Last week Athlon Sports ranked the top 50 college football players of the past 50 years, and came to the same conclusion as many have before them: Herschel Walker was the best. Athlon didn’t take the task lightly. They didn’t assign the story to some 22 year old cub reporter who might cherry-pick a couple of legends, then fill the rest with names he remembered from the past ten years in an effort to generate page clicks and reader responses. Instead they assembled a panel of experienced college football writers, and worked from a list of 300 all-Americans and major award winners.
I decided to type up the list not knowing who was number one, and worked my way down, adding a few of my first impressions (I figured Herschel would be near the top). Athlon should be commended for their excellent work on the thankless task. Only eight of the 50 started their career after the turn of the century, and 19 played in the 60’s and 70’s.
50. 89-91 Desmond Howard Michigan WR
49. 81-84 Doug Flutie Boston College QB
48. 93-96 Danny Wuerffel Florida QB
47. 12-14 Marcus Mariota Oregon QB
46. 84-87 Keith Jackson Oklahoma TE
45. 94-97 Peyton Manning Tennessee QB
44. 84-87 Chris Spielman, Ohio State LB
43. 80-83 Reggie White Tennessee DT
42. 92-95 Jonathan Ogden UCLA OT
41. 81-84 Bruce Smith Virginia Tech DE
40. 71-74 Randy White Maryland DL should be way higher. Super Bowl MVP as a lineman. Better than Suh.
39. 77-80 Mike Singletary Baylor LB
38. 03-05 Matt Leinart USC QB
37. 95-98 Ricky Williams Texas RB
36. 68-70 Archie Manning Ole Miss QB
35. 81-84 Jerry Rice Mississippi Valley State WR 4693 yd should be higher than Moss and Fitzgerald.
34. 98-01 Ed Reed Miami S
33. 79-82 John Elway Stanford QB good in college, but deserving?
32. 84-86 Brian Bosworth Oklahoma LB
31. 89-91 Steve Emtman Washington DE
30. 10-10 Cam Newton Auburn QB (one #1 vote) one year wonder does not belong on this list.
29. 68-70 Jack Tatum Ohio State DB
28. 77-80 Lawrence Taylor UNC LB
27. 79-81 Marcus Allen USC RB
26. 76-79 Anthony Munuz USC OL
25. 77-80 Kenny Easley UCLA S
24. 70-72 Johnny Rogers Nebraska WB
23. 02-03 Larry Fitzgerald Pitt WR 2677 yards
22. 96-97 Randy Moss Marshall WR 3529 yards
21. 85-88 Derrick Thomas Alabama LB
20. 67-68 OJ Simpson USC RB 3423 yards
19. 79-82 Dave Rimington Nebraska C
18. 78-80 Ronnie Lott USC S
17. 70-72 John Hannah Alabama OL. The greatest lineman of all time should be ranked higher.
16. 94-96 Orlando Pace Ohio State OT
15. 05-09 Ndamukong Suh Nebraska DT
14. 03-05 Reggie Bush USC RB. Good but ranked too high.
13. 72-75 Lee Roy Selmon Oklahoma DT
12. 92-95 Tommie Frazier Nebraska QB (one #1 vote). On all but one ballot.
11. 95-97 Charles Woodson Michigan DB/PR. On all but one ballot.
10. 73-76 Tony Dorsett Pitt RB 6082 yards
9. 85-88 Deion Sanders FSU CB. On all but one ballot.
8. 03-05 Vince Young Texas QB. Left off two ballots. Me: ranked a tad too high. Was his college performance really better than Peyton Manning’s?
7. 77-80 Hugh Green Pitt DE. On all but one ballot.
6. 06-09 Tim Tebow Florida QB (three #1 votes). On all but one ballot. Had a better college career than Bo.
5. 82-85 Bo Jackson Auburn RB 4303 yards. On all but one ballot.
4. 74-77 Earl Campbell Texas RB 4443 yards. Listed on every ballot.
3. 72-75 Archie Griffin Ohio State RB 5589 yards in 4 years. On all but one ballot.
2. 86-88 Barry Sanders OK State RB (two #1 votes). Listed on every ballot.
1. 80-82 Herschel Walker UGA RB (nine #1 votes). Listed on every ballot. 5259 yards in 3 years
In terms of great players, I’d like to think Calvin Johnson belongs on this list. His short career playing for an average team surely held him back.
Interesting that no Notre Dame player made the list. But other than Joe Thiesman and Tim Brown, who else even comes close? No LSU (the Honey Badger). No Clemson (Deshaun Watson or CJ Spiller).
The panel: Tony Barnhart, Michael Bradley, Matt Brown, Jimmy Burch, Bill Connelly, Rob Doster, Chris Dufresne, Bruce Feldman, Steven Godfrey, Herb Gould, Bill King, Tom Luicci, Ivan Maisel, Stewart Mandel, Paul Myerberg, Bud Withers.