College Football: The 50 Greatest Playmakers in College Football History
Every college football team wishes they had a playmaker. This is the guy who takes over practically every single down when he is on the field.
A team’s offense (and sometimes defense) runs through this playmaker, leaning on him to gain those yards, collect those touchdowns, or make that momentum-changing play.
Through the history of college football there have been several amazing playmakers to take the field. Let's take a look at the 50 greatest playmakers who left their mark on the game of college football.
50. Timmy Chang, QB, Hawaii
From 2000-2004, Timmy Chang ignited the airwaves with his explosive arm for Hawaii. His 16,910 total career yards tops the overall NCAA list and he finished his career fourth with 117 touchdown passes.
However, Chang also has the NCAA career record for most interceptions thrown (80) which many believe somewhat deters his overall playmaking numbers.
49. B.J. Symons, QB, Texas Tech
B.J. Symons only started his season year (2003) for Texas Tech, but he made the most of the time that was given to him.
In that season, Symons broke the NCAA single season record for passing yards with 5,833 yards thrown and set the Big 12 record for touchdown passes (52).
48. David Klingler, QB, Houston
David Klingler’s 1990 season was one of the most remarkable by any quarterback in college football history.
While Klingler’s 54 touchdowns that season ranks second in history, his 11 touchdown passes against Eastern Washington and his 716 passing yards against Arizona State still ranks as the best single game totals by any quarterback.
47. Colt Brennan, QB, Hawaii
Colt Brennan’s electric arm has not been quickly forgotten and his name should be in the record books for years to come.
The Hawaii quarterback holds the single season record for touchdowns thrown (58), the record for passing efficiency in a season (186.0), the record for highest pass completion percentage in a season (70.4), and the record for most 400 yard games (20).
46. Dan LeFevour, QB, Central Michigan
Dan LeFevour stitched together an outstanding career at Central Michigan from 2006-2009, leaving a lasting mark on the MAC and NCAA record books.
LeFevour is only quarterback in NCAA History with over 12,000 passing yards and 2,500 rushing yards. He currently ranks second in all-time total offensive yards (15,853) and also holds the record for most total touchdowns in a college career (150).
45. Graham Harrell, QB, Texas Tech
Graham Harrell’s career at Texas Tech spanned from 2004-2008. In his tenure as a Red Raider, Harrell collected impressive numbers with his arm, setting several records before he was through.
Harrell finished his career with 134 touchdown passes in 2008, breaking a record set the year before by Colt Brennan. He also gathered over 5,000 passing yards in each of his final two years with Texas Tech, becoming the first NCAA player to post multiple 5,000 yard seasons.
44. Pat White, QB, West Virginia
Pat White’s dual threat ability greatly contributed to the outstanding success that he experienced at West Virginia.
White is the only player in NCAA history to have started and won four bowl games. His career total of 4,480 rushing yards is also the most amongst quarterbacks in NCAA History.
43. C.J. Spiller, RB, Clemson
C.J. Spiller’s outstanding speed and agility not only allowed him to be a stupendous running back for Clemson, but his ability to turn and burn on special teams changed games with the blink of an eye.
Spiller scored seven touchdowns on kickoff returns for the Tigers from 2006-2009, grasping onto the NCAA record for that stat. He also ranks second in career All-Purpose yards, posting 7,588 yards during his college career.
42. Al Brosky, DB, Illinois
Although Al Brosky isn’t exactly a household name, the defensive back has held the interception record in the NCAA record books for almost 60 years.
During his three seasons as an Illini, Brosky picked off 29 passes. This total could be one of the few records that survive the test of time.
41. Ty Detmer, QB, BYU
Ty Detmer’s decorated college football career revolved around an outstanding 1990 season.
That year, Detmer passed for 5,188 yards and 41 touchdowns, finishing the year with several NCAA records and taking home the coveted Heisman Trophy.
Most of the records set by Detmer have long since been surpassed, but the magical 1990 season will never be forgotten.
40. Travis Prentice, RB, Miami (OH)
Travis Prentice certainly did not receive enough press playing for Miami (OH), but he definitely made the most of his time playing in the MAC.
Prentice set several NCAA rushing records dressed as a Red Hawk, most notably Most Points Scored (468), Most Rushing Touchdowns Scored (73) and Consecutive Carries without a Fumble (862).
39. Troy Edwards, WR, Louisiana Tech
In 1998, Troy Edwards showcased the exceptional skills of an uncontainable wide receiver. That year, he led the nation in receiving, collecting 140 receptions, 1,996 yards, and 27 touchdowns.
Although many of the records he set that season have since been broken, Edwards still sits atop the NCAA record books for Most Receiving Touchdowns in a Season.
38. Terrell Suggs, LB, Arizona State
Terrell Suggs was a blatant beast for Arizona State.
From 2000-2002, Suggs blasted through lines and found his way to the quarterback with absolute ease. Suggs’s Career Pass Sacks (44) and Season Pass Sacks (24) currently are the highest totals by any defenseman since the turn of the century.
37. Billy Sims, RB, Oklahoma
Awarded the Heisman Trophy in 1978, Billy Sims became the first running back in Big 12 history to rush for 200 yards in three consecutive games.
Sims assisted the Sooners to two consecutive Orange Bowl victories and finished his career at Oklahoma with 3,813 rushing yards and 50 touchdowns.
36. Cameron Newton, QB, Auburn
Cameron Newton’s recent success on the college football gridiron is still fresh in the minds of the many who devoutly follow the sport.
His unbelievable rise to fame in just one season was capped with a National Championship and a Heisman Trophy. Newton’s accurate arm and ability to escape danger also allowed him to set an NCAA record for season yards per game (495.8).
35. Ernie Davis, RB, Syracuse
Ernie Davis quickly made a name for himself at Syracuse, leading the Orangemen to a National Championship in 1959 during his sophomore year.
Despite facing heavy discrimination, Davis silenced his critics throughout his career, gaining 2,386 rushing yards, 28 rushing touchdowns, and becoming the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy.
34. Ed Marinar, RB, Cornell
Ed Marinaro was the Ivy League’s last great football star. During his four years at Cornell, Marinaro set 16 NCAA records, two of which he still holds today (most rushes per game and career average carries per game).
Marinaro was the first running back in NCAA history to run for 4,000 career rushing yards. In 1971, he finished second in Heisman voting, the highest an Ivy League player has placed since the 1950s.
33. Jim Brown, RB, Syracuse
Jim Brown was arguably one of the best running backs to play on the gridiron.
In just eight games, Brown rushed for 986 yards and 14 touchdowns during the 1956 season. His numbers warranted a nod for the Heisman Trophy, but the color barrier was a line that Brown could not break through.
32. Doak Walker, RB, SMU
A three-time All American, Doak Walker was a quadruple threat for SMU—rushing, catching, passing, and even field-goal kicking.
Walker collected the 1948 Heisman Trophy for his marvelous performances with the Mustangs and his efforts will forever be remembered today with the Doak Walker Award.
31. Sam Bradford, QB, Oklahoma
Sam Bradford was an unlikely starter for Oklahoma in his freshman season, but this didn’t stop him from immediately turning heads when he got his chance.
As a sophomore, Bradford fully blew the lid off his cover, throwing for 4,721 yards, 50 touchdowns, and earning the Heisman Trophy despite a loss in the National Championship game.
Bradford currently owns the best career Passing Efficiency rating (175.6) in NCAA History amongst quarterbacks with at least 500 completions.
30. Jarett Dillard, WR, Rice
When it came to catching touchdown passes, Jarrett Dillard was the man.
Dillard collected 60 receiving touchdowns in 49 games for the Rice Owls, setting an NCAA record. This lofty number is ten more than the next wide receiver (Troy Edwards) sitting on the all-time list.
29. John Elway, QB, Stanford
John Elway never experienced a bowl game, but this did not stop him from putting up some gaudy numbers during his college career.
From 1979-1982, Elway connected on 774 passes for 9,349 yards and 77 touchdowns. Although he posted a miserable 20-23 record as a Cardinal, he led the nation in touchdown passes in 1982 and set several Stanford and Pac-10 records in the process.
28. Mike Rozier, RB, Nebraska
Mike Rozier was not highly touted coming out of high school, but he would undoubtedly leave a mark on college football before leaving Nebraska.
In his junior season, Rozier broke Nebraska’s long standing school record, collecting 1,689 yards, leading the Cornhuskers to its second consecutive Big 8 title. A year later, he would take the nation by storm, gaining 2,486 total yards, averaging 7.8 yards per carry, and winning the Heisman Trophy.
27. Ndamukong Suh, DL, Nebraska
Ndamukong Suh clogged the middle like no other defensive lineman before him.
During his time at Nebraska, Suh was a downright beast, collecting 214 tackles, 24 sacks, 41 quarterback hurries, and returning two interceptions for touchdowns.
Although Suh’s numbers don’t stack as high as some defensive players who have played the game, his ability to draw double teams made his teammates around him that much better and solidified him as a Cornhusker legend for years to come.
26. Colt McCoy, QB, Texas
After winning the National Championship in 2006, Longhorn fans didn't know what to expect with the young-faced Colt McCoy. However, by the end of his career, McCoy would be touted as one of the best quarterbacks to take the field for the Longhorns.
Before all was said and done, McCoy broke several NCAA records. He set the highest single season completion percentage (76.7), most wins by a starting quarterback (45), and is the only quarterback in college football history to have at least 10 wins during all four seasons.
25. Randy Moss, WR, Marshall
Although it took several tries to get his college career started, Randy Moss made the most of this time once he finally suited up for Marshall.
In two years with the Thundering Herd, Moss collected 3,529 yards and 54 touchdowns. His 25 touchdowns in the 1997 season ranked second in NCAA history, providing him with a seat as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy that year.
24. Adrian Peterson, RB, Oklahoma
Adrian Peterson did not waste any time getting his college career out of the blocks.
In his freshman season at Oklahoma, Peterson rushed for 1,925 yards, breaking the NCAA freshman rushing record, and finished second in Heisman Trophy voting, the highest finish ever by a freshman.
Injuries plagued his final two seasons at Oklahoma, but Peterson still finished his college career with 4,045 yards and 53 touchdowns in only three years.
23. Charles Woodson, DB, Michigan
From 1995-1997, when Michigan needed a big defensive play, Charles Woodson always seemed to come up big.
Woodson’s uncanny ability to locate the ball and make that game-changing play earned him the 1997 Heisman trophy—the first and still the only primarily defensive player to take home the award. The Wolverines definitely have him to thank for their share of the National Championship title that season.
22. Roger Staubach, QB, Navy
Roger Staubach’s college career is not going to send shivers down your spine, but his accomplishments are impressive nonetheless.
Staubach, the recipient of the 1963 Heisman Trophy award, collected 4,253 total yards while throwing only 19 interceptions in his three years as a Midshipman. He also led Navy to its most recent National Championship game.
21. Glenn Davis, RB, Army
Known simply as "Mr. Outside," Glenn Davis played an enormous part in Army’s undefeated record (27-0-1) between 1944 and 1946.
Throughout his college career, Davis scored 59 touchdowns, which held as record for several decades. While this record has been long broken, Davis still maintains the all-time record for most averaged yards per carry (11.5).
20. Dwight Freeney, DE, Syracuse
Although Dwight Freeney only played for two season with Syracuse, he certainly left an impression on the quarterbacks who lined up on the other side of him.
In 19 games, Freeney collected 30 sacks. Since 2000, the 1.61 sacks per game average posted by Freeney stands as the best average by any player.
19. Peyton Manning, QB, Tennessee
It is not a surprise to the masses that Peyton Manning’s accurate arm shined extremely bright as a Volunteer.
After playing four seasons at Tennessee, Manning became the Volunteers’ All-Time leader with 11,201 passing yards and 89 touchdowns. His 39 wins at the helm also broke an SEC record for career wins.
Although he never won a National Championship or a Heisman Trophy, Manning is still considered to be one of the elite quarterbacks to play college football.
18. Bo Jackson, RB, Auburn
Bo Jackson knows football and fans at Auburn will never forget that.
While Jackson had several great seasons with the Tigers, most will remember the unbelievable 1985 campaign where he gained 1,786 rushing yards and averaged 6.6 yards per carry, setting an All-Time SEC record. Jackson went on to win the Heisman Trophy that season in what was the closest winning margin in the trophy's history.
17. LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, TCU
LaDainian Tomlinson’s college football career blindsided most of the country.
Although he was not a top prospect out of high school, Tomlinson led the NCAA in rushing (1,850 and 2,158) in his final two seasons with TCU. His 5,263 career rushing yards ranks sixth in NCAA history and he holds the record for most rushing yards in a single game (406 yards against UTEP).
16. Tony Dorsett, RB, Pittsburgh
Tony Dorsett led the Pittsburgh Panthers to one of the most memorable seasons in the program's storied history.
In 1976, Dorsett took the Panthers on his back, rushing for 1,948 yards, winning a National Title, and bringing home the Heisman Trophy along with several other awards.
Dorsett rushed for 6,082 yards during his time in Pittsburgh, setting an NCAA rushing record that would later be broken by Ricky Williams.
15. Reggie Bush, RB, USC
Despite the well-published woes that dampered the college career of Reggie Bush, his gazelle-like ability on the field as a Trojan was undeniable.
Although most of his trophies and awards have been vacated, his overall numbers are still incredibly impressive. Bush finished his career at USC with 6,541 all-purpose yards, placing 10th in NCAA history.
14. Deion Sanders, DB, Florida State
As a three-sport star at Florida State, there wasn’t much that Deion Sanders could not do.
An All-American cornerback in 1986 and 1987, Deion also seemed to be able to do practically everything on the football field. Sanders intercepted 14 passes as a Seminole, returning one interception 100 yards for a touchdown to break an NCAA record. In 1988, he also led the nation in punt-return average, breaking Florida State’s record for career punt-return yards.
13. Tim Tebow, QB, Florida
To sum up Tim Tebow’s career at Florida in one word, it would be "divine."
The list of awards that Tebow was awarded as a Gator goes around the block, including a Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award, and an AP Player of the Year just to name a few.
Tebow holds the NCAA record for Most Games Scoring a Touchdown (38) and ranks ninth on the career rushing touchdown list (57). Throughout his Florida career, he posted 12,232 total yards and 145 total touchdowns.
12. Earl Campbell, RB, Texas
Earl Campbell became the first Texas Longhorn to win the Heisman Trophy in 1977.
That season, Campbell led the nation in rushing with 1,744 yards and 18 touchdowns, helping Texas to an undefeated regular season and only losing to Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl.
Campbell finished his career in Texas with 4,443 rushing yards and 40 touchdowns.
11. Ricky Williams, RB, Texas
Although Ricky Williams' pro career has a particular smelling cloud lingering around it, his college days at Texas will live throughout history.
Although Williams broke around 20 NCAA records with the Longhorns, most of these records would later be surpassed by other outstanding performances. Williams finished his time in Texas with 6,279 rushing yards and 72 touchdowns.
10. Ron Dayne, RB, Wisconsin
Ron Dayne burst his way into the NCAA record books much like the way he pushed his way through defenses during his time at Wisconsin.
Dayne holds the NCAA record for career yards, gaining 6,397 yards during four regular seasons as a Badger. In his two Rose Bowl appearances, Dayne took home the MVP award both times, becoming only the third person in Rose Bowl History to repeat as MVP.
9. Vince Young, QB, Texas
The technical winner of the 2005 Heisman Trophy, Vince Young put together an astonishing career at the University of Texas.
Young was the first player in NCAA history to collect over 3,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing in the same season. Although several of his records at Texas were surpassed by Colt McCoy a few seasons later, Longhorn fans will never forget Young’s final drive against USC to win an absolutely amazing National Championship.
8. Derrick Thomas, LB/DE Alabama
Derrick Thomas' illustrious career at Alabama formed from his supernatural ability to break through offensive lines and get to the quarterback.
Thomas’ 27 sacks in 1988 and his 52 sacks throughout his career still stand as practically unreachable NCAA records.
7. Red Grange, RB, Illinois
Red Grange’s career at Illinois is way before most of our times, but the numbers he put up are still eye-popping, especially when you consider the era in which he played.
During the 20 games Grange played in college, he bulldozed his way to 3,362 yards and 31 touchdowns. There was only one game with Illinois that he did not score a touchdown.
6. Dick Butkus, LB, Illinois
A unanimous All-American linebacker during the 1963 and 1964 seasons, Dick Butkus' natural ability to track down running backs also gained him several Heisman Trophy votes throughout his time in Illinois.
Butkus gathered 373 tackles over his three years with the Illini and many still believe he is one of the best linebackers of all time.
5. Marcus Allen, RB, USC
Marcus Allen’s exceptional football career bears roots at USC, where coach John Robinson switched him from defensive back to tailback.
In his senior season at USC, Allen became the first player in NCAA history to rush for over 2,000 yards in a season (2,342). That year he won the Heisman Trophy along with several other awards and he currently shares the NCAA record for the most 200 yard rushing games (12).
4. Tommie Frazier, QB, Nebraska
Tommie Frazier is the only quarterback in NCAA History to lead his team to back-to-back National Championships.
Through Nebraska’s unstoppable option offense, Frazier orchestrated two unbelievable seasons in 1994 and 1995. Frazier was never really known for his accurate arm, but his decision-making, parlayed with his ability to take off and run, allowed him to collect 4,003 passing yards, 2,263 rushing yards, and 53 combined touchdowns as a Cornhusker, setting several Nebraska records in the process.
3. Barry Sanders, RB, Oklahoma State
Barry Sanders was the epitome of turning nothing into something.
Sanders' Houdini-like ability allowed the small running back to set all types of records in his three years at Oklahoma State. A handful of the NCAA records he still holds include, Season Yards per game, (295.5), Season Yards (3,250), Most Yards Gained (2,628), Most Rushing Touchdown Scored in a Season (37), and Most Points Scored in a Season (234).
2. Archie Griffin, RB, Ohio State
Archie Griffin is the only player in NCAA history to claim two Heisman Trophies.
Throughout his career at Ohio State, Griffin owned the gridiron. In his second game as a Buckeye, he set a school single-game rushing record that had stood for 27 years. He would later break his own record the next season.
Griffin is also the only player in Big Ten history to lead the conference in rushing for three consecutive seasons, collecting 5,589 career rushing yards.
1. Hershel Walker, RB, Georgia
A three-time All-American and winner of the 1982 Heisman Trophy, Hershel Walker’s college career stacks up with the best in the history of college football.
During his three years at Georgia, Walker finished in the top three in Heisman Trophy voting, a feat that no one has yet to duplicate. His 5,259 yards over a three season span is an NCAA record and if he had stayed for his senior season, the career record for yards gained would most certainly be his.
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