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Former College Football Greats Who Might Struggle Today

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistJune 25, 2014

Former College Football Greats Who Might Struggle Today

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    Anthony Camerano/Associated Press

    College football in 2014 looks like a mutated ancestor of the football of yesteryear. The speed of the game is faster even though the players (at all positions) have gotten bigger and stronger. Offenses regularly pass 50 times per game.

    For obvious reasons, this means that many of college football's former stars would not have been stars had they played in 2014. This is not meant as an insult to their respected (and revered) careers but merely as an acknowledgement of fact. They were still in the 99th percentile of their time, which is something to be celebrated.

    But where would yesterday's 99th percentile have fallen today?

    To illustrate this point, we have selected six former college football stars who would have struggled to find success in modern times.

    More often than not, this had to do with size. Yesterday's linemen, for example, looked more like today's linebackers and strong safeties.

    Even the best would have been at too big of a disadvantage to hold up.

QB Gary Beban, UCLA

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    Associated Press

    One of two Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks on this list, Gary Beban and his counterpart were both, in some ways, products of their times.

    Specifically, Beban stood only 6'1" but wasn't particularly mobile. He wasn't particularly un-mobile, either. He just wouldn't have been quick enough to paper over his height deficiency considering the size of offensive and defensive linemen in 2014.

    According to Sports-Reference.com, Beban only rushed for 227 yards on 145 carries during his Heisman campaign in 1967—good for a not-so-good average of 1.6 yards per rushing attempt.

    In 2014, memorable quarterbacks can either be tall and lumbering (the Zach Mettenberger model), short and quick (the Johnny Manziel model), somewhere between the two (the AJ McCarron model) or a blessed combination of the both (the Andrew Luck model).

    What they can't be is neither big nor fast.

OT Dan Dierdorf, Michigan

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    dt/Associated Press

    Dan Dierdorf had a storied football career like few others, dominating at the collegiate and the NFL level en route to both Halls of Fame.

    Even at the time, though, his 6'4", 250-pound frame made him a bit of a 'tweener. His first two seasons in the NFL, he oscillated between tackle and guard before eventually settling down on the outside.

    Dierdorf was able to compensate for this with his athleticism, his mechanics and his grit, all of which would also have been appreciated in 2014. But the players today are simply bigger. A slighter, 6'4" tackle would never be able to hold up against the likes of, say, J.J. Watt.

    Even inside at guard, he might be overmatched.

DT Rich Glover, Nebraska

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    Anonymous/Associated Press

    The 1970s version of Aaron Donald, Rich Glover was undersized (6'1", 234 lbs) for the middle guard position but found a way to consistently dart through the offensive line and wreck plays in the backfield.

    According to his online entry at the College Football Hall of Fame, Glover's head coach at Nebraska, Bob Devaney, even called him "the greatest defensive player I ever saw." And he earned that lofty praise.

    Donald did the same thing (at about the same level) in 2013, but look at the difference in proportion. Donald is considered undersized for his position because he's 6'1", 285 pounds. Glover was the same height but was still more than 50 pounds lighter!

    What makes a player such as Donald so good is his ability to wear his weight well. He carries 285 pounds with remarkable ease for someone his height. The solution to Glover's problems, then, would not necessarily be adding 50 pounds to his frame.

    Who is to say if he could wear it?

RB Steve Owens, Oklahoma

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    Associated Press

    Steve Owens was the third and final fullback to win the Heisman Trophy, beating out Archie Manning (among others) in 1969 after rushing for 1,523 yards and 23 touchdowns on 358 (!!) carries.

    At 6'2", 215 pounds, he would still be considered a good-sized running back in 2014. He would not, however, be considered a transcendently good-sized running back the way he was in the late 1960s.

    He would just be bigger.

    Nowadays, a transcendently good-sized running back looks more like Alabama sophomore Derrick Henry, who checks in at 6'3", 238 pounds. Henry, like most good running backs in 2014, has also proved capable of catching passes out of the backfield, as he did for a 61-yard touchdown in the Sugar Bowl loss to—of all teams—Oklahoma.

    Owens caught just four passes for 32 yards in his Heisman-winning campaign. Ultimately, that lack of versatility would help undo him.

DT Mike Reid, Penn State

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    Associated Press

    Mike Reid was an easy person to root for.

    When he wasn't busy becoming one of the greatest defensive tackles in college football history, he was off winning heavyweight wrestling titles and starring in the senior class production of Guys and Dolls.

    However, the definition of a wrestling heavyweight in 1967 and a football heavyweight in 2014 varies greatly. Reid was a pure defensive tackle despite checking in at 6'3", 240 pounds—measurables that would make him undersized nowadays as a defensive end.

    Fortunately for Reid (in this crazy, time-warping hypothetical), the music industry still would have eagerly accepted him. After quitting the NFL five seasons into his career, Reid went on to win a Grammy award in 1983 and was named by the Academy of Country Music as "Songwriter of the Year" in 1986.

    A polymath such as Reid would never want for work.

QB Pat Sullivan, Auburn

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    Anthony Camerano/Associated Press

    Much like Gary Beban, who appeared at the top of this list, Pat Sullivan was a great player and an easy person to root for.

    But much like Beban, again, he had neither the size nor the mobility to compensate for that size to succeed as a 2014 quarterback.

    Sullivan stood one inch shorter than Beban, checking in at 6'0", and rushed for only 66 yards on 50 carries during his Heisman Trophy-winning season in 1971. He also threw 41 interceptions on 863 career pass attempts, a disturbingly high proportion for his (or any) time.

    He wouldn't be able to cut it in 2014.

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