Ballots were released on Thursday for the College Football Hall of Fame class of 2014, listing 75 players and six coaches from the ranks of the FBS along with 87 players and 26 coaches from the other ranks of the sport.
Maintained by the National Football Foundation (NFF), the CFB Hall of Fame is currently in the midst of a physical transition. The longtime site in South Bend, Ind., has been shut down, but the new site in Atlanta, Ga., isn't set to open until the upcoming fall.
In this year's field, as with any year's field, there is no true thing as a "lock."
On one hand, first-ballot inductees are rare because the voters often like to make them wait at least one year. On the other hand, it's hard to call a non-first-ballot candidate a "lock" because he's already been passed over by the committee—typically more than once.
Regional and positional quotas are adhered to. Unwritten rules such as "two players from the same school cannot be inducted in back-to-back years," alluded to in 2012 by Ivan Maisel of ESPN.com, make predicting the ballot a difficult chore.
Specifically, because Nebraska and Texas both had players inducted last season, a pair of Heisman Trophy winners, Eric Crouch and Ricky Williams, have slim to no chance at getting in this cycle.
The list of locks below takes factors like these into account. It is a blend of college performance and actual likelihood for induction.
Former stars such as SMU's Eric Dickerson and Oklahoma's Brian Bosworth, for example, are on the ballot but have long been excluded for reasons that, ostensibly, do not have to do with on-field merit.
Do they belong in the hall? Sure. But are they locks for 2014?
Not at all.
RB LaDainian Tomlinson, TCU
LaDainian Tomlinson will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer in the NFL, and he probably should have been one in college too.
He was snubbed in 2013—apparently, one first-ballot running back inductee (Ron Dayne) was enough—despite having led the NCAA in rushing in back-to-back seasons in 1999 and 2000.
The first of those seasons was the year Dayne won the Heisman. In the second year, Tomlinson was an All-American and won the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top running back. All this despite TCU playing in the then-anonymous and now-defunct WAC.
What's more, Tomlinson holds the current FBS record for rushing yards in a game, having rushed for 406 yards against UTEP in 1999. His 287 yards in the first half (!!!) of that game are also an FBS record.
After finishing his career with 5,263 rushing yards, which is still one of the 10 highest totals in FBS history, Tomlinson went fifth overall in the NFL draft and was essentially "swapped" from the Atlanta Falcons to the San Diego Chargers in exchange for No. 1 overall pick Michael Vick.
From top to bottom, that is a Hall of Fame resume.
WR Raghib "Rocket" Ismail
One of the biggest the snubs from 2013, former Irish receiver Rocket Ismail was burdened by the same "rule" that should keep Crouch, Williams and the trio of Miami guys—Jerome Brown, Ray Lewis and Warren Sapp—among others out of the Hall in 2014.
Notre Dame tight end Dave Casper was inducted in 2012.
It's hard to argue with the merit of Ismail's resume though. Despite middling offensive stats, he was a two-time All-American and the 1990 Heisman runner-up behind Ty Detmer of BYU, who was enshrined in the Hall two years ago.
Ismail was the best kick returner in the country those two seasons, and maybe even the season prior, leading Notre Dame to the national title in 1988 and consecutive Orange Bowls in 1989 and 1990.
More important than that, though, Ismail was an icon. He was a player who defined his generation, someone whose jersey and number you think about when people mention late-80s college football. He meant something special to the game.
And he deserves to be enshrined because of it.
S Mark Carrier, USC
Like Ismail, Mark Carrier was "nominated" but not eligible in 2013 after a tight end from his school, former Trojan Hal Bledsoe, was elected to the Hall in 2012.
Might 2014 finally be his year?
Let's hope so.
Carrier was a first-team All-American in 1988 and 1989, leading the Pac-10 with seven interceptions and winning the Jim Thorpe Award as America's top defensive back in the second of those two seasons.
That is the only Thorpe Award in the esteemed history of USC football, and it came en route to a victory in the Rose Bowl.
So what, other than "time," has been keeping Carrier out?
DE/LB Derrick Thomas, Alabama
We save the best for last.
Derrick Thomas has, for whatever reason, been snubbed from the CFB Hall of Fame for too long. Just last season, another egregious wrong was righted with the induction of former Nebraska quarterback and 1995 Heisman runner-up Tommie Frazier.
Now, it is Thomas' turn for justice.
Thomas won the Butkus Award in 1988 and was a unanimous All-American. He also finished 10th in the Heisman voting, which, at the time, was even more rare than it is in 2014. And it's still pretty rare.
Why all the accolade? Easy. That season, Thomas set the NCAA sack record with 27 in one year—a mark that has still yet to be broken. At the time of his departure from Tuscaloosa in 1989, he also held the NCAA career sack record with 52.
Thomas, of course, tragically passed away after a car accident in 2000. But this induction would not be some sort of underserved posthumous recognition. He earned every bit of his spot in the CFB Hall of Fame, and keeping him on the outside makes little sense.
So why has it taken so long?
After Bruce Feldman of CBS Sports tweeted about Thomas on Wednesday, an interesting conversation took place in the replies between Zach Barnett of Football Scoop and Birmingham sports anchor Patrick Claybon.
Barnett, who says that he worked at the NFF for two years, and in whom there is no overt reason to mistrust, claims Thomas has been kept out because Alabama's athletic department wanted to get other Tide players in ahead of him:
@BFeldmanCBS Fact: Derrick Thomas isn't in because Alabama wanted other former Tide players in before him.— Zach Barnett (@zach_barnett) March 5, 2014
When pressed later in the conversation, Barnett calls the Hall of Fame balloting process "nuanced"—a word smart politicians use in place of "corrupt"—and contends that the NFF collaborates with universities to decide who gets inducted:
@PatrickClaybon I've said more than I probably should, but HOF selection is often a collaborative process between schools and the NFF.— Zach Barnett (@zach_barnett) March 5, 2014
I have never been big on conspiracy theories, but this one sounds totally plausible.
It's college football we're talking about, after all. Shadowy figures in suits pull the strings behind a tall, green curtain made of money. This is a sad reality of the sport, a side effect of its profitability.
But me? I prefer the path of the idealist. The belief that, conspiracy theory or no conspiracy theory, Thomas will get in over fellow Alabama candidates Paul Crane and Bobby Humphrey.
That the right thing will finally get done.
The media has squawked for years about Thomas' puzzling exclusion. In 2014, those voices are louder, angrier and more ubiquitous than ever, and you'd have to believe the NFF is aware of this. (Do a search query for "Derrick Thomas" on Twitter and you'll see what I mean.)
Considering the vitriol that will come if the NFF again leaves Thomas out of the Hall, it's hard to envision a world where he gets omitted in 2014. Wishful thinking? Maybe. But it has to be done eventually.
Why can't now be the time?
Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT