Power Ranking 10 Best College Football Players Who Also Played in March Madness
March really is the happiest time of year.
We all just bore witness to one of the best weekends of college basketball in recent memory, a bracket-busting four-day stretch where upsets felt chalky and chalk felt like an upset.
All the while, spring football practice has kicked into high gear around the country, where now nearly every FBS team is suited up and taking it to the field.
That got us thinking. No player in this year's NCAA Tournament—at least to my knowledge—was a notable college football player, but there is a long history of the two sports overlapping.
NFL stars like Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham were very good basketball players in college, but the former never played college football and the latter only played one season. They are more fondly remembered for their time on the hardwood than the NCAA gridiron.
But that is not the case for everyone. A number of the greatest college football players have also appeared in March Madness, including two Heisman Trophy winners.
Here are 10 of the best.
10. WR Terrell Owens, Chattanooga
Terrell Owens didn't become "T.O." until Jerry Rice was injured in his second season with the San Francisco 49ers, but he did play well enough at then DI-AA Chattanooga to warrant being selected in the third round of the 1996 NFL draft.
The highlight of his college career—at least with respect to football—came as a sophomore in 1993, when he caught a school-record four touchdown passes against defending national champion Marshall, leading the Mocs to an upset victory, per WRCBtv.
But basketball was Owens' first love.
"I had the best time of my life playing basketball," he said in the WRCBtv interview. "I say this with all sincerity...I probably had a better time playing basketball than I did playing football."
Owens saw court time and missed his only shot against UConn—a team with future NBA playes such as Ray Allen, Donyell Marshall and Kevin Ollie—in a 2-15 matchup in the 1995 NCAA Tournament.
9. TE Martellus Bennett, Texas A&M
Martellus Bennett the football player almost never was.
The 6'6'' tight end from Alief, Texas, was a two-sport star in high school and toyed with the idea of hiring an agent and entering the 2005 NBA draft. Only when advised that he wouldn't be selected did Bennett enroll at Texas A&M to play both sports in College Station.
Bennett quit basketball after his sophomore season, but not before making his March Madness debut with two points and five rebounds in nine minutes against LSU in the second round of the 2006 NCAA Tournament.
His college football career ended with 105 receptions for 1,246 yards and 10 touchdowns—despite having a head coach, Dennis Franchione, who barely knew how to utilize him.
8. WR Justin Gage, Missouri
Justin Gage was the first great skill position player Gary Pinkel coached at Missouri, leading the Tigers with 920 receiving yards in Pinkel's first season of 2001, and 1,075 receiving yards the following year.
None of Gage's teams ever finished with a winning record, but they began moving Mizzou in the right direction and helped make it one of the better programs of the last decade.
On the court, Gage plied his trade as a scrappy reserve for a basketball team that enjoyed far more success.
He played 73 games over three seasons, finishing with 156 points, 212 rebounds, 32 assists and 48 steals. In the Elite Eight against Oklahoma in 2002, Gage came off of the bench and played 23 quality minutes.
7. QB Ronald Curry, North Carolina
Along with another member of this list, Ronald Curry was a two-sport star at North Carolina in the early 2000s, leading the Tar Heels as a starter on both the basketball and football teams.
On the gridiron, Curry was a dual-threat quarterback who started on and off for all four seasons and finished his career with more than 6,200 total yards and 41 total touchdowns.
On the court, Curry was a starting point guard who led the 2000-01 Tar Heels with 4.3 assists (to go with 5.5 points and 3.4 rebounds) per game.
That team, which featured future NBA players in Joseph Forte and Brendan Haywood, was a No. 2 seed in the 2001 NCAA Tournament but lost in the second round to No. 7 Penn State. Curry had nine points, five rebounds and seven assists in the loss.
6. QB Antwaan Randle El, Indiana
Antwaan Randle El, it could be argued, was one of the most important college football players of the past 15 years.
Seriously. Randle El's time in Bloomington helped pave the way for the modern dual-threat quarterback. He finished his career as a four-year starter with barely more than 1,000 career passing yards, but he rushed for 3,895 yards and scored 87 total touchdowns.
His basketball career was a little less fruitful. Randle El played just one season for the Hoosiers under Bobby Knight, rarely seeing the court in a minor reserve role before focusing on football.
5. TE Tony Gonzalez, California
Tony Gonzalez is probably the best professional football player to ever play in March Madness, but his college career—which is plenty good in its own right—does not stack up with the four men listed above him.
Still, Gonzalez finished his three seasons in Berkeley with 89 catches for 1,302 yards and eight touchdowns, earning consensus All-America honors in 1996. That is nothing to scoff at.
On the hardwood, Gonzalez averaged 6.2 points in 82 career games. He was a contributing member of the Ben Braun-coached team that made the Sweet Sixteen of the 1997 NCAA Tournament.
4. QB Donovan McNabb, Syracuse
That Donovan McNabb checks in at No. 4 speaks highly of the three players listed ahead of him. We are officially at the stacked portion of this power-ranking.
McNabb was a three-time Big East Offensive Player of the Year, finishing his time at Syracuse with almost 10,000 total yards (9,950), 96 total touchdowns and a career passer rating of 155.1.
He was also a scant-used backup point guard on the 1996 Orange basketball team, which lost to Kentucky in the national championship.
McNabb played 11 minutes in the NCAA Tournament that year, most notably logging eight in a two-point overtime win against Georgia in the Sweet Sixteen.
3. DE Julius Peppers, North Carolina
A physical specimen the likes of which college athletics has rarely seen, Julius Peppers was a two-sport star along with Ronald Curry at North Carolina in the early 2000s.
According to his official bio, Peppers led UNC in tackles for loss and sacks as a redshirt freshman in 1999, led the nation with 15 sacks in 2000 and won the Rotary Lombardi Award and Chuck Bednarik Award as a unanimous All-American in 2001.
As a basketball player, he became a valuable contributor on the team's surprise Final Four team in the 2000 NCAA Tournament and had his first career double-double (21 points, 10 rebounds) against Penn State when the team was eliminated in the second round in 2001.
2. QB Terry Baker, Oregon State
One of two Heisman Trophy winners to also play in the NCAA Tournament, Oregon State's Terry Baker was indeed a pioneer for the legion of two-sport stars that came behind him.
According to his bio at the National Football Foundation, Baker is the only player to ever win the Heisman, Maxwell and Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year Award in the same year, doing so in his remarkable season of 1962.
The following year (but same "sports season"), Baker started at point guard for the Beavers' basketball team and led it to the 1963 Final Four, where it lost in a blowout to Cincinnati.
1. QB Charlie Ward, Florida State
A two-sport star like no other, Florida State's Charlie Ward actually spurned the NFL to play in the NBA after winning the Heisman Trophy as a senior in 1993.
Ward finished his football career with more than 6,600 total yards and 59 total touchdowns, leading the Seminoles to a 12-1 record and national championship in his final, Heisman-winning campaign.
As a point guard on the school's basketball team, he logged more than 2,600 minutes over four years and finished with 740 points, 263 rebounds, 396 assists and 238 steals (which is a Florida State record).
Ward's teams made the NCAA Tournament in each of his first three seasons, advancing most notably to the Elite Eight in 1993 before getting humbled by Rick Pitino's Kentucky Wildcats, 106-81.
Note: Unless otherwise noted, all stats via Sports-Reference.com.
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