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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

Future Members of the Hall of Fame: Players

We know the rules. To be eligible for the College Football Hall of Fame, a player’s career cannot have ended more than 50 years ago or less than 10 years ago. He must have earned first-team all-American honors at least once, as chosen by the selecting bodies that make up the N.C.A.A.’s consensus all-American teams. And he cannot currently be playing professional football — N.F.L., C.F.L., U.F.L. or Arena League, though I don’t think being a member in good standing of the Premier League would disqualify a candidate from eligibility. For the efforts of this post, let’s ignore the last criteria.

Which players from the last decade of college football — since 2002, and only considering the F.B.S., as usual — are deserving of inclusion in the Hall of Fame? As noted earlier today, a Heisman winner, even one who starts only one full season in the F.B.S., is eminently qualified for a spot in the Hall. That justifies inclusion for the following players:

QB Carson Palmer, U.S.C.
QB Jason White, Oklahoma
QB Matt Leinart, U.S.C.
QB Troy Smith, Ohio State
QB Tim Tebow, Florida
QB Sam Bradford, Oklahoma
RB Mark Ingram, Alabama
QB Cam Newton, Auburn
QB Robert Griffin III, Baylor

Then there’s the Reggie Bush conundrum; a Heisman winner who eventually had that title revoked, Bush certainly did enough on the field to earn a spot in the Hall of Fame. But that Bush’s career at U.S.C. has been so marred by his rule-breaking behavior — and that his actions caused U.S.C. to draw such attention from the N.C.A.A. — likely disqualifies him from consideration.

Think about a few of the other criteria discussed earlier today. Is the player considered the best at his position in the history of a major program? Or was he the most valuable part of a national title-winning team? The key cog in a team that dominated a B.C.S. conference over a multiple-season span? Was he a two-time all-American, or the winner of a national award?

Using those personal criteria, as well as the National Football Foundation’s stipulations for eligibility — not counting the 10-year rule, obviously — let’s make a list of college football’s recent stars who are clear-cut future members of the Hall of Fame. Working chronologically, beginning with 2002 and working through last season:

DE Terrell Suggs, Arizona State The best defensive player in school history. While Suggs left after only three years, he owns A.S.U. career records for sacks and tackles for loss; in 2002, he set a new F.B.S. single-season record with 22 sacks.

QB Ken Dorsey, Miami (Fla.) Perhaps the greatest winner in the history of a proud program known for its top-flight quarterback play. Dorsey went 38-2 as a starter, winning one national title, playing for another and twice earning an invite to Manhattan as a Heisman finalist.

DE David Pollack, Georgia A three-time all-American, Pollack took home enough national awards to fill a basement: the Ted Hendricks in 2003 and 2004, and the Lott, Bednarik and Lombari in 2004. The best defensive player in Georgia’s history.

OT Robert Gallery, Iowa Though a bit of a late bloomer, Gallery ended his career as a three-time all-Big Ten selection — first-team as a junior and senior — and won the Outland Trophy as a senior.

RB Cedric Benson, Texas A four-year starter for the Longhorns, Benson is at worst the third-best back in school history: Ricky Williams is first, likely followed by Earl Campbell. The sixth-most prolific back in F.B.S. history, Benson was a three-time all-Big 12 pick and the 2004 Doak Walker winner.

RB Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma Injuries made a clear Hall of Fame pick into a bit of a borderline selection. But despite missing several games over the last two seasons of his three-year career, Peterson rushed for 4,045 yards; helped O.U. to two B.C.S. bowls; and, as a freshman in 2004, finished second in the Heisman voting.

QB Vince Young, Texas Despite being only a two-year starter, Young’s road to the Hall of Fame is secure. Prior to Colt McCoy, he owned the most wins by a quarterback in Texas history. His career winning percentage, 93.8, is the sixth-best in F.B.S. history. He might warrant inclusion merely for his performance in the 2006 Rose Bowl.

LB A.J. Hawk, Ohio State A two-time consensus all-American, Hawk started 38 games for the Buckeyes, helping the program to 43 wins from 2002-5 and, as a senior, winning the Lombardi Award.

RB Darren McFadden, Arkansas There’s no more decorated player in program history. A two-time Heisman finalist, McFadden ended his career with the second-most rushing yards in SEC history, trailing only Herschel Walker.

OT Justin Blalock, Texas While Vince Young earned the headlines, it was Blalock, deep in the trenches, who gave Texas its identity. A four-time first-team all-conference pick, Blalock became the first player in school history to start 50 consecutive games.

DT Glenn Dorsey, L.S.U. He earned a treasure trove of awards in 2007: SEC Defensive Player of the Year, Lombardi, Outland, Nagurski and Lott. Dorsey was a two-time all-American, and as a senior was the best player in college football.

QB Colt McCoy, Texas A four-year starter who left school with the N.C.A.A. record for career wins by a quarterback — a record Kellen Moore broke last fall — McCoy threw for 13,253 yards and 112 yards, both Texas records. He led the Longhorns to the B.C.S. title game during his senior season.

DE Jerry Hughes, T.C.U. The backbone of the nation’s best defense in 2009 — when he won the Ted Hendricks and Lott awards – Hughes was a two-time consensus all-American. Hughes was also named the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year as a junior and senior.

LB James Laurinaitis, Ohio State He might be the most accomplished — and decorated — linebacker in F.B.S. history. Laurinaitis was a three-time consensus all-American; the Nagurski winner in 2006; the Lambert Trophy winner as the nation’s best linebacker in 2007 and 2008; and won the Lott Trophy in 2008.

S Eric Berry, Tennessee The best defensive back in college football over the last decade. While Berry left Tennessee after his junior season, he achieved more than enough over three seasons to be considered one of the finest defensive players in SEC history.

DT Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska The question isn’t whether Suh was the best defensive lineman of his generation; the question is whether Suh was one of the best defensive linemen of any generation. No interior lineman dictated the tempo more than Nebraska’s former all-American.

K Alex Henery, Nebraska Back-to-back Cornhuskers, with Henery, in his own way, deserving recognition as much as his more ballyhooed — and more decorated — teammate. While not a consensus all-American, Henery was the most consistent kicker in N.C.A.A. history.

And what about just-departed members of the F.B.S. class of 2011? In my mind, there are a handful of stars who deserve being in the Hall of Fame — including Griffin III, mentioned above: Andrew Luck, Kellen Moore, Ryan Broyles and LaMichael James, though I’m wishy-washy on the latter pair.

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  1. [...] get you in the mood, Paul Myerberg looks at the Hall of Fame credentials for this [...]

  2. Derek says:

    Loving the Alex Henery love! He was so amazing. Being the most consistent kicker in history deserves recognition, and having the leg to nail clutch 57 yarders ain’t too shabby either. Glad you took the time to recognize him.

  3. Scooter says:

    Suh was and is a beast The NFL is playing him out to be some badguy. Is very funny if you followed him at Nebr. at all. Henery, JUST WOW, for a kicker to have a 50 year old put him in the top 5 Husker players, outstanding. GO BIG RED!

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