The All-Time All-America team for college football's 150th anniversary

ByESPN Staff ESPN logo
Thursday, December 26, 2019

The unifying theme of the 25 players on the All-Time All-America team is that their presence on the field changed the game: how it is played, the expectation of a position, even how we watch.

This was true in the late 1920s, when Bronko Nagurski played at Minnesota, and this was true nearly 70 years later, when Orlando Pace and Jonathan Ogden made the 1995 All-America team at offensive tackle. That, of course, makes this their second All-America team bracketing the offensive line.

Pace will line up alongside fellow Buckeye Jim Parker. If you don't have one of Woody's guys, what kind of O-line would it be?

Quarterback Roger Staubach scrambled like few before him and so, so many after him, not to mention he made the 1963 Navy Midshipmen into the service academies' last national power.

Running backs Jim Brown and Herschel Walker, both multisport stars, combined a sprinter's speed with a linebacker's physicality. If you caught them, they let you know it.

There was linebacking before Dick Butkus, and after; before Lawrence Taylor, and after.

Each of the four defensive backs redefined the expectations of secondary play, from the sheer physicality of Jack Tatum in the late 1960s, to the center field that Ronnie Lott played in the 1970s, to the artistry of Deion Sanders in the 1980s and to the what-can't-he-do of Charles Woodson in the 1990s. Woodson taught fans and viewers to stop watching the ball and watch him instead.

To a man, right down to the special teams, these players transformed the game.

The All-Time All-America team derived from the vote of a blue-ribbon panel assembled earlier this year. The 25 players represent a span of nearly 90 years, from the Roaring '20s to the 21st century. They represent 19 schools, from Ohio State to Mississippi Valley State; nine conferences, from the Southeastern to the Ivy League; and both segments of Division I.

You may be surprised that the school that put four players on this team hasn't won a national championship since 1976. But with that many Pitt Panthers, I suppose that means the sports information director has to be Beano Cook, who served the school in that capacity in the 1950s. -- Ivan Maisel



QB Roger Staubach, Navy (1962-64)

Passing yards: 3,571 | Rushing yards: 682 | TDs: 35

Before Staubach led America's Team in the NFL, he won the Heisman Trophy as Navy's quarterback in 1963. Known as "Roger the Dodger," Staubach passed for 1,474 yards as a junior in 1963, while also winning the Maxwell Trophy and Walter Camp Memorial Award. After four years in the Navy, including a tour in Vietnam, Staubach joined the Cowboys in 1969 and led them to the Super Bowl four times, including victories in 1972 and '78.

RB Jim Brown, Syracuse (1954-56)

Rushing yards: 2,091 | TDs: 26 | Interceptions: 8

Brown was the greatest all-around athlete in Syracuse history -- and perhaps in all of collegiate sports. While Brown is best known as the running back who launched the legend of jersey No. 44, he earned 10 varsity letters in four sports at Syracuse -- basketball, football, lacrosse and track. Brown did it all on the football field, too. He led the nation in kickoff-return average in 1955 and rushing TDs in 1956, when he became Syracuse's first unanimous All-American and led the Orange to the Cotton Bowl. He was also the Orange's place-kicker and scored 43 points -- on six touchdowns and seven extra points -- in a 61-7 decision over Colgate in 1956.

RB Herschel Walker, Georgia (1980-82)

Rushing yards: 5,259 | TDs: 52 | Rushing yards per game: 159.4

If not Brown, Walker might be the player whom every college running back is measured against. He ran for 1,616 yards with 15 touchdowns as a freshman in 1980, leading the Bulldogs to a 12-0 record and national championship. Walker ran for 150 yards with two touchdowns -- after separating his shoulder -- in a 17-10 win over Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl. He ran for 1,891 yards as a sophomore and 1,752 as a junior, when he won the 1982 Heisman Trophy. During his three-year collegiate career, Walker set 41 Georgia, 16 SEC and 11 NCAA records. The Bulldogs went 33-3 during his three seasons.

WR Jerry Rice, Mississippi Valley State (1981-84)

Receptions: 301 | Receiving yards: 4,693 | Receiving TDs: 50

Mississippi Valley State coach Archie "Gunslinger" Cooley once said that Rice had the kind of hands that could "catch a BB in the dark." His hands, which were developed by catching bricks from his father as a boy, caught more passes (102) than any other NCAA player in 1983 and more touchdowns (27) than anyone else in 1984. He finished ninth in Heisman Trophy voting as a senior despite playing at the Division I-AA (FCS) level. Rice still holds FCS records for catches in a game (24), touchdown catches in a season (27) and yards per game in a season (168.2), among others.

WR Larry Fitzgerald, Pittsburgh (2002-03)

Receptions: 161 | Receiving yards: 2,677 | TDs: 34

The son of a Minnesota sportswriter, Fitzgerald had his hands on a football at an early age as a Vikings ball boy. In just two seasons at Pittsburgh, Fitzgerald made his mark as one of the greatest pass-catchers in FBS history. He averaged 16.6 yards per catch and set an FBS record with at least one TD in 18 consecutive games. He finished second in 2003 Heisman Trophy voting, the highest for a receiver since Michigan's Desmond Howard won in 1991. Fitzgerald won the Walter Camp and Biletnikoff awards and was a unanimous first-team All-American in 2003. Before leaving for the 2004 NFL draft, he set or tied four FBS, eight Big East and 11 Pitt records.

TE Mike Ditka, Pittsburgh (1958-60)

Receptions: 45 | Receiving yards: 730 | TDs: 7

Former Pittsburgh coach Foge Fazio, one of Ditka's teammates with the Panthers, once compared him to a prizefighter: "He just couldn't wait for the bell to ring and get back out there." Ditka once punched two Pitt guards in the huddle in the same game because he didn't think they were playing hard enough. That was never a problem for Ditka, who led Pitt in receptions for three straight years and was a menacing defensive lineman and punter. He also played on Pitt's baseball and basketball teams and was an intramural wrestling champion.

C Chuck Bednarik, Pennsylvania (1945-48)

After finishing high school, Bednarik enlisted in the Army Air Forces and flew 30 bombing missions over Germany as an aerial gunner during World War II. He was named All-American in 1947 and '48, when he finished third in Heisman Trophy voting and won the Maxwell Award. "Concrete Charlie" was one of the most ferocious players in the pros and was named All-Pro eight times. Since 1995, the Chuck Bednarik Award has been given to college football's best defensive player.

T Orlando Pace, Ohio State (1994-96)

In three seasons with the Buckeyes, Pace earned the moniker "Pancake Man" for his uncanny ability to flatten opponents and leave them lying on their backs. Pace was a unanimous All-American in 1995 and 1996 and became the first player in history to win the Lombardi trophy as a sophomore and was the first repeat Lombardi winner. As a junior in 1996, he finished fourth in Heisman Trophy voting, the highest finish by a lineman since 1980, and won the Outland Trophy. He didn't allow a sack in his final two seasons and had 80 pancake blocks as a junior. He was the No. 1 pick by the St. Louis Rams in the 1997 NFL draft.

T Bill Fralic, Pittsburgh (1981-84)

When Fralic was in the eighth grade, he stood 6 feet, 3 inches and weighed 235 pounds -- before he started lifting weights. Then-Pitt coach Jackie Sherrill met Fralic at a golf course and asked, "What college do you play for?" Fralic was a three-time All-American (unanimous in 1983 and 1984) at Pitt and became the first offensive lineman to twice finish in the top 10 in voting for the Heisman Trophy, finishing eighth in 1983 and sixth in '84. According to Pittsburgh's sports information department, the Panthers devised the term "pancake block" to calculate how many times Fralic put an opponent on his back.

G John Hannah, Alabama (1970-72)

Hannah weighed 10 pounds at birth, and family members joked that his mother fed him hamburger, instead of baby food, as a toddler. When Hannah signed with the Crimson Tide, he was the heaviest player Paul "Bear" Bryant had ever recruited. He also was the best lineman to ever play at Alabama, earning All-America honors in 1971 and '72 and winning the Jacobs award as the sport's best blocker as a senior. Hannah played 13 seasons for the New England Patriots and was named to the NFL All-Time Team.

G Jim Parker, Ohio State (1954-56)

Parker, a cat-quick guard and menacing blocker, was the measuring stick for any lineman under legendary Ohio State coach Woody Hayes. Parker was the Buckeyes' first Outland Trophy winner in 1956 and a two-time All-American. During his three seasons, the Buckeyes won 23 of 28 games, captured back-to-back Big Ten titles in 1954 and '55 and claimed the 1954 national championship. At 273 pounds, Parker was the biggest player the Baltimore Colts had ever drafted. "He blocked out the sun," Colts general manager Ernie Accorsi said. In 1973, Parker became the first full-time offensive lineman inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.


DE Hugh Green, Pittsburgh (1977-80)

Sacks: 49 | Tackles: 441

Pittsburgh coach Jackie Sherrill once said Green had only one speed: full speed. "He's so reckless and so quick," Sherrill told Sports Illustrated. "Nobody in college football can block him." Green was a three-time first-team All-American. In 1980, he won the Maxwell Award as the country's best player, won the Lombardi Award as the best lineman and won the Walter Camp as the nation's most outstanding player. He finished second to South Carolina's George Rogers in Heisman Trophy voting as a senior, the highest-ever finish by a full-time defensive player. The Panthers went 39-8-1 during Green's four seasons, when he started every contest but one.

DE Reggie White, Tennessee (1980-83)

Sacks: 32 | Tackles: 293 | Fumble recoveries: 4

Before White became the "Minister of Defense" and retired as the NFL's all-time sack leader, he was the most menacing pass-rusher in Tennessee history. During White's senior season in 1983, he had 100 tackles, 72 unassisted, and set a UT single-season record with 15 sacks. He had a sack in every game but two and had four in a 45-6 victory over The Citadel, another school record. White was a consensus All-American and was named SEC Player of the Year. "There's never been a better one," former Volunteers coach Johnny Majors said. "He could turn a football game around like no one else."

DT Bronko Nagurski, Minnesota (1927-29)

Rushing yards: 557 | TDs: 6

An oft-told legend is that a college football coach, lost during a recruiting trip in Minnesota, asked a farmer for directions to the nearest town. Nagurski pointed the way -- with his plow. As a senior for the Gophers in 1929, Nagurski became the only player ever named All-American at two positions -- tackle on defense and fullback on offense. Legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice once famously wrote, "Eleven Bronko Nagurskis could beat 11 Red Granges or 11 Jim Thorpes. The 11 Nagurskis would be a mop-up. It would be something close to murder and massacre." That's the reason the Bronko Nagurski Trophy is given to the best defensive player every season.

DT Lee Roy Selmon, Oklahoma (1972-75)

Tackles: 335 | Fumble recoveries: 8

Selmon, along with his older brothers Dewey and Lucious, were among nine children raised on a farm in Eufaula, Oklahoma. With the trio of Selmon brothers anchoring a dominant defensive line, OU went 32-1-1 between 1973 and '75 and won two national championships. Lee Roy was a two-time All-American in 1974 and 1975, won the Lombardi and Outland awards as a senior, and was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1976 NFL draft. Former OU coach Barry Switzer has repeatedly called Selmon the best player he ever coached. "No Sooner player cast a longer shadow over its rich tradition than Lee Roy," Switzer said, after Selmon died of a stroke in 2012.

LB Dick Butkus, Illinois (1962-64)

Tackles: 374 | Tackles per game: 14.4

Legendary sportswriter Dan Jenkins once wrote that if every college football team had a linebacker like Butkus, "all fullbacks would soon be 3 feet tall and sing soprano." Few linebackers hit as hard or as often as Butkus, a two-time All-American at Illinois. He was named the Big Ten's MVP in 1963 and finished third in Heisman Trophy voting the next year. Against Ohio State in 1963, Butkus made 23 tackles, a school record at the time. In 1985, a trophy awarded to the best linebacker in college football was named in his honor.

LB Lawrence Taylor, North Carolina (1977-80)

Sacks: 21 | Tackles for loss: 33 | Tackles: 192

Taylor spent his first two injury-plagued seasons at North Carolina playing inside linebacker and noseguard. After the UNC coaches moved him to outside linebacker before his junior season, Taylor dominated the opposition like few players before or after him. During his senior season in 1980, he set a UNC record with 16 sacks to go with 69 tackles and six other tackles for loss. He was a unanimous All-American and ACC Player of the Year. The Tar Heels finished 11-1 and claimed their last ACC title in 1980.

LB Tommy Nobis, Texas (1963-65)

Interceptions: 7

After watching Nobis suffocate Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Roger Staubach in a 28-6 victory over Navy in the 1964 Cotton Bowl, Army coach Paul Dietzel called Nobis "the finest linebacker I've ever seen in college." Nobis was the only sophomore starter on Texas' 1963 national championship team -- and he still played both ways, at linebacker and guard, after the rules were changed to allow two-platoon football. As a junior, Nobis made one of the most famous tackles in Orange Bowl history, stopping Alabama's Joe Namath at the goal line on fourth-and-inches to preserve UT's 21-17 decision. Nobis was a two-time All-American in 1964 and '65, averaged nearly 20 tackles per game, and won the Outland Trophy and Maxwell Award as a senior.

CB Deion Sanders, Florida State (1985-88)

Interceptions: 14 | Punt return TDs: 3 | Punt return yards: 1,429

Legendary Florida State coach Bobby Bowden coached two Heisman Trophy winners, 26 consensus All-Americans and more than 150 NFL draft choices. But Bowden is certain which Seminole was the best athlete he ever coached. "Deion Sanders, no doubt about it," Bowden says. Sanders, an electrifying cornerback and punt returner, snagged 14 interceptions, four of which he returned for touchdowns. He led the FBS in punt returns with a 15.2-yard average in 1988, and set FSU career records with 126 punt returns for 1,429 yards with three scores. He was a unanimous All-American in 1987 and '88 and won the Thorpe Award as the sport's best defensive back as a senior.

CB Charles Woodson, Michigan (1995-97)

Interceptions: 18 | Tackles: 162 | Total TDs: 6

The Wolverines' 20-14 victory over rival Ohio State encapsulated Woodson's Heisman Trophy-winning campaign in 1997. He set up Michigan's only offensive touchdown with a 37-yard catch in the first quarter, scored on a 78-yard punt return in the second, and intercepted a pass in the end zone in the third. Woodson's versatility and big-play ability allowed him to become the first primarily defensive player to win the Heisman since the sport moved to a two-platoon system in the early 1960s. As a junior, Woodson had eight interceptions with 43 tackles, while catching 11 passes for 231 yards with one score. A two-time All-American, he won the Heisman, Walter Camp Award, Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Chuck Bednarik Award and Jim Thorpe Award in 1997. Most importantly, he helped the Wolverines win their first national title since 1948.

S Jack Tatum, Ohio State (1968-1970)

Woody Hayes recruited Tatum to Ohio State as a running back but moved him to defensive back -- at the behest of assistant coach Lou Holtz -- shortly after he arrived. Tatum was one of the most feared hitters and tacklers in the country as a safety. As one of OSU's "Super Sophomores" in 1968, Tatum helped lead the Buckeyes to 10-0 record, Rose Bowl victory and national championship. OSU was 27-2 and won at least a share of three straight Big Ten titles in Tatum's three seasons. Tatum was a two-time All-American and placed seventh in Heisman voting as a senior.

S Ronnie Lott, USC (1977-80)

Tackles: 250 | Interceptions: 14 | Fumble recoveries: 10

The Trojans recruited Lott and 1981 Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Allen to play safety or running back. USC coach John Robinson thought Lott was the better tackler, so he ended up in the Trojans' secondary, where he became one of the most feared hitters in the sport's history. As a sophomore in 1978, Lott helped the Trojans go 12-1 and win a share of a national title. USC went 11-0-1 and was ranked No. 2 the next season. Lott was a unanimous All-American in 1980 and later won four Super Bowl championships with the San Francisco 49ers. The Lott IMPACT Trophy is given to the sport's impact defensive player each season.


K Sebastian Janikowski, Florida State (1997-99)

Points: 323 | Field goals made: 66 | PATs made: 125

After Janikowski helped the Seminoles win their second national title in 1999, FSU coach Bobby Bowden told reporters, "Boy, have you ever thought about how many national championships we might have won if we had Janikowski every year of my career?" The Seminoles were haunted by near misses -- and missed field goals -- throughout the early part of Bowden's career. That wasn't the case with the Polish-born Janikowski, who amassed 323 points in three seasons and is the only back-to-back winner of the Lou Groza Award in 1998 and '99. He set FSU and ACC records with 27 field goals in 1998.

P Ray Guy, Southern Mississippi (1970-72)

Punting average: 44 yards | Longest punt: 93 yards

Guy had a 77-yard punt in his first game for the Golden Eagles, and it was only a sign of things to come. It was the first of three 70-yard punts in his career, one of which was a 93-yarder. Guy was the first punter inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, and the Ray Guy Award is given to the best punter in the FBS each season. As a senior in 1972, Guy led the FBS with a 46.2-yard average. He averaged 44 yards over three seasons. Guy also was the team's place-kicker and a three-year starting safety with 18 career interceptions. He was the first punter ever selected in the first round of the NFL draft, and he won three Super Bowl titles in a 14-year career with the Oakland Raiders.

AP Johnny Rodgers, Nebraska (1970-72)

Receiving yards: 2,479 | Punt return yards 1,515 | Punt return TDs: 7

Johnny "The Jet" Rodgers helped the Cornhuskers win their first two national championships, in 1970 and '71, with his scintillating kick and punt returns and big plays on offense. In 1972, he became the school's first Heisman Trophy winner -- and first receiver to win the award. Rodgers is perhaps best remembered for his 72-yard punt return for a score in Nebraska's 35-31 decision over Oklahoma in the Game of the Century in 1971. Rodgers returned eight punts or kickoffs for touchdowns, which is tied for the FBS all-time lead, and averaged 13.8 yards each time he touched the ball. He is Nebraska's all-time leader with 25 touchdown catches and 1,515 punt return yards.



QB Peyton Manning, Tennessee (1994-97)

Passing yards: 11,201 | Completion pct.: .625 | TDs: 89

The ABCs that endeared Manning to the nation through his 17 seasons in professional football first shone through his four seasons in Knoxville: his affability, his brain for football, and his commitment. He took college football seriously not for the millions it might (and did) afford him professionally, but because he loved it, loved the stories that dad Archie told him about playing at Ole Miss, and loved the stories he created at Tennessee. No, he didn't win a national championship and (because!) he didn't beat Florida. But Bear Bryant never beat Notre Dame, and his career turned out all right, too. Manning won the Maxwell Award, Davey O'Brien Award, Sullivan Award and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award during his senior season in 1997.

RB Bo Jackson, Auburn (1982-85)

Rushing yards: 4,303 | Rushing TDs: 43 | Yards per carry: 6.6

Nearly four decades later, college football remains on a first-name basis with the 1985 Heisman winner. As a freshman, Jackson took the same uniform number, 34, that junior Herschel Walker wore at Georgia, and quickly proved himself worthy of the number. His "Bo Over the Top" touchdown leap broke a nine-game losing streak in the Iron Bowl, Bear Bryant's last. Although Bo also brought Herschel to mind with his combination of speed and power, Bo, unlike Herschel, had a little shimmy when he needed it. Auburn retired No. 34 in 1992; as if we didn't know, no one could fill that jersey.

RB Archie Griffin, Ohio State (1972-75)

Rushing yards: 5,589 | Rushing TDs: 27 | Rushing yards per game: 121.5

He was born in the Ohio State campus hospital, within sight of the Horseshoe, where he would become a Buckeye legend. Griffin arrived in Woody Hayes' locker room shortly after the NCAA approved freshman eligibility. Freshman? Hayes once said you lose one game for every sophomore you start. Griffin changed his coach's mind, perhaps by rushing for a school-record 239 yards in the second game of the season. Griffin rushed for 1,695 yards and 12 touchdowns his junior year, good enough to earn the 1974 Heisman. Hayes used to tell his players you either get better or you get worse. That adage spurred Griffin throughout his senior year; he won the Heisman again. No one else has ever won two.

WR Randy Moss, Marshall (1996-97)

Receptions: 168 | Receiving Yards: 3,467 | Total TDs: 54

Moss suffered two punishing blows early in his college career, and not only stayed on his feet but excelled, which surprises exactly no one who ever saw him play. He signed to play at Notre Dame, but after he got into a high school fight that resulted in a misdemeanor assault conviction, the university refused to admit him. Moss transferred to Florida State, but after a positive test for marijuana, he got booted out of there, too. Moss went to FCS school Marshall, near his West Virginia home, where he set four NCAA freshman records as the most dangerous player on a 15-0, national championship team. The next season, when Marshall moved to the FBS, Moss proved no one at that level could guard him, either. He won the Biletnikoff Award in 1997.

WR Fred Biletnikoff, Florida State (1962-64)

Receptions: 87 | Receiving yards: 1,463 | Touchdowns: 16

Biletnikoff gave few signs early in his career that he would become one of the legendary wide receivers in the game. But in 1964, paired with his classmate, quarterback Steve Tensi, Biletnikoff caught 57 passes for 987 yards and 11 touchdowns to become Florida State's first consensus All-American as a senior. He added 13, 192 and four, respectively, in a 36-19 rout of Oklahoma in the Gator Bowl that season. More importantly, Florida State beat Florida that season a) for the first time in seven attempts and b) on the Gators' first visit to Doak Campbell Stadium. Here's another way of knowing the impact you made: Florida State retired his No. 25 jersey when he graduated.

TE Keith Jackson, Oklahoma (1984-87)

Receptions: 62 | Receiving yards: 1,470 | Yards per catch: 23.7

It is a tribute to Jackson that he received this honor as a tight end in the Sooner wishbone. No one in that offense caught many passes; Oklahoma head coach Barry Switzer didn't much like to throw the ball at all. But give Switzer credit; he had a 6-foot-3, 248-pound player who had the speed, the moves and the hands to play tight end. To play him at any other position would have been a shame. Jackson played his best against archrival Nebraska: an 88-yard touchdown run in 1985, and in 1986, in the final 1:22, he caught a touchdown pass and a 41-yard pass to set up the winning field goal in a 20-17 Sooners victory. "I block and I block and I block," Jackson told Sports Illustrated after the game, "and we win and win and win. But I'd be lying if I said I didn't live for these moments."

C Dave Rimington, Nebraska (1979-82)

If you ever participate in a debate on the best Huskers offensive lineman ever, you'd do well to draw Rimington's name out of the hat. In 1982, when Nebraska averaged more than 500 yards and 40 points per game, on an offense that included ballhandling stars such as quarterback Turner Gill, backs Mike Rozier and Roger Craig, and wide receiver Irving Fryar, the 6-foot-3, 275-pound Rimington won the Big Eight Offensive Player of the Year award. Rimington remains the only two-time Outland winner (1981, 1982), a record likely to remain as safe as Archie Griffin winning two Heismans. He also took home the Lombardi Award in 1982. Rimington was not only a two-time All-American but also a two-time Academic All-American.

OT Anthony Munoz, USC (1976-79)

The 6-foot-6 Munoz, such a talented athlete that he pitched on the Trojans' baseball team, opened holes for two future Heisman winners, Charles White and Marcus Allen. Yet Munoz may be the greatest what-if on one of the great what-if teams of college football. Munoz suffered a left knee injury in the 1979 season-opening 21-7 victory over Texas Tech that required surgery. He missed the remainder of the regular season; surely he would have made a difference in the 21-21 tie against Stanford that prevented USC from sharing No. 1 with Alabama for a second straight season. In fewer than four months, Munoz, through sheer will and arduous rehab, returned to the field for the Rose Bowl. White rushed for 247 yards and, late in the game, the winning touchdown, in USC's 17-16 defeat of Ohio State.

OT Jonathan Ogden, UCLA (1992-95)

Ogden combined size (6-8, 310) and strength (NCAA champion shot-putter) in a way that few offensive linemen have before or since. His coach, Terry Donahue, once told The (Baltimore) Sun that on his recruiting visit to the Ogden home in Washington, D.C., "I was just struck by how massive he really was." Donahue coaxed Ogden across the continent to Westwood, where he played on two Pac-10 championship teams and, just as important (according to most Bruins), Ogden's teams went 4-0 against USC. In his last two seasons, Ogden not only helped make a two-time 1,000-yard rusher out of Karim Abdul-Jabbar, he allowed a total of only two sacks. He was an All-American and won the Outland Trophy in 1995.

OG Aaron Taylor, Notre Dame (1990-93)

The 6-foot-4, 299-pound Taylor is one of the few offensive linemen ever to make All-American at guard as a junior, tackle as a senior. Taylor played for College Football Hall of Fame head coach Lou Holtz, and for the legendary offensive line coach Joe Moore. Taylor cleared the way for backs like Reggie Brooks, Jerome Bettis and Lee Becton. In those two seasons, the Fighting Irish went 22-2-1 (only three of those victories were by fewer than seven points) and fell out of the Associated Press top 10 for a total of three weeks, never dropping below 13th. Taylor won the Lombardi Award in 1993.

OG Dean Steinkuhler, Nebraska (1981-83)

In an era when no program produced more talented offensive linemen than Nebraska, the 6-foot-3, 270-pound Steinkuhler may have been the quintessential Huskers blocker. He came from Burr, Nebraska, home of, according to the 1960 census (one year before he was born), 60 people. He played eight-man football in high school, went to Nebraska, redshirted, disappeared into Boyd Epley's weight-training program and emerged as a premier lineman. As a senior, Steinkuhler anchored the line for Heisman Trophy winner Mike Rozier on an offense that rushed for 401.7 yards per game and averaged 52 points per game. He also took home the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award in 1983.


DE Bubba Smith, Michigan State (1964-66)

We take size for granted now, but when Smith lined up at defensive end for the Spartans in his junior and senior seasons, the first two years of fully legal two-platoon football, his 6-foot-7, 283-pound frame represented a quantum leap. In his senior year, the other three All-American defensive linemen averaged 6-3, 221. Smith, an east Texas native and an African American, came along too soon to play in the Southwest Conference. He went to Michigan State and, with 11 other black starters, helped lead the Spartans to share the 1965 and 1966 national titles. In his last two seasons there, Michigan State went 19-1-1 and gave up a total of 175 points, or 8.1 points per game. Smith was an All-American in 1965 and 1966.

DE Bruce Smith, Virginia Tech (1981-84)

Sacks: 46 | Tackles for loss: 71

He didn't play football until his sophomore year at Booker T. Washington High in Norfolk. As a senior, he made all-state. By the time he left Blacksburg four years later, the 6-foot-4, 275-pound Smith had redefined the position of college defensive end. He became among the first to bring a linebacker's speed to the defensive line, and pity the poor offensive tackles who tried to do something about him. He had 22 of those sacks in his breakout junior season, 1983, before becoming a consensus All-American and Outland Trophy winner as a senior. He remains, 35 years later, the best player ever to put on a Hokies uniform.

DT Randy White, Maryland (1972-74)

White was named the 1974 ACC Player of the Year. That wasn't Defensive Player of the Year, mind you, although it was hardly a stretch to consider the 6-foot-4, 238-pound White the best. He arrived at Maryland as a fullback, but at the end of his freshman year, new head coach Jerry Claiborne shifted him to the other side of the line. Claiborne had a hunch that White's strength and athleticism would blossom in the middle of the defensive line. Claiborne was a smart coach. White made 24 tackles behind the line of scrimmage as a senior when he won the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award. He was thought of so highly that Dallas drafted him second, ahead of Jackson State tailback Walter Payton.

DT Joe Greene, North Texas (1966-68)

In the East Texas of the early 1960s, not even a Joe Greene could break through the color line erected by the Southwest Conference. Texas A&M coach Gene Stallings tried to convince the Aggies' administration to bring Greene to College Station. Greene went to North Texas State, as it was then known. He co-opted the Mean Green's nickname, and by his senior season, the 6-foot-4, 274-pound Greene had dominated his competition so thoroughly that he made the All-America team despite playing in the Missouri Valley Conference. He remains North Texas' only All-American.

LB Jack Ham, Penn State (1968-70)

Tackles: 251 | Blocked kicks: 4

One of the players who gave Penn State the name Linebacker U. came to State College as an afterthought, getting a scholarship in Joe Paterno's second signing class only after a recruit who had committed to the Nittany Lions went elsewhere. By the end of his freshman year, the quiet, hardworking Ham had established himself as the bell cow of the recruiting class. In Ham's three seasons on the varsity, Penn State went 29-3. All three losses came in his senior season, when the All-American made 91 tackles, intercepted four passes, and blocked three kicks.

LB Derrick Thomas, Alabama (1985-88)

Tackles: 204 | Tackles for loss: 68 | Sacks: 52

For two seasons, Thomas played with Cornelius Bennett. For the next two seasons, Thomas played like him. As a senior, the 6-4, 230-pound Thomas made 39 tackles for loss, 27 of them sacks, and added 44 quarterback hurries. The tackles behind the line of scrimmage is a record that may never be matched. Put it this way: Thirty-one seasons later, a period in which the Crimson Tide has won six national championships and put 23 consensus All-American defenders on the field, no Alabama player has come within 12 of Thomas' mark. He was named All-American and won the Butkus Award in 1988.

LB Cornelius Bennett, Alabama (1983-86)

Tackles: 287 | Tackles for loss: 41 | Sacks: 21.5

For all that Bennett accomplished in a Hall of Fame career, he remains best known among fans of Alabama (and Notre Dame) for his blind-side first-quarter sack of Fighting Irish quarterback Steve Beuerlein in 1986. Bennett blitzed and launched his 6-4, 235-pound body at Beuerlein's torso. The sack forced a fumble, gave Beuerlein a concussion and would be memorialized by artist Daniel Moore in a painting. Alabama won the game 28-10, the Tide's first victory over the Irish in five tries. Bennett had nine more sacks in his senior season, finished with 19 tackles for loss, won the Lombardi Award and was named All-American.

CB Rod Woodson, Purdue (1983-86)

Tackles: 445 | Interceptions: 11 | Kickoff return yards: 1.535

You could search long and hard for something Woodson couldn't do as a Boilermaker. He set 13 individual records while playing corner, returning kicks and taking reps at running back and wide receiver. He was named All-American in 1986. Oh, yeah, the 6-0, 195-pound Woodson also set an NCAA record in the 60-meter hurdles and won five Big Ten track championships. The only thing Woodson didn't do on the football field? The Boilermakers went 16-26-1 in his four seasons. Which, if you think about it, makes Woodson's star shine even brighter.

CB Champ Bailey, Georgia (1996-98)

Interceptions: 8 | Receiving yards: 978

A year after Michigan corner Charles Woodson won the Heisman Trophy by playing a little offense and returning kicks, Bailey seemed to launch a campaign to bring back one-platoon football. The 6-1, 186-pound Bailey remained on the field for an amazing 1,070 plays. Playing alongside safety Kirby Smart, Bailey made 52 tackles and caught 50 passes -- 47 on offense, three on defense. He led the Dawgs that season with 744 receiving yards. Alas, Bailey finished seventh in the Heisman voting. He won the Nagurski, and sealed his place among the game's elite.

S Kenny Easley, UCLA (1977-80)

Tackles: 374 | Interceptions: 19

Racism died hard in the Virginia of the 1970s, which is why Easley fled Norfolk for the West Coast. He quickly established himself as a force in the Pac-10. In a league that featured the power running of USC and the West Coast offense of Stanford, Easley brought the size and speed necessary to deal with both. He made such a name for himself that by his senior season, his third consecutive as an All-American, Easley finished ninth in the Heisman voting, attracting five first-place votes.

S Ed Reed, Miami (1998-2001)

Tackles: 288 | Interceptions: 21 | Interception return yards: 389

When Reed signed with the U in February 1997, the Canes had just suffered their first losing season in 17 years. When he left after his senior season of 2001, Miami had regained the national championship. It was no coincidence -- Reed played an integral role on that 2001 team, which won 10 of 12 games by at least 22 points. In one of the nail-biters, an 18-7 victory at Big East rival Boston College, Reed sealed the victory by stripping teammate Matt Walters of his interception and returning the ball 80 yards for a touchdown. Reed was named All-American in 2000 and 2001.


K Kevin Butler, Georgia (1981-84)

Extra points: 122-125 | Field goals: 77-98 | Total points: 353

Herschel Walker cast a large shadow over the Bulldogs teams of the early '80s, but the record shows that Vince Dooley assembled teams sound on defense and nearly impeccable on special teams. Butler didn't miss an extra point after his sophomore year, and his leg was not only true but long. He made 50 of 56 (.893) inside the 40, and 27 of 42 (.643) outside of it. Butler made seven game-winning field goals in his career, none bigger than the 60-yarder the 1984 All-American made to beat Clemson 26-23, in his senior year. Butler had to have it -- he had missed a 26-yarder earlier in the game.

P Russell Erxleben, Texas (1975-78)

NCAA leader: 1976 (46.6-yard average) | Career: 45.1 average

Erxleben excelled as punter and place-kicker for the Longhorns. He set an NCAA record with a 67-yard field goal in his junior year. That record comes with an asterisk -- in Erxleben's day, NCAA rules allowed kickers to use a tee. There are no asterisks in his punting career. The three-time All-American beat by a half-yard the career average of first-team punter Ray Guy, and for years, few others approached them. One other thing: Erxleben averaged 4.5 punts per game. In the days of Earl Campbell, the Horns didn't punt very often.

AP Tim Brown, Notre Dame (1984-87)

All-purpose yards: 5,024 | Receiving yards: 2,493 | Touchdowns: 22

As Brown's senior season began, he had proved himself to be a dependable receiver and kick returner on an undependable team. The Fighting Irish, in Brown's first three seasons, went 17-17. But as 1987 began, second-year head coach Lou Holtz had begun to put his imprint on this team. On the second Saturday night of the season, Brown returned a punt for a touchdown against Michigan State. Four plays later, he did it again. The performance, televised on ESPN, thrust Brown to the front of the Heisman Trophy race, and no one ever caught him. Brown averaged 21.7 yards per catch and finished with 1,847 all-purpose yards in 1987 and earned All-America honors for the second straight season.

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