NCF Nation: Tommy Nobis

Grab a pencil and a notepad. There will be a short test.

Five questions. Open answer. And no cheating. Ready? OK, who is the best linebacker in college football history? How about defensive tackle? Defensive end? Cornerback? Safety?

Time’s up. (I told you it was short.) Take a look at your list, and chances are the Big Ten boasts the most selections. Realistically, it’s the only conference that can stake a claim at each position. No other conference can say the same -- especially without repeating teams.

Don't believe me? Let’s take a look through the answer key of the NCAA's best ever, and in honor of The Season -- which looked at the greatest individual season from a player at every FBS school -- we will take a look at the top season by a player at each position:

  • Linebacker: Dick Butkus, Illinois, 1964: Did you really rate another linebacker over Butkus? Because that will cost you a few points. Butkus has become the standard by which to judge all other linebacking greats, and it’s not even close. He finished third in the Heisman voting in 1964, but the AFCA still named him the player of the year. He was one of the most-feared tacklers in the game and carried that reputation over to the NFL. There were other great college 'backers -- Alabama’s Derrick Thomas, Texas’ Tommy Nobis, Penn’s Chuck Bednarik -- but none greater than the man who said his time at Illinois was “eat, sleep and drink football.”
  • [+] EnlargeBronko Nagurski
    AP PhotoFormer Minnesota Golden Gophers great Bronislaw "Bronko" Nagurski.
  • Defensive tackle: Bronko Nagurski, Minnesota, 1929: If you went with someone else -- Nebraska’s Rich Glover? Oklahoma’s Lee Roy Selmon? Penn State’s Mike Reid? -- there is obviously a chance the team is in the Big Ten now. Regardless, there are definitely a lot of good defensive tackles to pick here. But can you really pick against the guy whose trophy now goes to the best defensive player in the NCAA? Is there really anyone tougher? One unsubstantiated legend explains how Minnesota’s head coach stopped near a field to ask a man for directions, when the man -- Nagurski -- lifted up his iron plow with one hand to point. Then there was Nagurski's reaction when he leveled several players and smashed into a brick wall: "That last guy hit me awful hard." Nagurski is a college legend; he led the nation in rushing in 1929 as a fullback. But the lore of his toughness on defense still carries on.
  • Defensive end: Bubba Smith, Michigan State, 1966: You know you’re good when the popular fan chant is, "Kill, Bubba, Kill!" Smith belongs in the top two here, for sure, but you couldn’t be at all blamed for choosing Pitt’s Hugh Green. Smith’s numbers weren’t nearly as impressive as Green’s 53 career sacks, but it is possible nobody affected the flow of a game more than Smith. Teams constantly double- or triple-teamed him, or simply avoided his side altogether when it came to calling run plays. That kind of respect meant the Spartans allowed just 51.4 rushing yards a game when Smith was a senior. He helped them finish undefeated (9-0-1) that season and win part of the national title. He was taken No. 1 overall in the NFL draft a few months later.
  • Cornerback: Charles Woodson, Michigan, 1997: You want to go with Florida State’s Deion Sanders just to be contrary, don’t you? Well, that is not a bad pick. But it’s also hard to go against the only defensive player to win the Heisman -- especially considering he cruised past runner-up Peyton Manning in the vote. He gets definite bonus points for that. Woodson had eight interceptions that season and even grabbed one from Washington State’s Ryan Leaf in the Rose Bowl. Michigan went 12-0 and split the national title with Nebraska that season. There was no more versatile athlete in college football in 1997, and there wasn’t a more dangerous defensive back, either.
  • Safety: Jack Tatum, Ohio State, 1970: Move over, Ronnie Lott. Not only does Tatum belong in the conversation as one of college football’s greatest defensive backs, but he also should get some extra credit for his hard hits and "Assassin" nickname. He finished seventh in the 1970 Heisman voting, and his reputation for vicious hits once caused a writer to liken his bearing down on receivers to "the way a tractor-trailer might bear down on a squirrel on a rural highway." He was named the national defensive player of the year in 1970, and Jim Tressel, when he was the coach, even later termed the Buckeyes' hit of the week the "Jack Tatum Hit of the Week." His College Football Hall of Fame bio also reads "best remembered as one of the hardest hitters in all of football history." You can’t get much more official than that.

The Big Ten hasn’t dominated every decade with the top defensive players. But it does have a richer history and deeper tradition on its side, one that started more than a century ago when Michigan’s Adolph Schulz dropped back from the defensive line and gave birth to the idea of a "roving center," or linebacker. It has continued with countless Hall of Fame nominations, a conference-high four No. 1 overall defensive NFL draft picks and some of the best defensive names to ever play the game.

This isn’t just one man’s opinion. More than half of the starting defense on Sports Illustrated’s All-Century Team -- six of 11 players -- consisted of Big Ten athletes and no, that’s not including Nebraska's Glover. The Walter Camp Foundation’s All-Century Team also featured a Big Ten player at every defensive position. Even ABC’s list of the "25 Greatest Players in College Football" had more defensive players from the Big Ten than any other conference.

When it comes to quantity, maybe other conferences have the Big Ten beat on defense. But when it comes to quality and history? The Big Ten is still tops.

Texas' all-decade team

January, 21, 2010
1/21/10
11:54
AM ET
Mack Brown revived the glory at Texas in the last decade, claiming at least 10 victories in each of the last nine seasons, including a 25-2 record in the last two seasons. The Longhorns have finished in the top 10 in five of the last six seasons.

Darrell K. Royal/Texas Memorial Stadium now has more than 100,00 seats. The Longhorns have a designated successor for Brown in place with rising star Will Muschamp. And that pesky problem with Bob Stoops has been alleviated recently with four victories in the last five seasons over the Sooners.

Times are good for Brown.

Here's a look at the Longhorns’ all-decade team during that time.

OFFENSE

QB: Vince Young

RB: Jamaal Charles

RB: Cedric Benson

WR: Jordan Shipley

WR: Roy Williams

TE: David Thomas

OL: Justin Blalock

OL: Jonathan Scott

OL: Derrick Dockery

OL: Leonard Davis

C: Lyle Sendlein

DEFENSE

DL: Brian Orakpo

DL: Cory Redding

DL: Shaun Rogers

DL: Casey Hampton

LB: Sergio Kindle

LB: Derrick Johnson

LB: Roddrick Muckelroy

DB: Earl Thomas

DB: Michael Huff

DB: Nathan Vasher

DB: Aaron Ross

P: Richmond McGee

K: Hunter Lawrence

KR: Quan Cosby

Offensive player of the decade: QB Vince Young. The most electrifying player of the decade capped his career by scoring the game-winning touchdown to lead his team to the national championship in his final drive. Brown finished with a 30-2 record, 6.040 passing yards and 3,127 rushing yards.

Defensive player of the decade: LB Derrick Johnson. He wasn’t around when the Longhorns won the national championship, but was perhaps the best player at his position at the school since Tommy Nobis. He capped his career with the Nagurski and Butkus Awards after earning All-America honors in each of his last two seasons.

Coach of the decade: Mack Brown. Remember when people used to joke about his inability to win big games or how he coddled his players. That all changed as the decade progressed. Brown got tougher and made some astute moves at defensive coordinator to help his program take the next step with the addition of coaches like Gene Chizik and Will Muschamp.

Moment of the decade: Vince Young’s run leads comeback victory to the 2005 national championship. Young’s game-winning 8-yard TD run with 19 seconds left boosted the Longhorns to a 41-38 victory over USC in the 2006 Rose Bowl, providing the margin of victory in one of the greatest college football games in history. Michael Huff’s fourth-down stop of LenDale White on the preceding drive set up Young’s heroics to snap the Trojans’ 34-game winning streak.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Thanks for squeezing in a few minutes for some lunch links during the basketball games today. Hopefully, these will be more interesting than a couple of early 2-15 blowouts.

Here are some of the more notable Big 12 stories people are talking about.

Enjoy them -- and the basketball games, too.

  • The Bryan Eagle's Robert Cessna wonders how many fans really will shell out $300 a ticket -- not including parking -- to watch Arkansas and Texas A&M play this season in the Dallas Cowboys' new stadium in Arlington, Texas.
  • Boulder Daily Camera beat writer Kyle Ringo writes about how busy Colorado cornerback Benjamin Burney has been over the last year. Burney has recovered from surgery and rehabilitation on five different body parts, written a 500-page book and is in the process of shooting a full-length movie.
  • The College Football News' Pete Fiutak writes that Dan Hawkins and Bill Snyder are among coaches who need to "get their mojo back" this season.
  • Sheahon Zenger, a finalist for the Kansas State athletic director's job and a former member of coach Bill Snyder's support staff, has some definite ideas in life. Zenger tells the Topeka Capital-Journal's Austin Meek that he worries about the declining newspaper industry and says that every married man should watch "The Family Man" at least once a year.
  • Missouri is trying to overcome extreme youth in its defensive line as it compensates for three missing starters from last season, the Columbia Daily Tribune's Dave Matter writes.
  • Rich Kaipust of the Omaha World-Herald analyzes the difficulties that former Nebraska quarterbacks have had after transferring away from the school.
  • The Houston Chronicle, consistently one of the area's top Web sites as far as bells and whistles, provides  an innovative multimedia presentation of the 13 retired jersey numbers in Texas athletic history. Football players included on the list include Ricky Williams, Vince Young, Tommy Nobis, Earl Campbell and Bobby Layne.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Few schools have the rich historical base of Texas. And that's why the recent addition at Darrell K. Royal/Texas Memorial Stadium is so neat.

School officials have installed an exhibit in the stadium's north end zone that will list and honor the five retired numbers in the school's football history. Players who have been honored include Vince Young, Ricky Williams, Bobby Layne, Earl Campbell and Tommy Nobis.

Other schools have done this. I always have a fond remembrance of the past when I see Johnny Roland's or Kellen Winslow's number at Faurot Field or Rashaan Salaam at Folsom Field. It's a great way to recall the past.

I'm still waiting for some school to erect its own version of Monument Park like I saw at Yankee Stadium. Walking up to the bronze plaques of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Mickey Mantle left me with a lump in my throat. And I don't even like the New York Yankees.

Here's hoping that the Texas architects have arranged for these retired numbers to be prominently displayed where it will occasionally be noticeable on television broadcasts and be clear enough for people in the stadium. Because schools need to remember great players and their history.

And hopefully, these links will be as similarly cherished in 50 years.

  • Colorado G Devin Head has adopted a scruffy, unkempt look. He's done it to honor the wife of his former high school coach, who recently died from breast cancer.
  • Iowa State will generate more than $2.4 million in new revenue after the addition of new luxury boxes and club seating at Jack Trice Stadium. Only one of the 47 new suites remains unsold.
  • Kansas coach Mark Mangino announced that redshirt freshmen Jeff Spikes and Jeremiah Hatch will be his starting offensive tackles for the Jayhawks Aug. 30 opener against Florida International. Spikes, who will replace Outland Trophy finalist Anthony Collins, might be the most adept 300-pound-plus saxophonist this side of Clarence Clemons.
  • Veteran Lawrence Journal-World sports columnist Tom Keegan writes that Kansas QB Todd Reesing throws the most accurate ball in practice he's seen since he watched Troy Aikman at UCLA.
  • "Mad" Mike DeArmond of the Kansas City Star takes a clue from Alfred E. Neuman in his most recent video log as he breaks down several recent calamities that have hit Missouri.
  • Heralded RB Jocques Crawford took most of his repetitions Friday with Kansas' first-string offensive unit. And Mangino isn't bemoaning his depth although he's working with only four scholarship running backs.
  • Missouri coach Gary Pinkel tells the Columbia Daily Tribune's Dave Matter he can tell a difference in his team's attitude after watching the end of another intense practice. "About six years ago, hardly anyone would have cared who won those things," Pinkel told Matter. "Now it's like venom. They're in attack mode."
  • After producing a Big 12-worst 13 sacks last season, new Nebraska defensive coordinator Carl Pelini is intent on juicing production in his pass rush.
  • The Oklahoman reports that former Oklahoma WR Josh Jarboe isn't currently eligible at Troy. Oklahoma officials said they didn't refuse Jarboe admission, meaning that Jarboe now is being treated as a transfer student, Troy coach Larry Blakeney said.
  • WR William Cole will miss the upcoming season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. The Oklahoman's Scott Wright analyzes the Cowboys' options after his injury.
  • Tulsa World beat writer John Hoover reports that Oklahoma TE junior Jermaine Gresham isn't giving much consideration to jumping to the NFL after this season. That would be good news for Bob Stoops, after losing four players early to the NFL in his last two seasons.
  • Missouri QB Chase Daniel tells Terrance Harris of the Houston Chronicle that unfinished business brought him back to Missouri for his senior season.
  • Dallas Morning News columnist Chuck Carlton had a great line describing Texas high school relations and player development director Ken Rucker, calling him  Jiminy Cricket in burnt orange.
  • Speaking of mirth and whimsy, Texas Tech's new "Elf" formation has been developed to get the ball in diminutive WR Eric Morris' hands more often.
  • Texas A&M DT Lucas Patterson might be unassuming, but he's emerging as his team's most underrated player. "Lucas is quiet, and so people tend to overlook him," A&M defensive line coach Buddy Wyatt told Brent Zwerneman of the San Antonio Express-News. "That's a mistake."
  • Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman is remembering his roots, reaching out to 50 retired high school coaches and retired college assistants he invited to practices this weekend.
  • Missouri K Jeff Wolfert, who has a streak of 16 consecutive field goals, is getting some rest in training camp. Coaches are limiting his kickoff duties to keep him fresh for the Tigers' Aug. 30 opener against Illiniois in St. Louis.
  • Freshman WR Kendall Wright is making a successful transition after a stellar career as a high school quarterback. And he tells the Waco Tribune Herald's John Werner he plans to join the Baylor basketball team after the football season ends.
  • Kansas announced its 2009 football schedule, with non-conference home games against Southern Mississippi, D
    uke and Northern Colorado and a road game at UTEP. Site for the "Border War" game against Missouri remains undetermined, although it's slated to be a home game for the Jayhawks.

SPONSORED HEADLINES