The most memorable college football players of the decade
The most memorable college football players of the decade
In his three years with Dabo Swinney's Clemson Tigers, Deshaun Watson threw for 90 touchdowns and more than 10,000 yards. He hit 4,000 passing yards in both his sophomore and junior seasons and led the ACC in nearly every quarterback metric in those two years. Watson finished off his college career with a dazzling 420-yard, three-touchdown performance for the 2017 national championship, avenging the prior year's loss to Nick Saban's Alabama Crimson Tide with a four-point come-from-behind victory.
(AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
Even despite backing up running back T.J. Yeldon for all but one season with the Crimson Tide, Derrick Henry enjoyed a standout collegiate career at Alabama. When he finally took over primary backfield responsibilities for the Crimson Tide, Henry erupted for a whopping 2,219 rushing yards and was crucial to securing Alabama's fourth national championship in the Nick Saban era. That year, he led the NCAA in rush attempts, rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, plays from scrimmage, touchdowns from scrimmage, touchdowns, and points en route to becoming the first running back to win the Heisman Trophy in five years.
(Kelly Kline/Heisman Trust via AP, Pool File)
The fifth-ranked wide receiver in his recruiting class, Cooper achieved the rare feat of earning a starting role during his freshman year at Alabama. He racked up 1,000 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns on 59 receptions that season, which ended with a BCS National Championship win. Despite only starting seven games due to injury in his sophomore year, Cooper led the team with 736 receiving yards and four touchdowns. Still, his junior year was by far most impressive; he recorded 1,727 receiving yards and 16 receiving touchdowns, both of which were SEC bests and NCAA top-five marks for 2014.
(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Christian Wilkins played 55 games in four seasons for the Clemson Tigers. In that time, the 6-foot-4, 310-pound defensive lineman 192 tackles — including 94 solo tackles — and 16 sacks. He was a consensus All-American in 2018 and a two-time national champion during his collegiate career.
(AP Photo/Richard Shiro, File)
A three-year star for the Oregon Ducks, quarterback Marcus Mariota dominated the Pac-12 and the NCAA from 2012 to 2014. As a freshman, he threw for 32 touchdowns and well over 2,500 yards and rushed for another five touchdowns and 750+ yards. He also recorded a receiving touchdown to bolster his triple-threat status en route to Pac-12 All-Conference 1st Team honors. His sophomore year was even better still despite his playing part of the season with an MCL tear, as Mariota threw for nearly 1,000 more yards than his freshman year mark while throwing just four interceptions all season. His third and final season in Eugene was exceptional even for his own incredibly lofty standards; as a senior, Mariota threw for 4,454 yards and a whopping 42 touchdowns with just four interceptions. He added another 796 yards and 16 touchdowns from scrimmage en route to leading the NCAA in touchdowns responsible for, total yards per play, and total yards. Mariota also led the nation in passing efficiency rating, passing yards per attempt, and adjusted passing yards per attempt. Unsurprisingly, he won the Heisman Trophy before getting selected with the second overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft.
(AP Photo/Eric Gay)
A star linebacker for the Boston College Eagles, Luke Kuechly led the NCAA with more than 100 solo tackles in both 2010 and 2011. In his three years in Chestnut Hill, Kuechly recorded 532 tackles — an NCAA record — 35.5 of which were tackles for loss. He also tacked on six interceptions over his sophomore and junior seasons, both of which saw him as a consensus All-American.
(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Jarvis Jones started his college career at the University of Southern California, but he found his stride during his sophomore and junior seasons with the Georgia Bulldogs. The linebacker recorded 91 tackles — 44 of which were for loss — and 28 sacks in 2011 and 2012. He led the nation in tackles for loss and sacks during his junior season before leaving for the NFL.
(Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Kyler Murray only had one full season as a high-profile college football starter, but the dynamic, 5-foot-10 quarterback certainly made the most of his time in the limelight. Murray threw for 4,361 yards and 42 touchdowns with just seven interceptions during his junior season with the Oklahoma Sooners in 2018. He also added 12 touchdowns and more than 1,000 yards from scrimmage to lead the nation in passing yards per attempt, adjusted passing yards per attempt, total yards, total yards per play, and touchdowns responsible for en route to the Heisman Trophy and a College Football Playoff bid. He very nearly played professional baseball after getting drafted by the Oakland A's. Instead, Murray followed his heart to the NFL and was selected with the first overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft.
(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Yet another standout for Nick Saban's stacked Alabama squad, linebacker C.J. Mosley had opposing offenses on high alert from 2010 to 2013. He recorded 30 solo tackles as a freshman and another 17 as a sophomore. Still, he managed to accrue more than 60 solo tackles and 100 total tackles in both his junior and senior seasons. He twice won national championships with the Crimson Tide, and in his final two seasons, Mosley was a consensus All-America selection.
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Saquon Barkley spent 2015 to 2017 with the Penn State Nittany Lions, and in his final two years in Happy Valley, the 5-foot-11 running back put the Big Ten — and the entire country — on notice. During his sophomore season, Barkley rushed for 18 touchdowns nearly 1,500 yards and tacked on another four receiving touchdowns to boot. His junior year was similarly prolific, and he chose to leave to play professionally. He was selected by the New York Giants with the second overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft.
(Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
There's little doubt that the Alabama Crimson Tide dominated the decade, and AJ McCarron was under center for the start of the dynasty. The 6-foot-4, 214-pound quarterback threw for 77 touchdowns and more than 9,000 yards on his career and led Nick Saban's Crimson Tide to back-to-back national championships in 2011 and 2012. In 2012, McCarron led the NCAA in both adjusted passing yards per attempt and passing efficiency rating. Outside of his career on the gridiron, McCarron also became known for his high-profile relationship with Miss Alabama Katherine Webb, who stumbled into the national spotlight when announcer Brent Musburger spoke about her at length during the 2013 BCS National Championship Game.
(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
A 6-foot-5, 265-pound defensive end, Ohio State's Chase Young has used his lightning-fast quickness to dominate opposing offensive lines and threaten Big Ten quarterbacks for three seasons in Columbus. He's recorded nearly 100 tackles thus far in his career, but 2019 has undoubtedly been a breakout season for Young. He's recorded an NCAA-best 16.5 sacks and seven forced fumbles despite missing two games due to an NCAA violation. He's widely projected to be a top NFL draft pick in 2020, but first, he'll compete for a national championship with the Buckeyes.
(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
An explosive running back who captivated college football before moving on to the NFL, Christian McCaffrey dominated the Pac-12 in his three seasons at Stanford. The Castle Rock, Colorado, native rushed for 300 yards and tacked on another 251 yards receiving during his freshman season, but he exploded from there. He recorded more than 2,000 rush yards as a sophomore and 645 receiving yards to shatter Barry Sanders' NCAA record 3,250 all-purpose yards in a season. He finished second in Heisman Trophy voting that year. His numbers dipped a bit in 2016, but he still amassed 16 touchdowns on 1,603 rushing yards and 290 receiving yards.
(Photo by David Madison/Getty Images)
Robert Griffin III
Robert Griffin III — often known as RGIII — spent four years dominating the Big 12 for the Baylor Bears. Despite spending most of his sophomore season sidelined with an injury, Griffin accrued 800 completions and more than 10,000 passing yards in his collegiate career. In 2011, his senior season, Griffin recorded a staggering 4,293 passing yards, 37 passing touchdowns, and six interceptions in addition to 699 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns. That year, he led the NCAA with 10.7 passing yards per attempt and 11.8 adjusted passing yards per attempt en route to winning the Heisman Trophy and becoming the second overall pick of the 2012 NFL draft.
(Photo by Kelly Kline/Heisman Trophy Trust via Getty Images)
Two of Andrew Luck's three seasons at Stanford fell in this decade, and in both of those years, he finished second in Heisman Trophy voting. Luck managed to improve on 3,338 throwing yards and a 70.7 completion percentage in 2010 with a whopping 3,517 passing yards and a 71.3 completion percentage in 2011. He threw for 82 touchdowns in three years and only threw 22 interceptions before getting selected first overall in the 2012 NFL draft.
(Photo by Rob Tringali/SportsChrome/Getty Images)
One of the most highly-anticipated defensive NFL prospects in recent history, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney absolutely dominated his opponents in his three years with the South Carolina Gamecocks. He accrued 129 total tackles — 47 of which were for a loss — and 24 sacks from 2011 to 2013. The 6-foot-6, 274-pound weapon also notched one of the most memorable plays of the decade during the 2013 Outback Bowl. With roughly eight minutes remaining in the game and his team down one point against Michigan, Clowney charged through the Wolverines' offensive line and crushed the running back deep in the backfield, knocking the ball loose and picking up the fumble to give the Gamecocks a chance to take the lead. South Carolina went on to win the game, and, after one more season in Columbia, Clowney was selected with the first overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
(Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
You have to do something extraordinary to earn the nickname "Johnny Football," and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel was one of the most captivating college football players in the game from 2012 to 2013. The Aggies quarterback threw for 7,820 yards and 63 passing touchdowns through two seasons in College Station. In 2012, his NCAA-best 5,116 total yards and 47 total touchdowns led "Money Manziel" to become the first freshman Heisman Trophy winner in the history of the award. After another impressive season in 2013, Manziel was picked by the Cleveland Browns with the 22nd overall pick of the 2014 NFL draft.
(Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)
Before putting together a dominant and MVP-caliber season with the Baltimore Ravens, Lamar Jackson was busy lighting up the ACC with the Louisville Cardinals. The shifty quarterback spent the 2015, 2016, and 2017 seasons in Kentucky and made a name for himself as a true dual threat. Though he won the Heisman Trophy in 2016 after throwing for 30 touchdowns and more than 3,500 yards while rushing for an additional 21 touchdowns and 1,571 yards, Jackson enjoyed an even more impressive junior season the following year. He led the ACC in a number of metrics thanks to 3,660 passing yards, 27 passing touchdowns, 1,601 rushing yards, and 18 rushing touchdowns. He led the entire nation in total yards and total plays before declaring for the NFL draft and going to the Ravens with the 32nd overall pick.
(Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Montee Ball spent four seasons in Madison, but his final two at Wisconsin made him one of the best running backs at a program known for harboring talent in the backfield. In 2011, his junior season, Ball rushed for an NCAA-best 1,923 yards and 33 touchdowns. That year, he also led the nation in touchdowns, points, yards from scrimmage, and touchdowns from scrimmage. He finished his senior season with 1,902 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns to become the Big Ten all-time leader in both touchdowns and points.
(Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
Justin Blackmon spent three years tearing up Big 12 defenses for the Oklahoma State Cowboys. After a fairly run-of-the-mill freshman season, Blackmon exploded for an NCAA-leading 20 receiving touchdowns on 1,782 receiving touchdowns. Though his numbers dipped slightly during his junior season, Blackmon still led the Big 12 in several metrics and ultimately was selected with the fifth overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft.
(Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
Aaron Donald is arguably the best defender the NFL has ever seen. Still, before he was tearing into backfields and terrifying professional quarterbacks, he was destroying opponents for the Pittsburgh Panthers. He twice led his conference in tackles for loss and, in 2013, led the ACC with four forced fumbles. He racked up 29.5 sacks and 115 solo tackles throughout his standout career, good enough to become a first-round NFL draft pick in 2014.
(Photo by David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty Images)
Only one of Cam Newton's collegiate seasons landed in the past decade, but that season was undoubtedly his most impressive. After spending two years with the Florida Gators, Newton took his talents to their SEC foe Auburn Tigers. He took the entire country by storm in his first and only season in Alabama, throwing for 30 touchdowns and more than 2,800 yards while tacking on another 21 touchdowns and 1,515 yards from scrimmage. That year, he led the nation in passing yards per attempt, adjusted passing yards per attempt, and touchdowns responsible for en route to becoming Auburn's third Heisman Trophy winner. Newton also led the Tigers to an undefeated regular season and a BCS National Championship win over the Oregon Ducks for the program's first undisputed national championship victory. He was then selected with the first overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft.
(Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)
The older of the Bosa brothers, Joey spent 2013 to 2015 on Ohio State's defensive line. In that time, he amassed 101 solo tackles, 51 tackles for loss, and 26.0 sacks. His sophomore season was his most impressive as a Buckeye, as he led the Big Ten in tackles for loss, forced fumbles, and sacks en route to Ohio State's first national title in more than a decade. He was a consensus All-America selection that year and the next before getting selected by the San Diego Chargers with the third overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft.
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
A player known as much for his success on the gridiron as for his antics off the field, Jameis Winston was notorious for his talent under center for the Florida State Seminoles and his widely-publicized scandals that included a sexual assault allegation, shouting lewd comments in public, and two distinct shoplifting incidents — one of which famously involved crab legs. Still, Winston was undeniably one of the most talented quarterbacks college football had seen in some time. He posted 4,057 passing yards and 40 touchdowns as a freshman, leading the nation in passing yards per attempt and passing efficiency rating en route to winning the 2013 BCS National Championship Game and the Heisman Trophy. He went pro after a 2014 season that was spectacular in its own right and was selected with the first overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft.
(Photo by Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Manti Te'o was one of the most talented linebackers to play college football for Notre Dame this decade. Through four seasons with the Fighting Irish, the Hawaiian star amassed 212 solo tackles and 437 total tackles. During his senior season, Te'o and Notre Dame reached the national championship game before getting demolished by the Alabama Crimson Tide. He reached unprecedented levels of fame shortly after his college career came to an end when Deadspin broke that the inspiring story of his dying girlfriend was a hoax. Te'o had been catfished by a man in Hawaii and lied about details of their "relationship."
(Robert Duyos/Sun Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)
Tua Tagovailoa played three seasons for the Alabama Crimson Tide in the 2010s, and he completely encapsulated the world of college football in that span. As a true freshman, the Hawaiian wunderkind backed up second-year starting quarterback Jalen Hurts. Still, when Hurts faltered during the 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship against the Georgia Bulldogs, Tagovailoa provided the heroics to fuel a come-from-behind victory and threw a 41-yard game-winning touchdown in overtime. From then on, Tagovailoa was named the starter for Nick Saban's squad. His 2018 season was one for the ages, as he threw for 3,966 yards and 43 touchdowns with just 6 interceptions and finished second in Heisman Trophy voting on the year. He played only nine games during his junior season thanks to multiple injuries, and whether he'll return for one last go in Tuscaloosa remains to be seen.
(Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
A do-it-all star for the Michigan Wolverines, Jabrill Peppers took snaps on offense, defense, and special teams for Jim Harbaugh's squads in 2014, 2015, and 2016. His senior season — by far his most impressive — featured 66 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, three sacks, and an interception on defense, 167 yards rushing on offense, and an impressive 14.8 yards per punt return on special teams. For this uniquely well-rounded effort, Peppers finished second in Heisman Trophy voting and was selected in the first round of the 2017 NFL draft.
(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
A rambunctious, outspoken quarterback for the Oklahoma Sooners, Baker Mayfield began his impressive college career as a walk-on at Texas Tech. He transferred after earning a starting role for the Red Raiders and took over primary throwing responsibilities in Norman starting in 2015. He threw for 3,700 yards and 36 touchdowns in that first season under center for the Sooners, and he only improved from there. With 3,965 yards and 40 touchdowns during his junior year, Mayfield finished third in Heisman Trophy voting after leading the nation in pass completion percentage, passing yards per attempt, and passing efficiency rating. He repeated those efforts and then some during his senior season, adding in NCAA-best total yards per play and touchdowns responsible for en route to winning the Heisman. He threw for a whopping 4,627 yards and 43 touchdowns with just six interceptions through 14 games that year.
(Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Defensive lineman Quinnen Williams had a solid freshman season with the Alabama Crimson Tide, contributing 20 tackles and two sacks en route to Alabama's fourth national championship in seven years. But 2018 was something of a coming-out party for Williams, who was a consensus All-America selection after recording 71 tackles — including 19.5 for loss — and 10 sacks on the season. He left Tuscaloosa with two years of eligibility remaining and was selected with the third overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft.
(Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images)
One of the best kickers in the history of college football, Roberto Aguayo, was instrumental in the Florida State Seminoles' national championship effort throughout the 2013 season. He led the nation in extra-point attempts, extra points made, and extra point percentage with a perfect 94 for 94 on the season. That year, he also posted an ACC-best 21 field goals made on 22 attempts, giving him an astounding 95.5% field goal percentage on the year. Though his field goal percentage dropped in his sophomore and junior seasons, he finished his career with the best career field goal percentage in ACC history at 88.5% and a perfect 100% extra point conversion rate over 198 attempts. He elected to leave school for the NFL with one year of eligibility remaining and was selected in the second round of the 2016 NFL draft.
(Photo by Jeff Gammons/Getty Images)
Like Aguayo, Zane Gonzalez dominated college football in the middle of the decade. In four years at Arizona State, Gonzalez missed just five of 209 extra-point attempts and 20 field goals on 116 tries. In his freshman season, he attempted and made more field goals than any other kicker in the country. He holds the NCAA records for both field goal attempts and field goals made with 116 and 96, respectively. After his senior year, he was selected in the seventh round of the 2017 NFL draft.
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Discover More Like This
BACK TO SLIDE
Now check out the most memorable college basketball players of the decade: