The 50 Most Beloved College Football Figures of All-Time

Joe PenkalaCorrespondent IApril 10, 2012

The 50 Most Beloved College Football Figures of All-Time

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    College football has seen its fair share of bad apples and players that have been forced out of the sport for actions that have put their respective university in jeopardy. On the other hand, college football has also seen players and coaches that have gone to another level and earn the respect and love of the college football world.

    Through hard work, talent, devotion and discipline, these individuals have found a way into the heart of a sport that is becoming the most popular in the nation.

    Here is a look at 50 individuals that are beloved in college football. 

Colt McCoy

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    Despite how his career ended at Texas, which was with a first quarter injury in the national title game, McCoy was an outstanding quarterback.

    When his career was over, McCoy was the current leader for wins by a college quarterback with 45. 

    Much like Tim Tebow, when McCoy left Texas, the Longhorns have yet found their way back to the success that they knew and enjoyed with him. 

Knute Rockne

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    With one of the largest fan bases in the nation behind him, Knute Rockne is easily one of the most beloved figures in college football history. 

    As the head coach of the Fighting Irish, Rockne put together an impressive 105-12-5 record during 13 seasons, and also managed to win five national titles. 

Darren McFadden

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    Darren McFadden was one of the most explosive and exciting players to watch in college football. He was a rare athlete that managed to come straight in to college and make an immediate impact on one of the toughest conferences in the nation, the SEC.

    Along with making highlight plays, McFadden also won the Doak Walker Trophy twice and was one of the best backs to play in the SEC. 

Peyton Manning

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    Not only was Peyton Manning an outstanding college football player, he has also proved to be one of the greatest quarterbacks the NFL has ever seen. 

    While at Tennessee, Manning was forced into action as a freshman and never looked back. Once gaining the starting spot, Manning would not lose it until leaving Knoxville. 

    Manning was an outstanding quarterback and was loved around the nation, and still is. 

Tony Dorsett

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    Tony Dorsett was able to do something that not many players accomplish in college. During his time, Dorsett was a three-time All-American and was a second-team All-American in his other season. 

    Dorsett cemented his legacy in 1976 when he helped the Panthers win a national title. 

Bo Schembechler

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    Bo Schembechler was more than a coach at Michigan. He was an icon. Schembechler helped sum up what playing for Michigan was all about. 

    Despite being born in Ohio, Schembechler did cross over and coach for Michigan. While with Michigan, he won 234 games and 13 conference titles.  

Woody Hayes

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    Woody Hayes is another iconic coach, and he spent his time at Ohio State.

    Along with 13 conference titles, Hayes won three national championships and cemented his legacy with the Buckeyes.

    Despite the terrific coaching career, he will always be remembered for how things ended in the Gator Bowl when he punched an opposing player.  

Robert Neyland

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    A coach that sometimes gets overlooked, but certainly not by the folks in Tennessee, is Robert Neyland. 

    Neyland coached the Vols to seven conference titles, four national championships and a 173-31-12 record. He was also put into the College Hall of Fame in 1956, shortly before passing on.  

Tommie Frazier

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    Tommie Frazier was the leader of one of the most dominant offenses in college football history. During the 1994 and 1995 college football seasons, Frazier led the Huskers to back-to-back national titles. 

    With both the ability to throw and run the ball with great success, Frazier was a nightmare for defenses to defend. 

Archie Griffin

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    Archie Griffin is one of the best backs this nation has ever seen, and he holds a distinction that no other college football player can claim. 

    In 1974 and 1975, Griffin won the Heisman Trophy, and still, to this day, has been the only player to have won the award twice during his career.  

Desmond Howard

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    Desmond Howard is another Michigan player to make the list, and with one move made an immediate impact on the college football world.

    After returning a punt to the house against Ohio State, Howard struck the Heisman pose and it is a moment that has yet to be forgotten in college football history. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy as Howard would go on to win the 1991 Heisman Trophy. 

Barry Sanders

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    For parents of children who are continually looking up to athletes, parents should hope that their children can relate to Barry Sanders. 

    Sanders was a humble and dynamic runner. He started his career at Oklahoma State and in 1988, he had what many considered the best season in college football history. 

    With the way that he carried himself on and off the field, Sanders is a great ambassador for college football. 

Ernie Davis

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    Ernie Davis had more than an impact on college football, he had an impact on society as well. 

    While at Syracuse, Davis was another outstanding running back in a long line of great backs at the program, and he managed to be the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy in 1961. 

Matt Leinart

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    Matt Leinart was an outstanding quarterback that led the Trojans to a ton of success while in college. During his time with the Trojans, Leinart won two national championships and was given the honor of having his number retired by USC. 

Tom Osborne

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    While Nebraska may have had some dominant players on the field, they were just as good on the sideline. Tom Osborne spent 25 years as the Huskers head coach and managed to win 255 games, win 13 conference titles and three national titles. 

    Osborne was a fierce competitor who was never afraid to take his foot off the gas peddle, and was one of the best coaches of all time. 

Adrian Peterson

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    Seems like wherever Adrian Peterson ends up, he is a fan favorite. Before taking the NFL by storm, Peterson was tearing things up in the Big 12 for Oklahoma. 

    In Peterson's first season with the Sooners, he broke the freshman rushing record by recording 1,925 yards. He didn't slow down after one year either. Peterson continued to earn yard after yard and picked up fans by the hundreds, every week.

Lou Holtz

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    It's hard to tell if Lou Holtz became more loved as a commentator or as a coach. 

    Before signing on with ESPN, Holtz was more well known for his role as head coach of Notre Dame. Holtz's career was recognized in 2008 when he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

    Whether it's his back and forth arguments with Mark May or his time with Notre Dame, Lou Holtz will always be loved. 

Bo Jackson

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    The 1985 Heisman Trophy winner is Bo Jackson. Not only is Jackson a loved college football players, his fame and historical impact would have been even greater if not for the hip injury he suffered in 1990. 

    Despite the injury, Jackson carried himself with charm and strength and will always be remembered. 

LaVell Edwards

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    One place that will never forget about LaVell Edwards is BYU. Edwards coached at the school for 28 seasons and had his fair share of success. While with the program, Edwards won 19 conference titles, 257 games and the 1984 national title. 

Larry Johnson

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    Larry Johnson had one of the best seasons of any college back, and he saved his best for last as a Senior with Penn State. During Johnson's final season with the Nittany Lions, he rushed for 2,087 and 20 touchdowns. His amazing season earned him the Doak Walker, Walter Camp and Maxwell Awards. It also earned him a ton of fans around the nation.

John Elway

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    Despite ruffling some feathers right out of college, John Elway was loved while he played for Stanford. 
    Overall, Stanford was not a great team during Elway's time with the program, but he still led them to some huge wins and ended up leaving the school with plenty of passing records. 

Doak Walker

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    Doak Walker was a man of many talents. Walker played offense, defense and special teams at SMU. He ending up winning the 1948 Heisman Trophy. 

    Walker's impact on the game was strong enough that they named the Doak Walker Award after him, which is handed out to the nations best running back. 

Eric Crouch

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    The name Eric Crouch never meant more than while he was in college. Playing quarterback for the Huskers, Crouch amassed a 35-7 record and was the leader of an extremely talented Huskers team.

    During his time at Nebraska, Crouch won the Heisman Trophy, Walter Camp Award and Davey O'Brien awards, and left his mark on a historic program. 

Chris Ault

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    The longtime coach of Nevada football is Chris Ault. Ault has done an outstanding job at a small program that goes largely unnoticed. During his career, Ault has won 226 games and has been a steady influence over the Wolf Pack program. 

Jim Brown

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    Jim Brown was a natural born athlete. During his time at Syracuse, Brown was one of the best running backs of his time, and in his spare time, Brown was also an All-American lacrosse player. 

    While Brown never won a Heisman (he probably should have), he did pave the way for Ernie Davis to win the award in 1961.

Bobby Bowden

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    After a hall of fame career, it is a shame how Bobby Bowden left Florida State.

    During his time at Florida State, Bowden won 377 games, 12 conference championships and two national titles since taking over in 1976. 

    Bowden also earned honors as coach of the year in 1991 as another notch in his illustrious coaching career. 

Herschel Walker

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    Herschel Walker was an outstanding athlete and one of the best running backs that has ever been seen at Georgia. 

    Not only did Georgia fans notice the abilities of Walker, so did the nation. In 1982, Walker rushed for 1,752 yards, 17 touchdowns and won the Heisman Trophy. 

DeAngelo Williams

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    If you are a Memphis Tigers fan, you have not had much to be proud of over the past few years, especially since DeAngelo Williams left the program. 

    While in school, Williams was effective in the run, pass and special teams aspect of the game, and is the current record holder for most all-purpose yards with 7,573. 

Earl Campbell

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    Earl Campbell did it all while he was with the Texas Longhorns. Campbell's list of accomplishments on the field are long and are highlighted by a Heisman Trophy, and the ability to say that he was named the conference's running back of the year every season he played in college. 

Ray Rice

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    Ray Rice is a great ambassador for Rutgers football. While with the Scarlet Knights, Rice helped put them on the map, and he did so with his outstanding running style.

    In Rice's final season with the school, he was able to rush for 2,012 yards and 24 touchdowns. The season only added to the already growing popularity that Rice experienced while on campus.

Roger Staubach

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    Roger Staubach was not only a leader on the field but also off the field. Staubach made the choice to go and play for Navy during his college years, and he certainly made the best of them. During the 1963 season, Staubach won the Heisman Trophy and along the way, he helped lead the Midshipmen to a win over Notre Dame.

    Once Staubach's playing career was over, he was a member of both the college and professional Hall of Fame. 

Mack Brown

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    With the size of the following that Texas has, it is hard to argue that their head man Mack Brown is not among the most beloved college football figures. 

    Brown took over at Texas in 1998 and has yet to look back. While with the Longhorns, Brown has won two conference titles, six division titles and also won the 2005 national title game with Vince Young as his quarterback. 

Eddie George

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    With the personality that Eddie George has, it is hard not to notice that he became a fan favorite. 

    Eddie George spent his college years at Ohio State and certainly made the most of that time. While most of his time with the Buckeyes was largely successful, George saved his best for the 1995 season. During that year, George rushed for 1,927 yards and 24 touchdowns and was named the Heisman Trophy winner. 

    George was someone who not only represented his school well, but represented the sport well.

Doug Flutie

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    Doug Flutie had the charm and skill to become a fan favorite. Despite the limitations that his size presented, Flutie rose above, to lead the Boston College Eagles at quarterback and have an outstanding career.

    Flutie will be remembered most by his Hail Mary throw against Miami that led to the upset victory. 

Frank Beamer

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    Seems like it has been forever since Virginia Tech has been led by anyone other than Frank Beamer. In 1987, Beamer took over the Hokies football program and has helped elevate them to success. 

    During his career, Beamer has won over 200 football games, seven conference titles and led the program to a national title game appearance. 

    Along with being successful on the field, Beamer has been a great figure head for the school off the field, and continues to be one of the best coaches of this generation.

Ken Dorsey

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    Ken Dorsey may be one of the most underrated parts of the dominating Miami teams. During his career, Dorsey posted a career record of 38-2 and helped the Hurricanes win the 2001 national title. 

    While Dorsey wasn't the most intimidating force, he was extremely accurate and was one of the best leaders the school has seen. 

Mike Hart

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    If not for the fact that Mike Hart was known for running his mouth, his popularity may have been even more wide spread while with Michigan. 

    Despite the chatter off the field, on the field, Hart was a warrior. He spent all four years with the program, set the freshman rushing record and will be remembered as one of the school's greatest backs. 

Bob Stoops

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    Bob Stoops, like Mack Brown, is the head coach of one of the most successful programs in the nation. Stoops has been the leader at Oklahoma for quite some time now, and during his tenure, the Sooners have won seven conference titles along with one national title. 

    Stoops has been the model of consistency, but is still looking to get back to the mountain top after winning the 2000 national title. 

Kevin Smith

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    UCF fans do not get a lot to brag about, but Kevin Smith is someone that they can be proud of. In his final season with the program, Smith took a huge step in his development and went off. During his 2007 season, Smith rushed for 2,567 yards and 29 touchdowns. The season was historically huge but still came up less than 75 yards short of Barry Sanders' all-time record.

Bill Snyder

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    The heart and soul of the Kansas State program for a while now has been the leadership and coaching of Bill Snyder. Snyder took over for the Wildcats in 1989 and has been coaching there since, but did take a break from 2005-2009.

    Over the course of his career, Snyder has led the Wildcats to a conference title, four division titles and appears to have them heading back to prominence after a promising 2011 season. 

Charles Woodson

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    Charles Woodson is one of the nations best corners to every lace up and step on the field. While on the field, Woodson practically shut off one side of the field and made it impossible to get the ball to your best receiver.

    On top of being a top notch corner, Woodson also took snaps at receiver and also was a special teams playmaker. 

    During the 1997 season, Michigan won the national title, and Woodson's play was instrumental. His efforts would not go unnoticed as he would win the Heisman Trophy during the same year. 

Vince Young

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    Vince Young made an impact on college football like few have. Young was a stud throwing the ball and running the ball, and was able to make huge plays when his team needed them. 

    His time in college was cemented with his comeback victory in the national title over USC. 

Les Miles

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    It is sometimes hard to tell if Les Miles is one of the most beloved figures in college football, or one of the figures people love to make fun of the most. 

    Les Miles is an outstanding coach and has already won a national title with LSU. The interesting part about Miles is his unconventional actions and the way he carries himself. From eating grass to making your head scratch with trick plays, Miles certainly keeps things interesting.

Tim Tebow

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    It is hard to argue how much Tim Tebow did for college football and the Florida Gators program. Tebow was an icon with the program and helped them win two national titles while with the program. 

    With his unmatched emotion and his ability to lead, Tebow is a college football icon that will never be forgotten. 

Willis McGahee

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    Willis McGahee is part of the Miami family, and "The U" is always in his corner. While he was at Miami, McGahee ran wild and helped the program earn a national title in 2001. 

    In 2002, he helped the program get back to the title game but had his efforts cut short as he suffered a devastating knee injury in the fourth quarter of that game. Despite the injury, McGahee would bounce back and find a way to get drafted in the first round. 

Bear Bryant

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    When you think of Bear Bryant, you think college football and of the Alabama program. During his tenure,  Bryant won 323 games, 14 SEC titles and six national titles. 

    Despite the allegiance to the Crimson Tide, Bryant is one of the most recognized figures in college football history and certainly one of the most beloved. 

Chip Kelly

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    In his short time as a head coach at Oregon, Chip Kelly has certainly made the most of his time. After being handed the head coaching job, Kelly has won three straight conference titles, led the Ducks to three straight BCS games and won last year's Rose Bowl.

    Along with his success on the field, Kelly has been active off the field with his support of the military, and is one of the brightest college football minds in the nation.

Chris Petersen

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    The state of Boise and the Boise State program owe a debt of gratitude to Chris Petersen and what he has been able to do for that school and state. Petersen has managed to take a school that was completely off the radar and lead them to two undefeated seasons, BCS victories and have them in continuous conversation about being placed in the national title.  

Nick Saban

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    No matter where Nick Saban has landed, the head coach had success follow him. After leaving Michigan State, Saban landed in LSU and then eventually Alabama, and has been of the best coaches of our time.

    Since entering the SEC, Saban has won four SEC titles, and after this year, he added his third national title—two with Alabama, one with LSU. 

Joe Paterno

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    Joe Paterno's worth was truly measured when he passed away. Paterno had been the head coach at Penn State since 1966 and was all that the Nittany Lions program knew. 

    Despite the way his career ended, he will always be remember for his record setting 409 wins and dedication to Penn State.