The Most Unstoppable Offensive College Football Players Since 2000

Greg Wallace@gc_wallaceFeatured ColumnistJuly 17, 2017

The Most Unstoppable Offensive College Football Players Since 2000

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    Ezekiel Elliott provided plenty of special moments in an Ohio State uniform.
    Ezekiel Elliott provided plenty of special moments in an Ohio State uniform.Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    College football is in the middle of an offensive renaissance. Spread and fast-paced offenses have become far more prevalent over the past 15 years or so, creating excitement and plenty of points on scoreboards.

    Even in the midst of that revival, some players are tougher to stop than others. Every opposing defense knew what it had to face, but these guys excelled regardless. That's something special. These players were unstoppable.

    Here's a look at the most unstoppable college football offensive players since 2000. They were the focal points of their team's offense but found a way to put up huge stats and lead their team to success regardless. Who are they? Let's take a look.

10. Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon

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    Melvin Gordon had a season to remember in 2014.
    Melvin Gordon had a season to remember in 2014.Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    What made him dominant

    In the NFL draft early-entry culture, dominant seniors have become increasingly rare, but Wisconsin tailback Melvin Gordon broke the mold in 2014. He was the star attraction on an offense that saw Badger quarterbacks combine for 15 touchdowns against 16 interceptions, and he was a marked man after rushing for 1,609 yards and 12 touchdowns as a junior.

    What did Gordon do? He put together one of the best rushing seasons in FBS history. He rushed for 2,587 yards with 29 rushing touchdowns (adding three receiving scores for a total of 32). He finished second in Heisman Trophy voting behind Marcus Mariota, and it was the second-best single-season rushing mark behind Barry Sanders' 2,628 yards for Oklahoma State in 1988.

          

    Most memorable moment

    Gordon's greatest moment undoubtedly came against Nebraska on November 15. Playing in an important Big Ten West game, he was totally unstoppable against the Cornhusker defense. He piled up 408 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 25 carries, setting an FBS single-game rushing yardage record. It stood for all of one week until Oklahoma freshman Samaje Perine rushed for 427 yards against a hapless Kansas team.

           

    Why he's here

    On a clear run-based offense, Gordon ran, ran and ran some more, and few were able to slow him down. He hit the 200-yard mark six times, capping his college career with a 251-yard, three-score effort against Auburn in the Outback Bowl. Gordon's 2014 season will be tough for any back to match.

9. Alabama RB Derrick Henry

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    Everyone knew Derrick Henry was running the ball. The problem was stopping him.
    Everyone knew Derrick Henry was running the ball. The problem was stopping him.Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    What made him dominant

    Under Nick Saban, Alabama has earned a well-deserved reputation for winning with powerful running backs, but Derrick Henry was one of the best examples. Like many Crimson Tide backs, Henry served in a time-share initially before taking a lead role as a junior. He took the ball and ran with it, quite literally and quite well. In 2015, he carried 395 times for 2,219 yards and 28 touchdowns, winning the Heisman Trophy.

    Henry was a workhorse, carrying the ball at least 25 times on eight occasions and surpassing the 200-yard mark four times in the final nine games. When the Tide offense needed him most, he was there.

           

    Most memorable moment

    Coming into the Week 9 showdown against LSU, much of the spotlight was on LSU tailback Leonard Fournette. But while the Tide shut down Fournette (19 carries, 31 yards), Henry excelled, carrying 38 times for 210 yards and three touchdowns in a 30-16 victory. It kick-started his Heisman Trophy campaign and ended Fournette's Heisman push all in one fell swoop.

          

    Why he's here

    In 2015, you knew Alabama was going to give Derrick Henry the rock. The problem? Stopping him. Few did. Henry ground out games with consistent, bruising efforts and carried Alabama's offense to a national title. That alone is worth significant recognition.

8. Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey

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    Christian McCaffrey's Rose Bowl effort will haunt Iowa fans forever.
    Christian McCaffrey's Rose Bowl effort will haunt Iowa fans forever.Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    What made him dominant

    Stanford has never been known for flashy, high-powered offense, but the Cardinal was truly an offense to fear during McCaffrey's tenure. He was one of the most versatile players in recent memory, doing damage as a rusher, receiver and kick returner with speed, elusiveness and the ability to score virtually any time that he touched the ball.

    He set an NCAA single-season record for all-purpose yardage as a sophomore in 2015, rushing for 2,019 yards and eight touchdowns and adding 45 catches for 645 yards and five scores as Stanford's leading rusher and receiver. He finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting, and even while hampered by injuries as a junior, he still rushed for 1,603 yards and 13 touchdowns with 37 catches for 310 yards and three touchdowns as a receiver.

                    

    Most memorable moment

    McCaffrey finished as runner-up in the 2015 Heisman vote to Alabama's Derrick Henry, but the 2016 Rose Bowl was his argument to voters who chose the Crimson Tide back over him three weeks earlier. McCaffrey terrorized Iowa on national television. He took the game's first offensive play 75 yards for a catch-and-run score, returned a punt 66 yards for a touchdown and rushed 18 times for 172 yards with four catches for 105 yards and the aforementioned score in a 45-16 rout.

    It was a tour de force effort, one that left the Hawkeyes reeling and the nation marveling at McCaffrey's incredible skills.

          

    Why he's here

    McCaffrey did a lot of everything at Stanford. On an offense with average quarterback and receiver play, he was the key figure for two seasons and never really backed down, piling up 3,622 rushing yards and making 82 catches for 955 yards. You knew the Cardinal offense would revolve around McCaffrey, but few found a way to stop him on any sort of consistent basis.

7. Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel

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    Stopping Johnny Manziel was much tougher than it looked for college defenses.
    Stopping Johnny Manziel was much tougher than it looked for college defenses.Jamie Martin/Associated Press

    Why he was dominant

    It's easy to have opinions about Johnny Manziel. You can love his talent or hate how his off-field issues have derailed a promising career. One thing that shouldn't be in question? His talent. He showed that clearly in two standout seasons at Texas A&M, making us care about his football ability and what he could be on the field.

    As a redshirt freshman, Manziel took college football by storm in 2012. Playing on a Texas A&M team trying to make a big impression in its first year in the SEC West, he led the way. He finished the year with 3,706 yards passing with 26 touchdowns against nine interceptions and added 1,410 rushing yards and 21 scores on the ground. He led A&M to an 11-2 record and became the first freshman ever to win the Heisman Trophy.

    As a sophomore, the national spotlight shone brightly on him, but Manziel was up to the challenge. The athletic, do-everything quarterback played with style and swagger, throwing for 4,114 yards with 37 touchdowns against 13 interceptions and rushing for 759 yards and nine touchdowns. He led A&M to a 9-4 record. That was capped by a wild 52-48 Chick-fil-A Bowl win over Duke (his collegiate swan song) that saw him throw for 382 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions.

          

    Most memorable moment

    Manziel won the Heisman as a freshman in 2012, and it's easy to point to the moment that launched him into college football's stratosphere. The Aggies walked into Bryant-Denny Stadium to face No. 1 Alabama on Nov. 10, 2012. Manziel and A&M built a stunning 20-0 first-quarter lead, including a scrambling 10-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Swope for the game's second touchdown and a 14-0 lead.

    Alabama cut the lead to 23-17 in the fourth quarter, but Manziel sealed the 29-24 upset with a 24-yard touchdown pass to Malcome Kennedy. He finished with 253 yards and two touchdowns through the air, 92 rushing yards and left Tuscaloosa with the Heisman Trophy in a sleeper hold.

          

    Why he's here

    Texas A&M hasn’t been the same since Manziel left following the 2013 season. He was the centerpiece of an electric, fast-paced system and excelled despite being a target for opposing defenses. His versatile skills made him a difficult player for defenses to stop and a special player in college football history.

6. Florida State QB Jameis Winston

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    Jameis Winston was very difficult for opposing defenses to shut down in Tallahassee.
    Jameis Winston was very difficult for opposing defenses to shut down in Tallahassee.Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    What made him dominant

    Florida State was not a popular pick for the national title before the 2013 season, but that changed quickly once pundits realized the talent the Seminoles had in quarterback Jameis Winston. The redshirt freshman quickly built on a 356 all-purpose yards, four-touchdown effort against Pitt in his debut and thrust himself into the Heisman Trophy race with a huge throwing arm and the ability to scramble for yardage with power and swagger.

    Winston was the key piece in a talented FSU offense that set an NCAA record by scoring 723 points on the season. He threw for 4,057 yards with 40 touchdowns against 10 interceptions, adding 219 yards and four rushing touchdowns and won the Heisman Trophy as well as the Walter Camp, Manning and the Archie Griffin Awards.

    At 6'4", 230 pounds, Winston mixed athleticism, power and speed and produced even when defenses knew what was coming. As a sophomore, his final season in college football, he threw for 3,907 yards with 25 touchdowns against 18 interceptions and led FSU to a College Football Playoff berth. The 'Noles went 27-1 in his two seasons leading the offense.

          

    Defining moment

    The 2013 Seminoles weren't challenged much on their road to the 2014 BCS National Championship Game, but Auburn changed that. The Tigers led FSU 21-10 at halftime and took a 31-27 lead thanks to Tre Mason's 37-yard touchdown run with 1:19 to go. How would FSU respond? Just fine, it turned out.

    Winston led a gutsy seven-play, 80-yard drive, pushing Florida State down the field quickly. With 13 seconds left, he found a leaping Kelvin Benjamin for a two-yard game-winning touchdown, clinching a national title and unbeaten season. That drive showed just why Winston was such a special player. When he had to, he delivered in a big way.

          

    Why he's here

    Winston has a knack for performing in the clutch and using his myriad skills with a big body, a big arm and big leadership skills. Love him or hate him, he was one of the great college football players in recent history, and deserves a spot on this list.

5. Texas QB Vince Young

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    No one was able to stop Texas' Vince Young in 2005.
    No one was able to stop Texas' Vince Young in 2005.Associated Press

    What made him dominant

    Vince Young had a brief run in the spotlight at Texas, but what he accomplished as the Longhorns' starting quarterback was unique and noteworthy. He threw for 6,040 yards and 44 touchdowns in his UT career with 3,127 yards and 37 rushing scores and owns five of Texas' top seven single-game rushing efforts by a quarterback, highlighted by a 267-yard effort against Oklahoma State in 2005.

    Young was athletic and elusive with a good throwing arm and became a strong leader for Texas, leading the Longhorns to a national title in 2006.

    That season, he had 3,036 passing yards with 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions as well as 1,050 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground. He became Texas' first player ever to pass for more than 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000, serving as the Horns' leading rusher and finishing as the Heisman Trophy runner-up to Reggie Bush (who later vacated the honor).

          

    Most memorable moment

    Texas spent much of 2005 playing second fiddle to defending national champion Southern California, but the Longhorns got the last laugh in the BCS National Championship. Trailing 38-26 with under seven minutes to play, Young rallied the Longhorns to a stirring 41-38 victory. Texas got the ball back trailing 38-33 with 2:09 remaining and drove inside the USC 10 with under 30 seconds to play. On fourth and 5 from the Trojan 9, Young scrambled down the right sideline for the game-winning score and 2-point conversion to hand Texas a national title.

    Trailing 38-26 with under seven minutes to play, Young rallied the Longhorns to a stirring 41-38 victory. Texas got the ball back trailing 38-33 with 2:09 remaining and drove inside the USC 10 with under 30 seconds to play. On 4th-and-5 from the Trojan 9, Young scrambled down the right sideline for the game-winning score and two-point conversion to hand Texas a national title.

    It was one of the great moments in college football history and one that Longhorns fans will certainly never forget.

         

    Why he's here

    Young made a gigantic impression at Texas and nationally with his athleticism and dual-threat skills. He was near-impossible for defenses to stop in 2005 and willed the Longhorns to a late comeback win in the national title game. He was the clear fulcrum of the Texas offense, but defenses still couldn't shut him down. That gives him high placement on this list.

4. Ohio State RB Ezekiel Elliott

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    Ezekiel Elliott was a tough player for opposing defenses to bring down.
    Ezekiel Elliott was a tough player for opposing defenses to bring down.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    What made him dominant

    Ohio State made an impressive run to the first College Football Playoff national title in 2014. The Buckeyes overcame an early loss to Virginia Tech as well as season-ending injuries to their top two quarterbacks to roll to Urban Meyer's third national title (and first with the Buckeyes). 

    They couldn't have done it without Ezekiel Elliott, though.

    Elliott, a hard-charging, physical, tough-to-tackle tailback, was at his best when Ohio State needed him. He finished 2014 with 1,878 yards and 18 rushing touchdowns, running over, around and right past opposing defenders. He was just as good as a junior, carrying for 1,821 yards and 23 scores on the ground.

    Most telling? Ohio State's only 2015 loss (17-14 to Michigan State) was the only time all year that Elliott rushed for less than 100 yards and one of only two times that he had fewer than 16 carries. The only way to stop Elliott was to keep the ball out of his hands, it seems.

            

    Defining moment

    Elliott's best game in Ohio State's title season came at the perfect time. In the 2014 national title game, he was impossible to bring down, carrying 36 times for 246 yards and four touchdowns in a 42-20 rout of Oregon. That took pressure off third-string quarterback Cardale Jones and paved the way for an easy national title victory.

           

    Why he's here

    While Elliott had some talent around him at Ohio State, he was a key figure in two good Ohio State offenses as a sophomore and junior. The Buckeyes lost two games in his final two seasons combined. And following a breakout season as a sophomore, Elliott put up equally good (if not better) numbers as a junior. That puts him high on any list of unstoppable forces.

3. Southern California RB Reggie Bush

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    Reggie Bush contributed in a number of ways to USC's mid-2000s dynasty.
    Reggie Bush contributed in a number of ways to USC's mid-2000s dynasty.KEVORK DJANSEZIAN/Associated Press

    What made him dominant

    Reggie Bush was one of the most versatile, electric players in recent college football history and played a huge role in Southern California's dynasty under Pete Carroll in the mid-2000s.

    He was a consensus freshman All-America and set a USC freshman record with 1,331 all-purpose yards that included leading the Pac-10 in kick return yardage and 521 rushing yards with three scores for the national champions.

    Bush was even better as a sophomore, making impacts in multiple ways. He rushed for 908 yards and six scores, caught 43 passes for 509 yards and seven touchdowns, and averaged 25.6 yards per kick return as well as 15.7 yards per punt return with two punt-return touchdowns. He led the Pac-10 in all-purpose yardage with 2,330 yards and was a Heisman Trophy finalist while helping the Trojans to an outright BCS national title.

    He won the 2005 Heisman as a junior, averaging 222.3 all-purpose yards per game while rushing for 1,740 yards with 16 touchdowns, adding 37 catches for 478 yards and two touchdowns and averaging 17.6 yards per kick return and 9.9 yards per punt return with a punt return score.

    The Heisman was later vacated after an NCAA investigation showed Bush and his parents had accepted nearly $300,000 in improper benefits from sports agents, but that doesn't take away his on-field exploits and incredible all-around skills in multiple facets of the game.

    Defining moment

    On October 15, 2005, USC entered Notre Dame ranked No. 1, riding a 27-game winning streak. But the Trojans needed every edge they could get to leave South Bend with their ranking and win streak intact.

    Trailing 31-28 late, the Trojans made one final, frantic drive inside the Notre Dame 5. With seven seconds left, quarterback Matt Leinart fumbled the ball out of bounds at the Irish 2. The Trojans had time for two more plays. Instead of spiking the ball and going for a field goal, Leinart tried to sneak for a touchdown. He was met with resistance at the line, but Bush pushed him forward and into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown and a wild 34-31 win. It was one of the great plays in college football history and a truly memorable moment in Bush's career.

           

    Why he's here

    Bush occupied multiple parts of opponents' game plans, but stopping him was a futile exercise. In his three years at USC, he scored on rushing, receiving, passing, kick return and punt return touchdowns during his three-year USC career. He was a dynamic player who helped the Trojans to a pair of national titles (2003 Associated Press, 2004 BCS) while contributing across the board, which makes him a special player in recent college history.

2. Auburn QB Cam Newton

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    Cam Newton carried Auburn to a national championship.
    Cam Newton carried Auburn to a national championship.Dave Martin/Associated Press

    What made him dominant

    Cam Newton played only one season as a starting college football quarterback, but he made an indelible mark on Auburn and the college game in general. The 6'6", 250-pound quarterback began his career at Florida but took a one-season detour to Blinn (Texas) Junior College after being accused of stealing another student's laptop. He wound up at Auburn for the 2010 season and quickly emerged as the most dominant player in college football.

    He had a big arm capable of making things happen through the air and was just as dangerous as a scrambler, mixing speed, power and athleticism in a tough-to-bring-down frame. He passed for 2,854 yards with 30 touchdowns against seven interceptions as well as 1,473 rushing yards and 20 scores, becoming the first SEC player ever to pass for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 in the same season and leading Auburn to a 14-0 record and its first undisputed national championship.

           

    Defining moment

    In the state of Alabama, players are judged by their performances in the Iron Bowl, the annual clash between Alabama and Auburn. Newton certainly left his mark in his only Iron Bowl appearance.

    Unbeaten Auburn trailed spoiler-minded Alabama 24-0, and Newton had struggled. But a 36-yard touchdown to Emory Blake got Auburn on the board, which trailed 24-7 at the half. On the second play of the third quarter, he connected with Terrell Zachery for a 70-yard touchdown, and the comeback was on. Auburn took its first (and only) lead of the game with 11:48 left after Newton's seven-yard touchdown pass to Philip Lutzenkirchen and Wes Byrum's extra point. The 28-27 win kept its drive for an eventual national title alive, thanks to Newton's heroics.

          

    Why he's here

    Newton took Auburn's offense and program on an amazing ride in his only season on the Plains, declaring for the NFL draft and going No. 1 overall to the Carolina Panthers. Without Newton, Auburn went 11-14 over the following two seasons, and coach Gene Chizik was fired. Newton was the focal point of the Tigers system and still excelled. That says volumes about his ability and skills.

1. Florida QB Tim Tebow

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    Tim Tebow is one of college football's all-time greats.
    Tim Tebow is one of college football's all-time greats.Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Why he was dominant

    No matter what you think about Tim Tebow, there is no denying the Florida quarterback's impact on college football with a well-rounded skill set. Mixing dynamic running and passing skills (sometimes literally with a jump-pass), Tebow confounded college defenses throughout his career. He finished with 9,285 passing yards and 88 scores through the air as well as 2,947 rushing yards and an SEC-record 57 rushing scores.

    He helped Florida win a national title as a freshman in 2007, serving as a situational quarterback behind Chris Leak, and broke out as a sophomore starter. He passed for 3,286 yards with 32 touchdowns and six interceptions and rushing for 895 yards and 23 touchdowns (a single-season SEC record). He was the only player in FBS history to rush and throw for at least 20 touchdowns in the same season and became the first sophomore ever to win the Heisman Trophy.

    As a junior, Tebow threw for 2,746 yards with 30 touchdowns and four interceptions and added 673 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground. Florida finished 12-1 and won its second national championship in three seasons. He finished his career with five NCAA records, 14 SEC records and 28 Florida statistical records. He was no secret to anyone, including opposing defenses, but was hard to stop regardless.

           

    Most memorable moment

    Following a 31-30 home loss to Ole Miss in 2008, Tebow led Florida on an impressive run, winning 10 consecutive games to end the season. No team came within 10 points of the Gators the rest of the way, and Florida beat Oklahoma 24-14 to win its second national title in three seasons.

           

    Why he's here

    Tebow did a little bit of everything. He ran the ball. He passed the ball. He served as one of the best leaders in college football's recent history. You knew it was coming, but defenses were powerless to stop it. His skills and production make him one of the college game's most unstoppable players in recent memory. 

           

    All stats courtesy of Sports Reference.