I've spent the last couple weeks wasting some time by railing against Brian F*&king Griese and Trent Dilfer. Sure, the vitriol was exciting and cathartic, but today I've decided to make a brief departure from rants and focus on a topic that brings me great joy: College football.
Now, this is a football blog, and I touch on college football frequently, although to nowhere near the extent that I focus on the NFL and the Bears. You've probably picked up that I'm a fan of the Fighting Illini. One of the things I love about college football, however, is that I'm nowhere near as attached to Illinois as I am to the Bears. Whereas Illinois is certainly my favorite team and I've followed them even in the darkest of days, I can actually flip to a more interesting game when Illinois is getting destroyed, something I can rarely make myself do in the case of the Bears. This has allowed me to watch hours upon hours of college football from all different conferences and teams, and in my lifetime I've had a few players that I've truly enjoyed watching, all for different reasons. So, since this intro is taking long enough already, here are the first batch of my #20 favorite college football players of my life, with the reasons why I love them:
#20: Reggie Ball, QB, Georgia Tech 2003-2006
I'll begin right here by saying that not all of the players on this list were actually good players. Part of the reason why college football is so awesome is that it's not as monolithic and as personality-less as the NFL, and players aren't all held to the same standard. Terrible players will sometimes stick around for a long time, even though no one knows why. Reggie Ball was one of those guys. I love Reggie Ball for a number of reasons. 1) He's still the reason I laugh whenever someone says Chan Gailey is a "Quarterback Guru," 2) He was the worst four year starter at QB in the history of the sport. 3) He was an idiot.
Reggie started out great at Georgia Tech, throwing for nearly 2000 yards as a freshman and winning ACC Rookie of the Year in 2003. Then the next three years happened, where he never again completed even half of his passes (49.7, 48.0, 44.4), had just one year with more TDs than interceptions, lost to rival Georgia four straight times, and yet he was never even remotely challenged for the starting job. He was like the college version of the NFL version of Rick Mirer (yeah, that makes sense) and just kept getting opportunities and regressing every step of the way.
The best Reggie Ball moment? Well, if it wasn't him finishing his career by losing to Georgia for the fourth time, losing the ACC Championship game, and getting suspended for his final collegiate bowl game, it was the 2004 Georgia game, where Reggie earned the nickname "5th Down Reggie" by intentionally throwing the ball out of bounds to stop the clock...on 4th down.
So Reggie Ball, you make the list because you continued to play QB and ambush some pretty talented GT teams when everyone in the country but Chan Gailey knew you should have been converted into a wide receiver your sophomore year. You're the reason I laugh when I realize that Chan Gailey is an NFL head coach. You were awful, and yet awesome because of it.
#19. Jehuu Caulcrick, RB, Michigan State 2004-2007
This one's going to be short and sweet. I love Jehuu Caulcrick because he was enormous, his name sounded like a Lovecraftian Old One, he was always underutilized by the mono-digit IQ'd John L. Smith, and he led to one of my favorite lines in one of my favorite rants of all-time, this guy, losing his shit on the radio after Michigan State blew a big lead and lost to Notre Dame in 2006:
If you have the time, I strongly encourage listening to both parts of this epic rant. If you don't just start playing part 2 as he screams that "JEHUU CAULCRICK WAS A GOD DAMN BOWLING BALL" and complains about Smith giving carries to Javon Ringer while he emphatically states "NOTRE DAME WANTED NO PART OF JEHUU CAULCRICK". Excellent stuff.
Yeah...that's the kind of stuff that'll get you on this list.
#18. Ron Dayne, RB, Wisconsin 1996-1999
There are all kinds of quarterbacks who get derided in the draft as being "system" guys. Mostly spread QBs. Their numbers are hollow because of the system and the number of attempts and the kinds of throws blahblah. I love Ron Dayne because Ron Dayne finally gave runningbacks the equivalent to a system QB. We know now that Ron Dayne was just the first fatass in a long line of bowling balls to gain huge yardage behind the beefy Wisconsin O-lines built by Barry Alvarez and Brett Bielema (see P.J. Hill and John Clay), but then? My God, he was amazing.
Dayne finished his career as the all-time leading rusher in NCAA history after gaining 6,397 yards rushing as a four year starter (along with 63 (!) career rushing TDs) and closing it out with the 1999 Heisman Trophy. He was a monster. I used to love watching undersized college safeties try to tackle him. Plus, this was back when Wisconsin had only recently stopped sucking all the time, so you rooted for them since they weren't Ohio State and Michigan. I thought for sure that Ron Dayne would win 4-5 rushing titles with the Giants and would send that baldheaded freak Tiki Barber to Canada. That didn't happen, sadly, because it turns out he was just fat and slow and ran behind an offensive line that could propel a one-legged geriatric to at least 500 yards rushing. But I'll never forget the way you thrilled the nation once, Ron Dayne.
17. Chris Weinke, QB, Florida State, 2000
I liked Chris Weinke because he was a 28 year old senior who had failed as a minor league pitcher, had a drastically receding hair line, emerged for one year and absolutely destroyed college football. Despite my hatred of Bobby Bowden, it was hilarious and awesome to watch a guy pushing 30 as he threw for 33 TDs and 4000+ yards on his way to being the oldest Heisman and national title-winning QB ever. The fact that he went to the NFL, won his first game as a 29 year old rookie, and then lost his next 17 straight starts over the next five years made it even more hilarious. Oh, Chris. You were one of the great absurdities of college football, and I'll always appreciate that.
16. Timmy Chang, QB, Hawaii, 2000-2004
Timmy Chang was great because he was an Asian Ty Detmer, and apparently there was a need for one of those. Timmy broke almost all of Detmer's passing records in June Jones' Run'n'Shoot offense at Hawaii (yeah, June Jones is Still running the Run'N'Shoot) despite having no certifiable talent at throwing the football (much like Ty Detmer, actually). Chang ended up with 17,072 career passing yards on a whopping 2436 attempts. The best part? The only other NCAA record Chang set was his 80 career interceptions, since his senior year was the only one where didn't throw at least 20. His TD totals for his four full seasons (he had an injury-shortened redshirt sophomore year) were pretty pedestrian for a guy with as many attempts as he had (19, 25, 29, and finally 38). He didn't even receive so much as a look as a third quarterback in the NFL, as the Cardinals, Lions, and Eagles all cut him in training camp. He went on to post some incredibly mediocre numbers as a starter in the now-defunct NFL Europe and in the CFL. Simply put, he set a bunch of records solely because he was there and June Jones was going to have somebody throw it 600 times a year. The fact that half the people reading this article could have done exactly what Timmy did is the very reason why he's on this list.
15. Rocky Harvey, RB, Illinois 1998-2001
The first Illini to make this list, Rocky was a speedster who may have underperformed somewhat based on the high expectations generated from his first game as a freshman (he rushed for 215 yards vs. Middle Tennessee), but was always the speedy half of a platoon with Steve Havard and then Antoineo Harris and was a home run threat every time he touched the ball. He finished his career with over 3200 yards from scrimmage and 22 career touchdowns. Illinois has had some great bruising runningbacks in my day (Harris, Mendenhall, and LeShoure especially), but Harvey was one of the few burners that I remember watching excitedly every time he touched the ball. Also, his name sounded like a detective from a 1930s noire film, so I hope he's doing well in his post-football career as a vigilante.
14. The Texas Tech QBs of the Mike Leach Era, 2000-2009
This is the spot I'd actually give to Mike Leach if he were a player, but his interchangeable parts at QB will have to do. Mike Leach was one of, if not the, foremost minds behind the spread offense and his particular brand, the Air Raid, made Tim Couch into a star at Kentucky, won a national title for Oklahoma, and then revitalized the Texas Tech program. Whereas I can rightfully crtique Mike Martz for abandoning the run in the NFL, the wide open nature of the college game means that it's nothing short of badass when Leach racks up a 69-3 pass-to-run ratio in a game (yes, it happened, although the box score eludes me) and is still throwing deep up 52-21. Yarr. Craig James managed to get Leach fired by complaining about Leach's treatment of his son (who by all accounts is a royal asshole who is lying through his teeth and actually had fewer receptions and yards under Leach's replacement), but I'll never forget the way he could plug in a totally different warm body at QB and lead the nation in passing, which he did with Kliff Kingsbury (2002), B.J. Symons (2003), Sonny Cumbie (2004), and Graham Harrell (2007-2008). Two of the top three leaders in career passing attempts in NCAA history are Leach players. Six of the top ten passing attempts in a season are Texas Tech QBs (Symons (719), Harrell (713), and Kingsbury (712) are #1,2,3). Mike Leach, I miss you, you crazy sonofabitch. Someone will give you a shot, and I will be watching.
13. J Leman, LB, Illinois, 2004-2007
J Leman was a tackling machine for the Illini who had over 130 tackles in each of his last two seasons, to go along with 8 1/2 career sacks and 6 career forced fumbles. He was too slow for the NFL and hasn't managed to escape the practice squad, but he was an All-American and the heart and soul of the 2007 Illini squad that went to the Rose Bowl. During the Illini upset of Ohio State that year, ABC played a video from an interview with J Leman in which he called himself "king of the jungle" and explained that the Illini defense's mentality could be compared to a "pack of 11 hyenas." He had big hair and big personality, and for all of his lack of talent, he was far more productive than the five-star one year wonder that was Martez Wilson. He's also an American hero.
12. Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas, 2005-2007
This one's self-explanatory if you ever watched him at Arkansas. Darren shredded SEC defenses to the tune of 4,590 yards and 41 touchdowns rushing in three years despite splitting carries with Felix Jones. He also added 365 yards and 2 TDs receiving and he threw for SEVEN touchdowns while completing 14 of 22 career pass attempts in the WildHog. He threw a very mediocre Arkansas team on his back and dragged them all the way to the SEC Title Game, all while attempting to save Houston Nutt's job despite Houston's refusal to help himself. Darren's finally healthy and finally living up to the hype in Oakland, but I'd remember his dominance in Fayetteville regardless.
11. Tim Couch, QB, Kentucky, 1996-1998.
My love for Mike Leach actually began with Tim Couch's reign at Kentucky. Of course, back then we had no idea that it was system that was so great, we just thought Couch was amazing and that they threw the ball 500+ times a year because of that fact. Couch was awesome for his last two years at Kentucky. He dragged an absolutely moribund Kentucky football program out of the depths and took them to their first bowl game in years. He shattered SEC records that weren't topped until Tim Tebow came along. He seemed to be the prototype of everything you could want in a quarterback. I still remember watching him and Peyton Manning trade blows in the 1997 Kentucky-Tennessee game as they racked up a combined 999 yards passing and 8 TD passes. Tennessee pulled a way late to make it a 59-31 blowout, but the game was much closer and much more exciting than the score indicated for much of the afternoon. Tim left early to be the #1 pick in the 1999 NFL draft, and we all know how that ended up, but his Kentucky tenure introduced us all to an offense that would revolutionize football and was exciting as hell to watch, even if we misdirected the credit.
Oh, and if you want my passionate defense of Tim Couch's NFL career, go here.