Ranking the Best CFB Duos Since 2000
The 2006 Rose Bowl between Texas and USC was arguably the best college football game of all time, and that Trojans backfield also featured one of the best duos from the past two decades.
Before you scroll straight to the bottom and get mad about finding anything other than Florida's 2007 QB-WR tandem of Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin, please be sure to note that we are exclusively looking for duos who played the same position: i.e. two quarterbacks, two running backs, two wide receivers, two tight ends, two defensive linemen, two linebackers or two defensive backs. That might not be how you normally define duos, but it's how we're defining them today.
Two other criteria notes:
- Even if duos spent multiple seasons together, we are only interested in single-season statistics. The most noteworthy example is Felix Jones and Darren McFadden, who thrived together in the Arkansas backfield for three seasons. For ranking purposes, though, only their best season was considered.
- Only one duo per program. Teams like USC, Miami, Clemson and LSU had multiple viable candidates, but we opted to spread the love around a bit rather than just focusing on the most dominant teams in recent history.
Beyond that, duos were ranked in ascending order of how mutually unstoppable they were.
Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa (2017)
It wasn't anything close to a 50/50 split (at least until Tagovailoa relieved Hurts at halftime of the national championship game). However, if you're picking any quarterback duo for the list, this is the obvious choice. Long renowned for great running backs and defenses, this is when Alabama dove headlong into the current era of passing dominance.
Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon (2012)
Alabama has had two future NFL players in its backfield far more often than not in the past decade, but this was the one time when there wasn't a clear divide between the starter and the backup. Yeldon received 175 carries for 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns, and he finished a bit behind Lacy in all three categories. They each had 100 yards and a touchdown in the BCS championship victory over Notre Dame.
Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson (2018)
This pair of Iowa tight ends combined for 88 receptions, 1,279 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns, which is almost unfathomable contribution from that position these days. Both players were subsequently taken in the first 20 picks of the 2019 NFL draft. But it's hard to compare those numbers to the many wide receiver duos that eclipsed 3,000 yards and 25 touchdowns with room to spare.
Mike Williams and Keary Colbert (2002 or 2003)
Both of these USC receivers had at least 1,000 receiving yards in each of these two seasons. However, they can't even hold a candle to what Reggie Bush and LenDale White accomplished for the Trojans in 2005.
Marion Barber III and Laurence Maroney (2003 or 2004)
Sony Michel and Nick Chubb (2017)
DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown (2008)
There were quite a few duos in which each running back ran for at least 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns, and they couldn't all make the cut. In addition to Lacy and Yeldon above, these were the toughest ones to remove from the list. Barber and Maroney had two huge years for Minnesota, Chubb and Michel almost ran Georgia to a College Football Playoff championship and Murray and Brown were quite the second act behind quarterback Sam Bradford during that near-championship season in Oklahoma.
Aqib Talib and Justin Thornton (2007)
This DB duo almost made it just because it was fun to remember a time when Kansas wasn't awful. Heck, the Jayhawks almost made it to the national championship thanks in large part to five interceptions by both of these members of the secondary. But compared to the one pair of defensive backs that did land in our top 10, every other duo felt like chopped liver.
10. Michael Crabtree and Danny Amendola, Texas Tech (2007)
Michael Crabtree: 134 receptions, 1,962 yards, 22 TDs
Danny Amendola: 109 receptions, 1,245 yards, six TDs
Mike Leach's Air Raid offense was well established by this point. A Texas Tech quarterback had thrown for at least 4,000 yards in every year from 2002-06, and this 2007 team was no different with Graham Harrell racking up 5,705 yards and 48 touchdowns.
In prior years, though, the Red Raiders spread the wealth among a bunch of receivers. In 2003, four guys had at least 75 receptions, 975 yards and nine touchdowns. It wasn't until 2007 that a fearsome twosome emerged with Crabtree and Amendola combining for 243 receptions, 3,207 yards and 28 touchdowns.
Crabtree got the lion's share of those figures as a redshirt freshman, but Amendola was hardly a forgotten senior sidekick at 95.8 yards per game.
In five of Texas Tech's first eight games, each receiver made at least 10 catches. In the Week 4 loss to Oklahoma State, Crabtree had 14 receptions for 237 yards and three scores, and Amendola was right on his tail with 14 catches for 233 yards and a touchdown.
That was easily the biggest combo performance, but they accounted for at least 12 receptions and 169 yards in each contest. The game against Missouri was the only time neither one eclipsed 100 yards, but they still had a joint line of 21 catches for 170 yards.
Great as this duo was, though, it couldn't make up for an occasionally awful defense. Texas Tech went 9-4, allowing 45 points per game in the losses.
9. James White and Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin (2013)
James White: 221 carries, 1,444 yards, 13 TDs; 39 receptions, 300 yards, two TDs
Melvin Gordon: 206 carries, 1,609 yards, 12 TDs
From 2010-14, Wisconsin was in a constant state of having at least two quality running backs on its roster. It started with John Clay, Montee Ball and James White each rushing more than 150 times for at least 996 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2010 and culminated in Corey Clement (949 yards and nine touchdowns) serving as a strong second fiddle to Melvin Gordon's 2,587-yard, 29-touchdown campaign in 2014.
But as far as duos go, 2013 was Wisconsin's best year, as White and Gordon had an even split of dominance.
In the season opener against Massachusetts, White ran the ball 11 times for 143 yards and a touchdown and Gordon received 13 touches for 144 yards and a score. And that's roughly how much separation there was between the senior (White) and the redshirt sophomore (Gordon) the rest of the way.
Three weeks later against Purdue, they each received 16 carries, with Gordon narrowly winning the yardage battle (147-145).
Each back got at least 11 carries in 12 of Wisconsin's 13 games, resulting in six games in which they each rushed for at least 100 yards.
This was the only time since 2000 that teammates rushed for at least 1,440 yards in the same season. The Badgers only went 9-4, though, despite also boasting one of the better defenses in the nation that year.
8. Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd, Clemson (2015)
Shaq Lawson: 59 tackles, 24.5 tackles for loss, 12.5 sacks
Kevin Dodd: 62 tackles, 24.0 tackles for loss, 12.5 sacks
Sack data on Sports Reference only dates back to 2005, but during that time, there have only been three instances of two teammates each recording at least 12 sacks in the same season: Arkansas State's Ja'Von Rolland-Jones (13.0) and Chris Odom (12.5) in 2016, UCLA's Bruce Davis (12.5) and Justin Hickman (12.5) in 2006 and this Clemson duo.
However, the Red Wolves and Bruins both went 7-5 during the regular season, and between those four players, Davis was the only one who eventually got drafted.
Clemson went 13-0, and both Lawson (19th overall) and Dodd (33rd) were drafted fairly early the following April. Both had at least 24 tackles for loss, while none of the Arkansas State or UCLA guys got to 20 in that category. Thus, we're giving the Tigers the nod as the most noteworthy pair of edge-rushers in recent history.
Lawson was already respectable before this 2015 season. The junior had a combined 21 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks between his freshman and sophomore campaigns. But Dodd came out of absolutely nowhere as a senior. He had 20 total tackles from 2012-14 before recording 24 tackles behind the line of scrimmage in 2015.
They saved their best for last, too. There wasn't much defense in Alabama's 45-40 win over Clemson in the national championship, but Dodd and Lawson did their best to make Jake Coker's night as miserable as possible, combining for five sacks of the Crimson Tide QB. (Too bad they couldn't do anything to slow down Derrick Henry and O.J. Howard, though.)
Quick note on a different Clemson duo that didn't make the cut: Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins overlapped for two years (2011-12), but their best seasons didn't.
Watkins had 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2011, while Hopkins had 978 yards and five touchdowns. They switched roles in 2012, with Hopkins taking over for 1,405 yards and 18 touchdowns while Watkins took a big step backward to 708 yards and three scores. So, they combined for about 2,150 yards and 20 touchdowns in back-to-back seasons, but that's a far cry from the four WR duos who landed in our top 10.
7. Kassim Osgood and J.R. Tolver, San Diego State (2002)
Kassim Osgood: 108 receptions, 1,552 yards, eight TDs
J.R. Tolver: 128 receptions, 1,785 yards, 13 TDs
In the last 20 years, there have been 33 instances of a player gaining at least 1,550 receiving yards in a single season. But there was only one instance of two teammates doing so in the same season—these two Aztecs in 2002.
The funny thing is that San Diego State was terrible outside of this dynamic duo of senior receivers. No one on the team rushed for so much as 400 yards, and the rest of the roster had a combined 996 receiving yards. The defense was rather poor, too, allowing more than 31 points per game. It ended up being one of just four times in program history that the Aztecs lost at least nine games.
But at least Osgood and Tolver made the most of that woeful situation.
There were four games in which each member of the duo had at least 120 receiving yards, and only one of their 13 games ended with neither receiver getting to 120 yards.
In a Week 3 game against Arizona State, they combined for 454 yards and two touchdowns. They also went for 362 yards and four touchdowns the following week against Idaho. And in the season finale at Hawaii, they had 23 catches for 409 yards and three scores.
San Diego State still lost all three games.
6. Felix Jones and Darren McFadden, Arkansas (2007)
Felix Jones: 133 carries, 1,162 yards, 11 TDs; 16 receptions, 176 yards; 652 kick-return yards, two TDs
Darren McFadden: 325 carries, 1,830 yards, 16 TDs; 21 receptions, 164 yards, one TD; 316 kick-return yards
During their three-season run in the Arkansas backfield, Jones and McFadden combined for almost 11,000 all-purpose yards and more than 70 touchdowns. If we were looking at multiple-season success instead of single-season dominance, these Razorbacks would have a damn fine case for the No. 1 spot.
As is, 4,300 all-purpose yards and 30 touchdowns just in the 2007 season was enough to put these junior-year running backs in the mix for a spot in the top five.
As a whole, it ended up being a disappointing year for Arkansas. Its quarterback (Casey Dick) struggled, its defense allowed more than 30 points seven times, and a dominant season by this running back duo was largely squandered.
There were a few magical moments, though.
In an early November win over No. 23 South Carolina, Jones (166 yards, three TDs) and McFadden (321 yards, one TD) almost rushed for 500 yards. McFadden also had a 23-yard touchdown pass, one of four passing touchdowns he had that season.
One of his other passing touchdowns came in the monumental, three-overtime upset of No. 1 LSU during the final weekend of the regular season. In addition to that gadget play, McFadden ran for 206 yards and three touchdowns, while Jones added 168 all-purpose yards and the two-point conversion that proved to be the game-winner.
5. Dri Archer and Trayion Durham, Kent State (2012)
Dri Archer: 159 carries, 1,429 yards, 16 TDs; 39 receptions, 561 yards, four TDs; 591 kick-return yards, three TDs
Trayion Durham: 276 carries, 1,316 yards, 14 TDs; 17 receptions, 181 yards
For the majority of its 58 seasons at the FBS level, Kent State has been completely irrelevant. The Golden Flashes have more winless seasons (four) than they have seasons with eight or more victories (three).
But thanks to Archer and Durham, at least they had one memorable year in 2012.
Archer was the 5'8", 175-pound redshirt junior speedster, while Durham was the 6'1", 248-pound sophomore bruiser.
The former averaged 9.0 yards per carry and did all sorts of damage in the open field. Per CFB Stats, Archer led the nation with eight all-purpose plays that went for 60 or more yards. He was also second only to Tavon Austin (who you'll read more about shortly) in plays that went for at least 30 yards (25 of them) and 40 yards (17 of those). He ended up averaging 184.1 total yards per game.
Durham was the workhorse who kept Archer fresh, averaging just a shade under 20 carries per game at a rate of 4.8 yards per carry.
Archer had two games with at least 200 rushing yards, but the duo's masterpiece came in a 45-43 win over Ball State in late September. Durham ran 21 times for 91 yards and two touchdowns, while Archer had eight carries, three receptions and four kickoff returns for a combined 350 yards and three scores.
Kent State was mediocre on defense and had almost no passing game worth mentioning—Archer led the team in receiving yards by a wide margin—but because of that duo, the Golden Flashes started out 11-1 and were ranked 18th in the nation when they lost to Northern Illinois in the MAC championship game. The only other time they were ranked in program history was for one week in November 1973.
4. Ja'Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson, LSU (2019)
Ja'Marr Chase: 84 receptions, 1,780 yards, 20 TDs
Justin Jefferson: 111 receptions, 1,540 yards, 18 TDs
Some people shudder at the thought of putting players from the previous season into a conversation about all-time greatness due to a fear of recency bias or something silly like that. But if you're not going to consider sophomore Ja'Marr Chase and junior Justin Jefferson as one of the best wide receiver duos ever, why even have the conversation at all?
LSU's dynamic duo didn't (need to) do much early on in easy wins over Georgia Southern and Northwestern State, but they still combined for at least 100 receiving yards in all 15 games, averaging 221.3 and 2.5 touchdowns. The two went for 310 yards and three scores in the big Week 2 game against Texas. They also lit up Ole Miss for 339 yards and five scores.
What most makes them a legendary duo, though, was what they did in the College Football Playoff. Jefferson was the star against Oklahoma, making 14 catches for 227 yards and four touchdowns. It was Chase's turn to carry the torch in the national championship game against Clemson, scoring twice while gaining 221 yards through the air.
Between those games against two of the four best teams in the nation, Chase and Jefferson had a combined line of 34 receptions, 615 yards and six touchdowns.
Joe Burrow got all the hype as the season was progressing, but the appreciation for Chase and Jefferson should age like a fine wine.
3. Ed Reed and Phillip Buchanon, Miami (2001)
Ed Reed: Nine interceptions, two TDs
Phillip Buchanon: Five interceptions, one TD; 464 punt-return yards, two TDs
Let's be real: Miami is the reason we implemented a "one combo per team" rule, because those early 2000s Hurricanes could have taken over this entire list. Their backfield during this 2001 season was Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee and Frank Gore. The year before that, they had Santana Moss and Reggie Wayne as receivers, Jeremy Shockey as a tight end and Andre Johnson as a promising up-and-comer. Just ridiculous.
But the most impressive thing about 2001 Miami was the secondary led by senior Ed Reed and junior Phillip Buchanon. (Sean Taylor was Reed's backup. Again, just ridiculous.)
In the entire undefeated season, the Hurricanes allowed just 1,582 passing yards (131.8 per game) and five touchdowns while intercepting 28 passes. Six of those interceptions were returned for touchdowns. In other words, when an opponent dropped back to pass, it was more likely the defense would score than the offense.
They held 50 percent of their opponents to 81 passing yards or fewer. Just in the final four games, that list includes a 59-0 win over AP No. 14 Syracuse and the 37-14 win over AP No. 4 Nebraska in the Rose Bowl.
Reed and Buchanon combined for 14 of Miami's interceptions, and opponents still had to deal with Buchanon when they were forced to punt, as he was a big playmaker in that realm, too.
Both defensive backs were taken in the first round of the 2002 NFL draft. Buchanon went 17th and Reed went 24th, though the latter had the much better pro career.
2. Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, West Virginia (2012)
Tavon Austin: 114 receptions, 1,289 yards, 12 TDs; 72 carries, 643 yards, three TDs; 978 yards and two TDs in punt/kick returns
Stedman Bailey: 114 receptions, 1,622 yards, 25 TDs; two carries, 13 yards; 146 kick-return yards
If one player makes 114 catches in a season, it's quite a feat. No one pulled it off last season. Purdue's Rondale Moore got to exactly 114 in 2018. Same goes for SMU's Trey Quinn in 2017. They were the only two examples in the past three seasons.
So, two guys on the same team hitting 114 receptions in the same year is pretty ridiculous—and that's without accounting for Austin's other 1,621 all-purpose yards.
Combining all of it together, West Virginia's dynamic duo of Austin and Bailey averaged 360.8 all-purpose yards per game in 2012. That same season, the entire Rutgers football team averaged 337.2 all-purpose yards per game.
Even in their worst game of the season, Austin (a senior) and Bailey (a junior) still combined for 195 all-purpose yards and one touchdown in a loss to Texas Tech, but there were two performances at the opposite extreme.
In the 70-63 win over Baylor, WVU's duo had 27 receptions for 518 yards and seven touchdowns. And in the 50-49 loss to Oklahoma, Bailey had 13 catches for 205 yards and four touchdowns while Austin rushed for 344 yards and two scores and had 82 receiving yards. They combined for 168 kick-return yards. That's 799 all-purpose yards and six touchdowns. By two players. In a losing effort.
As you can probably tell from those scores, West Virginia's defense that season was a five-alarm dumpster fire, allowing 38.1 points per game. As a result, the Mountaineers only went 7-6 despite having the best one-two punch at WR of the past two decades. Even with that mediocre record, Austin placed eighth in the 2012 Heisman vote, garnering six first-place votes for his Herculean effort.
1. Reggie Bush and LenDale White, USC (2005)
LenDale White: 197 carries, 1,302 yards, 24 TDs; 14 receptions, 219 yards, two TDs
Reggie Bush: 200 carries, 1,740 yards, 16 TDs; 37 receptions, 478 yards, two TDs
This iteration of USC had Matt Leinart, Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith, but the heart and soul of this elite offense was the backfield duo that combined for 287.6 yards from scrimmage per game. (Factor in Bush's impact in the return game and you're looking at almost 340 all-purpose yards per game.)
Because of that unstoppable pair of juniors, the Trojans scored at least 34 points in every game. They also had at least 175 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns in 12 of 13 contests.
There were six games in which Bush and White each amassed at least 110 yards from scrimmage. That includes the regular-season finale against UCLA, when Bush rushed for 260 yards and two scores while White had 154 rushing yards, 35 receiving yards and three touchdowns. They also combined for 301 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns in that world-famous Rose Bowl loss to Texas.
Bush won (and eventually had to forfeit) the Heisman in a landslide, but it's a little unfair that White didn't finish in the top 10. He was the thunder to Bush's lightning, and his 26 touchdowns were irreplaceable during one of the best team seasons of all time.
Kerry Miller covers men's college basketball and college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.