|Best individual college football seasons|
By Jeff Merron
Page 2 staff
Oklahoma quarterback Jason White may win the Heisman, but he won't make this after his disastrous game against Kansas State in the Big 12 championship. While White finished with an amazing 40 touchdown passes and only eight interceptions for over 3,700 yards, it's tough to crack the list of greatest individual college football season of all time.
As is often the case, our simplest list ideas often turn out to be the toughest to compile. We decided to consider just the post-1930 greats. Red Grange, George Gipp, Bronko Nagurski, Jim Thorpe -- it's too mind-boggling to leave one or two off the top-10 list but difficult to judge their results against more modern players. So we wimped out, and left them all off -- they're in a category all by themselves.
1. Barry Sanders, Oklahoma State (1988)
That was during the 11-game regular season. In the Holiday Bowl against Wyoming, he ran for 222 yards and 5 TDs. In three quarters. He sat out the fourth, as OSU won 62-14.
Sanders had replaced Thurman Thomas at Oklahoma State, and nobody expected that kind of season from the junior, who had rushed for 603 yards the year before. But who'd expect that kind of season from anyone?
2. Steve McNair, Alcorn State (1994)
But the heck with the doubters. Troy State head coach Larry Blakeney, who coached Bo Jackson during his 12 years at Auburn, told the L.A. Times, "Steve McNair is the best football player I've ever seen. ... He'd be the best player on Colorado's team or Nebraska's team, too. He'd be the best player on any team in Division I-A. He's that good. ... He can do more to beat you with his abilities than anyone else I've ever seen. That includes Bo."
McNair's stats: 4,863 yards passing, 936 yards rushing for an NCAA record 5,799 yards in total offense. QB rating: 155.4. TD passes: 44. And in the Heisman voting, he managed to finish third despite the doubters, and received 111 first-place votes.
3. Marcus Allen, Southern Cal (1981)
4. Ricky Williams, Texas (1998)
Williams rushed for 2,124 yards and 27 TDs his senior year, setting the career 1-A rushing record. Against Rice, he ran for 318 yards and six TDs; the next game, against Iowa State, he ran for 350 and five TDs. And in his last game, the Cotton Bowl, when Texas rolled over Mississippi State, Williams ran for 207 yards and two TDs.
Williams won the Heisman, capturing the third-highest total of first-place votes ever: 714. Kansas State QB Michael Bishop, who finished second in the voting, received only 41 first-place votes.
5. Steve Emtman, Washington (1991)
It's hard to find the right stats to convey how great an inside defensive lineman is, but we'll give it a shot. Emtman compiled 6½ sacks and 19½ tackles for a loss, despite the fact that he was usually double-teamed and sometimes triple-teamed and that every offense ran away from him. He led Washington's great defense, which surrendered only 9.2 points per game. Emtman finished "only" fourth in the 1991 Heisman voting, but many thought he deserved it. "I was just overwhelmed by Emtman's tremendous ability," said Corky Simpson of the Tucson (Ariz.) Citizen. "He is so dominant on the football field. I normally will not pick a lineman No. 1, but I had to."
The Colts had to, too. Indianapolis picked Emtman, who decided to forgo his senior year, No. 1 in the 1992 NFL draft.
6. Sammy Baugh, Texas Christian (1936)
But stats don't really tell the story for an all-around superstar like Baugh. After Sports Illustrated, in 1991, came up with a formula to rank college QBs, they found Slingin' Sammy finished in the 49th spot. But the magazine took care to quote NCAA official Dave Nelson in comparing Jim McMahon (No. 3 in SI's ranking) to Baugh. "I'd take Baugh," said Nelson. "Wouldn't everybody?"
7. Jim McMahon, BYU (1980)
McMahon's Cougars averaged 46.7 points a game and went 12-1. McMahon was a first-team All-America selection, but finished fifth in the Heisman voting that year.
8. Herschel Walker, Georgia (1981)
Although he didn't win the Heisman (he was runner-up to Marcus Allen), many thought during the season that he had a chance to become the first soph to win the coveted award.
9. Hugh Green, Pittsburgh (1980)
Pitt went 22-2 in Green's junior and senior years, and the defensive end got most of the credit for the great record, as Pitt led the country in rushing defense. In his career, Green made 441 tackles and 53 sacks.
10. Nile Kinnick, Iowa (1939)
All told, his stats are pretty impressive for the era, especially considering they were compiled in only eight games. Kinnick completed 31 passes for 638 yards and ran for 374 in 106 carries. He punted 73 times, averaging 38.9 yards a kick. He also returned punts and kickoffs for 616 yards. A two-way player, he played all 60 minutes in six games.
His impassioned, patriotic speech after winning the Heisman capped a great season. He said, in part, "I thank God I was warring on the gridirons of the Midwest, and not on the battlefields of Europe. I can speak confidently and positively that the players of this country, would much more, much rather struggle and fights to win the Heisman award, than the Croix de Guerre and the Iron Cross."
At year's end, Kinnick became the first football player to be named the AP outstanding athlete of the year, beating out Joe DiMaggio and Joe Louis. And Kinnick would see action during World War II: he died in 1943 when his Navy fighter plane crashed. He remains the most revered hero in the state of Iowa.
Also receiving votes: