CFB 150: Sporting News celebrates college football's greatest names, games and more
College football is celebrating its 150th season this year — a remarkable nod to the great games, names and pageantry associated with one of America’s favorite sports.
Sporting News is celebrating that history, too. We released a top-10 list honoring one of 15 different categories each week during the 2019 season. Who is the top quarterback of all time? What is the greatest in-game tradition? What about the best Hail Mary?
Our panel voted on a top 10 each week — and believe us, one look at the thread and you know these are some of the most-passionate arguments possible.
1 Greatest nicknames
1. Red Grange, 'The Galloping Ghost,' Illinois (1923-25)
When a guy is riding two nicknames at once, as Harold Grange did through his years with the Fighting Illini, he’s probably special. Red is rather common, has been the preferred name for such sporting hall of famers as Albert Schoendienst, Johnny Kerr and Gordon Berenson. No one ever wore that nickname as famously as Grange, who revolutionized interest in college football and then helped ignite the nation’s passion for the burgeoning NFL. ...
MORE: Top 10 best nicknames
2 Greatest individual seasons
1. Barry Sanders, RB, Oklahoma State (1988)
Stats: 2,628 rushing yards, 37 rushing touchdowns, 515 kick/punt return yards, two return touchdowns
Sanders put together a dazzling Heisman Trophy-winning season that will be hard for any running back — or any other player at any other position — to best. His record rushing yardage has been challenged by players who've had more games to make a run at it, but it remains one of the most unbreakable marks in college football, 31 years later. That's saying something, considering the game's evolution to more favor the offense. ...
3 Greatest quarterbacks
1. Tim Tebow, Florida (2006-09)
Tebow played a part-time role on the 2006 national championship team before a three-year run of dominance in which he finished 35-6 as a starter and lost just two games over his junior and senior seasons. He had the stats, compiling 12,232 yards of offense and 145 total touchdowns over his four-year career. He had the accolades, winning the Manning and Davey O’Brien awards and twice winning the Maxwell Award. ...
4 Greatest Hail Marys
1. "Hail Flutie"
Miami and Boston College met on Black Friday in a wild shootout between future NFL stars Bernie Kosar and Doug Flutie. Kosar threw for 447 yards for the Hurricanes, but still left time for Flutie to run “55 Flood Tip” in the final seconds. Flutie scrambled right to avoid the pass-rush and lofted a perfect ball over a mob of Boston College and Miami players, into the arms of Gerard Phelan on the ground. The trajectory of Flutie’s 48-yard touchdown was perfect, and his reaction in the aftermath of the touchdown is one of college football's most iconic moments. ...
5 Greatest running backs
1. Herschel Walker, Georgia (1980-82)
"My God, a freshman!"
And with that legendary call by Larry Munson, Herschel Walker would forever be a part of college football lore. Tennessee’s Bill Bates is unenviably remembered for his failure to tackle Walker, but no defender fared much better against the powerful runner from Wrightsville, Ga. He captured the nation’s attention like no one else, blending track speed and great strength in a fearsome 6-1, 225-pound frame. He played three seasons at Georgia, and was a unanimous All-American in every one. As a freshman in 1980, he helped the Bulldogs win their first national title in 38 years with a 1,616-yard season. ...
6 Greatest arguments
1. Should Tom Osborne have gone for two?
Nebraska had been almost unchallenged in the 1983 season when it entered the Orange Bowl against No. 5 Miami. The Huskers destroyed reigning national champion Penn State in the opener and beat every opponent, save Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, by at least three touchdowns. All they needed to do to win the national championship was defeat independent Miami; some said all Nebraska needed to do was tie the Hurricanes. ...
Cornhuskers coach Tom Osborne, however, was not one of those people.
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7 Greatest movies
1. "Rudy" (1993)
"I've been ready for this my whole life." That's the story of Rudy Ruettiger, the five-foot nothin', 100-and-nothin' Notre Dame walk-on who made it his life's mission to walk out of the tunnel for the Fighting Irish. Critics will denounce the story with one-liners like, "Rudy was offsides" or dismiss it as Notre Dame propaganda. But it's a truly remarkable film from start to finish. ...
8 Greatest traditions
1. Army-Navy: "The March On/Honoring the Fallen"
When the Black Knights and Midshipmen meet, there's no team either side would rather beat. But the teams also know they're both playing for our nation, and all across America it's a standing ovation. First the men and women fill tightly the stands, marching in the most patriotic of bands. When the game is over there are no winners and losers here, just a mutual feeling of respect so dear. ...
9 Greatest plays
1. "The Play"
If a play is so well-known, so ubiquitous and so astounding that it can simply be called "The Play," then you know you're dealing with the best in the history of college football. So it is with the finish of the 1982 iteration of the "Big Game." With 4 seconds left and Stanford leading 20-19, the Cardinal attempted a squib kick from their 20 after a 15-yard penalty on a last-second touchdown. Stanford kicker Mark Harmon squibbed the kick to the Golden Bears' Kevin Moen, who was one of only 10 men Cal fielded for "The Play." ...
MORE: Top 10 plays
10 Greatest coaches
1. Nick Saban, Alabama
One of the curiosities of Saban’s dominance is that, despite his seven championships, he has enjoyed only a single undefeated season, in 2009, when the Tide averaged nearly a three-touchdown winning margin and wrecked Texas in the BCS championship game. But he also has never endured a losing season and rung up double-digit victories for 11 (soon to be 12) consecutive years. Throughout that stretch, every one of those teams reached the No. 1 poll ranking during the season, and five finished on top. ...
11 Greatest impact games
No. 1: No. 1 Miami vs. No. 2 Penn State (Jan. 2, 1987)
The college football landscape was different in 1987. Both Penn State and Miami were independent programs. The Fiesta Bowl was not considered a major bowl in the same vein as the Cotton, Sugar, Rose and Orange. In that sense, there was nothing traditional about this matchup. The Fiesta Bowl not only landed the Nittany Lions and Hurricanes, but also moved the game from its customary date on New Year's Day to Jan. 2 so it would be separated from those tradition-steeped bowls. Of course, the culture clash between Penn State and Miami followed — the Hurricanes walked off the plane in military fatigues and staged a walkout at a joint team dinner after Penn State players poked fun at Miami players in a skit. You can still hear Jerome Brown ask, "Did the Japanese go and sit down and have dinner with Pearl Harbor before they bombed 'em?" Game on. ...
MORE: Top 10 impact games
12 Greatest walk-ons
1. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
Mayfield is the standard when it comes to college football walk-ons. He walked on twice at two different programs — at Texas Tech in 2013, then Oklahoma in 2014. Mayfield left the Red Raiders after the 2013 season, feeling he’d earned the right to a scholarship. He walked on to Bob Stoops’ team in 2014 — without contacting the staff — then proceeded to become one of the Sooners' most accomplished quarterbacks of all time, compiling 13,185 total yards, 137 total touchdowns and an absurd 189.4 passer rating. ...
MORE: Top 10 walk-ons
13 Greatest players
No. 1: Herschel Walker, RB, Georgia
Larry Munson's call still rings in every college football's fans ears — and perhaps Tennessee's Bill Bates' too — when Walker is mentioned. "My God, a freshman." It was that freshman season that elevated the running back era of the 1970s to the next level. Walker led Georgia to a national championship with 1,616 yards and 15 touchdowns in 1980, finishing third in the Heisman voting. That was just the start of a prolific career. ...
14 Greatest rivalries
1. Michigan-Ohio State
You want numbers? On Saturday, The Game between Michigan and Ohio State will be a top-10 matchup for the 23rd time. There isn’t a rivalry with more national significance, and that peaked with the No. 1-vs.-No. 2 matchup in 2006. Before that, Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler ignited the Ten Year War, a sacred period in the rivalry’s history in which both teams were ranked in the top 10 seven times. ...
MORE: Top 10 rivalries
15 Greatest teams
1. 2001 Miami (12-0)
The debate about the most talented teams in college football history begins, and probably ends, with these Hurricanes. Quarterback Ken Dorsey, despite not receiving All-American status, won the Maxwell Award. The backfield included Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee and Frank Gore, and Najeh Davenport was waiting for his chance. The receiving crew was led by Andre Johnson. Jeremy Shockey was the starting tight end, and Kellen Winslow II was his backup. The defense was led by an army of future NFL stars, including Hall of Famer Ed Reed but also Jonathan Vilma, Phillip Buchanon and young backs in Sean Taylor and Antrel Rolle.
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