Commentary

The Season: The 10 toughest calls

Originally Published: August 5, 2014
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

Georgia legend Frank Sinkwich over Herschel Walker, the greatest Bulldog of them all?

Julius Peppers over Lawrence Taylor? Jim Plunkett over John Elway and Andrew Luck?

Eddie George over two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin?

ESPN.com is unveiling the greatest individual seasons by players from each of the FBS schools this week. There were months of debate about whose season was better than others and there were plenty of close calls.

For many college football fans, it's like choosing your favorite child -- it's impossible.

Here are 10 of the most difficult calls:

Army

How do you choose between "Mr. Inside" and "Mr. Outside," Army's touchdown twins, Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis? Blanchard was an All-American in each of his three seasons at Army, running for a total of 1,908 yards with 38 touchdowns. He also played linebacker and kicked and punted. Army went 27-0-1 in his three seasons, with the lone blemish being a scoreless draw against Notre Dame in 1946 at Yankee Stadium in what many called the "Game of the Century." During his Heisman season in 1945, Blanchard averaged 7.1 yards per carry, rushing for 718 yards and 19 touchdowns for undefeated Army.

Davis was a Heisman runner-up twice, before finally capturing the trophy in 1946. He averaged an incredible 11.5 yards per carry in 1945 and 8.3 yards per carry for his career -- NCAA records that still stand. It's hard to argue which player had a better individual season, but they were undeniably better together.

ESPN's pick: Blanchard

Georgia

Before Bulldogs fans start filing blasphemy charges for our assertion that Frank Sinkwich had a better season in 1942 than Herschel Walker did in 1980, fully consider what Sinkwich did nearly 75 years ago. He ran for 795 yards with 17 touchdowns and passed for 1,392 yards with 10 scores, helping him become the first player from the SEC to win the Heisman Trophy. He set an NCAA single-season record with 2,187 yards of total offense, and led the Bulldogs to a 9-0 win over UCLA in the Rose Bowl for their first national championship.

Few freshmen have ever had as much of an impact as Walker, who guided Georgia to the 1980 national championship by running for 1,616 yards with 15 touchdowns. He ran for 150 yards with two touchdowns in a 17-10 win over Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl, after suffering a dislocated shoulder in the game's first series. He finished third in the Heisman voting -- the highest finish ever by a freshman.

ESPN's pick: Walker

Houston

Pick your favorite run-and-shoot quarterback. Current ESPN analyst Andre Ware won the 1989 Heisman Trophy after setting 26 NCAA and 15 Southwest Conference records. He threw for 4,699 yards with 46 touchdowns and averaged 427.2 passing yards per game, despite sitting out the second half of most blowouts.

While Ware was fantastic, Cougars quarterback David Klingler threw for more yards (5,140) and touchdowns (54) in 1990, and Houston quarterback Case Keenum passed for 5,631 yards with 48 touchdowns in 2011. Klingler threw for 716 yards in a single game, a 62-45 victory over Arizona State in the Mirage Bowl in Tokyo, an NCAA single-game record that still stands today.

ESPN's pick: Ware

Miami

How do you choose one individual season from a program that has produced so many superstars? Ed Reed, an All-American safety, was the heart and soul of a defense that led the Hurricanes to their fifth national championship in 2001. He scored three touchdowns on interception returns (he had nine interceptions overall) and also scored a 91-yard touchdown on a lateral to seal an 18-7 victory over Boston College and keep Miami's undefeated season alive.

But tailback Willis McGahee might have been just as valuable in 2002, when he ran for 1,686 yards with 27 touchdowns to lead the Hurricanes to a No. 1 ranking, undefeated regular season and a spot in the BCS National Championship. He suffered a devastating knee injury early in the fourth quarter of Miami's 31-24 loss to Ohio State in double overtime.

ESPN's pick: Reed

Nebraska

The Cornhuskers have produced three Heisman Trophy winners, a Heisman runner-up who directed the option better than anyone, and a defensive lineman who couldn't be blocked. It's hard to argue against Mike Rozier's 1983 campaign, in which he ran for 2,148 yards, becoming the second player in NCAA history to run for 2,000 yards in a season. Rozier ran for 29 touchdowns and had 11 100-yard rushing games, including four straight 200-yard performances.

Johnny Rodgers was the 1972 Heisman Trophy winner and was a true triple threat as a runner, receiver and kick returner. He caught 55 passes for 942 yards with seven touchdowns, averaged 15.8 yards on punt returns and ran for three touchdowns, threw for one score and caught another in his final college game, a 40-6 rout over Notre Dame in the 1973 Orange Bowl. Tommie Frazier's stats weren't as impressive in 1995, but has any player been more valuable during a national championship run?

ESPN's pick: Rozier

North Carolina

Lawrence Taylor, perhaps the greatest linebacker in NFL history, started his college career at defensive end. But UNC's coaches eventually figured out Taylor's athleticism would be better utilized as a linebacker, first moving him to the inside and then the outside. As a senior in 1980, despite being double- and even triple-teamed, Taylor had 69 solo tackles, 22 tackles for loss and 16 sacks.

Julius Peppers was a dominant defensive lineman in 2001, finishing 10th in Heisman Trophy voting and winning the Bednarik Award as college football's top defender. Peppers had 9½ sacks and three interceptions, but he was no LT. Taylor was nearly unblockable in college, and then he altered the way NFL defenses pressure the quarterback.

ESPN's pick: Taylor

Ohio State

Sure, Buckeyes running back Archie Griffin is the only player in college football history to win the Heisman Trophy in consecutive seasons. He ran for a school record (at the time) 1,695 yards and 143.4 yards per game as a junior in 1974. Then Griffin ran for 1,450 yards and caught 14 passes for 170 yards the next season, leading Ohio State to a Big Ten championship and just missing a national championship after losing to UCLA 23-10 in the Rose Bowl.

But Buckeyes running back Eddie George was every bit as dominant in 1995, running for 1,927 yards with 24 touchdowns. George set school records for rushing yards in a single season and game, running for 314 yards in a 41-3 rout of Illinois. He also caught 47 passes for 417 yards and his 2,344 all-purpose yards in 1995 rank second in OSU history. George won the Heisman Trophy, Doak Walker Award, Maxwell Award, Walter Camp Player of the Year and Big Ten MVP.

ESPN's pick: Griffin

Oklahoma

Lee Roy Selmon's teammates will tell you that they never once saw him knocked on his backside. Playing beside his older brothers, Lucious and Dewey, on the defensive line, Selmon helped guide the Sooners to a 54-3-1 record from 1972 to '75 and back-to-back national championships in '74 and '75. As a senior, he had 132 tackles and was the first-ever draft pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1976.

It's hard to imagine a defensive lineman overshadowing two Heisman Trophy winners and a Heisman runner-up. Billy Sims led the NCAA in rushing in 1978, gaining 1,762 yards on 231 carries, averaging a whopping 7.6 yards per carry. Adrian Peterson ran for 1,925 yards with 15 touchdowns in 2004, and quarterback Sam Bradford became OU's fifth Heisman winner in 2008, completing 67.9 percent of his passes for 4,720 yards with 50 touchdowns and only eight interceptions. He guided OU's offense to an NCAA-record 716 points that season.

ESPN's pick: Selmon

Pittsburgh

It's hard to argue that Tony Dorsett's performance in 1976 wasn't the best in Pitt history, but has any school produced more electrifying single seasons by individual players? Dorsett led the Panthers to the 1976 national championship, running for 2,150 yards (the first NCAA player to surpass the 2,000-yard mark in a season) with 22 touchdowns, and won the Heisman Trophy.

If not for Dorsett, Pitt defensive end Hugh Green would have been an obvious choice. He had one of the greatest seasons ever by a defensive player in 1980, finishing with 123 tackles, 17 sacks, 4 fumble recoveries and 6 pass breakups. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald finished runner-up for the Heisman in 2003, catching 92 passes for 1,672 yards with 22 touchdowns, and defensive tackle Aaron Donald had 28½ tackles for loss, 11 sacks and 4 forced fumbles in 2013. Any of those seasons would have been worthy as the greatest in Pitt history.

ESPN's pick: Dorsett

Stanford

Quarterback Jim Plunkett won the 1970 Heisman Trophy and led the Indians (later changed to Cardinal) to their first Rose Bowl game since 1952. Plunkett beat out Notre Dame's Joe Theismann and Ole Miss' Archie Manning to win the Heisman, completing 53.3 percent of his passes for 2,715 yards with 18 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. Against No. 2 Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, Plunkett led Stanford to two fourth-quarter touchdowns in a come-from-behind 27-17 victory, in which he threw for 265 yards on 20-for-30 passing.

Stanford quarterbacks John Elway and Andrew Luck never won the Heisman, but each had a much better statistical season than Plunkett. In 1982, Elway completed 64.7 percent of his passes for 3,242 yards with 24 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. In 2011, Luck completed a whopping 71.3 percent of his passes for 3,517 yards with 37 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

ESPN's pick: Plunkett

Mark Schlabach | email

College Football and Basketball

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.