The Season: Why Howard Twilley?

August, 4, 2014
Aug 4
11:18
AM ET
Compiling a list of the top 16 seasons in college football history is no easy task.

There's no debating the inclusion of many of the players atop our list. Barry Sanders' record-shattering season is a lock for the top seed. Derrick Thomas' 27 sacks left a lasting impression.

But one name on the list stands out: Howard Twilley.

The Tulsa receiver isn't well-known in college football history. But on a list of exceptional individual seasons, Twilley fits right in.

Long before the Run and Shoot or the Air Raid were generating video-game numbers, Tulsa was pitching the ball around.

In 1965, Twilley became the first receiver in college football history to eclipse the 100-reception mark, catching 134 passes for 1,779 yards and 16 TDs for a Tulsa team that went 8-3 and played a schedule which included Houston, Arkansas, Oklahoma State and Tennessee. His 13.4 receptions per game is still best in FBS history.

He set five other NCAA single-season records that year: passes caught in a game (19) and caught in a season, touchdown passes caught in a game (five), TD receptions in a season and receiving yards in a season.

The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Twilley was also a kicker for Tulsa, and became the first player to lead the nation in scoring and pass receptions in the same season, going 23-of-29 on extra points and catching four passes for two-point conversions.

Twilley was named a consensus All-American and finished second in the Heisman voting to USC’s Mike Garrett.

"If there was anybody who deserved the Heisman, it was Howard Twilley," former Tulsa quarterback Jerry Rhome told ESPN.com in 1995. "He was so far ahead of every receiver."

[+] EnlargeHoward Twilley
Courtesy of TulsaTulsa's Howard Twilley put up record-breaking numbers by a receiver before it was cool.
Twilley was also named the UPI lineman of the year in 1965, one of the major awards of the era (offensive and defensive linemen were eligible, including offensive ends). Twilley earned 90 votes in the UPI voting that season. Legendary Texas linebacker Tommy Nobis was the runner-up with 27. Dick Butkus won the award the previous season, and Bubba Smith followed Twilley in 1966.

There have been other legendary seasons by wide receivers, obviously, that are easy to compare to Twilley’s numbers.

Randy Moss caught 96 passes for 1,820 yards and 26 TDs in Marshall's first Division I-A season in 1997 and finished fourth in the Heisman voting.

The next season, Troy Edwards caught 140 passes for 1,996 yards and 27 TDs for Louisiana Tech. Edwards famously torched Nebraska for 21 catches and 405 yards -- in a game the Bulldogs lost by 29 points.

But Twilley's huge season came nearly 30 years before either of them, in an era where passing offenses -- and quarterbacks -- were nowhere near as polished. And while both Moss and Edwards won the Biletnikoff Award, Twilley also led the country in receptions in 1964, with 25 more catches than the runner-up, Fred Biletnikoff.

Twilley, who came out of high school in the Houston area at 5-8, 159 pounds, was deemed too small to play for the hometown Cougars -- or any other school.

“I don’t worry about my size being up against me,” Twilley said in 1965. “Whenever the ball is up there, it’s as much mine as it is theirs.”

Longtime NFL coach Ken Shipp, who recruited Twilley to Tulsa, discussed Twilley’s confidence when the receiver was playing for the Miami Dolphins.

"I liked what he said before one of the Tulsa bowl games," Shipp told the Miami News in 1975. "This television announcer asked Twilley how many passes he was going to catch. 'As many as they throw me,' Twilley told him. I thought that was great. That's a heckuva statement for a college kid to make on national TV."
Dave Wilson is a college football editor for ESPN.com. He joined ESPN.com in 2010 and previously worked at The Dallas Morning News, San Diego Union-Tribune and Las Vegas Sun.

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