Ranking the Greatest Individual Performances in College Football Playoff History

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 7, 2020

Ranking the Greatest Individual Performances in College Football Playoff History

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    Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

    Joe Burrow's obliteration of the Oklahoma defense immediately jumped atop the list of best individual performances in College Football Playoff history. The LSU quarterback accounted for eight touchdowns in a legendary day.

    But which other players have previously earned such a label?

    Clemson's Deshaun Watson and Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott are among the standout performers in the CFP's six-year history. While quarterbacks and running backs have mostly produced the biggest games, two defenders demanded a spot, too.

    The final results are considered, but the list's main factors are total statistical production and overall impact on the game.


    Note: Years listed are the season that corresponds to the game, not necessarily the calendar year in which the game was played.

10. Cyrus Jones, DB, Alabama (2015 vs. Michigan State)

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    Cyrus Jones earned defensive MVP honors for his efforts in a 38-0 victory over Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl, and he provided two especially critical plays for the Crimson Tide.

    As the second quarter wound down, Alabama held a 10-0 lead. But the Spartans, who had finally reached scoring territory for the first time, were at the 12-yard line. They could've put up much-needed points to make it a one-possession game before halftime.

    However, Jones locked onto MSU quarterback Connor Cook and perfectly timed a jump for an interception.

    That takeaway hurt the Spartans, but Jones soon crushed the Big Ten champions.

    In the third quarter, he weaved through MSU for a 57-yard touchdown on a punt return. That gave the Tide an insurmountable 24-0 advantage and pushed them toward the national title.

9. Kevin Dodd, DE, Clemson (2015 vs. Alabama)

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Even in a losing effort, Kevin Dodd excelled.

    Shaq Lawson attracted most of the headlines on Clemson's defensive lineand he chipped in two sacks on the nightbut Dodd made life miserable for Alabama.

    Among seven tackles, he racked up five takedowns for loss and three sacks, which both stand as College Football Playoff records.

    Dodd soon declared for the 2016 NFL draft, and the Tennessee Titans selected him No. 33 overall.

8. Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama (2015 vs. Clemson)

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    On the opposite side of the field in that national championship during the 2015 season, Derrick Henry and O.J. Howard both put up massive performances for the Tide. And, really, either one would be a fitting inclusion.

    Henry collected 158 yards and three touchdowns. He opened the scoring with a 50-yard scamper and powered in a one-yard score on a late 3rd-and-goal, a touchdown that effectively sealed Alabama's 45-40 win.

    Because of those timely moments, he earns the nod.

    Howard, though, deserves a mention after capitalizing on two coverage busts to amass 208 yards and two scores on five catches.

7. Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU (2019 vs. Oklahoma)

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    Justin Jefferson barely needed the second half to break the CFP's single-game receiving records in each major category.

    During the first half, he grabbed nine passes for 186 yards and four touchdowns while LSU built a commanding 49-14 lead. Three of his trips to the end zone covered 30-plus yards, and all four happened in the first 21 minutes of the game.

    Jefferson added five receptions for 41 yards in the second half, ending the 63-28 rout with 14 catches, 227 yards and four scores.

    "When someone's hot, why not keep going to them," he told reporters after the game. "So Joe just kept finding me on the field, just making those big plays."

6. Sony Michel, RB, Georgia (2017 vs. Oklahoma)

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    Oklahoma had no answers for Georgia running backs Sony Michel and Nick Chubb in this Rose Bowl matchup. They combined for 367 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns.

    Michel, in particular, simply wouldn't go away.

    He caught a 13-yard score in the first quarter and broke off a 75-yard touchdown run in the second. He scored a game-tying 38-yard touchdown in the third and made an important reception on Georgia's game-tying drive late in the fourth. Then in overtime, he scored the walk-off touchdown with a 27-yard run.

    Michel ended the 54-48 thriller with four total scores, collecting 181 rushing yards on only 11 carries and recording four catches for 41 more yards.

5. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State (2014 vs. Oregon)

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    One game after slicing Alabama for 230 yards and two touchdowns to reach the national championship, Ezekiel Elliott managed to assemble an even more productive stat line.

    The All-American running back scored four times, including three touchdowns on Ohio State's last four possessions. Along the way, the Buckeyes widened their lead from 21-20 to the final 42-20 margin, defeating Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota and Oregon.

    Elliott scampered for 246 yards, which remains both a CFP record and the most in a national championship game since the beginning of the BCS era in 1998.

4. Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson (2018 vs. Alabama)

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Consider the context of this situation: a true freshman quarterback playing in the championship against Alabama, a program that had celebrated five of the last nine national titles.

    Yet it didn't faze Trevor Lawrence in the slightest.

    Aided by Clemson's pick-six on Alabama's opening drive, he guided four scoring drives in the first half to build a 31-16 lead. He then iced the result with two touchdown passes after the break, completing 20 of 32 passes for 347 yards and three touchdowns with zero interceptions in a 44-16 victory.

    Lawrence became the first quarterback to post a pair of 300-yard, three-touchdown games in the College Football Playoff.

3. Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama (2017 vs. Georgia)

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    Although his explosive day in the 2018 Orange Bowl against Oklahoma merits a nod, Tua Tagovailoa's introduction to the national audience was legendary.

    The southpaw spent the 2017 season as the backup to Jalen Hurts, who'd helped Alabama make national championship appearances as a freshman and sophomore. But against Georgia in the title game, the Tide trailed 13-0 at halftime because the offense had mustered just 90 yards on five non-kneeldown drives.

    Saban made an eye-popping move by benching his veteran starter for Tagovailoa, and the decision paid off.

    Tagovailoa guided Alabama back, throwing two second-half scores and setting up a field-goal attempt to win as regulation expired. Though the kick missed, Tagovailoa tossed a 41-yard touchdown in overtime to hand the Tide a 26-23 win.

    In that brief action, he went 14-of-24 for 166 yards with three scores and one interception. For someone who had previously only received garbage-time reps, it was an improbable way to begin a legacy.

2. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson (2016 vs. Alabama)

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Clemson fell frustratingly short of upending Alabama in the national championship for the 2015 season, but Deshaun Watson calmly ensured it wouldn't happen again.

    "You know, I never got the sense that he was rattled," Alabama star Jonathan Allen said of the quarterback.

    During a 35-31 victory, Watson shouldered a massive burden with a direct impact on 78 of Clemson's 99 offensive snaps. He attempted 56 passes, carried the ball on 17 runs, took four sacks and dropped to a knee in victory formation.

    The final play only happened because the Tigers risked running out the clock and trusted their quarterback instead of kicking a game-tying field goal to force overtime.

    Watson rolled right and found Hunter Renfrow for the winning touchdown. That wrapped up an amazing performance for the quarterback who accounted for 463 yards and four scores.

1. Joe Burrow, QB, LSU (2019 vs. Oklahoma)

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    While the potential for recency bias is always worth noting, there is hardly any doubt Joe Burrow is the only reasonable choice.

    During a 63-28 beatdown of Oklahoma, he threw seven touchdowns in the first half and totaled eight scores in the game. In addition to Justin Jefferson's four touchdown catches, Burrow hit Terrace Marshall Jr. for two scores and Thaddeus Moss for another.

    "To have this receiving corps and have Joe throwing it to us kind of makes our job easier," Jefferson said, per Glenn Guillbeau of the Lafayette Daily Advertiser. "All we have to do is catch the ball."

    And they did exactly that, helping Burrow set a variety of CFP records with 493 passing yards, 514 total offensive yards and the marks for both passing and total touchdowns.


    All recruiting information via 247Sports. Stats from NCAA.com, cfbstats.com or B/R research. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.


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