown as time runs out, which at last earns him the respect and popularity he was after. To top it off, Peggy passes him a note proclaiming her love for him.