Follow TV Tropes

Following

Useful Notes / Collegiate American Football

Go To

American Football is enjoyed on multiple levels. While the professional game of the National Football League is the most popular league in American sports, college football (especially programs organized and run by the NCAA) rivals—and in some metrics exceeds—the professional leagues of other sports in terms of popularity and cultural clout and is even more popular than the NFL in parts of the South. Indeed, football got its start at the collegiate level in the late 19th century and had decades of culture and history before any athletes actually got paid to play. College football is easily the most popular amateur sport, can be a huge boon on prestige and enrollment for schools with great programs, attracts some of the largest crowds of any sport in the world, and has a major influence on American culture, education, and politics. In short: college football is a pretty big deal, and many works set in the United States are likely to reference it to some capacity. Here's a rundown of its rules, culture, and notable figures.

Advertisement:

College Football Rules

    open/close all folders 

    College Football Rules 
The rules of collegiate football on the field are very similar to those detailed on the page about American football, so we won't go into them here save for the most basic explanation: 11 guys on offense, 11 guys on defense. Scoring is almost the same as in the professional leagues as well—the defending team has long been able to score a point on a blocked PAT (a rule that the NFL didn't adopt until 2015) and college overtime rules are complicated.note  There are a few different rule changesnote , but nothing enough to disrupt the basic flow of the game.

The most apparent differences between the pro and college game today usually has less to do with how the game is played than who plays it and what they're playing for. While the NFL's attempts to assert a degree of parity through the draft and salary cap typically ensure that teams are close in skill and a total Curb-Stomp Battle is relatively rare, there are far fewer restrictions in college. This results in the most prominent programs often having far more raw talent then many of their opponents, which tends to make the outcomes of many games a Foregone Conclusion and the main point of interest (and gambling, for those so inclined) being seeing by how many points the rival will be blown out. This margin can often play a role in power schools' national rankings and playoff hopes, meaning a narrow victory against underdog competitors is often treated as a loss and a close upset can get someone fired. Additionally, even games between competitive teams tend to be much higher scoring than pro games due to lack of experience and athleticism on the defensive side of the ball, allowing for more prolific passing and rushing performances.

College football has many, many other rules dictating what schools and players are allowed to do off the field. In some schools, football is the only men's sportnote  - the federal Title IX requires equal amounts be spent on men's and women's athletics based on gross expenditure. so a top-tier football program is a major resource hog by that standard even if the whole point of running it at that level is that it's a profit center for the school and the black from football makes up for the red most if not all of the other sports operate in.

A collegiate football player's career begins in high school, when prospects, rated on a scale from one to five stars, are selected by the colleges of their choice and given scholarships. This officially occurs in early February; however, since 2017, students can sign up as early as January, which means competitive universities must start recruiting for the next season before the current one is even finished. This has caused a number of issues, most prominently by incentivizing schools to also hire new head coaches early to help market their program to recruits. Since those coaches have to come from somewhere, this means that it has become increasingly common for coaches, even ones in the middle of a successful run, to leave their current teams in the middle of the season to pursue higher profile positions and more lucrative contracts, a situation that few fans or players are ever happy with.

Before July 2021, college football players (like all NCAA athletes) were not allowed to be directly paid outside of their scholarships, and schools faced harsh punishment if they were found to have paid their players, directly or indirectly. USC was found guilty of providing "improper benefits" to star player Reggie Bush in 2004 and 2005; as a consequence, USC was required to forfeit all the games in which Bush appeared after receiving the gifts, including the 2005 national championship game. Bush himself was scrubbed from team records and university promotional materials.note  Many other schools have suffered similar fates, most infamously Southern Methodist, the only football program to have received the NCAA "death penalty" for over a decade of widespread payments to players. The combination of penalties (including two canceled seasons and 55 scholarships lost) and stigma (few players wanted to play for SMU after the scandal) was so damaging that it took 22 years before the former powerhouse had another winning season (by which point none of the current players had even been born when the scandal broke) and 10 years after that for the Mustangs to make their next appearance in the national rankings. The school still hasn't come anywhere near its past prominence.

This forced amateurism became an increasingly controversial and criticized policy, particularly for football players who a) play for programs that bring in millions of revenue for their schools, b) play for coaches who receive multi-million dollar contracts, c) are especially vulnerable to injuries that could end a pro career before it gets started (often without insurance for said injuries), and d) are often not truly prepared for other career paths by the free education they receive as sole compensation for their play. On top of that, many saw it unfair that ordinary students could, say, monetize their social media accounts, or take jobs outside of school, while scholarship athletes couldn't. As a result, players, politicians, and even Supreme Court justices became increasingly vocal in their opposition to the existing amateur rules.

The first signs of a changing landscape came in the NAIA (see "Different levels" below), which in 2014 allowed student-athletes at its member schools to profit from their name, image, and likeness (NIL), though they initially could not reference their status as student-athletes. Much larger change followed in 2019 when California passed a law that allowed college athletes within the state to profit from their NIL, with considerably fewer restrictions than the then-current NAIA rules. Several other states followed with similar laws, with some set to take effect in July 2021. Shortly before the first of these laws were to take effect, the US Supreme Court held that any serious NCAA attempts to prevent student-athletes from receiving NIL compensation would likely run afoul of antitrust (competition) laws. Caving to the inevitable, the NCAA issued its own NIL rules. While the NCAA still prohibits member schools from directly paying players beyond their scholarships, schools can no longer prevent players from being paid by outside parties, with certain limitations that vary from instituion and state (ex. Can't conflict with a university's athletic sponsorship deals, can't use their school's trademarks barring a licensing deal or permission, can't run afoul of an existing school honor code, etc.).

While pro football players can ostensibly play as long as they can compete (10-15 year runs are not uncommon and 20 years is not unheard of, especially for kickers and punters since they tend not to get hit very often), a college football player's eligibility is more or less limited to four years. We say "more or less" because there is the option of redshirting, where a coach is allowed to stretch a player's eligibility to five years instead of four, with the stipulation that one of those years (most commonly the first, as many freshman are felt to be not quite ready for the collegiate level) will be spent sitting on the bench and that the player participate in no more than four gamesnote  They ''can' participate in practices, which is the origin of the name; such players traditionally wore a red jersey in practice. Extra redshirt seasons are occasionally granted in extreme cases of injury where a player is sidelined for multiple seasons.

For decades, the NCAA penalized students who attempted to transfer to another program by forcing them to sit out a season of play once at their new school. This rule was first relaxed in 2006, when the NCAA established the "graduate transfer" rule allowing players who graduated with remaining athletic eligibility to transfer to another school without sitting out. Initially, this was only if the player enrolled in a postgraduate degree program not offered at the previous school, but this rule was later relaxed to allow enrollment in such programs regardless of whether the old school offered it. It was further relaxed in 2020, when graduate transfers were allowed to play while pursuing a second bachelor's degree at the new school, and was relaxed still further in 2021 by allowing every student to move programs one time without penalty.note  Finally, three years after graduating from high school, a college player has the option to forgo the rest of his collegiate eligibility and enter the NFL Draft early. A player automatically forfeits his eligibility if he accepts a salary to play football (but not a different sport - a few high-profile college footballers have played minor league baseballnote ), or signs with an agent to negotiate with professional teams. Before July 2021, accepting endorsements also ended eligibility, as did signing with an agent for any purpose. A player who leaves early for the NFL Draft but pulls out of it before it's held can apply for reinstatement of college eligibility, and the NCAA normally grants it; however, once the draft has been held, they cannot return to college even if they are not drafted.

College football is played mostly on Saturdays, but there is at least one game every week on Thursday and Friday and often also Tuesday and/or Wednesday, and the opening week of the season sees the remaining two days of the week represented as well.note  The Mid-American Conference is especially famous for playing on midweek nights (even Tuesday or Wednesday). As with high school football, the playing season is basically the same as the fall semester, but some schools will play a defense vs. offense team scrimmage in the spring to make sure the players are keeping themselves in shape. There is a "bye week" for most teams to give them some mid-season rest, although some teams use a Thursday for this purpose instead, while others play the entire season through without a break; Penn State was long famous for not using a bye week.

Advertisement:

Different Levels

NCAA football is divided into four divisions: Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly I-A), Division I Football Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA), Division II, and Division III. Each division, in turn, is divided into conferences of around a dozen teams who play most games amongst themselves. A handful of teams (most notably Notre Dame) are independent of any conference. The Football Bowl Subdivision has 130 teams, separated, as stated earlier, split among number of conferences. There are a total of 10 conferences in FBS, plus a few independents. See Collegiate American Football Conferences and Collegiate American Football Power 5 Conferences for a description of all D-I leagues and of their most prominent programs. For more on the other levels, see below.

    Levels of College Football 
College football had a very loose organizational structure until World War II, and even after the war it took a while for it to take its current shape. In the early years of the sport it was centered around regional conferences and alliances. Eventually the notion that there was a tier of elite schools developed, but this didn't become semi-formalized until the 1930s. The Associated Press began a weekly poll of journalists in 1936, with the school ranked #1 at the end of the season regarded as the "national champion".note  United Press International instituted a similar poll of coaches starting in 1950, and the coaches' poll has gone through a number of different sponsors over the decades, with USA Today as the current one. In 1937, the NCAA began dividing schools into the "University Division" (the high-profile teams) and the "College Division" (everyone else). Historically black colleges also formed a separate de facto division that, thanks to segregation, was isolated from the rest of the sport, though the Civil Rights Movement brought them into the mainstream of the sport by The '60s.

Many College Division schools shared dual membership in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), and which began a playoff system culminating in a national championship game in 1956. After that, the NCAA formalized its two-tier structure. While the University Division had the highest profile with its polls and bowl games, the College Division also got weekly AP and UPI rankings with a mythical national champ declared at the end of the season and a smattering of regional bowl games for smaller schools. However, this two-tiered structure didn't please everyone. UD schools who couldn't maintain the large football budgets of the biggest programs pushed for an intermediate division of like-minded schools, and there was a growing divide between College Division schools who offered athletic scholarships and those who didn't.

The NCAA finally addressed this in 1973 by dividing the membership into three divisions. The University Division became Division I, and the College Division was divided into Division II (which allowed scholarships) and Division III (no scholarships allowed). The NCAA also established a playoff system for Divisions II & III. Even after that, the idea of creating a subdivision within D-I for the lesser-funded schools remained on the table, and the NCAA divided it into I-A (the major schools) and I-AA (everything else) in 1978. I-AA membership was voluntary at first, and the division hovered around 40 schools in its early years, but, based on average home game attendance, the NCAA demoted a bunch of I-A schools to I-AA in 1982, and the current structure was basically set: around 100 schools each in I-A and I-AA, and closer to 200 each in II and III, with limits on the number of full athletic scholarships that can be awarded by a team in each division (currently 85 in FBS, 63 in FCS, 36 in D-II, none in D-III).note More detail  As if this wasn't all confusing enough for the casual fan as it is, the NCAA renamed the D-I classifications in 2006—I-A became FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision), and I-AA became FCS (Football Championship Subdivision). Fans have often found these names clunky and the I-A and I-AA tags are still commonly used. There's also the issue that both subdivisions now conduct a playoff, so the renames have become an Artifact Title.

FBS is still the highest level of play and garners the most national attention. For most of the FBS's history, national champions were chosen by the polls, with a sole "national champion" being unofficially crowned if both polls agreed and a split national championship resulting if they didn't. In 1998, the FBS introduced a postseason championship structure based around giving the two top teams an opportunity to compete against each other for the title. In 2014, this shifted into a committee selecting four teams to play a semi-final bracket before the championship game. This has all been organized by the FBS schools and conferences themselves; the NCAA has never organized an official championship in FBS or its predecessors. FBS schools play almost all of their games against other FBS schools, though most will play a game or two a season against an FCS school as a tradeoff: the FBS team gets, in theory, an easy win, the FCS team gets a lucrative payday. This isn't without its risks: several FCS schools will beat FBS schools in a given season, most famously being #5 ranked Michigan losing to then-FCS Appalachian State in 2007 in possibly the biggest upset in college football history. There are rules controlling these games. Only one FCS win can count toward bowl eligibility for an FBS team, meaning that if a team schedules two such games they'll need to have at least a 7-5 record instead of 6-6 to qualify for a bowl. By design, this usually discourages FBS teams from playing against more than one FCS team per year.

The rest of 4-year college football is currently played in the FCS and Division II and III in the NCAA, and in the NAIA, which was once large enough to have two divisions, but a mass exodus of NAIA schools to the NCAA starting in The '90s has reduced NAIA membership to under 100 schools for football. All of those classifications crown a national champion via a playoff system. In normal years, FCS has 24 teams in its playoff, D-II has 28, D-III has 32, and the NAIA has 16. These classifications all have their own elite programs, traditions and rivalries, and some of the most amazing statistical feats of college football have occurred in them. Linfield University, a D-III school from Oregon, is on a 65-year streak of winning seasons (1956–present, interrupted in 2020 by COVID-19). An Ohio D-III school, the University of Mount Union, won 24 consecutive conference titles from 1982 to 2015, and put up a .951 winning percentage from 1990–2019 (397–20–1). John Gagliardi, who coached at NAIA member Carroll (Montana) and D-III school Saint John's (Minnesota), amassed 489 wins in 64 years as a head coach, while the wins leader among active coaches is Kevin Donley at NAIA school St. Francis (Indiana), who enters the 2022 season with 338 victories. The highest-scoring game in the sport's modern history was a 2011 NAIA contest in which Faulkner (Alabama) defeated Union (Kentucky) 95-89 in triple OT (the score was tied at 75 at the end of regulation). These schools boast some unique stadiums, like Winston-Salem State (the stadium is also home to a NASCAR track, which circles the field), Northern Michigan (the only domed stadium outside of Division I), South Dakota Mines (there are several parking terraces surrounding the field, which allows you to watch a game from your car) and Knox College (except for two tiny sets of bleachers, all of the stadium's "seats" are on grass berms that totally surround the field).

Two-year colleges,note  which typically include "community college" or "junior college" in their names, also field football teams. The two main governing bodies are the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) and California Community College Athletic Association (CCCAA). Even though the NJCAA was founded in California, that state no longer participates in the NJCAA, choosing to govern sports at its 2-year colleges itself. The Pacific Northwest (for the most part) also does not participate in the NJCAA, with its 2-year schools being governed by the Northwest Athletic Conference, but the NWAC doesn't sponsor football. Both the NJCAA and the CCCAA have traditionally held postseason bowl games but have added formal playoffs in recent years (four teams in the NJCAA, eight in the CCCAA) alongside the bowls. The NJCAA also added a "Division III" championship game in 2021 (though there's no "D-II" for football) for non-scholarship teams. So called "juco" transfers are a common source of college football talent at the NCAA level, giving coaches players who already have two seasons of experience under their belts and are theoretically more mature and skilled than a player just out of high school. Some big names began their college football careers in either the NJCAA (Heisman winners Roger Staubach and Cam Newton) or CCCAA (Heisman winner O.J. Simpson, Warren Moon, Aaron Rodgers).

There's also the variant known as sprint football, which was created in the 1930s by Ivy League schools as "lightweight football" and was played almost exclusively in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states before expanding into the Midwest and Upper South in 2022. It's played under standard college rules, but has severe limits on player weight. Originally, players could weigh no more than 150 lb/68 kg; today, the limit is 178 lb/81 kg, with an additional requirement of a minimum of 5% body fat.note  This weight limit means that speed and agility are valued more than sheer strength. Currently, 15 schools compete in this variant—nine in the Collegiate Sprint Football League, the variant's original league, and six in the Midwest Sprint Football League, newly launched for 2022. Since weight limits take sprint football out of the sport's mainstream, few figures in this variant have achieved any kind of notability. Future NFL coaching great George Allen did serve as an assistant coach for a season. Future NFL team owner Robert Kraft played in college, as did two others who achieved greater fame outside the sport, Jimmy Carter and Donald Rumsfeld.

The Bowl Games

    The Bowl Games 
The major college football postseason consists of "bowl games", played between two teams at fixed neutral (usually) sites in late December and early January, but they generally don't form any sort of organized tournament (with the exception of the two semifinals of the College Football Playoff - see below). Originally, the bowls were just a handful of exhibitions that offered a payout to the best programs in the nation to put on a show. Polls that determined the national champion weren't taken after the bowls until the '60s; once they did and those "exhibition" games suddenly started to count for something, more and more started to spring up, forming a network of games of drastically varying levels of importance. Today, a team must have at least as many wins as losses (at least six wins for a typical twelve-game schedule) in order to participate in a bowl game, although the NCAA can make exceptions.

The term "bowl game" comes from the earliest (and still most famous) one, the Rose Bowl Game, which was named after the bowl-shaped stadium where it's played (which in turn got its name from Yale's stadium, the Yale Bowl; the Rose Bowl was designed as simply a bigger version of the Yale Bowl in the better wintertime climate of Pasadena, California). The Rose Bowl was first played on New Year's Day 1902 as part of a popular Pasadena parade. This "Tournament East-West" game invited the best teams from the East and West, a real novelty in the years before mass air travel. It was the only bowl game for three decades; a few more started to spring up in the 1930s, sharing the goal of bringing together teams that would normally never play each other. While their recognition by the polls contributed to more bowls springing up, a lack of serious competitors kept the number under 20 until they got into the lucrative business of selling their naming rights in the '90s, at which point the number exploded to today's tally of more than 40.

There have been a few systems that have attempted to pair up #1 and #2 ranked teams in a championship bowl game; complaining about the systems is in some circles as cherished a pastime as football itself. The current system is the College Football Playoff (CFP), launched in 2014, with the survivor being recognized as national champions.note  The season ends with numerous bowl games that are played between schools. The "New Year's Six" games associated with the CFP are:
  • Fiesta Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl – The four games that were part of the BCS.
  • Cotton Bowl, Peach Bowl – Added to the mix when the CFP began.

In the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) era from 1998-2013, the #1 and #2 ranked teams were placed in the BCS National Championship Game, which was played about a week after the other major bowl games. The NCG rotated between the stadiums of the four major bowls of that era.note 

These games had (and still have) conference tie-ins, giving certain conference champions automatic invitations. The Rose Bowl invited the Pac-12 and Big Ten champions, the Orange Bowl invited the ACC champion, the Sugar Bowl invited the SEC champion and the Fiesta Bowl invited the Big 12 champion. All of these tie-ins still exist in the CFP era except for the Fiesta Bowl, whose Big 12 tie-in shifted to the Sugar Bowl. When a conference champion was unavailable due to playing in the national championship game, the runner-up traditionally took their place in the bowl game, although this was at the individual bowl's discretion and they were not strictly mandated to take the runner-up.note 

In addition to the conferences win tie-ins, during the BCS system, the Big East champion was guaranteed a spot in a BCS bowl, but not in any specific one. Together, the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10/Pac-12, and SEC were the "Automatic Qualifying" conferences. The champion of a non-AQ conference (an FBS conference other than those six) could be guaranteed a spot if they were in the top 12 in the year's final BCS ranking, or in the top 16 and ranked higher than the champion of at least one AQ conference (in practice, usually the Big East). If more than one non-AQ champion met those criteria, only the highest-ranking one was guaranteed a BCS bowl selection. Non-AQ teams who met these qualifications were referred to as "BCS busters".note  No conference could have more than two teams playing in BCS bowls, unless the two teams selected to the championship game were from the same conference and neither was the conference champion.note 

Things finally came to a head in 2011, when the BCS selected LSU and Alabama, two teams from the SEC West (the same division of the same conference, meaning that officially one of them was the third-place team of the conference), as the #1 and #2 participants in the championship game, thus effectively snubbing every other conference in the entire FBS. After this, discussion of implementing a playoff system accelerated greatly and, after numerous negotiations between the "power" conferences, a new (but still very limited) "College Football Playoff" model was formally drawn up and was adopted in 2014 to replace the BCS.

The current four-team playoff model has the teams be chosen by a selection committee (as in the NCAA basketball tournament) instead of by polls. The sites for the first two semifinal games are played at existing bowl sites (rotated between the Rose, Sugar, Orange, Fiesta, Cotton, and Peach Bowls), and the Championship game is awarded to a city based on a bid, much in the same way that the Super Bowl location is decided. Things are still not entirely rosy. Almost immediately after its announcement, the new system was met with various criticisms from fans, ranging from concerns that the new selection committee would be no more unbiased in selecting teams as the old BCS formula (which mixed human polls with a set of complicated computer algorithms that nobody outside the programmers actually understands) to complaints that having only 4 teams compete is nowhere near enough to fairly decide a true champion in the 130-team FBS.note  The TV deals for this new system extend through the 2025 season, and while several proposals for expanding the playoff to include 8 to 16 teams have been put forward, it has been difficult to get all the conferences to come to a consensus.

The second tier of games consists of lower profile bowls such as the Cheez-It Bowlnote , Citrus Bowlnote , ReliaQuest Bowlnote , Sun Bowlnote , Gator Bowlnote , and Alamo Bowlnote  which are treated with some respect but usually feature matchups among the teams in the middle of the pack of their conferences, with mid-major conference champions and major-conference runners-up making the occasional appearance. Like the BCS and CFP bowls, these second-tier bowls also have conference tie-ins, but for second/third place teams in the conferences in question. Most of the tie-ins are to the major conferences, making it rare for a mid-major team to play in one of these bowls.note  Which of these games is the most prestigious is debatable.

The lower tier of bowl games exists solely as a cash grab and Padding for ESPN (and the stadiums and cities the games are played in) during the traditionally quiet holiday week in sports. Since most bowls have a lot of discretion in who they invite, and how much money the bowl thinks they'll make is often the deciding factor rather than trying to get the best team, sometimes actual good teams from small markets will get screwed over by the higher-tier bowls and get forced to settle for beating the hell out a scrub team in a bottom-tier bowl. Until ESPN grabbed a monopoly on most bowl games in the 1990s, these games were still few and far between and aired on syndicated broadcast television. ESPN actually runs many of these bowls themselves nowadays. These games are usually sponsored by Names to Run Away from Really Fast, such as the San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl (the same outfit was the last name sponsor of the now-defunct Poinsettia Bowl), Quick Lane Bowlnote , TaxAct Texas Bowl note , the Radiance Technology Independence Bowlnote  or the Union Home Mortgage Gasparilla Bowlnote . Many of these bowls used to have less embarrassing names before the trend of sponsors using their own name as the sole name of the bowl instead of just tagging their name to the front or back; this trend is near universally derided by fans, but the lack of attendance of many of these games due to their featuring smaller and out-of-market teams tends to make it necessary for the bowl to make a profit.note  These games are solely of interest to the universities playing in them (or will be a future Old Shame if your team is invited to the not-very-prestigious-at-all LendingTree Bowlnote ), and about the only accomplishment to be earned by the players (outside of a free unwanted trip to Detroit, Boise, Shreveport, or Birmingham) is a Cosmetic Award which means nothing. Unless the team lucks out and gets invited to a bowl in a nice vacation spot, such as the Hawaii Bowl or Bahamas Bowl, of course. Some sponsors at least recognize the low stakes of the competition and play the names for laughs: the Famous Idaho Potato Bowlnote , Duke's Mayo Bowlnote , Cheez-It Bowl, and Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl respectively feature a Drench Celebration for the winning coach of french fries, mayonnaise, and said brands of snack crackers and frosted corn flakes.

The extent of ESPN's control of the bowl system was illustrated in 2021. There were 41 bowls scheduled, but 83 teams were bowl-eligible (plus a 6-7 Hawaii squad who qualified to host their home bowl), which meant that one bowl-eligible team would have to stay home. Then ESPN had the bright idea to create a 42nd bowl on the Thursday before bowl bids would be finalized. The NCAA fast-tracked the approval process, and by Sunday the inaugural Frisco Football Classic was scheduled for later in December in Frisco, Texas, outside Dallas, which is already the home of the Frisco Bowl and the FCS Championship Game.

There now so many lower tier bowl games that almost two-thirds of the FBS will play in a bowl game every year, a fact widely ridiculed by fans. In the 2010–11 season, there was even some worry that there wouldn't be enough bowl eligible teamsnote  to play all the bowl games, which would have required teams with losing records to be invited to fill the remaining slots; two years later, this worry resurfaced when four separate teams ended up on postseason bans at once and all four would've otherwise been bowl eligible including one that went undefeated. While ultimately this didn't happen, it illustrates what a meager accomplishment being invited to a minor bowl has become. In fact, the proliferation of bowls got so ridiculous that the NCAA called time out on it in 2016, imposing a three-year freeze on certification of new bowl games; a few more have been added since that freeze, most notably the Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl, the first to be named after a living person.note  Once again, there are conference tie-ins for these bowls, but they tend to be a lot less strictly enforced than in higher-tier bowls (especially since a conference might not have enough eligible teams to fill all its tie-ins, but also because a major conference probably doesn't care all that much about the tie-in for its 6th place team and a minor conference lacks the influence to do anything about it if their tie-in is ignored). Since non-AQ conferences' tie-ins were exclusively with the bottom-tier bowls, non-AQ champions were almost always stuck in these bowls, but with exceptional seasons they could become BCS busters and jump all the way to the top four bowls.note 

Obviously, as stated above, this system far from perfect, or even comprehensible, but it's also difficult for fans to agree on what exactly would constitute a fair playoff system, not to mention the difficulty in untangling the tens of millions of dollars in contracts made between the power conferences and the bowls themselves. The discussion is Serious Business; even the United States Congress has gotten involved in recent years, in college football's own version of Executive Meddling.note 

The lower divisions of the NCAA (and the NAIA) actually have association-operated national championship playoff tournaments, and have for decades. The average casual fan pays little interest to these divisions, which tend to have fanbases consisting of students and alumni, though NFL scouts also keep a keen eye on them—Super Bowl MVPs Terry Bradshaw (Louisiana Tech, before it became an FBS school), Harvey Martin (Texas A&M-Commerce), Richard Dent (Tennessee State), Phil Simms (Morehead State), Doug Williams (Grambling), Jerry Rice (Mississippi Valley State), Kurt Warner (Northern Iowa), Joe Flacco (Delaware) and Cooper Kupp (Eastern Washington) all played at lower division schools. There's currently one FCS bowl: the Celebration Bowl in Atlanta, which pairs the champions of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) and the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC), two conferences of historically black colleges who've elected to forgo playing in the FCS playoffs. Divisions II and III have a handful of bowls, which function as a Consolation Prize for teams who didn't make the official NCAA playoffs.

Advertisement:

Rivalries

While all sports have bitter rivalries, college football tends to have the most pronounced ones in American sports. Some of the more notable have been mentioned above. Rivalries will most commonly feature two teams within a state (like Auburn vs. Alabama), teams whose states border one another (like Texas vs. Oklahoma), and ones with historical significance (like Army vs. Navy).

The following are all notable rivalries. Most feature teams that are frequently in the top 25, and therefore, more likely to put up a good game.

    Rivalries 
  • Harvard vs. Yale (The Ur-Example, though no longer of much importance except to students at the respective schools. Formerly known as "The Game"note  until the more relevant Ohio State vs. Michigan rivalry usurped that name.)
  • Army vs. Navy vs. Air Force (for the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy) – The Army–Navy Game is another one of the oldest rivalries, having been played since 1890 and annually since 1930, though the roots of the rivalries between the two services run much deeper than football. The Air Force Academy wasn't established until 1954; Air Force first played Army in 1959 and Navy in 1960. The three-way rivalry (and its trophy) wasn't established until 1972, the first season in which Air Force played both of the other academies. The Army-Navy Game is treated with an immense deal of respect, even when, as is usually the case in the modern era, neither team is nationally relevant. In some ways, it is the most "romantic" college sporting event, since few if any of the players on each team will have any pro prospects, evoking the old tradition of playing for "the love of the game" that has largely faded from college spots; since it is traditionally the last regular-season game of the year, this also means that it is usually the last game of competitive football the seniors on either team will ever play before going to serve their country. Fun fact #1: The first use of instant replay was by CBS during its coverage of the 1963 Army–Navy Game. Fun fact #2: With the planned 2020 Navy–Notre Dame game being a COVID-19 casualty, the Air Force–Army game is now the longest continuous intersectional rivalry in FBS, with a game in each season since 1971.
  • Auburn vs. Alabama ("The Iron Bowl"note )
  • Texas vs. Oklahoma ("The Red River Rivalry"note ) - played at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, which is almost exactly halfway between the two campuses. Was a non-conference game for decades until becoming a conference rivalry starting in 1996; will remain a conference rivalry after the two schools leave the Big 12 for the SEC some time between 2022 and 2025.
  • Ohio State vs. Michigan ("The Game" - voted the #1 rivalry in North American sports by ESPN in 2000.) The final game of their regular season since 1935; before the expansion of the conference and advent of divisional play, it was usually the de facto Big Ten championship game. Like many big rivalries, this one grew out of existing animosity between the bordering states: Specifically, the "Toledo War", a dispute over ownership of the economically vital Great Lakes port of Toledo. Ohio got Toledo, but Michigan generally had the upper hand in the football rivalry, though Ohio State has been much more dominant in recent years.
    Oh, we don't give a damn for the whole state of Michigan
    The whole state of Michigan, the whole state of Michigan
    We don't give a damn for the whole state of Michigan
    We're from O-hi-o!
  • Wisconsin vs. Minnesota ("Paul Bunyan's Axe") – The oldest annual rivalry in FBS football, having been played every year since 1907. Its status was nearly a COVID-19 casualty, with their originally scheduled 2020 matchup canceled due to an outbreak in the Minnesota program, but the teams were able to make the game up on the season's final weekend.
  • Florida vs. Georgia ("The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party"note ) - Played on a theoretically neutral field in Jacksonville, Florida.
  • The Pac-12 (for now) divides neatly into six regional groupings, providing for many natural rivalries.
    • UCLA vs. USC ("The Battle for the Victory Bell"/"The Battle of Los Angeles"), which will transfer to the Big Ten once those schools move in 2024. Their games are notable for having neither team wear their white uniforms, regardless of who hosts, as the contrasting red and blue of their home uniforms is seen as sufficient to tell them apart and both Los Angeles teams are playing for their home market as is.
    • California (Berkeley) vs. Stanford ("The Big Game"; see also "The Play", which refers to the downright surreal ending to the 1982 edition.) Often considered the modern version of Harvard vs. Yale, being played between a pair of very academically prestigious schools... but unlike Harvard and Yale, they still frequently play good football.)
    • Oregon vs. Oregon State ("The Civil War")
    • Washington vs. Washington State (The Apple Cup) note 
    • Arizona vs. Arizona State ("The Duel in the Desert", notable for being played for the Territorial Cupnote , which has been certified as the oldest rivalry trophy in college football, having first been awarded in 1889.note )
    • Colorado vs. Utah (The "Rumble in the Rockies") – Had been one of the hottest rivalries in the West for the first half of the 20th century, but stopped after 1962. Revived in 2011 when Colorado and Utah joined the Pac-12 and were placed in the same football division.
  • BYU vs. Utah ("The Holy War"note )
  • Boston College vs. Notre Dame (also "The Holy War"note )
  • West Virginia vs. Pittsburgh ("The Backyard Brawl", although after WVU left to join the Big 12 Conference in 2012, this series did not continue) note 
  • Kansas vs. Missouri ("The Border War"/"Border Showdown") - Dates back to 1891 and grew out of the considerable animosity that already existed between the states, giving this rivalry an uglier edge than most.note  Though it had been played for 120 years, interrupted only by the 1918 flu pandemic, the annual rivalry ended when Missouri left the Big 12 for the SEC. Inevitably, fans of each school accused the other of having "surrendered".
  • Illinois vs. Missouri ("The Arch Rivalry"note ) – An offshoot of "Braggin' Rights", a longer-standing men's basketball rivalry between the two schools, with those games also being played in St. Louis. The football version ended after Mizzou left for the SEC, though there are plans to revive it in the future.
  • Michigan vs. Michigan State ("The Battle for the Mitten"note /"Paul Bunyan—Governor of Michigan Trophy"). Taken more seriously by MSU than UM—as UM has OSU to deal with—with the result that MSU takes it even more seriously in a "what are we, chopped liver?" kind of way. The OSU thing leads to a lot of conflicted emotions for MSU fans, since on the one hand Michigan is the great rival but on the other hand OSU is from Ohio and most MSU fans are Michiganders, leading one to recall Henry Kissinger's comment about the Iran–Iraq War: "It's a shame they can't both lose.")
  • USC vs. Notre Dame ("The Battle for the Jewelled Shillelagh") – Played annually since 1926 (save for WWII and 2020); started out as a chance for Notre Dame to recruit on the West Coast but quickly evolved into a match-up of the greatest private university football teams of the East and West.
  • Mississippi State vs. Ole Miss ("The Battle For The Golden Egg"/"The Egg Bowl")note 
  • Miami (FL) vs. Florida State - In addition to being a cross-state rivalry, both teams often vie for the ACC championship.
  • Florida vs. Florida State - Traditionally the last game of their regular season every year, though not played in 2020 thanks to COVID-19, with both the SEC and ACC going to conference-only schedules.
  • Georgia vs. Georgia Tech ("Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate") – Played every year from 1925 through 2019; also scrapped for 2020, with that game also being an SEC–ACC matchup.
  • Virginia vs. Virginia Tech (Battle for the Commonwealth Cup)note 
  • Colorado vs. Colorado State ("The Rocky Mountain Showdown")
  • Tennessee vs. Alabama ("The Third Saturday in October"note ) – Notable for having long winning streaks by whichever team is ascendant in a given decade.
  • Tennessee vs. Florida – One of the newer rivalries, but for most of the 1990s it was the de facto SEC championship game. With both teams having declined since then, it's become lower-profile nationally but remains bitterly contested.
  • Clemson vs. South Carolina – Before COVID-19, it had been the second-oldest uninterrupted FBS rivalry by just two years, dating back to 1909. The rivalry between the schools predates their even having football teams, and indeed traces back to before Clemson actually existed having originally been fueled by post-Civil War state politics.
  • Southern Methodist and Texas Christian – Both are in the same metro area and both are affiliated with different Protestant denominations (SMU with the United Methodist Church and TCU with the Disciples of Christ). The prize is the Iron Skillet. TCU (Fort Worth) has been more victorious since 1987, since SMU's (Dallas) infamous Death Penalty judgment. The rivalry got even hotter in 2021 with three incidents. First, an SMU player told media, "No one comes to Texas for Fort Worth." Then, after SMU won at TCU, said player tried to plant a school flag at midfield and a teammate succeeded, leading to a minor scuffle between the teams. Finally, TCU hired away SMU's head coach at the end of the season.
  • Auburn vs. Georgia ("The Deep South's Oldest Rivalry") – First played in 1892 and became an annual game in 1898, though interruptions for World War I and World War II prevented it from being the oldest annual rivalry in FBS.
  • LSU vs. Auburn ("The Tiger Bowl"note )
  • LSU vs. Arkansas ("The Battle for the Golden Boot"note )
  • Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State ("Bedlam Series"note ) – Post-COVID, now tied with NC State–Wake Forest for the second-longest uninterrupted annual series in FBS, with both games having been played every year since 1910. Though with OU's impending departure for the SEC, it may end... stay tuned.
  • Texas vs. Texas A&M ("Lone Star Showdown"note ) – Dates back to 1894 and was a long-standing traditional Thanksgiving Day game, but like the Border War it ended after 2011 because of conference realignment. Both fanbases seem to simultaneously blame the other school for the ending of the game and then claim they didn't really want to play it that much anyway. A significantly less tradition-filled game between Texas and either Baylor or Texas Tech (or TCU since their joining the Big 12) has for the time being stood in for Thanksgiving. To be revived once UT joins A&M in the SEC.
  • Arkansas vs. Texas A&M – An old Southwest Conference rivalry that was recently revived as a non-conference game played in at the Dallas Cowboy's stadium in Arlington,note  and is now entrenched annually as Texas A&M joined the SEC and was placed in the same football division as Arkansas.
  • TCU vs. Baylor ("The Revivalry"note ) - Another old Southwest Conference rivalry with the added enmity that Baylor allegedly played politics to keep TCU out of the Big 12.note  With TCU joining the Big 12, this rivalry has now come full circle. The series has been closely fought throughout its history, with TCU leading (as of 2021) by 57–53–7.
  • Iowa State vs. Kansas State ("Farmageddon")
  • Kentucky vs. Louisville ("The Governor's Cup") – Although hard-fought on the football field, this matchup is much better known as a men's basketball rivalry. This is a relatively recent rivalry—after the first half of the 1920s, UK steadfastly refused to schedule U of L in either sport for decades. The modern basketball rivalry began in 1983 (after no regular-season games for over 60 years), but the modern football rivalry had to wait until 1994, after a 70-year absence.note 
  • North Carolina vs. Virginia ("The South's Oldest Rivalry", which has been played since 1892, continuously since 1919)
  • Florida State vs. Virginia (awarding the "Jefferson-Eppes Trophy"note )
  • Nebraska vs. Oklahoma, which ran from 1912 to 2010, when Nebraska left the Big 12 - because the Big 12 wouldn't schedule the game every season. note  The highlight was the 1971 "Game of the Century", with #1-ranked Nebraska narrowly beating out #2-ranked Oklahoma. The rivalry returned in 2021 and 2022 with two specially-scheduled games.
  • Cincinnati vs. Miami (OH) - The longest-running current non-conference rivalry in the United States (though they were briefly in the same conference in the late 1940s and early 1950s), the most-played currently active FBS rivalry between teams from the same state (see immediately below for an even more frequently-played intrastate rivalry), and the oldest rivalry west of the Allegheny Mountains. They play for the Victory Bell. Since Cincinnati moved to the Big East in 2005, however, the rivalry has been rather one-sided, with Miami's last victory coming in 2005.
  • Lafayette vs. Lehigh ("The Rivalry") – A matchup between two lower-level FCS teams, both members of the Patriot League and located in the Lehigh Valley of eastern Pennsylvania. It's notable here as the most-played matchup in college football history (the November 2021 game was the 157th) and the longest uninterrupted rivalry (since 1897) in all of college football.note  The Leopards and Mountain Hawks first played in 1884; the large number of games is because the teams played twice each season from 1884 to 1901 (except 1896, when they didn't play at all, and 1891, when they played three times), as well as in the war years of 1943 and 1944. The game is so old that it predates rivalry trophies—the winning team just gets to keep the game ball.
  • Florida Atlantic vs. Florida International ("Shula Bowl")- This South Florida rivalry is one of the newest in college football, having begun in 2002. It is called the Shula Bowl, both because of the influence of Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula over the South Florida region's football culture and because both team's first head coaches had connections to him (Howard Schnellenberger for FAU was an assistant for Shula in the 1970s and Don Strock for FIU was a player for Shula at around the same time). This rivalry has a history of long winning streaks for FAU, as well as high scoring bouts.
  • Georgia State vs. Georgia Southern ("Modern Day Hate") - another fairly recent rivalry in football as State only founded their football program in 2010, though it's been going on for longer in other sports. The two universities debate over who is "the real GSU", and the name is a refernce to the much older rivalry between Georgia and Georgia Tech beng called "Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate".
  • Black Hills State vs. South Dakota Mines ("Black Hills Brawl") - These two D-II teams in the Black Hills region have the most-played rivalry outside of D-I, with the 136th meeting in 2021. Its history is a little unusual in that the starting date is in dispute—when the rivalry began in 1895, Mines approached Black Hills State (then known as Spearfish Normal) for a game, but was turned down; Mines instead played the now-defunct Black Hills College, also in that same region. Both modern schools include this game in the rivalry's chronology, but not in their records; the first official game, between the schools that eventually became BHSU and SD Mines, was played in 1900. While the teams skipped a few seasons in the early 20th century, they imitated Lafayette and Lehigh by frequently playing two games a season, and even three in 1917. While they've normally played only one game a year since WWII, they have played two games as recently as 2011, and planned to play two in the COVID-affected 2020 season before the virus put the season on ice (they did play the first game).
  • Amherst vs. Williams ("The Biggest Little Game in America") - These two D-III teams in western Massachusetts have the most-played rivalry in their division, with the 135th meeting in 2021. It's Personal for both schools: Amherst was founded in 1821 when a group of Williams administrators, professors and students seceded to form a new college (and allegedly stole some library books before they left). The game has attracted national media attention over the years, including hosting College GameDay in 2007.
  • Henderson State vs. Ouachita Baptist ("Battle of the Ravine") - These D-II teams are tied with the participants in the Black Hills Brawl for the oldest D-II rivalry, though unlike BHSU and SD Mines, they've never played twice in a season. This rivalry is personal on steroids and acid for both schools: they're located literally across the street from one another' in the small town of Arkadelphia, Arkansas (permanent population about 10,000). The rivalry name comes from the ravine that cuts through both campuses. Students at the two schools regularly cross the street to attend classes, social activities, and Bible study groups at the other... and have a long history of pranks against one another during rivalry week, which actually led to a 10-year interruption in the rivalry (1952–1962). The stadiums are within sight of one another, and the away team traditionally walks in full uniform from its own locker room to the home team's stadium. On the field, nearly half of the games have been decided by a TD or less. No wonder Sports Illustrated called this "college football's most intimate rivalry".
  • Claremont-Mudd-Scripps vs. Pomona-Pitzer ("6th Street Rivalry") - This rivalry of two SoCal D-III teams is also a case of two teams from the same town (Claremont, CA) with adjacent campuses, but there's an added wrinkle: it involves two teams that represent a combined total of five colleges. Both teams are part of the Claremont Colleges, a consortium of five undergraduate colleges and two graduate schools located on interconnected campuses with numerous shared resources. For NCAA athletic competition, Claremont McKenna, Harvey Mudd, and Scripps Colleges all compete together as one program, while Pomona and Pitzer Colleges form a second program among the consortium. As the name of the rivalry suggests, the teams' two stadiums are located about a 5-minute walk from one another on the same street. The proximity has also led to a long history of colorful pranks, from Pomona stealing all the trophies from Claremont's trophy case to Claremont breaking into Pomona's locker room and scrawling expletives in marker on Pomona's jerseys.
  • Though not an annual rivalry, Alabama vs. Georgia has recently become this thanks in large part to Georgia football coach Kirby Smart (a former Alabama DC under the Nick Saban regime) leading his team to become the dominant team in the SEC East; his team has seriously challenged his old boss's squad as they battled in numerous SEC title games over the years and faced each other in the 2018 CFP Championship Game where Alabama defeated Georgia 26-23 in overtime but four years later, Georgia defeated Alabama 33-18 in the CFP Championship after avenging its 41-24 loss in the 2021 SEC Championship Game last December.

College Football Individual Awards

A list of the major awards for college football players and coaches presented annually. There are several governing bodies in charge of selecting the various award winners, so some of the awards may seem a little repetitive in terms of what the award stands for. (Ex. the Heisman, Maxwell, and Walter Camp awards all being practically the same.) The coaching awards take the "repetitive" aspect Up to Eleven. Positions are also supplied for winners of awards that aren't position-specific. For FCS awards, those designated as "2021" are for the traditional fall season.

    Awards (players) 
  • Heisman Memorial Trophy Award (aka "The Heisman"): The top award a college football player can hope to receive. It is given out annually to the "most outstanding" player in college football. It is also the oldest award on the list, with the first being presented in 1935. While any player at any position is eligible to win the award, it has historically been awarded to Quarterbacks and Running Backs by a wide margin. The winner is chosen by voters consisting of "informed, competent, and impartial" sports writers along with every living recipient of the award also getting a vote. 2021 winner: Bryce Young, QB, Alabama
  • Bronko Nagurski Trophy: Award given to the best defensive player in college football. 2021 winner: Will Anderson Jr., LB, Alabama
  • Buck Buchanan Award: Award given to the best defensive player in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) of college football. 2021 winner: Isaiah Land, LB, Florida A&M
  • Burlsworth Trophy: One of the newer awards (first presented in 2010), which is given to the most outstanding player who began his college career as a "walk-on" (not offered a scholarship). 2021 winner: Grant Morgan, LB, Arkansas
  • Butkus Award: Award traditionally given to the top linebacker in college football. Starting in 2008, the award has expanded to include a professional and high school player each year as well. 2021 winner: Nakobe Dean, Georgia
  • Campbell Trophy: Presented to the top scholar-athlete in all of college football—not only the FBS, but also including the FCS, Divisions II and III, and the NAIA. Uniquely among nominal all-divisions awards, the Campbell Trophy has actually been won once by a D-III player. 2021 winner: Charlie Kolar, TE, Iowa State
  • Chuck Bednarik Award: Award given to the defensive "player of the year" in college football. The Nagurski Trophy recipient frequently gets this award as well. 2021 winner: Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia
  • Davey O'Brien Award: Award given to the best quarterback in college football. Whenever a QB wins the Heisman, there is a good chance that he will win this award as well. 2021 winner: Young
  • Doak Walker Award: Award given to the best running back in college football. Whenever a running back wins the Heisman, there is a good chance that he will win this award as well. 2021 winner: Kenneth Walker III, Michigan State
  • Fred Biletnikoff Award: Award given to the best receiver in college football. Although the award rules state that anyone who catches the ball on offense is eligible, every winner to date has been a wide receiver. (Which makes sense, given that the award's namesake played that position.) 2021 winner: Jordan Addison, Pittsburgh
  • Gagliardi Trophy: Award given to the "most outstanding" player in D-III football. 2021 winner: Blaine Hawkins, QB, North Central (IL)
  • Gene Upshaw Award: Award given to the best lineman, offensive or defensive, in D-II football. 2021 winner: Dylan Pasquali, OT, Ferris State
  • Harlon Hill Trophy: Award given to the "most valuable" player in D-II football. 2021 winner: Tyson Bagent, QB, Shepherd
  • Jerry Rice Award: Along with the Jet Award (immediately below), the newest major US-based award (first presented in 2011). Presented to the top freshman player in FCS football, making it the only recognized national award for first-year players in any division. 2021 winner: Shedeur Sanders, QB, Jackson State
  • Jet Award: Along with the Rice Award, the newest major US-based award (first presented in 2011note ), which is given to the top return specialist in college football. "Jet" comes from the nickname of legendary 1970s Nebraska receiver/return man Johnny Rodgers. 2021 winner: Marcus Jones, Houston
  • Jim Thorpe Award: Award given to the top defensive back in college football. 2021 winner: Coby Bryant, CB, Cincinnati
  • John Mackey Award: Award given to the "most outstanding" tight end in college football. 2021 winner: Trey McBride, Colorado State
  • Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award: Award given to the best quarterback who has spent at least four seasons in college football (i.e., either a senior or a redshirt junior). Originally, only seniors were eligible, but redshirt juniors have been added, probably because many top QBs now leave for the NFL before their fourth season. 2021 winner: Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh
  • Jon Cornish Trophy: The newest significant award in college football, first presented for the 2017 season. Unlike any of the other awards listed here, it's a specifically Canadian award, presented to the outstanding player of that nationality in NCAA football. The voting body consists of Canadian media, CFL scouts, and former NCAA players with a connection to the country. The award's namesake is CFL star Jon Cornish, who played college ball in the States at Kansas. Another unique distinction of this award is that the winner doesn't get to keep the trophy beyond the award ceremony—it's permanently displayed at the Canadian Football Hall of Fame at Tim Hortons Field, home of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Still another unique tradition is being established around the trophy, namely that the winner signs its back. 2021 winner: John Metchie III, WR, Alabama
  • Lombardi Award: From 1970-2016, this award, named after legendary NFL coach Vince Lombardi, was presented to the top lineman or linebacker. Originally presented by the service club Rotary International, it came under the control of the Lombardi Foundation in 2017, and the award became yet another "best college player" award, though the award criteria include leadership and character. 2021 winner: Aidan Hutchinson, DE, Michigan
  • Lou Groza Award: Award given to the top placekicker in college football. 2021 winner: Jake Moody, Michigan
  • Manning Award: Another award given to the best quarterback in college football; named after the Manning QB family.note  Whenever a QB wins the Heisman, there is a good chance that he will win this award as well. Like the now-defunct awards presented by the Touchdown Club of Columbus, it's not awarded until after the bowl games; in fact, the voting deadline is deliberately set after the CFP title game. 2021 winner: Young
  • Maxwell Award: Award given to the "best football player in the United States." Predictably, the winner of this award is also frequently the Heisman winner as well. 2021 winner: Young
  • Outland Trophy: Award given to the best "interior lineman" in college football. This includes any offensive linemen, as well as defensive tackles. 2021 winner: Davis
  • Paul Hornung Award: Another relatively new award (first given in 2010), presented to the most versatile player in college football. 2021 winner: Jones
  • Ray Guy Award: Award given to the top punter in college football. 2021 winner: Matt Araiza, San Diego State
  • Rimington Trophy: Award given to the top center in FBS. Notable in that the award winner is not determined by vote of a designated committee, but instead on a points system based on placement in four specific All-America teams. Not to be confused with the Rimington Award, presented by the same body (though awarded based on an actual vote) to the outstanding centers in FCS, D-II, D-III, and the NAIA. It's the only individual playing award presented at all five levels of four-year college football. 2021 winners: Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa (FBS); A.J. Farris, Monmouth (FCS); Matt Armendariz, Colorado Mines (D-II); Mike Olsen, Wisconsin–Oshkosh (D-III); Matt Dey, Dickinson State (NAIA)
  • Senior CLASS Award:note  Presented since 2008 to the most outstanding senior student-athlete in FBS football, based on both excellence of play and community involvement.note  2021 winner: Pickett
  • Walter Camp Award: Award given to the college football "player of the year". Predictably, the winner of this award is also frequently the Heisman winner as well. 2021 winner: Walker
  • Walter Payton Award: Award given to the "most outstanding" offensive player in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) of college football. Originally given to the most outstanding player on either side of the ball, but restricted to offensive players since the Buchanan Award was established in 1995. 2021 winner: Eric Barriere, QB, Eastern Washington
  • Wuerffel Trophy: Presented for outstanding community service by an FBS player; named after 1996 Heisman winner Danny Wuerffel. 2021 winner: Isaiah Sanders, QB, Stanford
    Awards (coaches) 
Unlike the situation with player awards, in which the Heisman Trophy is undeniably the most prestigious, no single award for head coaches is considered to be the most prestigious. All awards in this section are for HCs unless otherwise indicated.

  • AFCA Coach of the Year: The oldest annual award for head coaches, first presented in 1935 (the same year in which the Heisman was introduced). Voted on and presented by the American Football Coaches Association, the trade organization for college football coaches. This award is presented at each level of play—FBS, FCS, D-II, D-III, and NAIA. 2021 FBS winner: Luke Fickell, Cincinnati
  • AFCA Assistant Coach of the Year: The AFCA added this award in 1997, and also hands it out at each level of play. The award criteria include not only coaching success, but also community service, AFCA involvement, and "commitment to the student-athlete". 2021 FBS winner: Newland Isaac, co-OC/RB, Coastal Carolina
  • AP Coach of the Year: Presented by the Associated Press, and voted on by the same media members who vote in the weekly AP Poll during the season. 2021 winner: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan
  • Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year: Presented since 1976 by the Peach Bowl organizers, with a panel of college football experts as the voting body. Named after longtime Georgia Tech coach Bobby Dodd. Candidates are judged not only on their teams' on-field success but also their teams' academic success and community involvement. 2021 winner: Fickell
  • Broyles Award: The most prestigious award for assistant coaches, first awarded in 1996 and named after Frank Broyles, longtime Arkansas head coach and later the school's men's athletic director. Chosen by a committee of 17 prominent retired college coaches. 2021 winner: Josh Gattis, OC, Michigan
  • Eddie Robinson Award: Presented since 1987 to the top I-AA/FCS head coach by the publisher of the most widely recognized FCS poll—originally The Sports Network (not the Anglophone Canadian equivalent to ESPN, but rather a wire service), now the sports analytics company Stats Perform. One of two major coaching awards named after Grambling State coaching legend Eddie Robinson. 2021 winner: Deion Sanders, Jackson State
  • Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year: Presented since 1957 by the Football Writers Association of America, the trade association for college football writers. Originally known just as the FWAA Coach of the Year, but has been named after the aforementioned Eddie Robinson for the last few decades. The FWAA also presents the Nagurski and Outland Trophies. 2021 winner: Fickell
  • George Munger Award: Presented since 1989 by the Maxwell Football Club (yes, as in the Maxwell Award) and named after longtime Penn head coach George Munger. 2021 winner: Dave Aranda, Baylor
  • Home Depot Coach of the Year: Presented since 1994 by ESPN, with the voting body being college football analysts for the various ESPN networks (including ABC, whose sports operations are unified with ESPN). 2021 winner: Fickell
  • Paul "Bear" Bryant Award: Presented since 1986 by the American Heart Association, with the National Sports Media Association, a trade association for sports media members of all outlets, as the voting body. Of course, named after the legendary Alabama coach; the AHA connection comes from the family's support of that charity. The AHA also presents a lifetime achievement award, also named for The Bear, to a prominent head coach each year. 2021 winner: Fickell
  • Walter Camp Coach of the Year: Presented since 1967 by the same body responsible for the Walter Camp Award. 2021 winner: Fickell

Names to know in College Football (alphabetical in category, by last name)

The College Football Hall of Famenote  (currently located in Atlanta) contains over 1,000 players and over 200 coaches from over 300 schools; we are not going to cover all of them here, nor are we going to cover all of the players who gained most of their fame at the pro level. However, some of these amateur athletes performed so well or cultivated such an iconic image off the field that they become pop culture icons, even in the era in which they weren't allowed to profit off of their name, image, and likeness. Holders of significant college football records are also included in our list, even if they aren't Hall of Famers (in fact, quite a few aren't even eligible to be in the Hall). A few players listed here weren't stars, but deserve mention as either groundbreakers or especially inspirational figures.

College head coaches hold an even more unique role in American society, and the list below contains far more of their names than the players they coached for two main reasons: 1. Unlike their student-athletes, coaches typically don't cycle out of their schools nearly as frequently; successful ones may stay with their programs for decades, shaping the public image of the university and their states in the process. 2. Even more than their counterparts in the pros, college HCs wield near-absolute power over their teams and thus carry even more responsibility for the program's long-term success and failure. While pro coaches often have to negotiate and compromise with players with near-equal experience (and paychecks), college coaches recruit unpaid amateurs with no experience, creating a massive power disparity that sometimes leads to problems (see the "Notorious" folder for some examples of that). One more quirk: Due to most of the major football programs belonging to public universities, most football coaches are technically government employees; with annual salaries in the millions, they are the highest paid public employees in almost every state.note  This strikes most non-Americans (and, frankly, many Americans) as very, very strange and another example of how football is incredibly Serious Business.

While the Hall of Fame has yet to recognize conference administrators, several of whom have had great impacts on the sport, we're also including some of the more notable ones here.

Details on many of these players' post-college careers can be found on the National Football League Names to Know pages or, if they notably fell short of their college promise in the pros, the "Draft Busts" section of the National Football League Notorious Figures page.

    Theodore Roosevelt 
  • Yes, that Theodore Roosevelt. It is quite likely that without him, college football (and American football in general) would never have made it out of the first few years of the 20th century. Though his near-sightedness prevented him from playing while a student at Harvard, he was an avowed fan of the sport. As more and more institutions banned the sport due to its violence (including spinal cord injuries, fractured skulls, and outright fatalities common in the sport's early years), Roosevelt looked to save it by making it safer. After 19 collegiate players died in 1905 and Roosevelt's own son (a freshman at Harvard) suffered a broken nose in a game, Roosevelt brought together prominent head coaches (including Walter "the Father of Football" Camp, see below) to establish rules for making it safer. Rule changes that were instituted included limiting teams to 11 players on the field at a time, the creation of a "neutral zone" between the offense and defense, the easing of restrictions on the forward pass. By 1909, fatalities were almost nonexistent and injuries had dropped significantly. The contributions of coaches like Camp, Amos Alonzo Stagg, John Heisman, and Knute Rockne (see below under "Coaches and Administrators") in the years that followed would make college football America's second most popular sport (behind baseball) in the early half of the 20th century and pave the way for the NFL's rise to dominance in the latter half.

    Coaches (A-F) 
  • William Alexander: The longest tenured HC in Georgia Tech history (1920-44). A valedictorian at Tech as a student, Alexander succeeded John Heisman and led the Yellow Jackets from the SIAA to become charter members of SoCon and the SEC while winning a national title in 1928 and making more bowl appearances than any other Tech coach. Tech went on several sustained droughts of mediocrity between those heights, but Alexander's leadership and AD position helped him keep the job as HC until passing them both to protégé Bobby Dodd, who took the program to greater heights; he held the AD job until his death in 1950.
  • Barry Alvarez: The HC who put the Wisconsin football program back on the map. After a playing career as a LB at Nebraska in the late '60s, he moved up the assistant coaching ranks until landing the DC job at Notre Dame under Lou Holtz, winning a national championship there in 1988. In 1990, Wisconsin hired him to turn around their program, which had been a Big Ten afterthought since the early '60s and not had a winning season since 1984. By 1993, Alvarez led Wisconsin to a one-loss season and their first of three Big Ten titles and Rose Bowl victories under his reign. The Badgers went to 10 bowl games in his next 12 years as coach, and he became the school's AD in 2004. He stepped down as coach after 2005 but remained AD, during which he stepped back in to coach the school's bowl appearances in 2012 and 2014 after the HCs left the program. Those games came after he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2010. He continued to serve as AD until announcing his retirement in 2021, with Wisconsin naming the playing field at Camp Randall Stadium after him later that year.
  • Ike Armstrong: The longest-tenured coach in Utah's history and largely responsible for establishing the school's football culture. He was hired to coach both football and basketball in 1925, and while he lasted only two years at the latter position, he stayed at the former for 25, winning close to 70% of his games and winning his regional conferences' championship in more than half of his seasons. Armstrong has the interesting distinction of having notched both undefeated and winless seasons for the same program; he went unbeaten and untied thrice in the '20s and '30s but 0-7 in 1943 (in fairness, this was only because he insisted on keeping the program running despite losing almost all of his players to WWII service). He left Utah to serve as AD at Minnesota for 13 years and died in 1983.
  • Chris Ault: Spent 28 nonconsecutive years as the HC of Nevada. Ault was a respected coach in the region, leading Nevada from D-II all the way to I-A. His career was split into three different tenures: 1976-92, 1994-95, and 2004-12. In between them, he was school's AD; in other words, he hired himself as HC twice when the position became open. In 1994, it was because his handpicked successor Jeff Horton left after one year to become HC at archrival UNLV (a job Ault himself turned down). In 2004, he took over after firing coach Chris Tormey two years after he had been elected to the Hall of Fame under the assumption that his coaching days were behind him. He was Colin Kaepernick's college coach and perfected the trendy Pistol offense (a variation on the Shotgun that mixes in some option elements, where the quarterback lines up a little closer to center and the running back lines up directly behind the QB).
  • Frank Beamer: The coach who brought Virginia Tech football to national prominence. A CB for the Hokies in the late 1960s, he moved up the high school and college assistant ranks. His first head coaching gig was at FCS Murray State, and he was hired as HC by his alma mater immediately after leading the Racers to the 1986 OVC title. Beamer started out slow, in part hampered by NCAA sanctions imposed due to violations under his predecessor, bottoming out with a 2–8–1 record in 1992. He didn't have another losing season after that, making bowl games every year, winning three conference titles in the Big East and four more in the ACC, and playing for a national title in 1999 (losing to Florida State). Beamer retired after 2015 as by far the winningest coach in Hokies history; he has a statue at an entrance to their stadium and entered the Hall of Fame in 2018. His son Shane, a long snapper under his father at Tech, was hired as HC at South Carolina for 2021.
  • Mike Bellotti: The winningest coach in Oregon history. Got his first HC gig at Chico State (1984-88), putting up a losing record. After serving as OC under Rich Brooks (see below) at Oregon for five seasons, he was promoted to HC and built on the foundation his predecessor laid. From 1995-2008, he guided the Ducks to two conference titles and had only one losing season. He retired in 2009 to become Oregon's AD, resigned in 2010 to become an analyst for ESPN, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014.
  • Hugo Bezdek: A Hall of Fame coach from the early 20th century who left his mark at Oregon (1906, 1913-17), Arkansas (1908-12), and Penn State (1918-29). Bezdek coined the "Razorback" name for Arkansas after leading them to an undefeated 1909 season and continued to serve as Penn State's AD until 1936. For fans of trivia, he is also the only person to have served as both a manager of an MLB team (Pittsburgh Pirates, 1917-19) and head coach of an NFL team (Cleveland Rams, 1937-38); as you might surmise from the length of those tenures, he wasn't exactly successful at either post. Passed away in 1952.
  • Dana X. Biblenote : A HC for five different schoolsnote  in the first half of the 20th century, putting up a career record of 190-69-22 (.715). His most famous stop was at Texas A&M, where he won two national championships while also serving as head basketball and baseball coach. He holds the distinction of being the only HC in college football history to hold opponents completely scoreless for two full seasons, doing so in 1917 and 1919 at A&M (defeating opponents by a combined 545-0 in those years). The sole reason for the gap in between: he left to serve as a pilot during World War I. Later had successful stints at both Nebraska and Texas, helping to establish the tradition of football excellence at both schools; he stayed on at Texas as AD for a decade after his retirement from coaching, hiring Darrell K Royal (see below) shortly before his final retirement. Also served on the college football rules committee for 25 years, helping to establish many of the rules of the sport as it is known today. Was part of the Hall of Fame's inaugural class in 1951 and passed away in 1980.
  • Bernie Bierman: Best known as the HC for Minnesota from 1932-41 and again from 1945-50 after stops at Montana (1919-21), Mississippi State (1925-26), and Tulane (1927-31). During his first tenure at Minnesota, he led the team to five national championships. He was called to coach the team for Iowa's Navy Pre-Flight school in 1942, later returned to Minnesota in 1945 after the team declined to mediocrity, and was never able to return the Gophers to the prominence they enjoyed before WWII. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1955 before passing away in 1977.
  • Earl "Red" Blaik: Best known as the HC of Army from 1941-58 after a successful early career gig as the HC of Dartmouth from 1934-40. He put up an impressive record at West Point and won three consecutive national championships from 1944-46; he also served as the academy's AD from 1948-59. He was one of the first coaches to utilize a game play-by-play, charting down his opponents' tendencies on every down with the use of game film. It was also during his tenure that Army developed the Black Knights moniker. He retired after 1958 to take a private sector job. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1964, died in 1989, and the playing surface at Army's stadium was posthumously renamed in his honor in 1999.
  • Bobby Bowden: Built Florida State into a national powerhouse during his long tenure (1976–2009) after early-career gigs at his alma mater of Samfordnote  and West Virginia. He won two national titles at FSU, had 14 consecutive double-digit win seasons (1987–2000) won an NCAA record 11 straight bowl games (1985-95), and kicked off the start of their record 36-season bowl appearance streak. Bowden broke Bear Bryant's record for most wins as an FBS HC, ending with 377 (not counting 12 vacated by the NCAA for some academic violations). The playing surface at FSU's stadium was named for him in 2004 while he was still a coach, around the time the school installed a three-story stained glass window of him in their stadium; there's been some pressure in recent years to have "The House That Bobby Built" fully renamed after him, considering he did far more for football than current namesake Doak Campbell and also did not spend his career fighting racial integration. Bobby's two sons, Terry and Tommy, also became college head coaches. Neither had the amount of success their dad had: Terry, hired by Louisiana–Monroe shortly after 2020, has had stops at Samford, Auburn, North Alabama, and Akron, while Tommy had stops at Tulane and Clemson. Bowden died in 2021 after a battle with pancreatic cancer.
  • Rich Brooks: A coach known for reviving failing programs at Oregon and Kentucky despite ultimately accruing a sub-.500 record at both schools. A player at Oregon State, he got his first HC gig at Oregon in 1977, taking over a program that hadn't had a winning season since 1969 and dealing with an academic scandal over his first few years on the job. He steadily turned around their fortunes, leading the team to their first bowl game in over two decades in 1989 and the first conference championship in school history in 1994, at which point he left the program, having set the Ducks up for greater heights under his successors. Oregon subsequently renamed their football field in his honor. After a disappointing turn in the NFL and a hiatus from the game, he returned to become the HC for Kentucky in 2003. Taking over a team that was beginning to feel the effects of probation, he ultimately turned them around too and guided them to four straight bowl games before retiring after 2009.
  • Mack Brown: The current HC of North Carolina but most famous for his tenure at Texas. A popular coach with players, Brown was initially hired at UNC in 1988 after largely unspectacular runs at Appalachian State and Tulane but helped turn the Tar Heels program around after two 1-10 seasons. He was hired to coach the Longhorns in 1998 and revived the program's prospects over the next 16 seasons, including winning the 2005 BCS Championship in one of the most memorable college games ever. Brown retired after 2013 but returned to North Carolina in 2019, helping to once again revive the program. Mack's older brother Watson Brown was a coach himself, though his most notable accomplishment was being the first NCAA football coach to lose 200 games.
  • Frank Broyles: The coach who put Arkansas football on the national map. A QB at Georgia Tech in the '40s who set an Orange Bowl passing record that lasted until Tom Brady broke it in 2000, he was drafted by the Bears but never played in the pros. Instead, he went into coaching, serving as an assistant at Baylor, Florida, and his alma mater before being hired by Missouri as HC in 1957, where he served for one year before getting the call to be HC at Arkansas. Under him, the Razorbacks won seven Southwest Conference titles and a national championship in 1964. In 1974, he became the men's AD at Arkansas (the women's athletic program was then completely separate from the men's). He retired from his coaching role after 1976 with 144 wins, still a school record. His coaching tree includes such names as Hayden Fry, Joe Gibbs, Jimmy Johnson, John Majors, and Barry Switzer, and the most prestigious award for assistant coaches bears his name. During his term as AD, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1983 and oversaw Arkansas' 1991 move to the SEC before retiring in 2007. Broyles died from Alzheimer's complications in 2017.
  • Earle Bruce: Best known for his tenure at Ohio State from 1979-87 after successful early career gigs at his Tampa (1972) and Iowa State (1973-78). After being brought in to replace Woody Hayes (see below), Bruce led the Buckeyes to a bowl game in his first eight seasons, going 5-3. He was fired after a disappointing 1987 that saw star receiver Cris Carter get cut for signing with an agent. He had two less successful stops at Northern Iowa in 1988 and at Colorado State from 1989-92, winning the Freedom Bowl in 1990 before being fired for verbally and physically abusing his players and discouraging them from taking classes that conflicted with practice. He was still inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002 and died in 2018 from complications related to Alzheimer's.
  • Paul "Bear" Bryant: Often considered the definitive college football coach. Got his nickname at age 13 when he accepted a traveling carnival's offer to wrestle a bear for a dollar (which they never paid), a testament to his infamously tough attitude. Played for Alabama in the '30s, then spent 25 years as the Crimson Tide's head coach (1958-82) after shorter stints at Maryland (1945), Kentucky (1946-53), and Texas A&M (1954-57). He won six national titles as Alabama's HC (and AD); this stood as the record for decades until it was surpassed by later Alabama HC Nick Saban in 2020, though they are still tied for most titles at a single school. The state legislature added his name to the school's stadium in 1975, seven years before he retired. His 323 wins were the most ever by a D-I HC when he retired; he died of a heart attack in January 1983, less than a month after his final game. Famously wore a distinctive black-and-white houndstooth fedora on the sidelines. While he was generally beloved during his career and was responsible for desegregating the Tide in 1971, he has also been criticized for allowing the team to remain all-white essentially up to the moment doing so hurt the team's ability to compete. He was also involved in a major court case with The Saturday Evening Post, which alleged he and Wally Butts (see below) were going to fix their 1963 match. Despite this, when celebrating college football's 150th anniversary in 2019, ESPN put Bryant at #1 on their list of the 150 greatest college football coaches of all time, and one of the most esteemed coaching awards bears his name.
  • Wallace "Wally" Butts: A player at Mercer in the '20s, he became HC for Georgia in 1938. During his tenure there, he led the school to their first national championship in 1942 behind Heisman-winner Frank Sinkwich and Maxwell-winner Charley Trippi. He was also given the role of AD in 1948 and retired from coaching in 1960. He was forced to resign as AD in 1963 after The Saturday Evening Post printed an article alleging he and Bear Bryant (see above) agreed to fix their match that season. He sued the Post and his case (Curtis Publishing Co. v. Butts) became a landmark Supreme Court case that further defined "public figures" in libel cases; an eventual settlement of $3.06M was the largest ever at the time and was a contributing factor in the demise of the paper in 1967. He died from a heart attack in 1973 and was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1997.
  • Walter Camp: Known as the "Father of Football" and one of the early pioneers of the sport, first as a player at Yale and later as a coach at Yale (1888-92) and Stanford (1892note , 1894-95). He codified the early rulebook for the game, including standardizing the number of players on the field at 11, establishing the idea of the line of scrimmage, the snap from the center, the offense getting four downs to convert, and the scoring system still in use today. Won three national championships in the 1890s, and his career coaching record of 79-5-3 makes for the second-best winning percentage of all time (.926), narrowly surpassed by Larry Kehres (see below). He worked closely with Theodore Roosevelt to improve the safety standards of the game and is credited with writing over 30 books on the sport which helped to popularize it. He also introduced the idea of an "All-American" team and published his own list each year until his death in 1925. One of the many annual "player of the year" awards is named after him.
  • Lloyd Carr: A longtime assistant at Michigan throughout the '80s and early '90s who was named as the head coach in 1995 after his predecessor, Gary Moeller, resigned following a drunken incident. From 1995-2007, Carr put up a winning record, including winning Michigan's sole post-1950 national title in 1997. He retired in 2007 after seeing the Wolverines collapse late in 2006 and tumble from the top 5 after losing to then-FCS Appalachian State. His last game saw them beat Heisman-winner Tim Tebow and his Florida Gators in the Capital One Bowl. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011.
  • Len Casanova: A key figure in the building of Oregon's program. A player at Santa Clara from 1923-26, he got his first HC job at his alma mater in 1946. During his four years there, he put up a winning record and led the team to an upset victory over Bear Bryant's Kentucky Wildcats in the 1949 Orange Bowl, at which point the school promptly... dissolved the football program. After a disappointing one-year stint with Pittsburgh, he moved on to coach at Oregon from 1951-66, guiding the program to a winning record. He served as the AD of Oregon from 1967-70, overseeing the construction of Autzen Stadium, and sat on the rules committee from 1969-73. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1977, and the athletic department at Oregon was named in his honor in 1991. He died after an extended illness in 2002.
  • Bill Clark: The coach who helped bring UAB football back from the dead. One of the few FBS coaches who didn't play college football, he started his coaching career in the high school ranks, mostly in his home state of Alabama with an interlude in Georgia. After winning two state titles as a HC in Alabama's largest high school enrollment class, he became the first DC of South Alabama's program before getting his first college HC gig at his alma mater, FCS Jacksonville State. After an 11-win season and FCS playoff berth in 2013, he was hired by UAB, only to see the program shut down after his first season (see UAB's entry in the "Collegiate Football Conferences" page for more details). After a firestorm of criticism and a very successful fundraising drive, UAB football was reinstated a few months later, with Clark still under contract, and resumed play in 2017. Cue five straight bowl berths (though one wasn't played due to COVID-19), two Conference USA titles, a new stadium, and an impending move to the American Athletic Conference. However, the Blazers will be making that move without Clark, who retired shortly before the 2022 season due to a deteriorating back that will require spinal fusion surgery.
  • Larry Coker: HC of Miami (FL) from 2001-06 where, after decades as an assistant for various programs, he won the 2001 National Championship in his very first year as a head coach (joining Michigan's Bennie Oosterbaan as the only two top-level coaches to do so). However, his last three years were marked by disappointed, as Miami struggled to adapt to the ACC. He was fired after 2006, largely due to a brawl during a game against FIU and the team's lack of punishment to the parties involved. He resurfaced after a five-year hiatus as the first HC of UTSA in 2011 before retiring after 2015.
  • John Cooper: Very successful coach at numerous schools, most prominently Ohio State (1988-2000). A RB and DB at Iowa State from 1959-61, he was known as one of the "Dirty 30", a group of 30 players who survived a grueling 1959 season. His first HC job was at Tulsa (1977-84), which he led to five straight Missouri Valley Conference titles. His next was at Arizona State (1985-87), taking them to a bowl game in all three seasons and winning the 1987 Rose Bowl against Michigan. His last stop was Ohio State, which he led to a share of three Big Ten titles. However, Cooper struggled against his programs' respective rivals, going 0-2-1 against Arizona with ASU and putting up an abysmal 2-10-1 record against Michigan with the Buckeyes. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2008.
  • Herbert "Fritz" Crislernote : A key football innovator best known for pioneering the "two-platoon" system that split up offensive and defensive players. A player at Chicago from 1919-21, he coached Minnesota from 1930-31, then Princeton from 1932-37, winning two national titles at the latter. While at Princeton, he created the winged football helmet design they continue to wear to this day. He then coached Michigan from 1938-47, bringing the winged helmet design to the school and created the iconic maize and blue color scheme the Wolverines also still wear today. Crisler retired after winning another national title in 1947 with his "Mad Magicians", so named because of their use of the new platoon system that soon ended the era of two-way position players. He served as the school's AD from 1941-68, when he retired. He also oversaw the expansion of Michigan's football stadium and is the reason the stadium's official capacity ends in "1", as an extra seat is allegedly reserved for him. Additionally, Michigan's basketball arena, which opened less than a year before his retirement as AD, bears his name. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1954 and passed away in 1982.
  • David Cutcliffe: One of the prominent "quarterback whisperers" in college football history. He spent nearly two decades as an assistant at Tennessee, where he was instrumental in the development of Peyton Manning. He moved into his first HC job at Ole Miss in 1998, where he recruited and developed Eli Manning. Despite only suffering one losing season in seven years at Ole Miss, he was fired in 2004 and took several years off to recover from heart surgery. He was hired by Duke in 2008 and, despite an overall losing record with the program, is considered one of the greatest coaches in school history. Something of an Almighty Janitor, Cutcliffe repeatedly turned down interviews from schools with stronger football programs and even some NFL teams to stay at Duke, an academically-oriented institution far more famous for its basketball program. After three straight losing seasons, capped off by an eight-loss streak to end 2021, he was let go. Cutcliffe has since been hired by the SEC as a consultant for its football operations.
  • Duffy Daugherty: A player at Syracuse most famous for his Long Runner tenure at Michigan State, first as line coach under Clarence "Biggie" Munn (see below) from 1947–53 and then as HC from 1954–72. Daugherty was also Munn's main recruiter and was one of the first to heavily recruit African-American players. That strategy paid off, with the Spartans claiming two national titles while Munn was HC and three more under Daugherty. Despite a decline to mediocrity after his last national title team in 1966, he ended his tenure with a 109–69–5 (.609) record, making him the winningest coach in MSU history until being passed by Mark Dantonio (below). Daugherty was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1984 and passed away in 1987. Daugherty is also significant to Nebraska football history; he turned down an offer from the Cornhuskers in 1962 but recommended one of his former assistants, Bob Devaney (also see below).
  • Mark Dantonio: The winningest HC in Michigan State's history, working for the school from 2007-19 during which he won three Big Ten championships and secured a CFP berth. Dantonio's abrupt retirement early in 2020 was somewhat controvesial, coming, well after most coaching changes are made, on the heels of a report that the school was facing numerous NCAA violations as well as a $5 million lawsuit for the wrongful termination of a former staffer, and just weeks after accepting a $4.3 million "longevity bonus" from the school.
  • Bob Devaney: While Nebraska had been a Midwest regional power in the decades before World War II, Devaney turned them into a national powerhouse. A player at the small school Alma, he coached high school football in his home state of Michigan until being hired as an assistant by Michigan State in 1953. Four years later, he became head coach at Wyoming, leading the Cowboys to conference titles in the last four of his five seasons in Laramie. He was hired by Nebraska in 1962 after being recommended by his former boss Duffy Daugherty, who believed it had far greater national championship potential than Wyoming. Daugherty was right; Devaney led the Cornhuskers to a Big Eight title in 1963, the first of eight he would win in Lincoln. The next year, he brought in an innovative offensive assistant in his eventual successor Tom Osborne (see below), and things took off from there, capped off by consensus national championships in 1970 and 1971 in the midst of a 32-game unbeaten streak. Devaney, who had become the AD in 1967, left the football program in Osborne's hands after 1972 to concentrate on his AD role. He entered the Hall of Fame in 1981, retired as AD in 1992, and passed away in 1997.
  • Dan Devine: A successful coach at multiple colleges, most notably Notre Dame. Began his coaching career at Michigan State as an assistant, helping them win two championships in 1951-52, then got his first HC gig at Arizona State in 1955. Replaced Frank Broyles (see above) at Missouri in 1958 and led the school to great success during his 13-year tenure. From 1971-74, he served as HC of the Green Bay Packers, finding little success and struggling to adapt to the NFL. In 1975, accepted an offer to coach Notre Dame, where he continued building on the success of his predecessor, Ara Parseghian (see below), by winning the 1977 National Championship and the 1979 Cotton Bowl that came to be known as the "Chicken Soup Game". Retired after 1980, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1985, and passed away in 2001. Was portrayed by Chelcie Ross in the film Rudy.
  • Doug Dickey: A QB/DB for Florida in the '50s who found success serving as the head coach of their chief SEC rival Tennessee from 1964-69, leading them to five consecutive bowls starting in 1965. During his tenure there, he successfully integrated the university and instilled many enduring traditions, including the Power-T decal on the helmet, the orange/white checkerboard end zones, and the team entering the field via running through the "Pride of the Southland" marching band's t-formation. In his last game as coach for Tennessee (the 1969 Gator Bowl), he lost to his alma mater. He then returned to Florida in 1970, taking them to four straight bowls from 1973-76 before being fired in 1978 with the program divided and in dire straits. He suffered from an extreme case of Every Year They Fizzle Out, as he lost his last seven bowl games after starting 2-0. He returned to Tennessee in 1985 to serve as AD, held the position until 2002, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2003.
  • Paul Dietzel: Best known for his tenures at LSU from 1955-61 and South Carolina from 1966-74, serving as AD at the latter. At LSU, he led the program to a national championship in 1958 by instituting a unique three-team platoon system, consisting of a first team offense/defense, second-string offense and the famed "Chinese Bandits" second-string defense. He went to Army from 1962-65, where he was the first non-Army graduate to coach the team (to middling results). At South Carolina, he won the school's only conference championship in 1969 by winning the ACC but lost the Peach Bowl. He also helped the school transition out of the ACC into a D-I independent, designed the current Gamecock logo, and wrote the current South Carolina fight song lyrics. After his career at South Carolina, he served as the commissioner for the Ohio Valley Conference in 1975 and as the AD for Indiana, LSU, and Samford. He passed away in 2013.
  • Gil Dobie: One of the giants of early college football, whose career began in astounding fashion. He took his first HC job in 1906 at North Dakota State and did not lose a game until 1917 (the second game of his 12th season) in Washington, marking the longest unbeaten streak for any FBS program and second longest winning steak. He went 8-0 in two years at North Dakota State, followed by 58-0-3 in nine at Washington. Dobie was also one of the true characters in college football history, seemingly ripped straight out of a Charles Dickens novel (one writer even noted amazing similarities to David Copperfield in his life story). Orphaned early in life, he endured a tough childhood at a savage orphanage, which led to a dour, pessimistic outlook on life. He was always so focused on his teams' flaws he earned the nickname "Gloomy Gil" and called one of those undefeated Washington teams "The dumbest, clumsiest, rankest collection of so-called football excuses I have ever seen!" While he eventually accumulated some losses in his later jobs at Navy, Cornell, and Boston College, he still retired after 1938 with a stellar 182-45-15 record, passing away in 1948. Three years after his passing, Dobie was made a charter member of the Hall of Fame.
  • Bobby Dodd: The winningest coach in Georgia Tech history, one of a handful of figures enshrined in the Hall of Fame as both a player and coach, and the namesake of one of the most prestigious Coach of the Year awards. After a successful tenure as Tennessee's QB in the late '20s, he served as an assistant to William Alexander for 13 years at Tech before succeeding him and leading the program for 22 seasons (1945-66) and becoming the school's AD in 1950. Dodd was unique in the annals of college sports for his laid-back and student-focused approach; he prioritized academic over athletic performance, never recruited more students than could make the final team, and coached each game from a seated position at a card table he posted on the sidelines. This approach brought the team great success, including a national title in 1952. However, it also led to Tech leaving the SEC when Dodd grew frustrated with other programs and coaches (particularly Bear Bryant) who did not follow suit. After he retired as HC in 1966, he spent another ten years as AD, overseeing the program's racial integration. Passed away in 1988.
  • Terry Donahue: The longest-tenured HC in UCLA history. In his two decades coaching the Bruins (1976-95), Donahue won five conference titles. Most impressively, he was the first coach to lead his team to eight straight bowl wins; this remains the second-longest streak ever for a single coach, behind only Bobby Bowden's 11-win run at Florida State. After retirement, he served as the GM for the 49ers for a few years and passed away in 2021.
  • Vince Dooley: After spending ten years at Auburn as a player and assistant, he became HC for Georgia in 1964 and later serving as their AD in 1979. During his 25 seasons, he saw tremendous success and won the national championship in 1980. He briefly pursued a Senate run in 1986 as a Democrat but dropped out due to still being a coach. He retired from coaching in 1988 to focus on his work as AD. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1994. His family also followed him into coaching, with brother Bill posting stints at North Carolina, Virginia Tech, and Wake Forest and son Derek leading at Louisiana Tech and Tennessee.
  • Pat Dye: Most famous for his tenure at Auburn from 1981-92. A player at Georgia, he got his first HC gig at East Carolina in 1974, coaching the program to its only Southern Conference title in 1976 before it became a D-I independent. In 1980, he became HC for Wyoming, taking over a program that had one winning season in 10 years and going 6-5. Wyoming failed to have Dye sign his contract, which turned into a blessing for Auburn, who hired him to serve as HC and AD. He coached the Tigers to four SEC titles and a 7-2-1 bowl record; he also moved Auburn's home games in the Iron Bowl out of Legion Field back to Auburn's field in 1989. He was forced to step down as AD in 1991 and HC in 1992. In 2005, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame and Auburn renamed their playing field in his honor. Passed away in 2020 from liver and kidney failure complications possibly brought on by COVID-19.
  • LaVell Edwards: The coach responsible for turning BYU into a football power. A lineman at Utah State in his playing days, Edwards was promoted to the HC position at BYU in 1972. Up to that point in their history, the Cougars were poster children for football mediocrity, having only won a single conference championship, with an all-time winning percentage of just .428, and had only beaten archrival Utah five times in 47 tries. By the time he retired after 2000, he had won 257 games in 28 seasons (6th most all time, 2nd most with a single school), along with 19 conference titles and a national championship in 1984 (the only "mid-major" school to win one in modern college football history), and had gone 22-6 against the Utes. Edwards is credited for jumpstarting the idea of high-volume passing offenses in college football, doing so to gain a competitive edge against other dominant teams who relied much more on power running and stout defenses. He coached several NCAA record-setting quarterbacks (including Ty Detmer, see below) as well as ones who went on to NFL success (Steve Young, Jim McMahon) and likewise mentored several successful NFL coaches (Mike Holmgren, Andy Reid). He also oversaw one of the last racial integrations of any college program in his first season, notably coming several years before the LDS Church disavowed its anti-Black doctrines and practices. BYU's stadium is named in his honor; in fact, it was formally renamed for Edwards immediately before his last home game, making him one of a small number of coaches to lead a team in a stadium named after him. Passed away in 2016 a few days after breaking a hip.
  • Charles "Rip" Engle: A Hall of Famer who kept Penn State a contender through his lengthy tenure (1950-65). His legacy was mostly Overshadowed by Awesome by the career of his protégé and successor, Joe Paterno, who he first coached as a player at Brown before bringing him to Penn State as an assistant. Died in 1983.
  • Dennis Erickson: After some early success at Idaho, Wyoming, and Washington State (ending a seven-decade bowl win drought in the latter), replaced Jimmy Johnson as HC of Miami (FL) from 1989-94. He led the Hurricanes to a national title in his first year and claimed a second two seasons later after overseeing the team's transition to the Big East. He departed for the NFL to coach the Seahawks from 1995-98, then returned to the college ranks at Oregon State, which hadn't posted a winning record in nearly three decades; he immediately broke that streak and put up arguably the greatest season in the program's history in 2000, with an 11-1 record and the school's sole conference championship since the '60s. He left again for the NFL to coach the 49ers from 2003-04, returned for a lackluster year at Idaho in 2006, and had a last college stop at Arizona State (2007-11 for an even .500 record). He last coached in the AAF's single season for the Salt Lake Stallions. Also of note, he won his first four bowl games as HC before fizzling out and going 1-7 in his last eight.
  • Forest "Evy" Evashevski: Hall of Fame coach who claimed three national titles at Iowa during his relatively brief coaching tenure (1952-60). Started out as a star QB at Michigan, where he contributed to Tom Harmon's Heisman win by serving as a skilled blocker. Went into coaching after his WWII military service and created a dynasty with the Hawkeyes, only to retire after his third national title at just 42 years old to take a less stressful job as AD. Unfortunately turned out not to be suited to this role: Iowa's football production cratered, and he was fired a decade later amidst a good deal of controversy and never worked in football again. Despite his career's brevity, was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2000 before passing away in 2009.
  • Don Faurot: Player, coach, and AD at Missouri who built up its football program over four decades. Originally a HB from 1922-24, he first found success as HC of Kirksville Statenote  from 1926-34, then was named the HC and AD of his alma mater in 1935. He held the HC job until 1956 (save for a stint in the Navy during WWII) and retiring as AD in 1967. When he first arrived at Missouri, the program was in dire straits and had accrued a $500,000 debt. During his tenure, the program had a winning record but went 0-4 in bowl games. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1961, and Missouri's playing surface was renamed in his honor in 1972. He passed in 1995, just months after laying the last piece of sod to complete Faurot Field's conversion from OmniTurf back to natural grass.
  • Kirk Ferentz: The winningest coach in Iowa history and currently the longest-tenured active coach with a single FBS program, having coached the Hawkeyes since succeeding Hayden Fry (see below) in 1999 after years as an assistant in college and the pros and an unsuccessful HC stint with Maine (1990-92).
  • Jimbo Fisher: Bobby Bowden's successor at Florida State who continued the program's success from 2010-16, winning a national title in 2013. Fisher attracted some criticism for his lax attitude towards players' academic performance and retired with one game left in 2017 to take the HC job at Texas A&M; FSU fell to its first losing records in four decades immediately after his departure. In 2021, he led A&M to a stunning road upset of top-ranked Alabama, ending two remarkable streaks: 100 straight Bama wins over unranked teams and 24 straight wins for Nick Saban at Alabama when the opposing HC was one of his former assistants.
  • Danny Ford: Head coach of Clemson from 1978-89. The youngest HC to win a national championship in college football history, he led the Tigers to their first such title in program history in 1981, a season the team had started out unranked, at age 33. Ford completed a revival of the Clemson program started by predecessor Charley Pell (see below under "Notorious"), though he also continued the NCAA recruiting violations started under Pell that led to multiple sanctions. He had a generally less successful tenure at Arkansas from 1993-97 and was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2017.
  • Dennis Franchione: One of the most-traveled coaches in college history, having coached at seven different schools at every level except D-III—Southwestern College of Kansas (NAIA), Pittsburg State (D-II), Southwest Texas State/Texas State (at both the FCS and FBS levels), and New Mexico, TCU, Alabama, and Texas A&M (FBS). Franchione is credited with turning around the New Mexico program from 1992-97 and igniting the resurgence of TCU football from 1998-2000, but his tenures at the big-time level were disappointing and filled with controversy. Hired to clean up an Alabama program on probation in 2001, he refused a contract extension to take the Texas A&M job in 2003, where he endured a 2007 scandal when it was discovered that he was sending a private e-mail newsletter to team boosters willing to fork out $1,200 a year for a subscription. This contributed to his resignation at the end of the season. He retired from coaching for good after 2015.
  • Hayden Fry: HC of three schools over his nearly 40-year career, most famously with Iowa (1979-98) after getting started at SMU (1962-72) and North Texas (1973-78). Fry oversaw the racial integration of SMU (the first in the Southwest Conference) and shaped Iowa's football into the program it is today, not just by leading them to three conference titles but by from getting permission from the Pittsburgh Steelers to emulate their uniforms and (infamously) having the visitors' locker room at Iowa's stadium painted pink in hopes of distracting/pacifying opponents. His coaching tree is one of the most expansive in college football, with 13 of his assistants going on to become head coaches themselves, including most famously his successor at Iowa, Kirk Ferentz, as well as the Stoops brothers (Bob, Mike, Mark), and Bill Snyder (see below). Craig T. Nelson's character in the sitcom Coach was named Hayden Fox in Fry's honor. Died in 2019.
  • Phillip Fulmer: Now retired from Tennessee, where he was a player, a national championship-winning HC, and AD. He is considered one of the greatest recruiters in college football history (including convincing Peyton Manning to play at Tennessee instead of at his father Archie's alma mater, Ole Miss) and famously never lost to rival Kentucky, going 17-0 against them. He was infamously fired after 2008, just one year after taking the team to 10 wins, after which the Volunteers program went into an epic nosedive for nearly a decade including six straight seasons finishing unranked. He came back as AD in 2017 and retired from that position in 2021.

    Coaches (G-P) 
  • John Gagliardi:note  The winningest coach in college football history by wins, regardless of division. Began his HC career in 1949 at NAIA school Carroll College in Montana. He then went to Saint John's of Minnesota, then NAIA and now D-III, in 1953, and stayed there for 60 seasons, finally retiring in 2012 with 489 total wins. He won four national championships during his career (NAIA titles in 1963 and 1965, and the D-III championship in 1976 and 2003). He was also famous for his unorthodox coaching style: he didn't subject his players to practice staples like full contact, full uniforms, tackling sleds, or wind sprints. He also told his players to call him "John" instead of "Coach". The award for the top D-III player bears his name.note 
  • Ray Graves: HC and AD of Florida from 1960-69 who elevated the program to national prominence. He is better known for his off-field contributions, as he was one of the people responsible for the creation of Gatorade, using the product to help the Gators earn a comeback win against LSU in 1965 in its first appearance on the field. He also helped kickstart the product's popularity by telling his friend, Kansas City Chiefs coach Hank Stram, about its effectiveness, which eventually helped Gatorade become the official drink of the NFL. After retiring from coaching in 1969, he continued to serve as AD until 1979, helping Florida become a powerhouse in women's athletics. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990 and passed away in 2015.
  • Jim Harbaugh: Current HC at Michigan, where he was successful QB before playing in the NFL for over a decade. He then entered the college coaching ranks, first with FCS San Diego and then with Stanford, which he built up from Pac-12 bottom-feeder into a legitimate title contender. He next experienced great success as an NFL coach with the San Francisco 49ers, making it to the playoffs in three of his four seasons and to the Super Bowl where he lost to his brother John's Ravens. However, conflicts with management and an opportunity to coach his alma mater led him to return to the college ranks in 2015. Despite being relatively successful, his tenure as Wolverines HC has had a mixed fan reception as he failed to defeat hated rival Ohio State for the first six years of his tenure (part of a 10-year drought for the program and with four of the losses coming in blowout fashion) and is a disappointing 1-5 in bowl games. His teams tend to play more of a "smashmouth", older-school style that wouldn't have looked out of place in Harbaugh's playing days 20-30 years ago. After a losing season in 2020 left him on the brink of being fired, Harbaugh overhauled his coaching staff, accepted a massive paycut, and immediately led the Wolverines to their first CFP berth (and lost that bowl game, too).
  • Percy Haughton: Another of college football's pioneering coaches, most famous for his nine seasons at Harvard (1908-16) during which he guided his alma mater to four national championships. While "The Game" between Harvard and rival Yale was already one of the biggest and most anticipated in college football, it took on ever more significance during Haughton's tenure, with it alleged that he once strangled a bulldog with his bare hands to motivate his team before the game.note  He left Harvard with a 72-7-5 (.887) record and moved onto fellow Ivy League school Columbia in 1923, reestablishing the school's football program after it had been shut down in 1905 over concerns of violence (against humans, not just dogs). Haughton became ill while on the sideline during his second season in Columbia, passing away soon after at just 48. He was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Fame's inaugural class in 1951.
  • Woody Hayes: The coach who put Ohio State on the map as a football heavyweight, winning five national championships during his tenure with the school (1951-78). Hayes was also known for his fiery temper (which was possibly aggravated by diabetes in his later years), and he got involved in a number of fights both on and off the field. His most infamous incident happened during the 1978 Gator Bowl against Clemson, when Hayes punched a Clemson defender in the throat after said player had sealed the Tigers' win with a late interception,note  triggering a bench-clearing brawl. Shortly after, Hayes attacked the referee, drawing multiple Personal Foul penalties. Hayes was fired as HC the next day but remained employed by the school for several more years as a history professor. He died in 1987, the day after insisting on attending a banquet at which he introduced the main speaker, his former assistant and coaching rival Bo Schembechler (see below).
  • John Heisman: A college football pioneer, first as a player and later as a coach. He coached for eight schoolsnote  and won the 1917 national championship at Georgia Tech. Heisman was instrumental in the legalization of the forward pass, forever changing the game of football to what we all recognize today. He's also notable for having been the head coach of Georgia Tech for their infamous 222-0 victory over Cumberland in 1916, and for being an amateur thespian (something that helped with a great Rousing Speech). The Heisman Trophy, detailed above under the "Awards" section, is named after him. (Ironically, Heisman was an offensive lineman in his playing days, a position which in modern times is rarely even considered for the award.note ) Passed away in 1936 and was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1954.
  • Bob Higgins: An early legend at Penn State, first as a player (being named All-American three times from 1914-19, his playing career as an end divided by service in WWI) then as a head coach (1930-48). His sister, Margaret Sanger, was the founder of Planned Parenthood and coined the term "birth control". Died in 1969.
  • Babe Hollingberry: Coached Washington State from 1926-42; over seventy years later, still the most successful coach at the long-struggling school, with only Mike Price having come close to his length of tenure and wins. Died in 1974.
  • Lou Holtz: Spent nearly 35 years as the head coach of six different schools,note  most famously for Notre Dame in the late '80s and early '90s, where he led their last National Championship team in 1988. To younger fans, Holtz is likely more famous for his time as an analyst working alongside Mark May for ESPN's various college football shows including Scoreboard, Final, and Live. Holtz went into semi-retirement from broadcasting in 2015, though he and his distinctive voice (caused by his dentures) still make occasional appearances on the network. We will not mention his one season in the NFL. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Donald Trump in 2020, which many connected more to his decades of vocal support for the Republican party (something that had actually cost him his job at Arkansas) than his public service.
  • Frank Howard: A fixture of Clemson football for 65 years in some capacity from 1931–96. After eight years as line coach from 1931-39, he was named HC and held the job from 1940-69 while also serving as the AD, establishing the Tigers as a football power. He also created one of college football's best-known traditions in 1967, where his players run down the hill overlooking the east end zone and rub "Howard's Rock".note  After he retired from coaching, he continued as AD and was assistant to the vice president of the university when he was forced into mandatory retirement in 1971. He officially retired in 1974 but maintained an office at the university and was something of a school ambassador. Clemson renamed their playing surface in his honor after his retirement and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1989 before passing away in 1996.
  • Don James: A successful HC for Kent State from 1971-74 and Washington from 1975-92. During his time at Kent State, he led them to their first (and thus far only) conference championship and second ever bowl in school history in 1972 behind a team led by Jack Lambert, Gary Pinkel, and Nick Saban (see below for the latter two). He then went on to Washington, leading them to an impressive winning record and guiding them to a share of the 1991 national championship. He retired abruptly after 1992 when his team was hit with sanctions and he had a falling-out with university administration over their handling of the incident.note  He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1997 and died from pancreatic cancer in 2013.
  • Jimmy Johnson: HC for Oklahoma State from 1979-83 and Miami (FL) from 1984-88 before he became known as the architect of the '90s Dallas Cowboys dynasty. He put up a respectable record at OK State but saw much greater success in Miami, winning back-to-back Orange Bowls in 1988-89 and being crowned the 1988 National Champion before being picked up for the pros. He is one of only two coaches to be enshrined in both the Pro and College Halls of Fame and one of four to win championships at both levels.
  • Howard Jones: Put USC on the map as a football powerhouse during his tenure as HC (1925-40). He was first a player and later coach at Yale, where he won a national championship in 1909. Four schools later (Syracuse, Ohio, Iowa, Duke), he went west to USC and won four more championships with his "Thundering Herd"; the span between his first national championship win (1909) and his last (1939) is the longest for any coach with at least two such victories. His coaching style was infamously stoic; he was a terrible public speaker and showed little emotion or humor under any circumstance. His tenure at USC was cut short when he died of a heart attack in 1941. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame's inaugural class in 1951.
  • June Jones: Most famous for his time at Hawaii (1999-2007) and SMU (2008-14), where he became one of the propagators of the modern "wide open passing attack" style of offense popular in modern college football. A college and pro QB, he made his way through the NFL coaching ranks with a three-year stint as HC of the Atlanta Falcons before returning to the college ranks to coach at Hawaii. There, he established a pass-heavy "run and shoot" offense on his way to turning around a program that went 0-12 the year before to 9-4 in his first season in the largest single-season turnaround in NCAA football history. Hawaii only suffered two losing seasons during Jones' time with the school while also frequently leading the FBS in passing. QB Timmy Chang became the NCAA all-time leading passernote  while QB Colt Brennan was a Heisman finalist after leading Hawaii to its best season in school history (12-1 with an appearance in the 2008 Sugar Bowl). Jones was then hired by SMU and led another drastic turnaround for the school which had badly struggled since receiving the NCAA "Death Penalty" two decades prior. He resigned two games into the 2014 season (losing both by a combined 88-6 margin), then moved into brief stints in the CFL and XFL. In the latter, he served as head coach and GM of the Houston Roughnecks, leading them to a perfect 5-0 record before COVID-19 cut the season prematurely short.
  • Thomas "Tad" Jones: The younger brother of Howard Jones and a Hall of Famer in his own right. A two-time All-American QB at Yale just after the legalization of the forward pass, he moved into coaching first at Syracuse and then at his alma mater. In 1927, he led Yale to a share of the national championship, the school's last. Passed away in 1957 and was posthumously inducted into the Hall a year later.
  • Ralph "Shug" Jordan:note  A center for Auburn from 1928-32, he came back to coach his alma mater from 1951-75 and slowly transformed it into an SEC powerhouse, winning the national title in 1957. He is the winningest coach in program history, with a record of 175-83-7 (.674). In 1973, his name was added to the football stadium in his honor, allowing him to join an elite club of coaches who got to lead their team onto the field in a stadium named after them; he died in 1980.
  • Larry Kehres:note  The winningest coach in college football history by percentage, regardless of division. Coached at D-III Mount Union in Ohio from 1986-2012, also serving as AD in his final years on the sidelines (retiring from that position in 2020). Holds all-division records for winning percentage (.929), national titles (11), unbeaten regular seasons (21), and conference titles (23, with the last 21 of them being in succession). He and his son Vince, who succeeded him as HC, are one of only two father-son head coaching pairs to win national titles and the only one in which both won multiple national titles. Vince went 95–6 (.941) in 7 seasons (2013–19) with 6 conference titles and 2 national titles before leaving to become defensive coordinator at Toledo.
  • Brian Kelly: The winningest coach in Notre Dame history with a 113-40 record. After spending over a decade as HC of D-II Grand Valley State (1991-2003, winning back-to-back D-II national championships in his final two seasons) and a brief tenure at Central Michigan (2004-06), Kelly took the reigns at Cincinnati and immediately took the program to its greatest heights, leading the Bearcats to an undefeated regular season in 2009 before leaving the team prior to their bowl game to accept the Notre Dame job. Kelly's run at Notre Dame brought the school the most success it had seen in decades, including an appearance in the 2013 BCS Championship Game. However, his tenure with the Fighting Irish was also marked with multiple controversies from the beginning; a student videographer (Declan Sullivan) was infamously killed during a practice in his first season after a hydraulic lift was knocked over from high winds (the school was fined for safety violations) and the NCAA officially rescinded all of the school's wins for two seasons, including their failed championship run, due to academic violations. Still, the program remained successful, with Notre Dame later seeing two visits to the CFP under Kelly. However, prior to the school's bowl game in 2021, while they were still potentially eligible for a third CFP run, Kelly took the HC job at LSU.
  • Harry Kipke: A nine-time letterman at Michigan in football, baseball, and basketball from 1920-23, Kipke served as HC at Michigan State in 1928 before returning to his alma mater the following year. He restored the team to heights unseen since his departure, winning back-to-back national titles in 1932-33. However, the team fell off one of the steepest cliffs ever seen in college football the following year, just winning one game. Kipke was replaced by Fritz Crisler (above) after 1937 but still entered the Hall of Fame for his playing career. Passed away in 1972.
  • Frank Kush: The coach that placed Arizona State on the map, though not without a great deal of controversy. As HC of the program from 1958-79, Kush saw the program grow from an intermittent regional power to a national championship contender, eventually leading to it joining the Pac-10. However, Kush was also infamous for bringing his Army experience to the football field; he was a real Drill Sergeant Nasty, taking full advantage of the scorching Arizona sun to punish players he think needed toughening to the point of abuse. Kush was fired in the midst of the 1979 season due to a scandal involving him punching his own punter in the face, leading to sanctions and punishment against ASU. Kush forayed into pro coaching, where he had some impact on NFL history by being a major reason why John Elway refused to play for him with the Colts, which in turn helped motivate the team's move from Baltimore to Indianapolis. Despite his controversies, Kush still made the Hall of Fame and was welcomed back to ASU prior to his death in 2017.
  • Mike Leach: An offensive innovator known by some as the "mad scientist" of college football (see Clark Shaughnessy below for another coach of that nickname) best known for his time at Texas Tech (2000-09), typically a Big 12 bottom-feeder that Leach transformed into a program that never experienced a losing season under him. Like Bill Clark above, he's one of the few FBS coaches who never played college football, playing rugby at BYU instead. Leach also didn't start his coaching career until after getting a law degree at Pepperdine, a school that last fielded a football team in 1961, the very year he was born. He is credited with inventing the "Air Raid" offense while serving as an assistant coach under his mentor, Hal Mumme. Originally seen as a gimmick offense with artificially inflated passing numbers due to its pass-heavy and up-tempo nature, Leach's success caused it to proliferate throughout college football. Due to the influence of the Air Raid, Leach has had numerous assistant coaches and even some of his former quarterbacks, go on to land HC jobs. (Most prominently Kliff Kingsbury, who coached at his alma mater and is currently the HC of the NFL's Arizona Cardinals.) Despite his success, Texas Tech fired Leach after he was accused of improperly treating RB Adam James after he suffered a concussion.note  He eventually ended up at typical Pac-12 bottom-feeder Washington State (2012-19), taking them to respectability they hadn't seen since the 1990s. After six bowl appearances in his eight seasons on the Palouse, including five straight from 2015–19, he left for SEC mid-pack fixture Mississippi State in 2020.
  • Frank Leahy: The second member of the "Holy Trinity" of Notre Dame coaches, along with Knute Rockne and Ara Parseghian. A tackle at Notre Dame from 1928-30 who went into coaching immediately after graduation, with his most notable assistant's position being line coach at Fordham, where he coached the legendary Seven Blocks of Granite—one of them future NFL coaching legend Vince Lombardi. Leahy got his first head coaching job for Boston College in 1939, which he took them to a national title the following season. He was signed to a contract extension but got in hot water when he signed a contract with his alma mater around the same time; he got out of it by calling a press conference to say he been granted his release when he hadn't. The stunt worked in getting him let go, and Leahy turned a school that had been reeling from Rockne's death into a powerhouse once again, leading them to the 1943 National Championship before he took a 3-year leave to serve in WWII. When he returned in 1946, the program picked up right where it left off on his watch, winning national titles in 1946, 1947, and 1949 before collapsing in the early 1950s. He retired after 1953, saying he felt unwanted by the university. Leahy's career win percentage of .864 (107-13-9) remains the best of any coach of a major school besides Rockne. Leahy had one more football claim to fame as the first GM of the NFL's Los Angeles Chargers, serving in that role during their first season in the old AFL in 1960. Leahy then went into the business world, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1970, and passed in 1973.
  • John Majors: A HB at Tennessee, he parlayed his success on the field to the sidelines with stops at Iowa State, Pittsburgh (twice), and Tennessee. During his five seasons at Iowa State (1968-72), he took them to their first two bowl games in school history, losing both. He had two tenures at Pitt (1973-76, 1993-96). His first saw the Panthers win the 1976 National Championship behind Heisman winner Tony Dorsett; his second was nowhere near as successful, putting up four losing seasons. Between those, he coached his alma mater from 1977-92, again seeing general success. He was controversially replaced by Phillip Fulmer (see above) while recovering from heart surgery; some in the fanbase believe Fulmer engineered the removal, others think Majors brought about the end of his tenure by complaining his contract, and the rest believe it was a combination of the two. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a player in 1987 and died in 2020. Lee Majors is alleged to have borrowed his stage name from John, as the two were good friends and Lee was a frequent sight on the sideline of games.
  • Bill McCartney: HC of Colorado from 1982-94 who brought the program to national prominence in the late '80s, winning the 1990 national championship (albeit with some controversy, as it was aided by the infamous "5th down game"). His off-field ventures have tarnished his reputation somewhat. He founded the controversial Promise Keepers men's ministry in 1990; his retirement from coaching was compelled in part by this and in part to care for his wife, who became suicidal and bulimic after he confessed his former infidelity. In 2008, as part of his ministry, he campaigned for the ratification of Colorado Constitution Amendment 2, which would state that homosexuals were not a protected class. He was still inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2013.
  • Dan McGugin: The HC who led Vanderbilt to their greatest run of success. During his two tenures from 1904-17 and 1919-34, he led the Commodores to nine SIAA and two SoCon conference championships and only one losing season. His techniques, adapted from his time as a player at Michigan, took Southern football completely off-guard; he remains the only coach to earn his first three victories by 60+ points. He retired from coaching after 1934 to focus on his AD duties, a job he held until passing away from heart failure in 1936. He was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Fame as an inaugural member in 1951.
  • John McKay: The winningest coach in USC's esteemed history (127-40-8, .749). After being hired in 1960, he narrowly held on to the job after two losing seasons and immediately led the team to an undefeated record and championship in 1962, the first of four national titles he brought the school. His pioneering of the I formation and development of Heisman winners Mike Garrett and O.J. Simpson made USC a powerhouse through the '60s and early '70s, and his teams won five Rose Bowls in eight appearances. For all his on-field accomplishments, McKay is better known as one of the great Deadpan Snarkers in coaching history, with a knack for one-liners that made him a media favorite. After a disappointing 1975 season, he was drawn to the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the largest contract ever offered a coach at the time; the team went 0-26 to start off but did eventually become playoff contenders. He died from diabetes complications in 2001, and his ashes were spread on the field of USC's Coliseum.
  • Leo Dutch Meyer: A coach who led TCU on their greatest run of success from 1934-52 and served as the AD from 1950-63. During his tenure, he won two national titles in 1935 and 1938. He is credited with inventing the double-wing formation to suit Sammy Baugh's playing style. He also served as TCU's baseball coach on three separate occasions and served as the basketball coach from 1934-37; TCU's basketball stadium was named Daniel-Meyer Coliseum in his and Milton E. Daniel's honor until 2015. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1956 and passed away in 1982.
  • Urban Meyer: An extremely successful coach at the college level, most recently at Ohio State (2012-18) with prior stops at Bowling Green (2001-02), Utah (2003-04), and Florida (2005-10), posting a career winning percentage (187-32, .854) that sits behind only Knute Rockne and Frank Leahy for major school coaches of their career length. Meyer is credited with popularizing the "spread option" offense, which he used to lead drastic turnarounds at each school where he served as HC; Bowling Green went from 2-9 to 8-3 in his first season, Utah went undefeated and became the first BCS Buster in 2004, and Florida and Ohio State became national title-winning juggernauts (with Meyer claiming three). However, Meyer has also been subject of controversies at many of his schools for fostering toxic workplace environments, to the point where him "retiring" due to alleged health issues after a scandal involving players or staff only to return to broadcasting or coaching shortly after almost became a Running Gag. Later served as the HC of the Jacksonville Jaguars for a year that turned out to be a disaster.
  • Joe Moglia: The coach who oversaw Coastal Carolina's transition from FCS to FBS, setting the stage for their breakout 2020 season under his successor Jamey Chadwell. Moglia is most notable for his unusual career path. After college, he embarked on the usual path of assistant gigs before he decided to leave football behind for a Wall Street career in 1983. He had spectacular success, becoming CEO of the discount brokerage that eventually became TD Ameritrade in 2001 and growing its client assets and market cap tenfold. Moglia later left to return to football, starting out as an assistant at Nebraska in 2009 and moving to the United Football League's Omaha Nighthawks in 2011. With the UFL veering toward collapse, he became Coastal's head coach in 2012, leading the Chanticleers to FCS playoff berths in his first four seasons in charge as well as a 10–2 record in a 2016 season in which they were ineligible for the playoffs due to having begun their FBS transition. He took 2017 off for medical reasons but returned for the Chants' first full FBS season in 2018 before handing the program off to Chadwell. During the second act of his coaching career, he also held the largely ceremonial position of board chairman at TD Ameritrade, stepping down from that role in 2020 after the company was bought by Charles Schwab Corporation.
  • Jerry Moore: While probably best known as the winning coach in one of the most famous upsets in college football history, Appalachian State's 2007 win at Michigan, his legacy goes well beyond one game. The former Baylor WR started out as a high school coach, soon moving into the college assistant ranks before his first HC jobs at North Texas and Texas Tech, but saw little success. After a few years out of coaching and an assistant's post at Arkansas, he was hired by App State in 1989. During his 24 seasons in charge, he had only one losing season and turned ASU into an FCS powerhouse, winning at least a share of 10 SoCon titles, making the I-AA/FCS playoffs 17 times, and leading the Mountaineers to three straight FCS titles from 2005–07. He retired after 2012 with App State's program in position to move to FBS, and he entered the Hall of Fame in 2014.
  • Clarence "Biggie" Munn: Legendary HC at Michigan State. After playing at Minnesota under Fritz Crisler (see above), he got his first turn at head coaching in 1935 for Albright. He reunited with Crisler in 1938 as an assistant at Michigan, holding that post until 1945, and coached one season at Syracuse in 1946. In 1947, he agreed to become the HC for Michigan State, which he shaped into a powerhouse, leading the Spartans to two national championships and the 1953 Rose Bowl. He fostered a heated rivalry with Notre Dame, becoming the only HC to beat Frank Leahy three years in a row (1950-52). Not long after the Rose Bowl, was promoted to serve as AD, a job he held until 1971 while the school continued to see success under HC Duffy Daugherty (see above). Was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1959 and passed away in 1975.
  • Tim Murphy: The current HC of Harvard since 1994, who he has led to a record-tying nine Ivy League championships. His 178 wins are the most in the program's storied history while also putting up three undefeated seasons. Under his leadership, Harvard has also become the leading Ivy League school in sending players to the NFL including long-time QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, multi-time Pro Bowlers C Matt Birk and FB Kyle Juzczyk, and Super Bowl LV champion TE Cameron Brate. Former WWE star Christopher Nowinski also played under Murphy at Harvard. Murphy was also elected president of the American Football Coaches Association in 2012.
  • Jess Neely: Best known for his 26-year tenure at Rice from 1940-66, though he had early coaching jobs at Southwesternnote  and Clemson, serving as their AD during his time there and leading them to a Cotton Bowl victory in 1939. He led Rice to four SWC titles and six bowl games, going 3-3, including winning the 1954 Cotton Bowl over the vaunted Alabama Tide in dominating fashion. He retired from coaching in 1966 and went to Vanderbilt to serve as their AD, helping save the program from insolvency. Was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1971 and passed away in 1983.
  • Don Nehlen: The winningest coach in West Virginia history. A QB at Bowling Green, he got his first HC gig at his alma mater in 1968 and became known as the "Master of the Upset", beating teams like Purdue, Syracuse, and BYU. After a three-year stint as Michigan's QB coach, he was named as the HC for West Virginia in 1980. He massively updated the program's identity, introducing its first home and away uniforms, updating the logo to the modern "Flying WV", and taking the Mountaineers from a middling independent to a top 5 program that competed for the '88 championship and became a member of the Big East in 1991. He retired in 2000 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005.
  • Robert Neyland: HC of Tennessee from 1926-34, 1936-40, and 1946-52, with the interruptions being for military service in the Panama Canal Zone and WWII; in 1946, he retired from military service as a brigadier general. During his time at Tennessee, he never had a losing season and won four national championships in 1938, 1940, 1950, and 1951. He was also an innovator of the game of football, being credited as the first coach to use a sideline phone and game film to study opponents. He also wrote the seven Game Maxims that are still recited by Tennessee players before every game and have been used by many football coaches as a teaching method. Finally, he personally designed Tennessee's home stadium, which was renamed in his honor prior to his death in 1962.
  • Ken Niumatalolo: The current HC of Navy is also the winningest in its long history, having taken over for the last game of the 2007 season after his predecessor was hired away. Prior to coaching, Niumatalolo, a kamaʻāina of Samoan origin, was a successful QB at Hawaii that led the school to its first bowl game in 1989. His hiring at Navy made him the first collegiate HC of Samoan descent on any level and only the second person of Polynesian descent to coach in FBS. Also notable as one of the six featured individuals in the LDS documentary Meet the Mormons, described on This Very Wiki as "basically 'I'm a Mormon': The Movie".
  • Tom Nugent: An innovative coaching mind, he began his coaching career with VMI in 1949. During his four seasons, he finished with a winning record and developed the I-formation that became more popular after Frank Leahy and John McKay used it to great success. From 1953-58, was the HC of Florida State, taking the young program to their first bowl appearances and leaving with a winning record. Finished out his coaching career with Maryland, putting up a winning record from 1959-65. His 1961 team became the first to put player's names on the backs of their jerseys and in 1962, he and Lee Corso successfully integrated the program. He passed from congestive heart failure in 2006.
  • Bennie Oosterbaan: Coached Michigan from 1948-58 after previously serving as the HC of the school's basketball team (1938-46) and, before that, playing as an end from 1925-27 under Fielding H. Yost (see below), whose coaching style he devoutly imitated. This paid off, as he became the first top-level HC to win a national championship in his first season as a head coach (building off the momentum of predecessor Fritz Crisler, above) and made the Hall of Fame. His #47 is retired by the school; he passed away in 1990.
  • Ed Orgeron: A longtime assistant coach through the '80s and '90s whose position on successful teams in Miami (FL) and USC helped him to become HC at Ole Miss from 2005-07. After that stint proved fairly disastrous, he eventually returned to USC, where he briefly served as an interim HC in 2013 after Lane Kiffin's firing. "Coach O" was named HC of LSU in 2015, and his return to his home state was met with general success that peaked with the school's national title win in 2019. However, the program's performance plummeted during the following two seasons after a massive talent drain; this, coupled with numerous off-field behavioral issues, resulted in his firing during the 2021 season, though he stuck out the rest of the regular season. Orgeron is likely most recognizable for his very distinct Guttural Growler Cajun accent.
  • Tom Osborne: After succeeding the aforementioned Bob Devaney in 1973, he took Nebraska to even greater heights. In his 25 years as HC of the Cornhuskers, Osborne won three national championships, finished in the AP Top 15 24 times, and never posted fewer than nine wins in a season; his career win percentage of .836 (255-49-3) is the greatest for any HC of a major school to win over 200 games. Well known for his I-formation option offense which emphasized a powerful rushing attack and mobile quarterbacks, his Nebraska teams frequently led the NCAA in rushing. Osborne retired from coaching in 1997 and a few years later went into politics, winning election to the U.S. House in 2000 and serving three terms. His political career ended with an unsuccessful run for governor of Nebraska, not making it out of the 2006 Republican primary. The next year, he returned to Lincoln as the Huskers' athletic director, overseeing the school's move from the Big 12 to the Big Ten during his tenure before retiring in 2013.
  • Bennie Owen: Best known as the HC of Oklahoma from 1905-26 after early career gigs at smaller schools in Kansas (Washburn and Bethany). During his tenure at OU, he turned them from a fledgling program with financial issues into a powerhouse (though it wouldn't become a national juggernaut until after WWII under Bud Wilkinson). In the 1910s, the state legislature stepped in and had him dismissed after he lost an arm in a hunting accident as well as believing his $3,500 salary was too expensive for an athletics coach; he was reinstated at the behest of the university's president when he found out about it, and Owen didn't even learn about his dismissal until after he was "rehired". Oklahoma's playing surface was named in his honor, and some Sooner fans still incorrectly refer to the stadium as a whole as Owen Field. Was inducted into the Hall of Fame's inaugural class in 1951 and passed away in 1970.
  • Jack Pardee: One of the famed Junction Boys from the 1954 Texas A&M Aggies squad under Bear Bryant, he went on to a fairly lengthy playing and coaching career in the pros, including NFL HC stints in Chicago and Washington. After seeing success with the USFL's Houston Gamblers, he succeeded Bill Yeoman (see his entry on the Notorious Coaches) at Houston in 1987, enduring the brunt of the punishments handed down by the NCAA from the infractions the previous regime committed. He put up a respectable record for three seasons, including back-to-back 9-win seasons in 1988-89 bolstered by his "Run and Shoot" offense. In 1989, his squad was one of the most prolific offenses ever in college football, allowing Andre Ware to set 26 NCAA records en route to becoming the first black quarterback to win the Heisman; however, nobody got to see Houston play at home that season due to a NCAA ban on television appearances for that season. He then returned to the pros, jumping across town to coach the Oilers, and passed away in 2013.
  • Ara Parseghian: The third member of the "Holy Trinity" of Notre Dame coaches (Knute Rockne and Frank Leahy being the other two). Began his coaching career at his alma mater of Miami (OH), succeeding Woody Hayes after he left to go coach at Ohio State. Over his five years at Miami, brought the school two MAC titles. In 1956, he took over a Northwestern team that was in dire straits and restored them to some respectability, including 4 straight wins over Notre Dame from 1959-62. He left Northwestern in 1963 to take over Notre Dame and brought the Fighting Irish back to prominence, winning two national titles in 1966 and 1973. Retired after 1974 with his .836 winning percentage being the third highest in Notre Dame history. Was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1980 and died in 2017, just weeks after contracting an infection during a surgery to replace a hip.
  • Joe Paterno: An institution at Penn State for over 60 years, arriving as an assistant in 1950 and becoming HC in 1966. "JoePa" won two national titles (1982, 1986), had five unbeaten seasons, won a record 24 bowl games (out of an also-record 37 appearances), amassed an FBS record of 409 career wins, and coached for an NCAA record 548 games (over 50 more than second place). However, his once-pristine image was badly tarnished in 2011 with the revelation that the school had covered up the sex crimes of former assistant Jerry Sandusky (see "Notorious Players and Coaches" below) for more than a decade. He was fired during the season, died only two months later, and had all 111 wins between 1998 and his firing stricken from the record books by the NCAA. The wins were restored in 2015, again making him the winningest FBS coach, after it came out in court that the NCAA had broke its own rules in the Sandusky investigation. Paterno was portrayed by Al Pacino in a 2018 HBO film about the Sandusky investigation.
  • Gary Patterson: The winningest coach in TCU history over his 20-year tenure and the primary architect of the Horned Frogs' revival after decades as a bottom-feeder. Came to TCU as the DC of Dennis Franchione (see above), and when early success in resuscitating the long-suffering program helped his boss land the job at Alabama, was promoted to HC in 2001. Under his tenure, TCU moved from the C-USA to Mountain West and became a regular BCS Buster, including mounting an undefeated 2010 campaign that saw the school earn an unclaimed national title and seal a move to the Big 12, where it continued as a strong program. After a slide into mediocrity at the turn of the 2020s, he was let go in the middle of the 2021 season.
  • George Perles: After enjoying immense success as the architect of the Steelers' "Steel Curtain" defense 1972-82, became HC for Michigan State in 1983. During his career, led the Spartans to a winning record before being fired in 1994 after an NCAA investigation over tampering led to his last five wins being rescinded. In 1995, he and Ken Hoffman helped create the Motor City Bowl, and he later served a trustee for his alma mater from 2006-18 before passing in 2020.
  • Gary Pinkel: A successful HC for both Toledo from 1991-2000 and Missouri from 2001-15, holding the record for victories at both schools. At Toledo, he inherited a team coached by his former Kent State teammate Nick Saban (see below) and guided them to a conference championship and a Las Vegas Bowl victory in 1995. At Missouri, he took over a program that had only seen two winning seasons since 1984 and led a massive turnaround, taking the cellar-dweller program to two Big 12 Championship game appearances in 2007-08 and took them to 10 bowl games, going 6-4. He also helped the school transition into the SEC, going to the SEC Championship twice in 2013-14. He lost all four conference championship games. He retired in 2015 after a non-Hodgkin's lymphoma diagnosis, wanting to spend the remainder of his life with his family and friends.
  • Tommy Prothro: A successful coach for Oregon State from 1955-64 and UCLA from 1965-70, putting a winning record at both. Guided the Beavers to their most successful run in school history, claiming three conference titles and a win in the Liberty Bowl. His stop at UCLA was less successful, as he made only one bowl game and was a vocal critic of the Pac-8 rules. He went into pro coaching and scouting with the Rams, Chargers, and Browns, seeing the Rams and Chargers teams he built go on to greater success under his sucessors. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1991 and died in 1995 after a cancer battle. He was known for carrying a mysterious briefcase while donning a fedora and wearing a suit and tie at his college stops.

    Coaches (Q-Z) 
  • Lincoln Riley: Ascended to replace Bob Stoops as coach at Oklahoma in 2017 after several years as OC and continued the school's run of success. Seen as an offensive wunderkind, Riley's program produced back-to-back Heisman QBs in Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray and reached the CFP three years straight. However, after a down year by Oklahoma's standards in 2021 that included a loss of the Bedlam rivalry game, Riley accepted the HC job at USC the day after issuing a suspiciously specific denial of interest in the LSU opening.note 
  • Eddie Robinson: Started up the football program at Grambling State, a historically black school in Louisiana, in 1941, and stayed for the next 57 seasons (not counting two years without a team during World War II). He won 17 conference titles and nine black college national titles and ended his career with 408 wins, at the time the most in college history at any level (now third behind Gagliardi and Paterno). Two of the many national coach of the year awards bear his name—one for FBS and the other for Grambling's current level of FCS. He retired in 1997 and passed away in 2007.
  • John Robinson: Best known for his two tenures at USC from 1976-82 and again in 1993-97. In his first tenure, he continued predecessor John McKay's (above) run of success and led the Trojans to a share of the 1978 national title. After spending 1983-91 as HC of the NFL's Los Angeles Rams (posting the longest tenure and most wins in franchise history), he returned to USC and briefly revived the school's prospects. He finished his coaching career at UNLV, only having one winning season from 1999-04. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009 and currently is a senior consultant as LSU.
  • Knute Rockne: A Norwegian immigrant raised in Chicago, Rockne was the main builder of Notre Dame's football tradition, leading the Fighting Irish to three national titles in his 13 seasons (1918–30) and relentlessly publicizing Notre Dame football throughout the country. He also popularized the forward pass and is also famous for the "Win one for the Gipper" locker-room Rousing Speech. His winning percentage of .881 (105–12–5) is the highest in major-college history and second only to Kehres among those with at least 10 seasons as a head coach at any level, and it took more than 90 years for his 105 wins at Notre Dame to be surpassed (by Brian Kelly in 2021). Rockne's death in a plane crash in 1931 led to an outpouring of national grief comparable to the death of a U.S. president, with his funeral drawing tens of thousands and being broadcast on radio worldwide. The public reaction to his death was also credited with launching a safety revolution in commercial aviation. A popular biopic about his life, Knute Rockne, All American, starred character actor Pat O'Brien in the title role and featured a young Ronald Reagan as George Gipp, the subject of Rockne's speech (hence him gaining the "Gipper" nickname).
  • Darrell K Royal: The most successful coach in Texas history. A QB/DB at Oklahoma from 1946-49, he immediately entered coaching and never had a losing season as a HC. After a year in the CFL, his first HC stop at the college level was at Mississippi State from 1954-55, then with Washington in 1956, posting unspectacular records at both. He then became HC for Texas from 1957-76 and transformed the Longhorns into a national powerhouse. Royal won or shared 11 Southwest Conference titles and three national championships in 1963, 1969, and 1970 (going undefeated in the first two). He also oversaw the racial integration of Texas' program. In My All American, a film adaptation of the 1969 season, Royal was portrayed by Aaron Eckhart. Texas renamed their stadium in his honor in 1996; he passed away in 2012.
  • Erskine "Erk" Russell: After a 16-year stint as the DC for Georgia from 1964-80, became the HC of Georgia Southern in 1982, taking over a program that had been dormant for over 40 years. Forced to start the program on a slim budget (and at club level; the team didn't gain full varsity status until 1984), the team had to wear their practice uniforms on gameday, used nothing more than a strip of tape on their helmets for decoration, and rode surplus school buses to their games. From 1982-89, he never posted a losing season and won three I-AA championships. He retired in 1989 and died from a stroke in 2006. The area surrounding the stadium and several other athletic facilities was renamed in his honor.
  • Nick Saban: The current colossus of college coaching, with the most national titles in college football history at seven. After several decades as an assistant at the college and pro levels, Saban turned around Toledo's program in his first and only year as its head coach in 1990. After serving as DC under Bill Belichick with the Cleveland Browns, Saban had a successful run at Michigan State (1995-99) before being hired by LSU, which he led to a national title in 2003. After two middling seasons with the Miami Dolphins from 2005-06, where he insisted he was not going to become coach at Alabama up to two weeks before he returned to college coaching at Alabama. Once there, he asserted himself as one of the greatest coaches in college history by returning the school to its past dominance and leading the Tide to six national titles (2009, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2017, 2020) and playing in another three championship games (2016, 2018, 2021). Fun fact: During Saban's first 14 seasons at Alabama, none of his former assistants had won a game against him as the opposing head coach. This streak reached 24 games before ending in 2021 with two such losses, including the national title game.
  • Red Sanders: An innovative coach who originated the squib kick and the 4-4 defense. His first HC gig was at Vanderbilt from 1940-42 and 1946-48 (with the interruption being a military commitment in WWII), where he guided the Commodores to their first Top 20 ranking. From 1949-57, he was the HC for UCLA, where he found even more success and won a share of the 1954 national championship. Died in 1958 under suspicious circumstances and was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1996. He is also the originator of the famous "Winning isn't every thing, it's the only thing" quote that is often misattributed to Vince Lombardi.
  • Glenn "Bo" Schembechler: The coach of Michigan during the '70s and '80s, putting the program back on the map after the Dork Age of the '50s and '60s. He played and later was an assistant coach under Woody Hayes (see above) at Miami (OH), before the two ended up at hated rival schools. Schembechler's first 10 years at Michigan coincided with Hayes' final 10 at Ohio State; in head-to-head meetings during this "Ten-Year War", Schembechler narrowly won out, compiling a 5-4-1 record against Hayes' Buckeyes. However, he was never able to win a national championship and struggled in bowl games in general (compiling a 5-12 bowl record, including 2-8 in the coveted Rose Bowl.) In 2021, 15 years after his passing, his legacy fell into serious question when hundreds of former patients of Michigan's team doctor, including many UM athletes as well as Schembechler's own stepson, came forward with allegations that the doctor had sexually abused them, with Schembechler accused of either ignoring reports or actively covering the abuse up.note 
  • Francis Schmidt: A HC best known for his tenures at TCU (1929-33) and Ohio State (1934-40), although he had successful early career gigs at Tulsa from 1919-21 and Arkansas from 1922-28 as well as a less successful late career stint at Idaho from 1941-42 (which ended when the Vandals put football on hiatus during World War II). A quietly important figure in the sport's history, Schmidt was the first coach to really dig into offensive strategizing, with a vast playbook full of trick plays and audacious gambits, including using the forward pass as a way to move the ball rather than just for long yardage desperation plays, and expanding the role of the QB from mere signal-caller to ball-mover. The sports media used the term "razzle dazzle" to describe his offense. Sid Gillman, who began his career as a Schmidt assistant, credited him as an inspiration for the pass-based offense he introduced into pro football in The '50s. Schmidt's hiring at OSU was a watershed moment for the sport as an early example of a national coaching search; in that era, big-time coaches were almost always either alums of their school or had some other connection to their conference.note  Another Schmidt legacy was the spread of the idiom "Those fellows put their pants on one leg at a time, the same as everyone else", a regional Texas saying he used during a press conference in 1934 about his chances of beating Michigan, which became internationally famous. Schmidt won that game (and was the first Buckeye coach to leave Columbus with a winning record against the Wolverines), and ever since, every time Ohio State beats Michigan, the players receive a pants-shaped lapel pin. Passed away in 1944 and was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1971.
  • Howard Schnellenberger: HC for Miami (FL) (1979-83), Louisville (1985-94), Oklahoma (1995), and Florida Atlantic (2001-11), putting up a rather pedestrian 158-151-3 record in his storied Long Runner career (though it included a 6-0 bowl game record). After two decades in the college and pro ranks (including a brief stint as HC of the Baltimore Colts), he took a Miami program that was on the brink of either dropping down to Division I-AA or being eliminated altogether and rebuilt them into a powerhouse for the next two decades, including a national championship win in 1983, after which he left the school due to being promised near complete control in a Miami USFL franchise. That deal fell through, so he next returned to his childhood home of Louisville, whose football program also was facing elimination or demoting themselves to Division I-AA. He put up a weaker record there but memorably throttled Alabama in the 1991 Fiesta Bowl. A former Kentucky player, he was largely responsible for reestablishing its football rivalry with Louisville; his last season at U of L in 1994 saw the two schools play one another for the first time in over seven decades. He quit the program due to Louisville wanting to join the newly created C-USA. His brief stint at Oklahoma is one of the most polarizing ever, not just because he put up a 5-5-1 record, but because he ordered the destruction of several program files,note  and infuriated fans by saying he would make "Sooner Nation" forget about the likes of Bud Wilkinson and Barry Switzer. He resurfaced as the first head coach for Florida Atlantic, where he built the program from the ground up as a Division I-AA independent that eventually moved into the Sun Belt. He put up a losing record there but was 2-0 in bowl games. Schnellenberger retired after 2011, and Florida Atlantic renamed the playing field of its stadium in his honor in 2014. Passed away in 2021.
  • Ben Schwartzwalder: The most acclaimed coach in Syracuse history. The former player from West Virginia coached the Orangemen for 24 seasons from 1949-73, putting up a 153-91-3 record while going 2-5 in bowl games and only having losing seasons in his first and final years. He led the racially integrated Orangemen to a national championship in 1959 after beating an all-white Texas team in the Cotton Bowl and coached Ernie Davis, the first black player to win the Heisman, in 1961. Syracuse's program produced several of the most acclaimed running backs in football history during his tenure, including Jim Brown, Larry Csonka, and Floyd Little. Retired in 1973, was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1982, and passed away in 1993. After his death, West Virginia and Syracuse agreed to play for a trophy named after him, although the series is currently on hiatus due to the teams being in different conferences. Portrayed by Dennis Quaid in the film The Express.
  • Clark Shaughnessy: A key innovator who popularized the T formation and one of several to promote the forward pass during his long journeyman coaching career at Tulane (1915-20, 1922-26), Loyola (1927-32), Chicago (1933-39 - he replaced Amos Alonzo Stagg and was the school's final coach before the football program withdrew from the Big Ten), Stanford (1940-41), Maryland (1942, 1946), Pitt (1943-45), and Hawaii (1965). Despite rarely staying in one place long enough to truly cultivate a program, the "mad scientist" of college football (long before Mike Leach was born) helped change the course of football history when his T formation took Stanford's "Wow Boys" to an undefeated season and national title immediately after he took over what had been a one-win team the year prior. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1968 and died two years later.
  • David Shaw: The current HC at Stanford and winningest in program history. He played WR for the school in the early '90s and then moved into coaching at both the college and pro levels. He returned to his alma mater as OC when Jim Harbaugh (see above) was hired. In this role, Shaw developed two Heisman finalists (RB Toby Gerhart and QB Andrew Luck) before taking over as HC following Harbaugh's departure to the pros in 2011. Under Shaw, the school made a program-record eight straight bowl appearances,note  including three trips to the coveted Rose Bowl (winning two) while only suffering a single losing season. Many schools with more powerful football programs, as well as some NFL teams, have attempted to lure Shaw away from the academically oriented Stanford, but he has so far turned down all offers. He also currently serves as the head of the NCAA Rules Committee and masterminded the major overhaul of overtime rules in 2021.Explanation 
  • Ed Sherman: A coach at Muskingum from 1945-66, he went 141-43-7 and guided the team to 6 Ohio Athletic Conferencenote  titles. After he retired from coaching, he went into an administrative career with the NCAA. He was the head of the committee that created the current nationwide divisional structure (Division I, II, and III). Muskingum renamed their football field in his honor in 1986, and he became the first coach from a D-III school to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1996 before passing away in 2009.
  • Andy Smith: A legendary HC responsible for the peak of Cal-Berkeley's football success. After stints at his alma mater Penn (1905-08) and Purdue (1913-15), Smith was recruited to head west in 1916 to coach Berkeley's football team, only recently revived after a decade hiatus. He soon became the first coach to find major success on the West Coast by tapping into the abundant athletic talent of the rapidly growing state; from 1920-24, his "Wonder Teams" lost no games and only tied four times, retroactively earning four straight national championships. Many of his innovations and trick plays (most notably lateraling the ball to the running back for a planned deep pass) endure today. He may have had an even greater impact on the history of the game had he not passed away in 1926 at just 42 years old; he was still an inaugural member of the Hall of Fame.
  • Bill Snyder: A Long Runner HC for Kansas State, with two tenures going from 1989-2005 and 2009-18. Before he came to K-State, the program was arguably the worst in college football, boasting a woeful 293-510 (.365) record in 93 years of play, only reaching one bowl game in 1982, and having not won a game since 1986. Under his leadership, K-State turned around dramatically, becoming a regular contender for the Big 12 title, which they won in 2003, the school's first conference title since 1934. Two subsequent sub-.500 seasons led Snyder to retire after 2005. The day after his retirement, K-State renamed the stadium in his family's honor. After coming back in 2009, he joined an elite club of coaches to lead a team in a stadium named for him for the next decade. He won 215 games between his two tenures, by far the most wins of any HC in program history, as no other coach has more than 40.
  • Steve Spurrier: A Heisman-winning QB at Florida in the '60s who returned as HC during the '90s and led the school to its first national title. Famous for his "Run and Gun" (sometimes "Fun 'n' Gun") offensenote , he is also the only Heisman-winner to coach a Heisman-winning player (QB Danny Wuerffel, 1996). His time at Florida (1990-2001) was sandwiched between two other reasonably successful HC stints at Duke (1987-89) and South Carolina (2005-15). Like many college coaches, it's best not to bring up his time in the NFL, both as a player and as a coach. He also coached in the USFL and the AAF, leading the Orlando Apollos to an unofficial championship in the latter (the league folded midseason).
  • Amos Alonzo Stagg: Another pioneer in college football. First, while a student at Yale, he was a member of Walter Camp's very first All-America team in 1889. He then went into coaching, compiling a 314–199–35 record at three schools: Springfield College (1890-91), the University of Chicago (for 41 seasons, 1892-1932, winning national titles in 1905 and 1913), and College of the Pacific (1933-46). Stagg was responsible, at least in part, for innovations such as the huddle, lateral pass, man in motion, varsity letters, and uniform numbers, and also invented some equipment, notably the tackling dummy. Even after being forced out at his last HC job at Pacific (at age 84), he still wasn't done with football—he served as top assistant to his son at Susquehanna, a small Pennsylvania school, for five seasons, and after that returned to Pacific's home city of Stockton, California to serve as kicking coach for six seasons at the local junior college until finally retiring at age 96 (he finally passed at age 102 in 1965). He was a member of the inaugural class of the Hall of Fame in 1951 as both a player and coach, the only person to be inducted in both roles until the 1990s. The NCAA D-III championship game is named the Stagg Bowl in his honor. Springfield, Chicago, and Susquehanna have all named their home venues Stagg Field in his honor (Pacific's stadium was also called Stagg Memorial Stadium, but they dropped football after the 1995 season and demolished it in 2014).
    • Stagg's accomplishments go far beyond football. He also lived to be an inaugural member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1959—the sport of basketball had been invented by Stagg's Springfield colleague James Naismith to help keep his football team in condition during the winter, plus Stagg played in the first public game of basketball in 1892, and was also responsible for fixing the number of players per side at five. In baseball, he invented the batting cage. Stagg also has a footnote in the history of the Atomic Age—in 1942, the first controlled nuclear chain reaction was created under the west stands of Chicago's abandoned football stadium, Stagg Field.
  • Buddy Stephens: The HC of East Mississippi Community College, which he has turned into the powerhouse school of the NJCAAnote  while being a key figure in the first two seasons of Netflix's Last Chance U. Stephens has led the program to five NJCAA national championships (2011, 2013, 2014, 2017, 2018), seven division titles, has the highest winning percentage in NJCAA history (.878), and has coached a slew of future NFL talent who have typically failed out/been kicked out of their prior colleges. EMCC was infamously involved a brawl during the 2015 season against rival Mississippi Delta in the final game of the year which got them disqualified from the postseason despite being undefeated. Due to player suspensions from the brawl carrying into the next season, they also dropped their season opener, costing them a chance at the title for a second year in a row.
  • Bob Stoops: The HC of Oklahoma from 1998-2016 who helped the program escape the stigma of the sanctions put on the program at the end of the Barry Switzer era and middling play under the previous regimes. At OU, he won the 2000 National Championship and was also the only HC in the BCS era to ever win the Rose, Orange, Fiesta, and Sugar Bowls. He retired from Oklahoma in 2017 but quickly returned to coaching in the XFL for the Dallas Renegades. After that league folded, he hopped over to broadcasting, returned to the sidelines in 2021 to coach Oklahoma's bowl game after Lincoln Riley's departure, and resigned with the XFL after its revival. His brothers, Mark and Mike, also became head coaches, with Mike coaching Arizona from 2004-11 and Mark serving as the current HC at Kentucky.
  • John "Jock" Sutherland: A player at Pitt from 1915-17, he got his first HC job at Lafayette in 191 and led them to a national championship in 1921. He then went back to Pittsburgh in 1924 to replace his coach and mentor, Pop Warner (see below). He led the program to a 111-20-12 record and had four Rose Bowl appearances (where he went 1-3). He led the school to four national championships in 1929, 1931, and 1936-37 before resigning after 1938 due to the school putting less emphasis on football. He went on to coaching in the NFL, coaching the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1940-41 and the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1946-47. He died from a brain tumor in 1948 and was posthumously inducted in the Hall of Fame's inaugural class in 1951.
  • William "Dabo" Swinney: The current HC of Clemson which, under his leadership, has been one of the few programs to regularly compete with Alabama under Nick Saban. (Swinney played WR at Alabama in the early '90s.) Made the somewhat unprecedented leap from Clemson wide receivers coach straight to HC in 2008 after the previous coach resigned, then kept the job after salvaging Clemson's season. He led the program to national championships in 2016 and 2018, beating Alabama in both instances. Got his nickname as an infant when his older brother mispronounced "that boy".
  • Barry Switzer: Center and linebacker at Arkansas from 1956-60 who became the HC of Oklahoma from 1973-88. Known for his eccentric personality and leadership style, he nevertheless led the Sooners to a winning record and won three national titles in 1974, 1975, and 1985. His tenure with the Sooners was marred by controversy in his later seasons, including a player being arrested for soliciting cocaine to undercover FBI agents. He resigned in 1989 and later returned to coaching in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys, where he became one of three coaches to win both a national championship and a Super Bowl.
  • Jim Tatum: HC of Maryland for the peak of the program's success (1947-55), taking them to an undefeated '51 season (in which the Terps beat #1 ranked Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl) and claiming a national title in '53. However, the program collapsed after he left for his alma mater North Carolina, where he had actually been HC for a single season in 1942 before he enlisted in the Army during WWII.note  Tragically, Tatum died after just three seasons at UNC at just 46 years old, likely from typhus. He was posthumously inducted in the Hall of Fame in 1984.
  • Jeff Tedford: HC for California and Fresno State who is best known as a "QB Guru". Originally a QB himself at Cerritos Community College and then Fresno State, he moved into a professional career in the CFL in the '80s before returning to his alma mater as QB coach then OC from 1992-97. He moved to Oregon as OC from '98-'01 and parlayed success in that role into the HC job at Cal from '02-'12. In this span, Tedford became the winningest coach in school history and had six of his quarterbacks selected in the 1st round of the NFL Draft. Unfortunately, the first five are all considered draft busts, but the sixth (and ironically last) was Aaron Rodgers. After being fired from Cal, he spent several seasons as an assistant in the NFL and CFL before returning to his alma mater as head coach. He seemed to be turning the program around but regressed in his final year before retiring due to health concerns. His retirement didn't stick, as he returned to Fresno State in 2022.
  • Frank Thomas: Successful coach at Alabama. Played QB for Knute Rockne (see above) at Notre Dame and got his first HC gig in 1925 at Chattanooga, guiding the Mocs to 3 SIAA titles in his four-season tenure. In 1931, he became the HC for Alabama, succeeding Wallace Wade (see below), and became the AD in 1940. During his tenure at Alabama, he put up a record of 115-24-7 (.812) and won two national championships. His win percentage and total currently rank third in Alabama history, behind Nick Saban and his former player Bear Bryant (see both above). He retired from coaching in 1946 due to contracting heart and lung disease and being too physically weak to care for his mentally ill sister, although he remained AD until 1952. Was inducted in the Hall of Fame's inaugural class in 1951 and passed away in 1954.
  • Tommy Tuberville: A successful coach before he became the current U.S. Senator for Alabama. Began his HC career with Ole Miss in 1995. His first two seasons were marred by NCAA sanctions, barring postseason play and TV games, but he soon righted the ship. After saying he wouldn't leave Ole Miss unless he was "carried out in a pine box", he left to go coach at fellow SEC school Auburn, where he had his greatest run of success. At Auburn, his teams made a bowl game every season from 2000-07, including finishing #2 in the 2004 BCS rankings and enjoying a 6-game winning streak over Alabama in the Iron Bowl rivalry. His run of success came crashing down in 2008, as the team finished 5-7, including a miserable shutout loss to Alabama to end the season. He resigned and spent the next season working as a broadcaster for ESPN before replacing Mike Leach at Texas Tech, which he infamously departed during a recruiting dinner in 2012 to go coach at Cincinnati. His first seasons in Cincy saw general success, but the program lost all its bowl games and collapsed in his fourth and final season before he retired from coaching. Tuberville moved back to Alabama, riding the endorsement of Donald Trump and his enduring football popularity to win the open Senate seat despite a lack of political experience.
  • Johnny Vaught: The most successful coach in Ole Miss history who coached the Rebels for 25 seasons. A former lineman at TCU (1930–32), his run from 1947-70 saw Ole Miss earn their only SEC titles and three national championships to boot. He retired after a heart attack during the 1970 season, only to come back for One Last Job to finish the 1973 season after the program sharply receded in his absence. Passed away in 2006.
  • Wallace Wade: The HC of Alabama from 1923-30, responsible for leading the Tide to their first three national titles in 1925, 1926, and 1930. From 1927-29, his Alabama teams disappointed, resulting in him resigning after 1930. He then became the coach of Duke to the surprise of many, as Duke didn't have a prestigious football program. He held the Duke job from 1931-41 and 1946-50, with the gap being for his military service in WWII. He coached what was Duke's greatest run of success to that point, as the school had never been to a bowl game, although he lost all the bowls he led them to, including a hard-fought loss in the 1942 Rose Bowl on Duke's home field.note . After his retirement from Duke, he became the commissioner of the Southern Conference until 1960. Duke renamed the football stadium in his honor in 1967, and he enjoyed a long retirement, passing away at age 94 in 1986.
  • Lynn "Pappy" Waldorf: A well-traveled Hall of Famer who got his first HC and AD job at Oklahoma A&M (1929-33) at 26 years old, bringing the program its longest run of success to that point, though the school was forced to let him go due to financial difficulties. After a year at Kansas State, he had a lengthy tenure at Northwestern (1935-46) before being offered a gig at California, which he immediately restored to prominence after years of underperformance. Unfortunately, his success gradually declined over the next decade, in part due to due punitive measures from the NCAA for recruiting violations that led Cal to deemphasize its football program. He was pushed out after 1957, entered into pro scouting, and passed away in 1981.
  • Glen "Pop" Warner: An innovative coach at eight different schoolsnote  for over 40 years from 1895 to 1939, winning four national championships (three in Pittsburgh in 1915-16 and 1918 and one in Stanford in 1926). Among his many inventions are the three-point stance (making him a quasi-Trope Maker), the single and double wing formations that are the precursors of the modern game's pistol and shotgun, and body blocking (as opposed to shoulders). He is most notable for his time with the legendary Carlisle Indian School, the most successful defunct program in NCAA history which competed with the elite programs of the Ivy League, where he coached College and Pro Hall of Famer Jim Thorpe. He retired as the winningest coach in college football history with 319 wins (still ranking in the top 10)note  and passed away in 1954. Today, he is most famous for founding the Pop Warner Little Scholars, now simply known as Pop Warner Football, the largest organization in the US for youth football.
  • George Welsh: The biggest name in Virginia football in the modern era. After a serviceable run as HC at Navy, Welsh got the HC job in Virginia in 1982. The program had only three winning seasons in the past three decades; they only dipped under .500 twice in his 19 seasons at the school, going 134-86-3 overall and 5-8 in bowl games before he retired due to poor health after 2000. He died in 2019.
  • Kyle Whittingham: The current HC of Utah and the winningest coach in Utah history, having held the job since the departure of Urban Meyer in 2005 after a decade as an assistant at the school. A star linebacker at BYU at the same time Jim McMahon was setting records on the offensive side of the ball, and part of a deep BYU football legacy (his father was a longtime assistant to LaVell Edwards and two of his brothers also played for the Cougars), Whittingham moved to their fierce rival Utah as an AC in 1994, and was convinced by Meyer to stick around even though he was one of the candidates the Utes turned down in favor of Meyer in 2002. Whittingham kept the program a BCS Buster in Meyer's absence, leading them to an undefeated 2008 season and an unclaimed national title. This success helped the Utes make the jump to the Pac-12 a few seasons later, and the program has remained competitive ever since.
  • Bud Wilkinson: While Bennie Owen brought Oklahoma its first taste of success, Wilkinson truly launched the Sooners to national prominence. After helping lead Minnesota to three straight national titles as a QB in the 1930s, he became a college assistant in 1938 and became OU's HC/AD in 1947. Wilkinson immediately led the Sooners to the Big Six title—the first of 13 straight titles in the conference that was known as the Big Eight by the time he retired from coaching in 1963 (he stayed on as AD for one more year). In his second season, the Sooners started a 31-game winning streak that included their first national title in 1950. That proved to be just the prelude to a record 47-game winning streak from 1954–57, including two more national titles in 1955-56. OU went unbeaten in conference play (with two ties) until 1959. Left Oklahoma with a 145–29–4 record. Dabbled in politics, unsuccessfully running for a US Senate seat in 1964. Joined ABC as its lead college football color commentator in 1965, later returned to coaching in 1978 as HC of the NFL's St. Louis Cardinals but was fired during the 1979 season and returned to broadcasting. Was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1969 and died in 1994.
  • Henry L. Williams: The first salaried coach at Minnesota, where he served for 22 seasons (1900-21). Played for Walter Camp at Yale and developed the "Minnesota shift" that helped the Gophers go undefeated for 35 straight games and win a national title in 1904. Still the winningest coach in school history (both in total wins and percentage) and a charter Hall of Famer. Was also a medical doctor. Died in 1931.
  • Fielding H. Yost: A charter member of the Hall of Fame who set up Michigan for decades of football success. Played at West Virginia (and a single game at Lafayette) from 1894-96 before one-year stints at Ohio Wesleyan, Nebraska, Kansas, and Stanford (and one game at San Jose State) before landing at Michigan in 1901, where he went unbeaten through his first 56 games. During his Long Runner tenure (1901-23 and again from 1925-26), Yost's Wolverines posted a 165-29-10 record and won ten Western and Big Ten conference titles and six national championships. He was a major innovator in the development of football as one of the parties responsible for creating what later became known as the Rose Bowl in 1902, creating the position of linebacker when his center (Germany Schulz) started playing off the line of scrimmage on defense, developing the hurry up offense, and even initiating the concept of coaching as a profession when Michigan started paying him as much as their professors. He stayed on as AD until 1940, only stepping down to convince Fritz Crisler (above) to come to the school; he passed away in 1946.
  • Bob Zuppke: A native of Germany who moved to America with his family as a child, Zuppke was the head coach of Illinois for 29 seasons from 1913-41, responsible for four national championships. He is credited with introducing the concept of a huddle and the flea flicker, as well as the reintroduction of the I-Formation in 1914. He was also a landscape painter who had several exhibits devoted to his work. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame's inaugural class in 1951 and passed away in 1957. The field at Illinois' Memorial Stadium is named in his honor.

    Administrators 
  • Jim Delany: A name little-known except to the most dedicated college sports geeks, but along with Roy Kramer and Mike Slive (also listed below) he arguably had more impact on the 21st-century college sports scene (not just football) than any other single individual. Unlike (most of) the others listed in this section, he was an administrator rather than a coach. After playing basketball at North Carolina, he went to law school and later took a position with the NCAA. He became commissioner of the FCS-level Ohio Valley Conference in 1979, and then in 1989 moved to the position where he made his true mark: Big Ten commissioner. His first major splash came in 1990, when he oversaw Penn State's entry into the conference. Later that decade, Delany and Kramer teamed up to create the the Bowl Championship Series, and in later years Delany was a major behind-the-scenes opponent of the playoff system championed by Slive (which became today's College Football Playoff). He was also the main force behind the creation of the Big Ten Network in 2007. Though not the Ur-Example of conference-specific cable networks (that would be the Mountain West Conference's now-defunct MountainWest Sports Network), it was the Trope Maker and Trope Codifier for future efforts of that type. Though not immediately successful, it became a major cash cow for the already-wealthy conference by the time the 2010s rolled around. Delany also helped to trigger the seismic conference realignments of the early 2010s with his wish to expand the BTN footprint, with the Big Ten bringing in Nebraska in 2011 and Maryland and Rutgers in 2014. He retired at the end of 2019 and has since experienced the other side of conference realignment as a consultant to Conference USA.
  • Tod Eberle and Dick Yoder: Possibly the greatest examples of Small Role, Big Impact in college football history. In 1986, Eberle was commissioner of the D-II Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference, and Yoder was the AD at PSAC member West Chester and a member of the D-II council. At the time, the PSAC faced a football scheduling conundrum—it had 14 members, and its two divisional winners played a championship game. However, NCAA limits on regular-season games meant that every PSAC team had to leave a schedule slot open, and only the two divisional winners got to play all of their allowed regular-season games. Eberle asked Yoder to draft NCAA legislation to allow the PSAC to stage a championship game that didn't count against scheduling limits. Yoder's original draft required a league have 14 members, with the PSAC then being the only league in any NCAA division with that many football members. However, before Yoder brought the proposal up for a vote, another D-II conference with 12 football members asked him to change his draft to reduce the required number of teams to 12. He did just that, and the NCAA passed this rule with little fanfare.note  This rule ended up setting the terms of FBS conference realignment for the next three decades, because the first conference to actually take advantage of this rule was the SEC (see Roy Kramer below).note 
  • Keith Gill: A former RB at Duke, Gill is most notable as the first African American to become commissioner of an FBS conference, taking over the Sun Belt Conference in 2019. Gill spent much of his early administrative career with the NCAA office before becoming an associate AD at Oklahoma, followed by AD gigs with non-football American and FCS Richmond. He then moved on to become second-in-command at the non-football Atlantic 10 Conference before taking the SBC position in 2019, where he oversaw that league's early-2020s raid of Conference USA.
  • Roy Kramer: A former player at the small Tennessee school Maryville, Kramer had significant success as HC at Central Michigan, leading the Chippewas to a D-II national title in 1974, but made his greatest impact on the sport as commissioner of the SEC from 1990–2002. Coming to the SEC office from a 12-year run as AD at Vanderbilt, he noticed the then little-known rule change championed by the aforementioned Tod Eberle and Dick Yoder that would allow the SEC to stage a title game... if it expanded. Cue the 1991 addition of Arkansas and South Carolina, bringing the SEC to 12 members and allowing the launch of a championship game in 1992. This game proved lucrative enough that all other FBS conferences eventually followed suit. Kramer also played a major role in the creation of the BCS, which arguably turned college football into a truly national sport. He retired in 2002; his successor Mike Slive (below) would also have a great impact on the sport.
  • Greg Sankey: Current SEC commissioner, making him one of the biggest power brokers in college sports. The upstate New York native had a modest start to his career as director of intramural sports at the small Utica College, but moved south to become compliance director at Northwestern State, a I-AA/FCS school in Louisiana. From there, he moved on to the Southland Conference in 1992, becoming that league's commissioner in 1996. When the SEC had compliance issues at the turn of the century, Mike Slive (below) brought him in to address them, and he rose through the ranks until becoming Slive's successor in 2015. He's been intimately involved with the two most recent major realignment cycles, first as Slive's deputy when the SEC brought in Missouri and Texas A&M and then as commissioner with the impending arrival of Oklahoma and Texas. Sankey also pushed for an expansion to the College Football Playoff, which so far has yet to take place.
  • Mike Slive: Along with the aforementioned Jim Delany, an administrator little-known to the general sporting public who had a huge impact on the 21st-century college sports scene. While Slive had several admin gigs in his earlier career, including being the inaugural commissioner of two D-I leagues (the non-football Great Midwest Conference and its successor Conference USAnote ), he truly made his mark while commissioner of the SEC from 2002-15. First, he cleansed some of the stench around the SEC by telling league members who had complaints about other members' recruiting practices to take them to the league offices instead of the NCAA. The number of SEC schools facing sanctions dropped, though it's unclear whether it actually changed their practices. Next, he was the main architect of today's College Football Playoff. Slive had proposed a similar system as early as 2004 but faced opposition from the Big 12 and Big East. The SEC's dominance on and off the football field strengthened Slive's leverage, the Big 12 came on board in 2012, and the Big East (at least in its original form) imploded the next year, paving the way for the CFP to start in 2014. Slive was also responsible for luring Texas A&M and Missouri into the SEC in 2012, which helped pave the way for his final great accomplishment: the SEC Network. After seeing the success of the Big Ten Network, Slive saw his own opportunity to make the already ridiculously-wealthy SEC even more so, and his overtures to A&M (and to a lesser extent Mizzou) were driven by his desire to get more potential viewers. He teamed up with ESPN to bring the network to reality, and its 2014 launch was arguably the most successful for any US cable network (not just in sports!), with virtually every cable and satellite provider offering the service to viewers within the conference footprint. Retired in 2015 and passed away in 2018.
  • John Swofford: A former QB and DB at North Carolina, Swofford made his mark in the sport as ACC commissioner from 1997–2021 after 17 years as the Tar Heels' AD. Under his watch, the ACC kicked off the first major conference realignment of the current century by poaching Boston College, Miami, and Virginia Tech from the Big East in 2004 and 2005. The ACC expanded even further under his watch, bringing in Pitt and Syracuse in all sports and Notre Dame in non-football sports in 2013 and Louisville the following year (though the conference did lose Maryland to the Big Ten), and Swofford also oversaw the creation of the ACC Network. As an aside, the late singer Oliver! was his older brother.
  • Kevin Warren: Became the first African-American commissioner of a Power Five conference, taking over from the aforementioned Jim Delany as Big Ten commissioner in January 2020 (a few months after Keith Gill, also mentioned above, became the first black commissioner of an FBS conference). A former college basketball player at Penn and Grand Canyon, he picked up an MBA and a law degree, and after a few years in law moved into front-office jobs in the NFL. After a two-year interlude with a law firm, where he brokered the most recent sale of the Minnesota Vikings, he joined the Vikings front office, eventually rising to chief operating officer. Warren's Big Ten tenure so far has been eventful, most notably with the impending addition of UCLA and USC.

    Pre-20th Century Players 
  • Knowlton "Snake" Ames: An All-American back for Princeton who is college football's unofficialnote  career all-time leading scorer, putting up 730 points over four years. He is also credited with attempting the first ever fake punt in football history. He moved into coaching for two schools while also turning down offers to play professionally. He moved into a career in finance and publishing, but committed suicide in 1931 after suffering business losses. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1969.
  • Roscoe Channing: Another All-American back for Princeton in the late 1880s. He was one of many Ivy Leaguers to enlist with Theodore Roosevelt's "Rough Riders" at the outbreak of the Spanish-American War. After a career in mining operations, he passed away in 1961 at age 93, the longest lived member of the inaugural All-American team.
  • Arthur Cumnock: An All-American end for Harvard in the late 1880s and credited as one of the game's first great defensive players. A vicious tackler, he cemented an upset over heavily favored arch-rival Yale in 1890 when he tackled the ball carrier through the guard blocking for him in a single hit. Though considered one of the greatest players in Harvard history, he has never been elected into the Hall of Fame. He entered a career in textiles and died in 1930 after suffering a heart attack while driving.
  • William Stryker Gummere: The captain of the Princeton team who participated in what is considered the first college football game ever against Rutgers in 1869. Along with William Leggett (see below), he is credited with establishing the first set of rules for the sport, drawing heavily from rugby and soccer. He moved into a law career and served as Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court from 1901 until his death in 1933.
  • Truxton Hare: A Hall of Fame guard for Penn in the late 1890s and one of the very few four-time All-Americans in football history. Hare was also a skilled kicker and punter, and his versatility was not limited to football. He competed for the U.S. in the 1904 Olympics, winning a gold medal as part of the tug-of-war team and a bronze medal in the "All-Rounder" which included 10 track and field events. After football, he practiced law, painted, wrote several best-selling books, and served as a hospital president before passing away in 1956.
  • William "Pudge" Heffelfinger: A three-time All-American guard at Yale from 1889-91 who was not only a football star, but also lettered in baseball, rowing, and track at the school. He possessed a gigantic stature for the era at 6'3", 210 lb and is notable for becoming the very first professional football player. In 1892, following his college career, he was paid $500 to play two games for the Allegheny Athletic Association. He returned to the college ranks as a coach with three schools before moving into a career in business and politics. He continued to play exhibition and charity games, last competing in one at age 65. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame's inaugural class in 1951 and was one of the few 19th century players still living to be honored before passing away three years later at age 86.
  • Clarence Herschberger: A Jack-of-All-Trades player for Chicago in the mid-1890s who was the first player to be named an All-American from a "western" school. He is also seen as an innovator of the game, as he was amongst the first players to kick spiral punts, to run the Statue of Liberty trick play, to kick an onside kick, and (most likely) to get an x-ray for a football injury. He committed suicide in 1936 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1970.
  • Henry "Tillie" Lamar: A back for Princeton in the mid-1880s who is responsible for one of the most spectacular plays of the 19th century. In an 1885 game against Yale in front of a then-record crowd, trailing 5-0 in the final minutes, Lamar returned a punt 90 yards for a game-winning touchdown. Now known in football annals as the "Lamar Run", it popularized the sport of college football to the general public like no others before it. Lamar died in a tragic drowning incident only a few years later at age 25.
  • William Leggett: The captain of the Rutgers team who participated in what is considered the first college football game ever against Princeton in 1869. Along with William Stryker Gummere (see above), he is credited with establishing the first set of rules for the sport, drawing heavily from rugby and soccer. He moved into a career in the clergy, becoming vice president of the Dutch Reformed Church, where he served until his death in 1925.
  • William H. Lewis: A Hall of Fame center for Harvard in the early 1890s who is considered to be one of the first African-American football players. He became the first black player to be named All-American in 1892, then earned the honor again in 1893. He moved into coaching as one of the first black head coaches in football history, serving at his alma mater for 12 years and compiling an extremely impressive 114–15–5 record. During this time, Lewis wrote what is considered to be one of the first books about football tactics. His success in football and his academic success caught the attention of Teddy Roosevelt and his supporters and helped launch a very successful career in public service. He became the first African-American named as an Assistant United States Attorney in 1903 and later Assistant Attorney General in 1910; both were the highest appointed position in the federal government held by a black person in the country's history to that time. He became a prominent civil rights activist later in life before passing away in 1949.
  • Alex Moffatt: A Hall of Fame back who played for Princeton in the early 1880s, pre-dating the idea of All-American teams, and was also the star pitcher of the school's baseball team. Though listed as a "back", he played in all three phases of the game, and is included here due to his revolutionary success as a kicker. Unlike other kickers at the time who used the "end over end" style for kicking and punting lifted directly from rugby, Moffatt pioneered the "spiral punt" and "drop kick", giving him unparalleled range and accuracy for the time. He is also notable for being able to kick equally well with either leg. He went onto a career in civil engineering and served as an "advisory coach" to the Princeton team until his death from pneumonia in 1914.
  • Marshall "Ma" Newell: A Hall of Fame end for Harvard in the early 1890s and the first player to be named an All-American four times. He played every minute of every game in all four years at Harvard, a span in which the team went 46-3 with 36 shut outs. He earned his nickname thanks to the guidance he provided to younger players and later coached for two years at Cornell. He became a railroad supervisor and died in an accident at only 26.
  • Pat O'Dea: After playing several years of pro Australian Rules Football, this Aussie came to the United States in 1896 and enrolled at Wisconsin, where his brother coached track. While primarily a fullback, O'Dea gained the nickname "The Kangaroo Kicker" for his skill with the drop kick, a common technique in his native sport that made him an absolute scoring weapon in the American game. He made several 60+ yard kicks (one in a heavy blizzard) and 100+ yard punts, impressive feats today that were largely unheard of in his era. After graduating, he immediately was hired at head coach at Notre Dame (1900-01) and Missouri (1902). Despite putting up winning records in every season, he had tired so much of his football fame that he never worked in football again and soon retreated from public life entirely, down to changing his name so the press couldn't find him; most assumed that he had died during World War I until he was finally tracked down in the 1930s. He was selected for the Hall of Fame one day before his death in 1962.
  • Bemus Pierce: An All-American guard for the legendary Carlisle Indian School where he served as the only three-time team captain in program history and became one of the greatest players of the 19th century. A Native American of the Seneca nation, he played at the school from 1894-98 and had a massive stature for the era at over 6'1 and 225 lbs.note  He played professionally for several years, most prominently for the All-Syracuse (later Syracuse Pros), who he helped to win the "World Series of Football" in 1902. Between pro games, he coached in college, including as the head coach at Buffalo, where he is believed to have been the first Native American HC in football history. He returned to coach his alma mater for a single season in 1906, going 9-3. He coached at several more "Indian schools" and high schools before passing away in 1957. While he is a member of the American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame, he was never inducted into the Hall of Fame, being considered one of the biggest snubs from the game's early history.
  • The Poe Brothers: One of the original families of football consisted of six brothers (Samuel, Edgar Allan, Johnny, Neilson, Arthur, and Gresham) out of nine total siblings who were related to the famed author Edgar Allan Poe. All six played for Princeton from 1882 to 1901.
    • Samuel has little information on his playing days and life, although he was an All-American in lacrosse.
    • Edgar Allan had a fairly successful career, being named quarterback of the 1889 All-American team. When he led Princeton to a blowout victory over Harvard, a Harvard fan reportedly asked a Princeton alum if Edgar Allan was related the author, to which the Princeton alum responded "He is the great Edgar Allan Poe." After his football career, he became attorney general for Maryland from 1911-15.
    • Johnny played halfback in 1891 and finished second in touchdowns on the team but was forced to leave due to academic troubles, with the whole team escorting him to the train station. He later re-enrolled at the university, becoming the quarterback before transitioning to halfback and finished second on the team in touchdowns. Again, he was forced to leave due to academic troubles. He found his way into coaching at Virginia from 1893-94 and Navy in 1896. He eventually became a soldier for the British Army in WWI, dying during the Battle of Loos.
    • Neilson has little information on his playing days, but he served in WWI with the US Army, taking part in the Second Battle of the Marne, where he entrenched his troops while dealing with stomach and shrapnel wounds, returning after the war to serve as an assistant coach for his alma mater from 1919 until his death in 1963.
    • Arthur is the most accomplished of the group, being named a consensus All-American in 1899 and made two clutch plays to beat archrival Yale. In 1898, he stripped the ball from a Yale runner and ran it back for a 100-yard TD for the game's only score. A year later, he volunteered to kick a game-winning goal, never having kicked a field goal in his playing career. Both of this moments came after his playing career was thought to be finished as he suffered a horrific leg injury that required his knee to be popped back into place. He was inducted posthumously into the Hall of Fame in 1969.
    • Gresham was the last of the group to play, although he didn't play much. In a 1901 game against Yale, he almost singlehandedly managed to pull off a comeback from 12-0 deficit. He later coached at Virginia in 1903 and served in WWI.
  • Joseph "Bull" Reeves: A player for Navy in the early 1890s who is credited with inventing the football helmet. After a doctor told him that another head injury could kill him, he had a Maryland shoemaker craft a crude helmet for him out of leather. He went on to a naval career, eventually becoming an Admiral during WWII.

    Quarterbacks (A-M) 
  • Gary Beban: The only UCLA Bruin to win the Heisman. Nicknamed "The Great One", he is perhaps best known for his performance in a close-fought match against cross-town rival USC in 1967, where a heroic performance played through torn rib cartilage helped him to win the Heisman over USC star O. J. Simpson despite UCLA losing the game. Simpson won the trophy the following year and went on to immense pro success before his fall from grace; Beban washed out of the pros after just two seasons.
  • Stetson Bennett IV: The first former walk-on QB to start and win a national championship game, doing so with Georgia in 2021. Due to his lack of size (listed at 5'11, 185 lbs), he only received a single FBS scholarship offer despite a dominant high school career and chose to walk-on at his parents alma mater instead. After failing to secure the starting job in his second season, he transferred to Jones County Community College and then returned to Georgia as the backup QB when the school offered him a scholarship. As a senior in 2021, he took over when the starting QB was injured early in the season and led the school to a 13-1 record on the way to the national championship victory over rival Alabama.
  • Jared Bernhardt: Had one of the more impressive multi-sport college careers in recent NCAA history. A star lacrosse player at Maryland, he won a national championship in that sport as well as the Tewaaraton Award as the nation's top male lacrosse player, essentially the equivalent of that sport's Heisman. After graduating from Maryland and using his lacrosse eligibility, he transferred to Ferris State, a small D-II school in Michigan, where despite having not played football since high school, immediately won the starting QB job and led the Bulldogs to an undefeated season and the 2021 D-II national championship.
  • Colt Brennan: A record-setting QB at Hawaii from '05-'07, excelling in head coach June Jones's wide-open passing attack scheme. In 2006, Brennan threw 53 touchdown passes (one short of the NCAA record) then led Hawaii to their best season in school history in 2007, going 12-1 while becoming the school's first ever Heisman finalist. He remains the FBS record holder for career completion percentage and left college as #2 on the passing efficiency list.note  He had a journeyman pro career but tragically suffered a brain injury in a 2010 car accident. Brennan struggled with alcoholism in the final years of his life until passing away in a rehab facility in 2021. His autopsy revealed that he had CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), a brain condition caused by repeated blows to the head.
  • Johnny Bright: A HB/QB for Drake from 1949-51 and the most accomplished player in that school's history, being the only player to have his number (#43) retired by the program. Bright is likely best known for being the target of a racially-motivated incident in a 1951 game against Oklahoma A&M, during which he was knocked unconscious three times by elbow blows from Wilbanks Smith, the last of which broke his jaw and derailed a season that had started with him as a favorite to become the first African American to win the Heisman. A Pulitzer-winning photo sequence from the game made clear that Bright had been deliberately targeted well after completing his passes. The incident led to the NCAA to enact rules regarding illegal blocking and mandated helmets with face guards, and also caused Drake and Bradley to leave the Missouri Valley Conference for some time, contributing to the schools' decline in significance. Bright was the #5 overall pick in the 1952 Draft and had the opportunity to be the Philadelphia Eagles' first Black player, but he instead elected to play football in the more racially-tolerant Canada, where he became a record-shattering Hall of Fame RB. He died in 1983 at the age of 53 after suffering a heart attack during an operation on an old football injury. Oklahoma A&M (now State) did not issue a formal apology for the incident until 2005, over half a century after the event and over two decades after Bright's death.
  • Joe Burrow: A Heisman-winning QB for LSU, winning the award in 2019 by the largest margin in history (receiving 93.8% of the possible points) after setting SEC single-season records for passing yards, passing touchdowns, and completion percentage. He started his college career at Ohio State but transferred to LSU after failing to win the starting job in his fourth year with the school. Put an exclamation point on his season for the ages by leading the Tigers to the national title, in the process also setting all-time FBS single-season records for passing TDs (60, since passed by Bailey Zappe) and TDs responsible for (65 combined passing and rushing, since equaled by Zappe), and earned the #1 pick in the 2020 Draft.
  • Timmy Chang: Broke multiple records in the pass-heavy Hawaii offense during his long tenure at starter (2000-04), most notably holding the NCAA career passing yards record before being passed by Case Keenum; still holds the (somewhat less impressive) FBS records for career plays, attempts, and interceptions (80). Had a journeyman backup career in the pros and bounced around the college assistant ranks before becoming HC at his alma mater in 2022.
  • Reggie Collier: A prototype dual-threat QB, the Southern Miss product became the first D-I player to pass and rush for over 1,000 yards in a season in 1981 and memorably ended Alabama's 57-game home win-streak the following year. Was drafted #3 overall by the USFL, but his pro career was derailed by injuries and substance abuse issues (though he does hold the distinction of being the first Black QB to sign with and start for the Dallas Cowboys). Southern Miss retired his #10.
  • Eric Crouch: A program record-holding QB for Nebraska who won the 2001 Heisman (in one of the closest votes ever, narrowly beating out Rex Grossman and Ken Dorsey), as well as being one of the last great "option" quarterbacks in major college football. Was drafted in the third round as a receiver but never played a snap in the NFL due to injury, instead bouncing around the CFL and NFL Europe.
  • Ty Detmer: A record-shattering passer for BYU and winner of the 1990 Heisman; the last player from a non-Power Five school to be so honored. Had a career as an NFL journeyman and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2012.
  • Ken Dorsey: A consummate winner at Miami from '99-'02, putting up a record of 38-2 as starter, winning the 2001 BCS National Championship, going back in 2002 but losing, and being a Heisman finalist twice (including the 2001 closest vote ever). He was the triggerman for perhaps the most talented team in history over the '01-'02 seasons in terms of the number of players it sent to the NFLnote , but himself was not an especially talented prospect (especially in terms of arm strength), ultimately being drafted in the 7th round before moving into a coaching career.
  • Quinn Ewers: After an elite high school career in Texas that made him the #1 2022 recruit in the country, he became the first notable player to forgo his senior season in high school in order to earn Name, Image, and Likeness ("NIL") money in college in 2021. However, after sitting on the bench behind Heisman candidate C.J. Stroud, Ewers transferred to Texas for 2022.
  • Doug Flutie: Won the 1984 Heisman playing for Boston College. Is probably best remembered for his "Hail Mary" touchdown pass to defeat Miami, which is frequently rated as one of the greatest plays in college football history. Was the first college QB to throw for over 10,000 career yards. Went on to a lengthy pro career, including what is often considered one of the greatest in the history of the CFL, sandwiched between journeyman NFL stints.
  • Tommie Frazier: A record-setting option QB for Nebraska in the early '90s who went 33-3 as a starter, led his team to consecutive national championships in 1994-95, and was the Heisman runner-up in '95. Unfortunately, he suffered from blood clots caused by Crohn's disease, causing him to go undrafted by the NFL, and he was forced to hang up his cleats after a brief stint in the CFL. Nebraska retired his #15.
    • During his first national title run, Frazier's blood clots benched him for several games, during which Brook Berringer capably stepped in as a replacement. He likewise never saw the NFL, for even more tragic reasons, as he died in a plane crash two days before the draft; Nebraska's Memorial Stadium features a statue of him at one of its entrances.
  • George Gipp: The subject of Knute Rockne's famed "Win one for the Gipper" Rousing Speech was not only a QB but also a RB and punter for Notre Dame from 1917-20. He enrolled at Notre Dame to play baseball, but Rockne recruited him for football despite a complete lack of organized football experience. During his final three years, he led the Irish in rushing and passing and became Notre Dame's first Walter Camp All-American and second consensus All-American as a senior in 1920. Sadly, shortly after his final game for the Irish, he picked up strep throat that developed into pneumonia and ended his life at age 25. Rockne's speech, made in the locker room during halftime of an Irish win over previously unbeaten Army in 1928, quoted Gipp's (supposed) deathbed words. Gipp was a member of the inaugural Hall of Fame class of 1951, with his induction symbolically announced on the anniversary of his death. He was notably portrayed by Ronald Reagan in Knute Rockne, All American, transferring his nickname to the President.
  • Mark Harmon: Prior to his acting career, he was a juco transfer QB at UCLA. Running the wishbone offense for coach Pepper Rodgers, Harmon guided the Bruins to a combined 17-5 record in 1972 and 1973, highlighted by a 20-17 upset of #1-ranked Nebraska that snapped the Huskers' 23-game winning streak. His father Tom Harmon (see below) was a Heisman-winning halfback at Michigan and broadcasted games for UCLA while his son played.
  • Stan Heath: The first college QB to throw for over 2,000 yards and 20 TDs in a season. The Nevada QB's 1948 season wouldn't be matched in offensive production for another 15 years. He was a high draft pick for the Green Bay Packers but jumped ship to the CFL after a year. Passed away in 2010.
  • Lamar Jackson: The youngest ever Heisman winner (19 years, 337 days when announced) who claimed the award in 2016 after breaking out as a star at Louisville. Jackson essentially was the Louisville offense, able to pass and run the ball with incredible efficiency, and the team's record collapsed when he left for the pros after the following season.
  • Brian Johnson: The winningest QB in Utah history. Sat on the bench during their undefeated 2004 BCS Buster season, took the starting position the following year, redshirted in 2006 to recover from a knee injury, and returned for two more seasons. Finished his college career by also going on an undefeated BCS Buster run in 2008, upsetting Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and earning a spot on the cover of the PlayStation 3 edition of NCAA Football. Went undrafted, never saw professional play, and entered into coaching.
  • Case Keenum: Shattered records at Houston (2006-11); he is the current holder of the NCAA career records for passing touchdowns, passing yards, and completions and is also the only QB in NCAA history to throw for 5,000+ yards in three seasons (only two others have even passed for more than 4,000 yards three times). Despite his college success, went undrafted due to playing in a weaker conference and being part of an offensive scheme many deemed unworkable at the pro level, but still went on to have some moderate NFL success as a journeyman spot starter.
  • David Klingler: Another record-shattering passer from Houston (1988-91), remarkably one-upping Andre Ware by breaking several NCAA records in the school's "Run and Shoot" offense. While his single-season TD record has been surpassed thanks to longer seasons, it is unlikely that any QB will beat his record 11 touchdowns in a single game. His younger brother Jimmy Klingler suceeded him and likewise led the NCAA in many passing statistics. Like Ware, David turned out to be a bust in the NFL. His #7 is retired by the program.
  • Trevor Lawrence: A prodigy for Clemson who took over the starting job as a true freshman and won his first 28 games with the team, including a National Championship after 2018. It is widely believed that, despite only being a true freshman, he would have been drafted #1 overall in the 2019 NFL Draft had he been eligible. He brought Clemson back to the National Championship game in his second season but suffered his first loss to the aforementioned Joe Burrow and his LSU team. His third season saw Lawrence go undefeated during the (COVID-shortened) regular season while finishing as the Heisman runner-up, but he suffered his second career loss during the 2020 CFP to Ohio State. He declared for the 2021 Draft soon after, leaving Clemson with an epic 34-2 record as starter, and was selected #1 overall.
  • Matt Leinart: Won a National Championship with USC as well as the 2004 Heisman. Had an incredibly successful career at USC as part of what is widely considered one of the most talented football teams ever from 2003-05. Was an NFL first round pick but failed to live up to his college career, being considered one of the bigger NFL Draft "busts" of all time.
  • Archie Manning: Hall of Famer who had a legendary career at Ole Miss. Was a Heisman finalist twice, falling just short both times. Had a moderately successful pro career and is better known nowadays as the father of Peyton and Eli Manning. He was one of the first members of the CFP Selection Committee but took a health-related leave in 2014 and resigned from the committee the next spring, never having participated in any voting.
  • Johnny Manziel: AKA "Johnny Football", was a record-setting dual-threat QB for Texas A&M who burst onto the scene in 2012, becoming the first freshman to win the Heisman. His signature moment came in an upset victory over #1 ranked Alabama in which he accounted for 80% of A&M's offensive production. However, Manziel is also one of the most polarizing players in NCAA history due to his off-field conduct. He was charged with three misdemeanors stemming from a fight that involved his use of racial slurs and then providing a fake ID to police. Later, he allegedly accepted payments for autographs and was suspended for the first half of a game his second season as a result. He was ultimately selected in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft but went down as a colossal bust due to further off-field incidents, substance abuse issues, and his "backyard" style of play transferring poorly to the professional game.
  • Eddie McAshan: The first African-American QB of a major Southern program (Georgia Tech). He saw general success on the field in the early '70s but struggled mightily with interceptions and conflicts with his coaches and the administration, culminating in him sitting out of practice and eventually being kicked off the team after staging a protest with Jesse Jackson during the Liberty Bowl.note  He had a very brief career in the pros and eventually returned to Tech to finish his degree.
  • Grayson McCall: A mullet-sporting QB at Coastal Carolina who led the Chants on their breakout undefeated regular season in 2020 as a freshman prior to setting the current single-season passing efficiency record the following year.
  • Colt McCoy: Acclaimed Texas QB and the winningest to play for any Power Five program (and second-winningest in the FBS, behind only Kellen Moore, see below). McCoy played four years (2006-09) for Texas, winning 45 games and receiving numerous accolades, including winning the Maxwell Award in his senior year. His collegiate career ended when he sustained a shoulder injury early in the BCS Championship game against Alabama, contributing to the Longhorns' loss; the school still retired his #12. He subsequently entered a long career as a journeyman NFL backup.
  • McKenzie Milton: An undersized kamaʻāina dual-threat QB who led UCF to its undefeated 2017 season (for which the school claimed a national championship, despite being excluded from the CFP) and undefeated 2018 regular season before sustaining a devastating knee injury in their final game. UCF's 25-game win streak was broken in the subsequent Fiesta Bowl, and Milton nearly lost his leg from the injury, never playing another snap for the Knights and seemingly ending his chance at a pro career. After spending nearly three years rehabbing his leg, Milton returned to the field with Florida State in their 2021 opener, marking one of the most inspiring comebacks in college football. After the 2021 season, Milton decided that his injuries made a pro playing career too risky and retired from play, expressing a desire to eventually go into coaching. Much like another inspirational figure in Jake Olson (see the "Special Teams" folder), Milton co-founded a company that helps college athletes secure NIL deals.
  • Kellen Moore: The leader of the perennial "BCS Buster" Boise State Broncos of the late 2000s. Though significantly undersized compared to most high level NCAA QBs, the southpaw ended his college career (2008-11) as one of the winningest QBs in history and the winningest at the FBS level with 50 career victories, five more than second place (Colt McCoy, see above). Had a short NFL playing career and went into coaching; he's now the Dallas Cowboys' OC.

    Quarterbacks (N-Z) 
  • Cam Newton: Originally began his career as a dual-threat QB at Florida backing up Tim Tebow but was kicked off the team following a 2008 arrest for stealing a laptop and throwing it out a window to hide it from the police. Moved on to play at Blinn Junior College, which he led to the 2009 NJCAA Championship. Transferred to Auburn in 2010 and led the Tigers to an undefeated record and BCS National Championship while winning the Heisman as a major dark horse candidate. However, he played the season under the specter of loss of eligibility due to accusations that his father had requested money from schools hoping to recruit Cam while he was at Blinn. He was briefly declared ineligible just before the SEC Championship game but was reinstated a day later following an expedited appeal from Auburn due to lack of evidence against Cam himself (while not clearing his father of wrongdoing). Many detractors (mainly supporters of other SEC teams) still consider Auburn's championship and Newton's Heisman tainted for this reason. Was selected #1 overall in the 2010 NFL Draft and went onto a great pro career.
  • Davey O'Brien: A legendary QB for TCU who won the Heisman in 1939. Despite his small size at just 5'7", set a number of records during his college career, a few of which still stand to this day (such as fewest interceptions per passes thrown). The award given annually to the best quarterback in college football bears his name.
  • Jesse Palmer: A Canadian-born QB for Florida from 1997-2000 where he was one of head coach Steve Spurrier's famous "Run and Gun" triggermen, leading the Gators to an SEC title in his final season. He was a mid-round NFL draft pick and later played in the CFL, but achieved fame after his playing career as the first professional athlete to appear on the The Bachelor. He has since worked as a college football analyst for ESPN, a host on Food Network, and the host of Daily Mail TV, and became host of The Bachelor starting with Season 26 in 2022.
  • Ron Powlus: One of the most hyped recruits of all time who won seven national "player of the year" awards as a high school senior in the early '90s. He had his choice to play at any school in the nation and chose Notre Dame, where he became a four-year starter. However, injuries limited his effectiveness and he never lived up to his recruiting hype, failing to win a bowl game during his time with the school. After a brief NFL stint (entering the league as an undrafted free agent), he entered coaching.
  • Jimmy Raye II: Led the 1966 Michigan State team to their final national title in 1966, in the process becoming the first African American QB born in the South (specifically North Carolina) to win one, a major milestone in encouraging the desegregation of the sport and position. Unfortunately, Raye was still not given a fair shake at the pro level, being drafted in the 16th round as a cornerback before entering a long career as an assistant coach.
  • Keenan Reynolds: The triggerman for Navy's option offense from 2012-15, notable as one of the greatest running QBs in NCAA history, holding all-time FBS records for most career rushing touchdowns (88) and career scoring at 530 points (88 TDs and one two-point conversion). However, despite holding two of the NCAA's highest-profile records, he will never be in the Hall of Fame (at least under current rules). The Hall currently requires that inductees have received first-team All-America honors before being considered. In the modern game, QBs are evaluated mostly as passers, with running being a secondary factor. However, Navy's option-style offense is heavily run-oriented, which means that Reynolds was never able to put up the type of passing numbers that would have given him All-American notice.
  • Jerry Rhome and Billy Anderson: A pair of record-breaking passers under coach Glenn Dobbs (see under "Running Backs") at Tulsa. Rhome became the first NCAA QB to throw over 30 TDs in a season (beating the former record by 9) in 1964; Anderson became the first to throw for over 3,000 yards in a season the following year (beating the former record by nearly 600). Neither was highly drafted due to perceptions of lower competition in their conference, though Rhome had lengthy careers as a backup QB and assistant coach. Both of their numbers (#17/#14) were retired by their program. Anderson died of ALS in 1996.
  • Desmond Ridder: Led the 2021 Cincinnati team who became the first non-Power 5 program to earn selection in the College Football Playoff. He finished as the school's all-time leader in TD passes while going 27-0 at home during his college career, and his 44 total wins is the third most in FBS history.note 
  • Phil Robertson: Before he became known for appearing on the reality TV Show Duck Dynasty, was a QB at Louisiana Tech from 1966-68, notably being ahead of future Pro Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw on the depth chart. He turned down offers to play professional football, as he thought football would interfere with his hunting.
  • Denard Robinson: A dominant dual-threat at Michigan from 2009-12 and the first player in NCAA history to throw and run for 1,500+ yards in a single season; also the last Michigan QB to lead the Wolverines to a win over Ohio State before a 10-year drought for the program against their hated rival. Nicknamed "Shoelace" due to his habit of never tying his shoes, even for games. Completed his college career with the NCAA QB rushing record (since passed by Keenan Reynolds). A fan vote made him the final cover athlete of NCAA Football before the series' hiatus. Had a forgettable pro career after being drafted in the fifth round by the Jacksonville Jaguars as a running back.
  • Joe Roth: The QB of the Cal Golden Bears in 1975-76 who famously played through terminal melanoma through most of the 1976 season before passing away the following year. The Japan Bowl, which was the last game he played, subsequently changed the name of their MVP award to honor Roth and adorned it with Roth's helmet. The award continued to be given out until the bowl's demise after 1993. Was the subject of a 2015 documentary called Don't Quit: The Joe Roth Story, and his #12 remains the only number retired by the university.
  • Wilmeth Sidat-Singh: One of the first African-Americans to play starting QB in college football on a racially integrated team, playing for Syracuse in the late 1930s. Sidat-Singh coasted under other programs' racist radars for some time due to his lighter skin and South Asian-sounding name but was eventually barred from playing at Maryland, costing Syracuse the game; the Orangemen blew the Terrapins out with Sidat-Singh under center the following year (Maryland issued a public apology nearly 80 years later). After graduating, he was unable to play pro football or his preferred sport of basketball due to existing segregation laws. He instead became a police officer and later one of the Tuskegee Airmen, where he tragically perished during a training mission in 1943; Syracuse later retired his #19 in their basketball program.
  • Troy Smith: A dual-threat QB for Ohio State who won the 2006 Heisman with a then-record 91.63% of first place votesnote  and led the Buckeyes to a losing effort in the 2007 BCS Championship game against Florida. He became only the second Ohio State QB in program history to start and win three straight games against arch-rival Michigan. He is also notable as the last Heisman winner who wasn't selected in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft (mainly due to his 5'11 height), going in the 5th round (#174 overall) before embarking on a journeyman backup career.
  • Sandy Stephens: A trailblazer for African Americans QBs in his time at Minnesota, becoming the first Black player at the position to win a national title (1960, the program's last) and be named an All-American. After being denied a chance to play QB in either the NFL or AFL, he went north to the CFL. Early struggles there, combined with surviving a near-fatal car crash, led him to try to mount a comeback in the States as a RB, but it wasn't to be. Died from a heart attack in 2000; Minnesota retired his #15.
  • B.J. Symons: Broke the FBS record for passing yards in a single season (5,833) in 2003 at Texas Tech (since passed by Bailey Zappe in 2021) in his sole season as a full starter after previously sitting behind fellow productive passer Kliff Kingsbury. Like most Air Raid QBs, his remarkable production was explained as a result of his system and level of competition rather than his individual talent; he was drafted in the seventh round by the Houston Texans but never played in an NFL game and spent the next few years bouncing around NFL Europe and the Arena ranks.
  • Tua Tagovailoa: Perhaps the most high-profile example of Put Me In, Coach! in college football history. This freshman lefty QB for Alabama, a kamaʻāina of Samoan origin, was put in over starter Jalen Hurts after halftime of the 2017 National Championship Game and managed to lead them to a memorable comeback victory over Georgia. He led Bama back to said game the following year before losing to Clemson. His junior season was unfortunately derailed by a hip injury before entering the NFL as a prime draft pick. He remains the current FBS career leader in passer rating.
  • Tim Tebow: Two-time BCS Championship-winning QB for Florida and winner of the 2007 Heisman (the first sophomore to win the award). Another candidate for greatest running QB in NCAA history, with a unique style of preferring to plow through defenders like a fullback (most running QBs are more agile and try to avoid hits). Went on to a brief and somewhat controversial NFL career that helped cement his status as one of the most famous football players ever despite only starting for a single season. Returned to college football as an analyst for the SEC Network; gave the NFL another try in 2015, then played minor league baseball for several years, then unsuccessfully attempted an NFL return in 2021 as a tight end. A 2019 ESPN program celebrating college football's 150th anniversary named him as the greatest college football QB of all time.
  • Jimmy Terwilliger: The all-time leading passer at the D-II level who played for East Stroudsburg, a small university in eastern Pennsylvania. Despite his small stature (listed at 5'10", 170 lbs), he dominated on the field earning D-II All-American honors four times and winning the Harlon Hill trophy in 2005. His 148 career TD passes was the most by a player at any level when he left college (since surpassed by Case Keenum, see above, but still the most at the D-II level). Despite his success, he went undrafted due to his size and, after spending some time as an offseason roster player in the NFL, moved into coaching. He has been the head coach at his alma mater since 2018.
  • Gino Toretta: Miami QB who led the Hurricanes to a national title in 1992. His Heisman win the following year was viewed as something of a consolation for not being considered the previous year, but he was still generally seen as a capable manager for a stacked roster; he was only drafted in the seventh round and barely saw the field in the NFL.
  • Willie "Satellite" Totten: The most prolific passer in FCS football history, still holding a staggering collection of records at that level from his time as the leader of the high-octane "Satellite Express" offense at HBCU Mississippi Valley State from 1981-85. Despite being in the College Hall of Fame and being the partial namesake for his school's stadium (which he would later coach in), his name is often Overshadowed by Awesome by his #1 target and that stadium's other namesake, one Jerry Rice; while Rice went on to become the greatest receiver in NFL history, Totten played only two games in the NFL, committing a record nine fumbles in that span.
  • Charlie Ward: A dual-threat QB and point guard for Florida State in the early '90s. In his senior season in 1993, he led Florida State to the school's first ever national championship while also winning the Heisman by the second-largest margin ever at the timenote . However, NFL teams wanted him to switch to WR and he was projected as a mid-round pick. Instead, he opted to join the NBA, where he was selected in the 1st round by the New York Knicks and had a 12-year career. He was only the second Heisman winner to go undrafted by the NFL after Pete Dawkins (see below under "Running Backs").
  • Andre Ware: The first African-American QB to win the Heisman, doing so in 1989 after shattering existing NCAA passing records in Houston's run-and-shoot offense.note  Unfortunately, few actually got to see Ware's performance, as Houston was banned from TV appearances due to NCAA violations. Turned out to be a bust in the pros.
  • Chris Weinke: A high MLB draft pick out of high school who spent six years playing minor league baseball before finally enrolling at Florida State in 1997 at age 25. At age 28, he became the oldest Heisman winner ever after leading FSU to an undefeated season and championship. Despite this success, the QB's age caused him to fall to the fourth round in the 2001 Draft, where he was selected by the Carolina Panthers and had a poor career.
  • Jason White: Led Oklahoma to two BCS National Championship Game appearances after 2003 and 2004, losing both. His career was nearly over before it started, tearing the ACL in each knee during the '01-'02 seasons. He won the Heisman in 2004 but became the third (and most recent) Heisman winner to go undrafted in the NFL. Unlike Pete Dawkins (below under "Running Backs") and Charlie Ward (above), who went undrafted due to choosing different career paths (the military and NBA, respectively), White did actively seek a pro career but was deemed too big a risk due to his knee injuries and never saw a snap in the NFL.
  • Pat White: A dual-threat for West Virginia from 2005-08 who became the first (and thus far only) QB to lead his team to four straight bowl game victories. Despite his record-setting performances, which included becoming the NCAA leader in QB rushing yards (since surpassed by Denard Robinson and Keenan Reynolds), he will never be inducted into the Hall of Fame under current rules due to never being named an All-American. He was drafted in the second round by the Dolphins but never saw action as a starter and was cut after just a year; he bounced around a few leagues before retiring in 2015. White has since gone into coaching, currently as the QB coach at FCS Campbell.
  • Jameis Winston: Led Florida State to an undefeated season and the (final) BCS National Championship as a freshman in 2013, becoming the then-youngest Heisman winner in the process (19 years and 342 days). He threw an FBS freshman record 40 touchdown passes on the season while also playing for the school's baseball team. His college career was shrouded with controversy; he was accused of sexual assault and investigated for rape, with charges never being filed but a civil suit being settled out of court between Winston and his accuser. (Florida State also had to pay $950,000 as a result, though denied liability.) He was also suspended for a game during his sophomore season after being cited for shoplifting soda and crab legs. He regressed in his second season but still led the team to an undefeated regular season before suffering his only loss as a starter in the inaugural CFP semi-final. He was selected #1 overall in the 2015 Draft and went onto a statistically productive pro career, though struggled with turnovers and team success.
  • Danny Wuerffel: Won the 1996 Heisman after leading Florida to its first claimed national title while setting several passing efficiency records. Was the first cover athlete for NCAA Football. Was drafted in the fourth round in 1997 and had an unspectacular career in the NFL, though he did have some success leading the Rhein Fire to an NFL Europe championship in 2000. Early in his NFL career, he began volunteering with a Christian ministry serving underprivileged areas of New Orleans, and has remained heavily involved with it to this day; this involvement led to him becoming the namesake of the Wuerffel Trophy for outstanding community service by an FBS player.
  • Bryce Young: Won the 2021 Heisman after setting Alabama's single-season records for passing yards and passing TDs in his first year as starter. A 5-star recruit and consensus top dual-threat QB recruit the year prior, he won the 2020 National Championship as a backup and led the Crimson Tide to another National Championship game appearance before falling short against SEC rival Georgia's historically dominant defense (and an offense led by former walk-on Stetson Bennett, see above).
  • Vince Young: One of the greatest QBs in Texas's storied history, leading the Longhorns to win the 2005 BCS National Championship and becoming runner-up in Heisman voting to Reggie Bushnote . Was drafted #3 overall into the NFL but washed out after some initial success.
  • Bailey Zappe: The current record-holder for FBS single-season touchdowns (62) and passing yards (5,977), setting them in 2021 with Western Kentucky as a graduate transfer from FCS Houston Baptist. Wound up a fourth round pick with the Patriots.

    Running Backs (A-G) 
  • Mike Adamle: Before his long career as a sportscaster, his hosting tenure of American Gladiators, and his brief and mistake-prone stint in WWE commentary, he was an All-American fullback and 1970 Big Ten MVP at Northwestern. Also spent six middling years in the NFL.
  • Joe Bellino: A Heisman winner at Navy in 1960 whose military service ensured that he was the lowest-drafted Heisman winner ever (17th round, #227 overall); he had a very forgettable career in the NFL with the Patriots and passed in 2019.
  • Jay Berwanger: HB for Chicago and winner of the first ever Heisman Trophy in 1935. He was also selected as the first ever draft pick in the NFL but didn't play a single down professionally as he was unable to agree on a salary.
  • Felix "Doc" Blanchard & Glenn Davis: One of the most famous running duos in the sport's history, "Mr. Inside" (Blanchard) and "Mr. Outside" (Davis) played at Army from 1944-46, helping the Cadetsnote  to a 27–0–1 record, with the only blemish being a famous scoreless tie against Notre Dame in 1946. They set a record for most touchdowns by a pair of teammates that lasted for over 50 years, and Davis set a record for yards per carry in a career (8.3) that stands to this day. Each won a Heisman, Blanchard in 1945 (the first junior to win) and Davis in 1946, both are in the Hall of Fame, and both passed away in the 2000s (Davis in 2005, Blanchard in 2009).
  • Reggie Bush: An electric All-American RB and return specialist for USC during their run of dominance in the mid-2000s. He won the Heisman in 2005 with the largest margin of victory in that award's lengthy history at the time but became the only winner to have to forfeit the trophy when an NCAA investigation revealed that Bush's family received over $290,000 worth of improper gifts from a sports agent. USC likewise faced multiple sanctions, had to forfeit multiple wins (including their 2004 national championship victory), and were required to disassociate from Bush, with the school not being allowed to use his image in their media or invite him to campus events for a decade. This was a level of individual punishment not mandated on most players with criminal records, and even after the NCAA reneged on their dedication to "pure" sports amateurism in 2021 by lifting NIL restrictions, he still has yet to be offered the Heisman back. Bush was drafted #2 overall in 2006 with immense hype but had a rather middling NFL career marred by frequent injuries and is now a Fox college football analyst.
  • John Cappelletti: The only Heisman winner in Penn State history who helped lead the team to an undefeated season in 1973. He began his college career as a defensive back but switched after legendary RB Franco Harris graduated from the program. In likely the most memorable Heisman acceptance speech ever, he dedicated the award to his younger brother Joey, who was dying of leukemia at the time. Their story was turned into the made-for-TV movie Something for Joey in which John is played by Marc Singer (of The Beastmaster fame). He went on to a middling career in the pros.
  • Howard "Hopalong" Cassady: Won the 1955 Heisman at Ohio State. His dominant performance helped him get drafted #3 overall the following year, though he had a fairly middling pro career. Passed away in 2019; the Buckeyes retired his #40.
  • Clint Castleberry: The only player in Georgia Tech history to have his number retired. After a dominant campaign in 1942, he became the first freshman to be named a Heisman finalist and had an incredibly promising career ahead of him when he enlisted in the Air Force; he died the following year on a ferrying run in Africa.
  • Jon Cornish: Not a big name unless you're a Kansas fan (or Canadian). The Vancouver-area native saw little action in his first two seasons at Kansas, then redshirted and emerged as a two-time All-Big 12 performer. He then returned to Canada and became a huge star for the Calgary Stampeders. In 2013, he won both of the CFL's MVP awards, one for its top Canadian player and the other for its top player of any nationality, and also became one of the few football players to win the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada's top athlete across all sports. Cornish won the CFL's award for top Canadian two more times, and also helped the Stamps win two Grey Cups. The award for the top Canadian player in NCAA football is named after him.
  • Bill Cosby: Played FB at Temple before dropping out to launch his stand-up comedy career.
  • Sam Cunningham: The USC FB was one of many stars for the 1972 unbeaten national champion Trojans, capping off his college career with a four-touchdown performance in the 1973 Rose Bowl, still a record for that game. Cunningham went on to a good 10-year NFL career, all of it with the New England Patriots; he made the team's Hall of Fame in 1992 and the College Hall in 2010. However, he's most remembered for his very first varsity game—a 1970 visit to Birmingham to face then all-white Alabama. The Trojans were the first fully integrated college team to play in the state and featured a backfield consisting entirely of African Americans. USC easily defeated the Tide, with Cunningham running for two TDs and the other three Trojan TDs also scored by Black players. The result is widely accepted as having hastened the integration of the game in the South; former Bryant assistant Jerry Claiborne (in)famously said, "Sam Cunningham did more to integrate Alabama in 60 minutes than Martin Luther King Jr. did in 20 years." Cunningham, whose younger brother Randall went on to a long and productive NFL QB career of his own, passed away in 2021.
  • Ernie Davis: A HB and LB for Syracuse, where he won a national championship in 1959 and the Heisman in 1961 (in one of the closest votes of all time), becoming the first Black player to win college football's highest individual honor. He was drafted #1 overall in 1962 by Washington, the NFL's last segregated team who only drafted Davis because the federal government threatened to revoke their stadium lease if they didn't sign at least one Black player, but Davis refused to play for them and demanded a trade, which he received to the Cleveland Browns. Unfortunately, Davis was diagnosed with leukemia and died before playing a down of professional football. His death was treated as a national tragedy, with both houses of Congress eulogizing him and President John F. Kennedy sending a message to be read at Davis' funeral. He is a member of the Hall of Fame, and his high school in Elmira, New York later changed the names of its athletic teams to the Elmira Express, which was Davis' nickname. His story is featured in the sports Biopic The Express, where he is played by Rob Brown.
  • Troy Davis: A two-time All-American RB for Iowa State in the mid-'90s who became the first player in NCAA history to rush for over 2,000 yards in two separate seasons.note  Despite being significantly undersized (listed at 5'8" 183 lbs), he was an incredibly productive runner and became the school's first ever Heisman finalist in 1996, ultimately finishing 2nd in voting. He had a less productive NFL career but spent several successful seasons in the CFL, winning a Grey Cup in 2006. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2017; in an embarrassing incident, his post-induction celebrating resulted in a public intoxication arrest.
  • Pete Dawkins: A Heisman-winning HB for Army who chose not to enter the pros, instead taking up a Rhodes scholarship. Upon completing his Oxford education, he became an extremely accomplished military figure, winning two Bronze Stars for his service in Vietnam and eventually earning the rank of brigadier general after helping the reform the army into an all-volunteer force after the end of the draft. After leaving the army in the '80s, he became a successful businessman and attempted to enter politics with a failed run to be Senator of New Jersey.
  • Ron Dayne: A Heisman-winning RB for Wisconsin who, when including Bowl game statistics, is the FBS all-time leading rusher with 7,125 yards. Dayne twice ran for over 2,000 yards and rushed for at least 1,400 in all four of seasons in Madison, helped by his bruising running style and massive size (weighing over 250 lbs). Unfortunately, issues with his weight derailed his NFL career, and he is considered a major draft bust.
  • Glenn Dobbs: A tailback/QB/punter that led Tulsa to an undefeated record in 1942. Was drafted #3 overall but had his pro career delayed by Air Force service during WWII. After a very successful career in the AAFC and WIFU, he returned to his alma mater as AD the year after the program went completely winless. After initially hiring his own brother as HC, he took the reigns in 1961. Under his tenure, the Golden Hurricane led the nation in passing for five straight seasons (1962-66) and shattered multiple NCAA passing records. Dobbs resigned as HC after 1968 and stepped down as AD after 1970. He passed away in 2002, and Tulsa retired his #45.
  • Tony Dorsett: A legendary three-time All-American running back for Pittsburgh who won the Heisman in 1976 after becoming the first RB in NCAA history to rush for over 2,000 yards in a single season; he held the NCAA career record for another two decades and still remains #3 behind Ron Dayne and Ricky Williams. Went on to a Pro Hall of Fame career, mainly with the Dallas Cowboys. He and later USC and NFL star RB Marcus Allen are the only players to have won the Heisman, played on an FBS national championship team, played on a Super Bowl-winning team, and been inducted into both the College and Pro Halls of Fame. Dorsett entered both Halls of Fame in 1994.
  • Marcus Dupree: A RB for Oklahoma in the early 1980s who is best known for being perhaps the most hyped and heavily recruited player in NCAA history. Dupree was massive (6'3", 220+) while also running a blazing 4.29 40 yard dash. After a record-setting high school career, Dupree verbally committed to Texas before Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer sent former Sooners RB and Heisman-winner Billy Sims to appeal to Dupree. This worked, and Dupree committed to Oklahoma. He lived up to the hype as a freshman, setting school records and making highlight reel runs in nearly every game. However, a combination of bad attitude (his reliance on physical gifts over practice and work infuriated his college coaches, leading to an ultimate split), bad luck (injuries marred his sophomore year and derailed his pro career), and bad decisions (leaving Oklahoma, then quitting college altogether) left Dupree as a major example of What Could Have Been. Switzer later called his handling of Dupree - riding him hard out of both frustration for Dupree's lack of drive outside of game day and not quite knowing how to handle someone that young with that much talent - his most regrettable move as a head coach.
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower: Played both ways as a RB and LB at Army in the years leading up to World War I, but his football career was ended by a knee injury. He made the Army his career, going on to serve as overall Allied commander in Europe during World War II and later serving two terms in the White House before passing in 1969.
  • Keith Elias: An undersized RB for Princeton in the early 1990s who nonetheless became one of the most productive Ivy League players in modern college football history. He set 21 school records and helped the Tigers to a share of '93 Ivy League Championship. He also set still-standing FCS records for rushing yards and points per game, as well as modernnote  Ivy League records for career points, career touchdowns, and the single season record for all-purpose yards. Despite his success, he went undrafted by the NFL but still managed a modest professional career. He became a novelist and screen writer, and currently works as an executive in the NFL league office.
  • Chamlers "Bump" Elliot: Hall of Fame HB for the undefeated "Mad Magicians of Michigan" that won the national title in 1947. Returned to the school as its HC from 1959-68 to mixed results by the school's high standards, but was beloved by players. Was hired by Iowa as its AD in 1970, where he helped to resurrect the struggling program before his retirement after 1991. Passed away in 2019.
  • The Four Horsemen: Not the pro wrestling stable, but rather the legendary backfield of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish from 1922-24: QB Harry Stuhldreher, HBs Jim Crowley and Don Miller, and FB Elmer Layden. The Horsemen lost only two games in their three-year run, to Nebraska away in both 1922 and 1923, and led the Irish to an unbeaten national championship season as seniors in 1924. The nickname came from an iconic lead paragraph by famed sportswriter Grantland Rice, describing Notre Dame's 1924 upset over Army. Once the Irish returned to South Bend, a student publicity aide to coach Knute Rockne made sure it stuck, having the group pose on horseback for a photo and then sending it to news services, who ran with it. After Notre Dame, all four went into coaching, with three becoming head coaches, and all four lived to see their induction into the Hall of Fame. Stuhldreher, the first to pass away in 1965, was HC at Villanova and Wisconsin and AD at the latter. Layden was both HC and AD at Duquesne and his alma mater and later became NFL commissioner during WWII, passing in 1973. Miller, the only one who was never a HC, left coaching after four years and became a prominent lawyer, passing in 1979. Crowley was HC at Michigan State and Fordham, coaching the famed "Seven Blocks of Granite" (including Vince Lombardi) at the latter, and was commissioner of the short-lived All-America Football Conference. He then left for the business world and was the last surviving Horseman, passing in 1983.
  • Jack Ging: Before becoming an actor, he played two seasons at Oklahoma from 1952-53, playing a part in helping Oklahoma achieve its record streak of 47 consecutive wins.
  • Melvin Gordon: The #2 single-season rusher in FBS history, coming just 41 yards short of Barry Sanders' legendary record while with Wisconsin in 2014. Went on to a decent pro career.
  • Harold Edward "Red" Grange: A legendary HB for Illinois, earning the nickname "the Galloping Ghost". He was one of the first star players in college football and helped to popularize the sport, even appearing on the cover of TIME magazine in 1925. He is a member of the College and Pro Halls of Fame. ESPN named him as the greatest college football player of all time in 2008.
  • Johnathan Gray: One of the most successful high school running backs ever, posting a still-record 205 touchdowns before going to Texas in 2012. Unfortunately, two separate Achilles injuries diminished his rushing abilities, and he posted middling performances for the Longhorns and never made the NFL.
  • Archie Griffin: Star RB for Ohio State and, to date, the only two-time Heisman winner, making him one of the most celebrated college players ever. He is also the only player to ever start in four Rose Bowl games. Known for being rather undersized for the position, even by today's standards (5'9", 182). Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1986 after a decent pro career; Ohio State retired his #45.

    Running Backs (H-Z) 
  • Charles "Chic" Harley: A legendary HB (as well as safety, kicker, and punter) who helped to establish Ohio State as a football powerhouse in the early 20th century and, along with Red Grange, popularize college football nationally. Ohio State famously only lost one game in which Harley played (being 21-1-1 during his tenure from 1916-17 and 1919). He took a year off from football to serve in World War I. While he was signed by the Chicago Staleys (later the Chicago Bears) to play professionally, he was unfortunately diagnosed with schizophrenia following his time in the army and lived out the remainder of his days in an army hospital. The Touchdown Club of Columbus used to give out an annual "player of the year" award which bore Harley's name. He was a charter member of the Hall of Fame.
  • Tom Harmon: A legendary player at Michigan, winning the Heisman in 1940 and becoming the only player in college football history to lead the nation in scoring in two separate seasons. Despite being the #1 pick in the 1941 Draft, Harmon initially turned down football as he stood to make way more money in broadcasting and starring in movies (he starred As Himself in the film Harmon of Michigan right before graduation). History had other plans, though; right after he graduated, Harmon was drafted into the U.S. Air Force. He narrowly survived two plane crashes during his World War II service: In the first, he was the Sole Survivor after his bomber was caught in a severe storm over the South American jungle en route to North Africa and barely made it out with the help of the local tribespeople. In the second, he was shot down over Japanese-occupied China during a dogfight, only evading capture with the help of Chinese guerillas.note  He attained the rank of captain and was awarded the Purple Heart and Silver Star for his service. After the war, Harmon briefly played in the pros before entering broadcasting and served as the announcer for UCLA football when his son, Mark Harmon of NCIS fame, played there as a quarterback. The elder Harmon passed away in 1990; his #98 was retired by his school.
  • Paul Hornung: A HB known for his versatility (also playing QB, safety, kicker, punter, and return man) in the 1950s at Notre Dame. Won the 1956 Heisman, becoming the only player on a losing team to ever win the award (Notre Dame was 2-8 that year) as he led his team in passing, rushing, scoring, punting, and return yardage. He is also the first player in football history to win the Heisman, be selected #1 overall in the NFL Draft (Green Bay), win NFL MVP (1961), and win a Super Bowl (I). He is a member of the College and Pro Halls of Fame. The annual award for the "most versatile" player in college football bears his name (though few are ever truly as versatile as Hornung). He was a high school teammate of Howard Schnellenberger (in the "Coaches, Q–Z" folder) in his hometown of Louisville, and died in November 2020, a few months before Schnellenberger.
  • Les Horvath: A HB/QB at Ohio State in the 1940s. Graduated in 1942 but was famously allowed to return to the field two years later as a dental grad student during WWII due to player shortages, where he dominated against the mostly young or academically ineligible remaining opponents and won the Heisman in 1944. He had a brief pro career in the NFL and AAFC before retiring to become a dentist, practicing in Southern California until his passing in 1995.
  • LaMichael James: The star of Chip Kelly's no-huddle offense at Oregon, where his speed and small size helped him shatter multiple school rushing recordsnote  and take the team to the BCS Championship Game after an undefeated 2010 season (though the Ducks lost to Auburn by a field goal). He was drafted into the NFL in the second round the next year but hardly ever saw the field in a short pro career.
  • Vic Janowicz: A triple-threat runner/passer/punter at Ohio State who won the Heisman in 1950. Passed up the NFL for a more lucrative MLB deal, returned to pro football when that didn't go well, but had his playing career cut short by a car accident that left him partially paralyzed. Passed away in 1996 after several years as a Buckeye broadcaster; Ohio State retired his #31.
  • Dick Kazmaier: The last Ivy Leaguer to win the Heisman, claiming the trophy in 1951 after leading Princeton to an undefeated season. He was drafted by the Bears but declined the chance to go pro, instead moving on to Harvard, serving as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, and becoming the director of the American Red Cross.
  • Nile Kinnick: A HB at Iowa in the late 1930s, "The Cornbelt Comet" won a host of awards including the 1939 Heisman. Notably turned down several contract offers from the NFL to instead attend law school, then joined the US Naval Air Reserves during World War II, where he was killed during a training flight. Iowa not only retired his #24 but renamed their football stadium Kinnick Stadium in his honor.
  • Marcus Lattimore: A RB for South Carolina in the early 2010s that stands as one of the greatest victims of the NFL rule requiring that players be three years removed from high school before entering the draft. Lattimore burst onto the scene as a true freshman, putting up over 1,500 total yards of offense while scoring 19 touchdowns. Reports at the time stated that he would have had a 1st round grade in the 2011 Draft had he been eligible. However, he tore his ACL the following season, then suffered a devastating knee injury in 2012 tearing all three major ligaments, dislocating the knee, and suffering nerve damage. He still declared for the 2013 Draft and was selected in the 4th round based on his pre-injury talent, but the injury proved to be career-ending and he never played a snap professionally. The lack of pay for college players and the NFL's draft rules certainly cost Lattimore millions of dollars.
  • Bryce Love: A RB for Stanford whose story is frequently cited to support players who choose to opt out early to go to the pros. A Heisman runner-up and Doak Walker winner in his 2017 junior season, Love chose to return for his senior season. While this did result in him receiving a degree from one of America's most esteemed universities, his production plummeted and he ended his season with an ACL injury. Like Marcus Lattimore (above), Love's draft stock fell from the first to the fourth round, and he never played a snap in the NFL.
  • Darren McFadden: The second of three college RBs to win the Doak Walker twice, the Arkansas back had a dominant run at Arkansas (2005-07) that made him a high draft pick before going on to a solid if unspectacular pro career.
  • Bronislaw "Bronko" Nagurski: A legendary Canadian-born FB for Minnesota, who also played tackle on defense. Legend has it that he was virtually impossible to tackle with the ball in his hands. He is a member of both the College and Pro Halls of Fame and also made a career as a pro wrestler when his football career was over. The award given annually to the best defensive player in college football is named after him.
  • Tony Nathan: A HB at Alabama in the 1970s whose story of dealing with a recently integrated school were chronicled in the film Woodlawn. Went on to have a respectable career in the NFL.
  • Donnel Pumphrey: An undersized (5'8", 175 lbs) RB for San Diego State who nonetheless became the FBS all-time rushing leader (without bowl game statistics being included), amassing 6,405 yards. An injury in his rookie training camp ensured he never played a snap in the pros.
  • Burt Reynolds: Had an injury-plagued career at Florida State before going into acting. Reynolds kept up his ties with his alma mater, spending many years as co-host of a segment of Bobby Bowden's coaches' show.
  • Jackie Robinson: Yes, that Jackie Robinson. The trailblazing baseball star and Trope Namer for Jackie Robinson Story was also a football star at UCLA; it was arguably his best sport, but baseball was just far more lucrative at the time. He holds the officially recognized FBS record for yards per carry in a season, 12.2 in 1939.
  • Mike Rozier: Won the 1984 Heisman at Nebraska after a dominant season that saw the Cornhuskers fall one point short of a national championship. Went on to a decent pro career in the USFL (which drafted him #1 overall) and NFL (which took him #2 after Steve Young in the USFL Supplemental Draft).
  • Barry Sanders: Won the 1988 Heisman at Oklahoma State with perhaps the greatest college RB season ever, accumulating a still-record 2,628 rushing yards and 37 TDsnote  while also still serving as a punt and kick returner. These video game-level numbers have never been matched or surpassed, and Sanders went on to an equally impressive Hall of Fame pro career.
  • Bruce Smith: A Heisman winner for Minnesota who received the award two days after the Pearl Harbor bombing; subsequently enlisted as a fighter pilot for the U.S. Navy before a brief and forgettable pro career. Sadly, he died prematurely of cancer in 1967. Minnesota retired his #54. Not to be confused with the defensive end in the Pro Hall of Fame.
  • Kevin Smith: Holds the FBS record for single-season yards from scrimmage (2,809), earned in a monster 2007 campaign that made him a dark horse Heisman candidate despite playing for the then-overlooked UCF. The notion that he earned those numbers thanks to lesser competition seemingly proved true after a very forgettable pro career. He didn't direct Clerks.
  • T.C. Stallings: Played for Louisville in the early 2000s before becoming an actor.
  • Jonathan Taylor: An immensely productive runner at Wisconsin (2017-19) who earned two Doak Walker awards and was well on-track to break NCAA career rushing records, being the only player ever to notch over 6,000 yards in just three seasons. He chose instead to enter the NFL after his junior year, where he has gotten off to a promising start with the Colts.
  • Doak Walker: A RB (and kicker and punter) for SMU in the 1940s, winning the Heisman in 1948. Is a member of both the College and Pro Halls of Fame. The award for the nation's top RB is named after him.
  • Herschel Walker: Legendary RB for Georgia in the early 1980s. Was named an All-American in each of the three years he played, winning the Heisman in 1982; expect any analysis of a great college football running back to make at least one comparison to Walker. Went on to have a moderately successful (but very interesting and impactful) NFL career before entering into politics.
  • John David Washington: Son of Denzel Washington, he set multiple school rushing records at Morehouse College and had a brief pro career before transitioning to acting.
  • Henry S. Whitehead: A back at Harvard in the 1920s before becoming an author of fantasy and horror fiction.
  • Ricky Williams: Broke Tony Dorsett's longstanding college career rushing record in a legendary tenure at Texas (1995-98) that saw him win the Heisman in his senior year and become the first player to win the Doak Walker twice; he remains #2 all-time in career rushing yards behind Ron Dayne. Had a solid career in the pros, though he never lived up to the Saints trading a year's worth of picks to draft him at #5. Texas retired his #34.

    Wide Receivers and Tight Ends 
  • Fred Biletnikoff: An All-American WR for pre-Bowden Florida State. The award for the best receiver in college football is named for him. Had a Pro Hall of Fame career with the Oakland Raiders.
  • Michael Crabtree: A prolific WR for Texas Tech. He set 7 NCAA receiving records for freshmen in his first season, became the first two-time Biletnikoff Award winner, and was one of the cover athletes for NCAA Football 10. Had a solid NFL career.
  • Corey Davis: An All-American WR for Western Michigan who holds the FBS career receiving record with 5,278 yards. After three dominant seasons that earned him a first round draft grade, he elected to return for his senior year in 2016 and helped guide WMU to the best season in program history, going 13-0 and earning a Cotton Bowl berth (though they would lose to Wisconsin). He was drafted #5 overall in 2017, surprisingly as the only player in the FBS top 10 career receiving yard leaders to be selected so high.note 
  • Jarett Dillard: A prolific WR at Rice who holds the FBS career receiving touchdowns record with 60. Somewhat undersized for a #1 receiver in the modern game, he wasn't picked in the 2009 Draft until the fifth round, suffering an ankle injury in his rookie year from which he never fully recovered. After leaving the game in 2013, he became a lawyer and now practices in Texas.
  • Troy Edwards: Shattered multiple FBS receiving records at Louisiana Tech in 1998, including career TDs (50, since surpassed by Jarett Dillard and Corey Davis),note  single-season yards (1,996, surpassed only by Trevor Insley) and TDs (27), and single-game yards (405, in a blowout loss to Nebraska). Turned out to be a bust in the pros.
  • Larry Fitzgerald: An All-American WR for Pittsburgh and had one of the greatest seasons by any college WR in 2003. He won the Walter Camp, Chic Harley, and Biletnikoff awards and was the runner-up in Heisman voting, losing to Oklahoma's Jason White by only a slim margin. It was the highest finish in Heisman voting by a sophomore up to that point. In addition to holding nearly every major school record, he also still holds the NCAA record for most consecutive games with a TD catch at 18. Went on to have an extremely successful pro career.
  • Matthew Fox: A WR at Columbia before going into acting.
  • Kirk Gibson: A standout WR for Michigan State who ultimately chose baseball; is best known for hitting a walk-off home run in the 1988 World Series while so badly injured that he could only jog around the bases.
  • Vic Hanson: One of the most accomplished Jack-of-All-Trades athletes ever who captained the football, baseball, and basketball teams at Syracuse in the mid-1920s. He was as an All-American in football and basketball, played pro basketball and minor league baseball, and later came back to coach the Orangemen in the '30s. Hanson and Amos Alonzo Stagg are the only figures to be enshrined in both the Basketball and College Football Halls of Fame. Passed away in 1982.
  • Desmond Howard: A WR and return specialist at Michigan where he set numerous school records in both categories. He won the Heisman in 1991 and became known for being the first player to strike the "Heisman pose" after scoring a touchdown, which has become common among contending players in the years since. His #21 was retired by the school. He currently serves as an analyst alongside Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit on ESPN's College GameDay.
  • Trevor Insley: A WR for Nevada in the late '90s who set the single season FBS receiving yards record in 1999 with 2,060, the only player to surpass the 2,000-yard mark. He was the first player to surpass the 5,000 career receiving yards mark and ended his college career with the most receiving yards in history (since surpassed by Corey Davis, see above). Despite his collegiate success, he went undrafted by the NFL and ultimately got into motorcycle racing.
  • Zay Jones and Justin Hardy: WR teammates at East Carolina in the early-mid 2010s, they rank first and second (respectively) on the FBS all-time career receptions list. Hardy initially set the record 387 in 2014, then Jones broke it two years later in 2016 with 399. Both went on to be mid-round NFL Draft selections with modest professional careers.
  • Joel McHale: Was a walk-on TE at Washington prior to his acting career.
  • John Mackey: A TE for Syracuse in the early 1960s. Known for his rare combination of size and speed (relative to the era), he was a dominating receiver as well as blocker. Was drafted into the NFL and was later inducted into the Pro Hall of Fame. The annual award for the nation's best tight end is named after him.
  • Trey Quinn: A greatly hyped prospect after setting the current high school career record for receiving yards (6,566); ultimately failed to produce at LSU, but had a strong final season at SMU (where he led the FBS in catches), which helped the school return to prominence and helped him become the final player drafted in 2018, earning the Medal of Dishonor of "Mr. Irrelevant".
  • Paul Robeson: The luminary Renaissance Man is so well known as a singer, actor, author, and political activist that few are aware of his immense impact on American football. Robeson was the the first African American to be named an All-American in 1917, earning the honor as an end and tackle at Rutgers. He then went on to be one of the first Black players in the nascent NFL before rising to greater fame in other cultural spheres over the ensuing decades.
  • DeVonta Smith: A star WR with Alabama from 2017-20, nicknamed the "Slim Reaper" for his almost skeletal frame. His monster senior year saw him claim the SEC record for career TDs and become the first receiver to win the Heisman in 30 years.

    Offensive Linemen 
  • Brandon Burlsworth: An All-American guard for Arkansas, where he started his career as a walk-on. The award for the nation's best former walk-on player, the Burlsworth Trophy, is named after him. Unfortunately, only 11 days after being drafted into the NFL, he was killed in a car accident not far from his hometown.
  • John Cena: Before he became one of WWE's biggest names in the early 21st century, with a burgeoning career as a comic actor, was a D-III All-America center at Springfield College in Massachusetts.
  • Clarence Clemons: An offensive guard and center at Maryland State (now called Maryland Eastern Shore, which dropped football after the 1979 season), where he was teammates with future NFL stars Art Shell and Emerson Boozer, Clemons attended school on a dual football and music scholarship, and spent his weekends playing saxophone at local clubs. He drew interest from several pro teams, but a car accident scuttled any possibility of a football career, and Clemons focused on music, becoming the legendary sax man for Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band.
  • Gerald Ford: A center and linebacker (he switched, as happened more often back then) for Michigan in the early 1930s, winning two national championships and being named the team's MVP in 1934. He was recruited by the Lions and Packers but decided to go to law school instead and ended up President of the United States; he continued to show his pride in the school by using the Michigan fight song instead of "Hail to the Chief". His #48 is retired by the school.
  • Walter A. Gordon: The second Black player to be named All-American was a trailblazer on and off the field; in addition to playing nearly every position on the team in 1918, he was also the first African American to earn a law degree from Cal, was one of the first known Black assistant coaches hired at a predominantly white school, and was later appointed governor of the United States Virgin Islands (1955-58). Passed away in 1976.
  • Cal Jones: Two-time Consensus All-American at Iowa, notable as the first college football player and Black athlete to be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1954 and the first African American to win the Outland Trophy in 1955. Jones was drafted by the Detroit Lions but elected to go to the more racially tolerant CFL, where he had a stellar rookie season with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Tragically, he was killed in a plane crash in 1956 at just 23 years old, a few weeks before the Iowa program that he helped revive won the Rose Bowl and claimed a national title. Like fellow Iowa plane crash victim Nile Kinnick, the school retired his #62.
  • Tommy Lee Jones: Before his acting career, was an offensive guard at Harvard, being named first-team All-Ivy League in 1968. In that season, Jones played in perhaps the most famous game in the Harvard–Yale rivalry, in which the Crimson scored 16 points in the final minute to tie Yale 29–29.
  • Vince Lombardi: Before he became a legendary coach with the Green Bay Packers, was a star lineman at Fordham, entering college football lore as one of the "Seven Blocks of Granite" of the Rams' heyday in the 1930s. Namesake of the Lombardi Award, originally for linemen or linebackers but now an overall player of the year award.
  • Mark May: An All-American offensive tackle for Pittsburgh and won the Outland Trophy in 1980. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006 and famously served alongside Lou Holtz as an ESPN college football analyst.
  • Richard Nixon: Was a reserve tackle for Whittier College in California (now D-III) in 1932 before going into politics.
  • Ronald Reagan: Starting guard for Eureka College in Illinois (now a D-III school) in 1930 and 1931 before his future careers in acting and politics.
  • Dave Rimington: A two-time All-American center at Nebraska, most notable as the only two-time winner of the Outland Trophy (1981-82), as well as the only offensive lineman ever to be Big Eight Conference player of the year (1981). The awards for college football's outstanding centers—the Rimington Trophy in FBS and the Rimington Award at lower levels—bear his name. Had a fairly middling pro career.
  • John Wayne: Yes, the Duke himself was an offensive tackle at USC when he was still Marion Morrison and played for Howard Jones (see under "Coaches" above). In fact, it even jumpstarted his acting career as Jones was a friend of western star Tom Mix who, returning the favor for Jones providing him with tickets to USC games, hired Wayne as a prop boy and extra after Wayne broke his collarbone and lost his athletic scholarship.
  • "Dr. Death" Steve Williams: Before his pro wrestling career, Williams had been an All-Big Eight guard at Oklahoma, as well as a four-time All-American in wrestling. He had a cup of coffee in the USFL as a defensive tackle during his early pro wrestling career, but opted for the latter afterwards.
  • The Wistert Brothers: Francis ("Whitey"), Alvin, and Albert ("Ox") were three All-American guards who each played for Michigan while wearing #11. Their story is one of the more romantic in college sports. The sons of Lithuanian immigrants, the Wisterts lost their father, a Chicago cop, in the line of duty as kids. Whitey, the eldest, helped lead the Wolverines to two championships in the early '30s. In the early '40s, he was succeeded by baby brother Albert, who likewise saw great success. His tuition was paid for in part by middle brother Alvin, who never played high school football in lieu of working to help support his little brother's dream. After repeatedly being mistaken for his brothers while serving in WWII, Alvin used the aid granted to vets by the post-war GI Bill to go to college at age 30 and won two more championships as a team leader. Their #11 was subsequently retired, and all three brothers entered the Hall of Fame. Whitey had a brief MLB career before becoming a lawyer and died in 1985; Al had a very successful NFL career with the Philadelphia Eagles and died in 2016; Alvin entered sales and passed in 2005.

    Defensive Players 
  • Jon Abbate: A three-time All-ACC LB at Wake Forest, he's most famous as the emotional leader of Wake's surprising ACC title run in 2006, set against the backdrop of the death of his younger brother Luke in a car crash in February of that year. He changed his number for that season from his previous 40 to the 5 that his fallen brother had worn in youth lacrosse, and the number became the symbol and rallying cry for the 2006 Demon Deacons season, eventually immortalized in the 2011 film The 5th Quarter, in which he was played by Ryan Merriman. Undrafted in 2007, Abbate went on to a very brief career in the NFL and UFL.
  • Chuck Bednarik: A LB and center for Penn. Known by his nickname "Concrete Charlie" because he ran a concrete business in the offseason (though it also aptly applies to his hard-hitting playing style as well). Was drafted #1 overall by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1949, the only Ivy League player to ever be taken with that pick. He is a member of both the College and Pro Halls of Fame. The annual award for the best defensive player in college football is named after him.
  • Buck Buchanan: A DT at Grambling State, a historically black school in Louisiana, where he was coached by the legendary Eddie Robinson (see "Coaches" above). He was drafted #1 overall in the 1963 AFL Draft and eventually became a member of both the College and Pro Halls of Fame. The annual award for the top defensive player in the FCS is named after him.
  • Dick Butkus: Legendary All-American LB for Illinois, who also played center on offense, making him one of the last great two-way players in major college football. The annual award for the nation's best linebacker is named after him. Is a member of both the College and Pro Halls of Fame.
  • Dean Cain: A safety at Princeton before going into acting. He still holds the school's records for single-season and career interceptions.
  • Terry Crews: Prior to his acting career, Crews was a linebacker for Western Michigan.
  • Ettore Ewen: Better known as Big E, was a defensive lineman at Iowa in the mid-2000s before embarking on his powerlifting and pro wrestling careers.
  • Pat Fitzgerald: All-American LB for Northwestern and a key piece of the Wildcat team that broke a 48-year bowl drought in their Cinderella 1995 Big Ten champion season. The only player to win the Bronko Nagurski Award twice, but still went undrafted and entered into coaching. Became his alma mater's HC in 2006 at just 31-years-old after the death of his predecessor. Has since become the winningest coach in school history and broken their 65-year bowl win drought.
  • Bill Goldberg: Before his Hall of Fame pro wrestling career, he was a two-year starter at DT for Georgia in the late '80s. He was drafted into the NFL where he had a short career as a rotational player before suffering a career-ending injury and entered his wrestling career.
  • Jake Hager: A DT at Oklahoma in his freshman season in 2002, he mainly rode the bench behind two future NFL players. He had been signed in both football and wrestling, and left football behind after that season to concentrate solely on wrestling, becoming an All-American in that sport before going on to pro wrestling.
  • Hale Irwin: Yet another example of a football star who became an even bigger name in a different sport. The two-time All-Big Eight DB at Colorado was also an All-American golfer who won the NCAA individual title in his senior year in 1967, and opted for that sport. Irwin went on to win 20 times on the PGA Tour, including three U.S. Opens (the last in 1990 at age 45), and entered the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1992. Upon turning 50 in 1995, he became eligible for the senior tour now known as PGA Tour Champions and saw even greater success. Irwin retired from play with a still-record 45 wins on that tour, including 7 of its major championships.
  • Dwayne Johnson: Before he was a Hollywood superstar, even before his pro wrestling career, "The Rock" was a defensive lineman at Miami (FL). After a promising freshman season, Johnson lost playing time to budding superstar (and future Pro Hall of Famer) Warren Sapp, which helped to accelerate Johnson's jump from the gridiron to the wrestling ring. Johnson has remained invested in football since then, however, as he is a co-owner of the (currently dormant) XFL.
  • James Laurinaitis: A LB at Ohio State who was two-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, winner of the Bronko Nagurski Trophy in 2006, and the Butkus Award in 2007. Went on to a modestly successful pro career and is perhaps most famous for being the son of wrestling legend Road Warrior Animal and nephew of John Laurinaitis.
  • Chief Wahoo McDaniel: A LB (who also played some guard on offense) at Oklahoma in the late '50s (and briefly as a pro in the AFL where he won a championship as a rookie) before launching his pro wrestling career.
  • John Mitchell: A true trailblazer at Alabama. Mitchell was the first Black player to start for the Crimson Tide in 1971, having been recruited to his home state's flagship university out of Eastern Arizona Junior College after Alabama was handily beaten by a desegregated USC team the year prior. The DE/LB became the team's first Black captain during his senior year, and after he was cut from the NFL before playing a single snap, Bear Bryant brought him back to be the school's first Black assistant coach; he remains the youngest coaching hire in school history. Mitchell has continued to serve as a successful assistant for decades at the college and pro level; he is currently the assistant HC of the Pittsburgh Steelers, a franchise he has coached for in some capacity since 1994.
  • Donn Moomaw: A highly acclaimed LB (and center) at UCLA from 1950-52, becoming the school's first two-time All-American. He was drafted #9 overall by the L.A. Rams but never played for them on religious grounds due to not wanting to play football on Sunday; he instead briefly went to the CFL before joining the ministry, becoming a prominent pastor who invoked Ronald Reagan in all of his inaugerations as governor and president. The Bruins retired his #80.
  • Ed O'Neill: Before his acting career, was a defensive lineman at Ohio and Youngstown State.
  • Brian Orakpo: A DE/LB for Texas from 2004-08 most notable for being the only pure defensive player featured on a cover of NCAA Football (Charles Woodson, below, also ran some offensive packages). Had a successful pro career.
  • Brian Pillman: An undersized All-American LB at the other Miami (the one in Ohio) in the mid-80s, he had brief stints in the NFL and CFL before going on to greatness in pro wrestling.
  • Roman Reigns: Before he became a multi-time WWE champion and former longtime X-Pac Heat recipient, Joe Anoa'i was an All-ACC defensive tackle at Georgia Tech. He tried to make the NFL, but was released after being diagnosed with leukemia, and briefly played in the CFL before joining the family business.
  • Roy "Wrong Way" Riegels: A "roving center" (precursor to linebacker or nose tackle) for Cal whose 69-yard fumble recovery in the 1929 Rose Bowl is often cited as the biggest blunder in the history of the sport; playing on the largest football stage of the era, Riegels picked up the ball, got turned around, and ran the wrong way, setting up a safety that cost them the game. Despite this humiliation, Riegels powered through to be named a captain and All-American the following year before entering into a very successful career in agriculture, making his story a common motivational anecdote for young athletes. Passed away in 1993.
  • Sylvester Ritter: Better known as Junkyard Dog, was a two-time honorable mention All-American at HBCU Fayetteville State in the early '70s. After a brief NFL career, he became a full-time pro wrestler and eventual WWE Hall of Famer.
  • Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger: A DE for Notre Dame in the mid-'70s. Vastly undersized for the position at 5'6", 165 lbs, he joined the Navy out of high school and spent two years at Holy Cross until finally being accepted at Notre Dame. He walked onto the football team where played for the scout team and remained there until the final game of his collegiate career against Georgia Tech when HC Dan Devine made the decision to dress Rudy for the game. He played three snaps and, on the game's final play, sacked the opposing QB. He was carried off the field by his teammates, the first player in program history to receive that honor. His story inspired the movie Rudy where he is played by Sean Astin.
  • Deion Sanders: A massive Jack-of-All-Trades star at Florida State in the late '80s who not only played multiple positions on the gridiron as a dominant corner and return specialist but also excelled in baseball and track. Had a Hall of Fame NFL career while also playing in the MLB, becoming the only athlete to play in both the Super Bowl and World Series. After his retirement from playing, "Prime Time" entered high school coaching, first for a disastrous failed charter school called "Prime Prep Academy" and then for his sons' schools. In 2020, without any experience coaching on the college level, Sanders was hired as HC of HBCU Jackson State; with two of his sons on the team, Coach Prime led the Tigers to a SWAC championship in just his second season and claimed the (fall) 2021 Eddie Robinson Award as that season's top FCS coach.
  • Ron Simmons: A Hall of Fame DT at Florida State whose jersey (though not his number) was retired by the school, he had a brief career in the CFL and USFL before going on to fame in WCW under his real name and WWE as Faarooq. DAMN!!
  • Bubba Smith: A DE for Michigan State before he became known as an actor, who appeared in the Police Academy series of movies. He played a key part in what termed as the "Game of the Century" in the 1966 Michigan State vs Notre Dame rivalry, injuring Notre Dame's QB en route to a 10-10 tie. He later went on to have a fairly successful NFL career.
  • Manti Te'o: One of the most accomplished and decorated defensive players in college football history, part of the dominating Notre Dame defense that brought the school to its only BCS Championship Game during his senior year, was the #2 Heisman finalist in 2012 behind Johnny Manziel, and won practically every other trophy he was eligible for. Te'o is most famous, however, for accomplishing all that during a year where his grandmother and girlfriend both died within days of each other, something that won him even greater media attention... until it came out not long after the season that Te'o's (online) girlfriend had never existed. Te'o had been part of perhaps the highest-profile "catfishing" hoax ever and was put under even more intense scrutiny by the media that had once adored him for seemingly lying (or at least bending the truth) about the nature of their relationship for greater media attention and sympathy. He went on to a fairly middling career in the NFL.
  • Jack Trice: The first African-American athlete at Iowa State, where he played tackle. During his second game in 1923, Trice was trampled by three Minnesota players and died from his injuries two days later; a century later, debate still rages over whether his death was a tragic accident or a hate crime. Iowa State did not play Minnesota again for over 60 years. After decades of student campaigning, the university named their stadium in Trice's honor in 1997; it is currently the only FBS venue named after an African-American.
  • Carl Weathers: A DE for San Diego State who played briefly in the NFL before retiring to focus on his acting career.
  • Charles Woodson: The only defensive player to date to receive the Heisman (winning out over Peyton Manning). This was likely due to the fact that he was occasionally inserted into the offense as a WR/RB during his national title-winning tenure at Michigan, as well as being the most dominant cornerback of his time (not to mention being the team's primary kick/punt returner). The man was essentially the Swiss Army Knife of football and went on to a Hall of Fame pro career.

    Special Teams 
  • Brett Baer: A kicker and punter for Louisiana from 2009-12, he holds the FBS career record for most accurate field goal kicker (min. 50 attempts), hitting 90% of them. He went undrafted and spent time on training camp/preseason NFL rosters, but never played in a regular season game.
  • Nate Boyer: A long snapper for Texas from 2010-14. His time at football's most anonymous position was notable for three reasons: his age (he was 30 during his redshirt freshman year), his inexperience (he had never played organized football before), and his background (prior to attending college, he had been a U.S. Army Green Beret who served several tours of duty). Boyer briefly signed with the NFL but never saw pro action before entering into a career as a speaker and actor. However, his greatest social impact came from being the person who advised Colin Kaepernick to kneel rather than sit during the national anthem to protest racial injustice, believing that it would be seen as a more respectful act for veterans and their loved ones.
  • Sarah Fuller: The first woman to play and score in a Power Five football game. A soccer goalkeeper at Vanderbilt, Fuller was brought in to kick for the Commodores in 2020 after COVID-19 ran through their kicking team; she made two extra points for the winless team.
  • Lou Groza: Nicknamed "The Toe", was a kicker and offensive lineman for Ohio State in the 1940s. He joined the US Army to fight in World War II, during which he was offered a contract by legendary NFL head coach Paul Brown to join his newly formed team, the Cleveland Browns. The annual award for the best placekicker in college football is named after him.
  • Ray Guy: An All-American punter and placekicker for Southern Miss (1869-72), setting then-NCAA records for field goal and punt distance. A member of both the College and Pro Halls of Fame; the award given out annually to the nation's top punter is named after him.
  • Katie Hnida: Nearly two decades before Sarah Fuller, Hnida became the first woman to play and score in a I-A/FBS game. Unlike Fuller, Hnida had a high school football background, being a moderately successful kicker at her Denver-area school. She started her college career at Colorado, where she made the team but never actually played, though she did dress for games and became the first woman to suit up for a bowl game in 1999. After a bout with mononucleosis forced her to interrupt her education, she transferred to New Mexico. In the 2002 Las Vegas Bowl against UCLA, she made it on the field for an extra point, which was blocked. The next season, she successfully kicked two extra points late in a blowout Lobos win over Texas State, making her the first woman to score at the FBS level. Shortly after graduating from UNM, she told Sports Illustrated that she had been raped by a Colorado teammate in 2000 and sexually harassed at many other times; she wasn't the only woman to level such charges against Buffs players and recruits in that era, which eventually contributed to the program receiving NCAA sanctions (see "Gary Barnett" under "Notorious").
  • Jake Olson: While he only made the field for one play, he's up there with McKenzie Milton and Joe Roth on the list of most inspiring college football players. As a young boy in the LA suburb of Huntington Beach, he grew up as a diehard USC Trojans fan... and had eight bouts with retinoblastoma, a rare form of eye cancer. Olson had to have both eyes removed before his teenage years but made the most of it, receiving regular paid speaking requests before even entering high school. When the Trojans' coach at the time, Pete Carroll, heard about his condition, he gave him unusual access to the program. He would eventually receive a scholarship for disabled athletes after being accepted to USC and got a chance to try out for the football team as a long snapper. Olson got his day in the spotlight late in the fourth quarter of a 2017 USC win over Western Michigan, snapping for a successful extra point. Even before graduating from USC, he co-founded a startup to assist companies that want to book college athletes (and other celebrities) for speaking engagements and advise athletes on how to build their brands—which became very relevant once the NCAA lifted its prior restrictions on such activity by its student-athletes.
  • Johnny Rodgers: Nicknamed "The Jet", Rodgers was a RB, WR, and return specialist for Nebraska in the early 1970s. He won the Heisman in 1972 and ended his college career with the most all-purpose yardage in NCAA history (since surpassed). The Jet Award is named after him and is given to the top return specialist in college football.

    Broadcasters and Analysts 
  • Lee Corso: A featured analyst for ESPN's College GameDay, where he has served since that program's inception in 1987. Before that, he had a rather mediocre career as a head coach for several schools and before that, was a QB at Florida State (where he was famously the roommate of actor Burt Reynolds). Corso is famous for his catchphrase "not so fast, my friend!", typically stated after another analyst or guest on the show gives a prediction to which Corso disagrees, as well as for donning the headgear of the school he predicts to win the game at the host site of College GameDay.
  • Gary Danielson: A former QB at Purdue, he went on to have a mildly successful career with the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns. After his playing career was over, he went to work at ABC/ESPN as a college football analyst. He currently serves as a commentator (alongside Brad Nessler and formerly Verne Lundquist) for CBS coverage of the SEC, Army-Navy game, and the Sun Bowl, a role he held since 2006.
  • Kirk Herbstreit: Serves as Lee Corso's co-analyst on ESPN's College GameDay, a role he has been in since 1996. A former Ohio State QB, he typically pulls double duty as the color commentator of ESPN's Saturday night college football games, which aren't always in the same location of the GameDay site, meaning he sometimes has to fly cross-country trips in between the programs; his schedule got even busier in 2022 when he also signed on to launch Amazon Prime Video's NFL coverage as the platform's first color commentator.
  • Keith Jackson: The voice of college football for over 50 years, ranging from the 1950s until his retirement in 2005. He was known for his deep-but-soft soothing voice, homespun phrases (including most famously "Whoa, Nelly!"), and his genuine passion for the sport. He popularized the idea of television play-by-play announcers being joined by color commentators (typically former players or coaches) during broadcasts, which was not common early in his career but has since become ubiquitous. Unfortunately, the College Hall of Fame does not recognize journalists or broadcasters (unlike the Pro Hall of Fame, which includes them in its "contributor" category), though every few years there is a push for their inclusion to recognize the contributions of broadcasters and administrators. Passed away in 2018.
  • Gus Johnson: Lead college football play-by-play announcer for FOX since 2011 after previously serving at CBS since 1995. Known for his exuberant style, is widely beloved by fans of college football (and a variety of other sports) for elevating even the most mundane games into spectacles.

    Notorious Players and Coaches 
  • Gary Barnett: A coach at Northwestern (1992-98) and Colorado (1999-2005) who contributed to the latter program's fall from grace. Barnett made a tremendous splash on the college football scene when he helped to turn Northwestern around from one of the absolute worst programs in the nation into a Rose Bowl contender in 1995. Despite collecting most of the Coach of the Year awards for that season, Northwestern's performance fell back off fairly soon after. His next coaching stop in Colorado saw more sustained on-field success. Off the field, however, his tenure was dogged by controversies. These included recruiting violations, behavior concerns, and—perhaps most troubling—his dismissal of former kicker Katie Hnida's testimony of being sexually assaulted by a Colorado teammate. Barnett was suspended by the school for his comments abount Hnida, and he was later forced to resign shortly before the school incurred multiple NCAA penalties that contributed to the program enduring a full decade of losing seasons.
  • Trevone Boykin: A QB at TCU from 2011-15 whose 2014 campaign saw the Horned Frogs reach a 12-1 record and serious CFP contention. Boykin's efforts earned him Heisman votes and helped him collect more national awards than any TCU QB since Davey O'Brien. However, the following season, two days before what was to be his last college game, Boykin tanked his draft prospects by being arrested after getting into a drunken bar fight and punching a patrol officer. This poor judgement turned out to be a sign of future troubles; while he did sign with the Seahawks as an undrafted free agent, he continued to have legal issues and was ultimately cut from the team after breaking his girlfriend's jaw in 2018, an act that earned him a three-year prison sentence.
  • Art Briles: One of the most successful high school head coaches in Texas during the '90s before moving into the college ranks, first as the HC of Houston (2003-07) and later Baylor (2008-15), which he took from Big 12 bottom-feeder into a perennial contender with one of the top offenses in the NCAA. However, both the program and Briles' NCAA coaching career imploded when it was revealed that Briles conspired with local police and university officials to cover up allegations of rape and other sexual assaults by players on his team. After failing to land a job in the CFL and spending a season in the Italian Federation of American Football, Briles returned to the high school coaching ranks. He had been announced as the new OC at the FCS HBCU Grambling State in 2022, but after huge criticism from media, alums, and fansnote  he decided not to take the job.
  • Thurmon "Bobby" Collins: The HC at SMU when the school received the NCAA "death penalty" in 1987. After a number of recruiting violations dating back to the 1970s, it was revealed that SMU recruits were being paid thousands of dollars out of a "slush fund" provided by a booster in order to get them to play at the school. Collins was not directly penalized by the NCAA but still never returned to coaching in college football in any capacity before passing away in 2021.
  • Michael Dyer: A RB who shattered multiple Auburn freshman records set by the great Bo Jackson in 2011 and won game MVP in the Tigers' National Championship victory. His incredibly bright football future came to a screeching halt the very next year when he was suspended prior to the team's bowl game for testing positive for marijuana and possessing a weapon that was connected to an armed robbery. He followed his former OC Gus Malzahn to Arkansas State but was cut due to further legal trouble before he could ever see the field. He eventually made his way to Louisville but never returned to his former promise, went undrafted, and has since bounced around numerous small pro leagues.
  • Tommy Elrod: A player and later assistant coach for Wake Forest in the '90s/'00s who became the school's radio broadcast analyst in 2014. He was at the center of what came to be known as the "Wakey Leaks" scandal when, after observing the team's practices, sold gameplan information to Wake's opponents including Louisville, Virginia Tech, and Army. Each of the schools fined/suspended their staff members who accepted the information (most notably Virginia Tech's Shane Beamer, son of then-head coach Frank Beamer) while Elrod was fired.
  • Hugh Freeze: The current HC at Liberty most (in)famous for his time at Ole Miss from 2012-16. After early career success as an offensive innovator at NAIA Lambuth and Arkansas State, he was hired by Ole Miss and led the program to a bowl appearance in each of his first four years with the school. However, after posting his first losing season in 2016, an NCAA investigation found that Freeze and his staff had committed a litany of recruiting and benefit violations, including having his assistants outright paying players in cash. Freeze initially survived the controversy, passing the blame onto his assistants and his predecessor, Houston Nutt. Nutt sued the school to clear his name. As part of discovery for the lawsuit, Freeze's school-issued cell phone records were turned over, which revealed that he was actively attempting to smear Nutt (and had frequently called an escort service with the school's property). Freeze resigned, the NCAA vacated 27 of his wins with the school, and Nutt's suit was settled with Ole Miss putting most of the blame on Freeze. Controversially, Freeze was hired by Liberty in 2019, one of the largest Christian schools in the world, despite protests over his past conduct.
  • Todd Graham: HC whose career started with a bang in 2006, leading Rice to its first bowl appearance in 45 years. He left the Owls after that one season, spending four years at Tulsa and one at Pittsburgh before taking the Arizona State job starting in 2012. He guided the Sun Devils to the 2013 Pac-12 championship game but failed to build on that success and was let go after the 2017 season. In 2020, he was hired to replace Nick Rolovich (below) at Hawaii. While he compiled a decent 11-11 record in Honolulu, things quickly entered meltdown mode for Graham at the end of 2021, with several current and former players accusing him of Drill Sergeant Nasty levels of verbal abuse. 14 Hawaii players eventually left the team, including Graham's own son. Things got so bad that the Hawaii State Senate held a hearing to investigate Graham, where players and their families made lots of specific allegations about Graham's Hair-Trigger Temper, including his calling ukuleles "fucking annoying" and slurring Hawaii as a "third world country" because a vending machine didn't have Dr Pepper. Graham resigned soon after.
  • Derrius Guice: A RB who set several school records at LSU after becoming the first SEC player to rush for 250+ yards in three games, earning him a second round draft selection in 2018. However, Guice's pro career was immediately plagued by injuries and ended after two years when he was arrested and charged with assault after a series of domestic abuse incidents. These arrests resulted in the unearthing of other sexual assault allegations dating back to his college years. After investigations later found that he was just one of a long list of LSU players accused of sexual assaults and related misbehavior, with the school's past athletic and academic leadership having covered those incidents up, LSU Unperson-ed Guice, banning him from the program and stripping his statistics from its record books.
  • Mike Haywood: Coached at Miami (OH) from 2009-10, going 1-11 in his first and 9-4 in his second season. He rode the success of the latter season to be hired for a HC job at Pittsburgh in 2010. Before he could begin his coaching career at Pitt, he was arrested for felony domestic violence and fired the next day; his 16-day tenure as a HC is the second shortest ever (see George O'Leary below).
  • Todd Hodne: More than 30 years before Jerry Sandusky's sex crimes came to light, Penn State football had another serial sexual predator in its midst, though his crimes were mostly unknown until a lengthy 2022 ESPN story. Hodne, a LB out of Long Island, played several games as a freshman in 1977 but was suspended for the 1978 season after being convicted of robbing a record store back home during the summer. While under suspension, he committed at least two sexual assaults against female Penn State students and was convicted of rape in one of the cases; one of the survivors recalled in the ESPN story that Paterno had called her to intervene in Hodne's case. He was allowed bail after his sentencing and returned home, where he resumed his predatory behavior, sexually assaulting more women before being caught and pleading to two rape counts. It's accepted that in all, he assaulted at least a dozen women. After serving 7 years in prison, he was paroled against the advice of the prosecutor in his Long Island rape trial. Hodne tried to go straight, but fell into drug addiction, repeatedly violated his parole, and in 1987 killed a cab driver in a botched robbery. He would spend the rest of his life in prison, dying in 2020.
  • Mark Hudspeth: Once considered a rising star after successful tenures at North Alabama (then D-II, now FCS) from 2002-08 and at Louisiana-Lafayettenote  from 2011-17, his star dimmed when revelations came forward of violations involving an assistant, causing parts of the 2011-14 seasons to be vacated, including the 2011 and 2014 New Orleans Bowl victories. In 2019, he was hired to be HC of Austin Peay and seemed to right the ship, as he led the program to its first 11-win season, first appearance in the FCS playoffs, and first conference championship in 42 years. However, he was suspended by the program in 2020 for conduct unbecoming of his position and subsequently resigned, though the university has never explained exactly what he did wrong, and Hudspeth insists that he left on his volition to "spend more time with my family." He is currently coaching high school football in Alabama.
  • Rich Johanningmeier: A player and later a HC at Southwest Missouri Statenote , he achieved notoriety by becoming an investigator for the NCAA. During his tenure as an investigator, he became known for underhanded tactics that later resulted in multi-million dollar lawsuits being filed against the NCAA, most notably in 2000 by former Alabama coaches who discovered shady dealings between him and Tennessee's Phillip Fulmer, as well as a 2003 investigation into Mississippi State that led to him being sued by their, HC Jackie Sherrill, who alleged Johanningmeier and the NCAA were acting on shady tips from an Ole Miss booster. The former lawsuit cleared the plaintiffs of wrongdoing in 2005 but effectively ended their careers, and the latter was settled out of court in 2019, long after Sherrill's career and reputation were irreparably damaged.
  • Mark Mangino: HC of Kansas from 2002–09, his tenure was highlighted by a 2007 season that saw his long underperforming team claim a share of the Big 12 North and win the Orange Bowl against Virginia Tech. However, it was marred by controversy, as he drew a fine for criticizing Big 12 officials after his team lost a matchup versus Texas, saying the game was rigged. But what ended his tenure at Kansas (and ultimately his head coaching career) was a combination of the NCAA punishing Kansas for recruiting violations, his belittling of players to the point they threatened to transfer, and a collection of unpaid parking tickets on campus (and his subsequent abuse of the school's staff for issuing them).
  • Tate Martell: A dual-threat QB who first came to national attention when he committed to Washington as a 14-year-old prodigy, though he later withdrew. One of the most hyped recruits ever, his record-setting and award-winning high school career was covered by the first season of the Netflix series QB1: Beyond the Lights after which he committed to Ohio State. When he twice failed to win the starting job there, he transferred to Miami but again lost a competition for the starting job. He briefly switched to WR but chose to sit out the 2020 COVID-impacted season. He transferred again, this time to UNLV to play QB and attempt to salvage his playing career, but saw virtually no game action in 2021 and decided to retire from football.
  • Les Miles: Famous for his time at LSU (2005-16), where he won a national title in 2007. His reputation was tarnished somewhat following the the rise of Nick Saban at conference (and division) rival Alabama. Miles was shown the door during the 2016 season after going just 3-7 against Saban, including an ugly shutout loss in the first ever all-SEC national championship game in 2012, combined with a general decline in the LSU program. Kansas, arguably the football Butt-Monkey of the Power Five conferences, hired him in 2019, but he wasn't able to revive the Jayhawks, going 3–9 in his first season and 0–9 in the COVID-shortened 2020 season. After that season, numerous reports came out that Miles had a long record of inappropriate behavior with female students while at LSU (with LSU's AD having recommended in 2013 that he be fired over it). Another report detailed systemic failures by LSU to report and deal with sexual misconduct and abuse by players during Miles' tenure and that the president that LSU had hired in 2013 knew about the allegations. Miles was let go shortly thereafter, with Kansas' AD (an old personal friend) resigning a couple of days later. Said former LSU president, who had moved on to become Oregon State's, resigned from that post under pressure. Miles is also known for his unusual habit of chewing on grass from the playing field.
  • Gary Moeller: Longtime assistant coach at Miami (OH) and Michigan under Bo Schembechler from 1967-76 and again from 1980-90, the interruption being a forgettable HC gig at Illinois. He occasionally filled in for Schembechler when he experienced health issues and took over as HC after he retired in 1990. Moeller led the Wolverines to a 4-1 bowl record and either a share of or outright winning the Big Ten in his first three seasons. His tenure came to an abrupt end after a bizarre drunken incident at a restaurant forced him to resign in 1995. He spent the remainder of his coaching career in the NFL, including a brief stint as the Detroit Lions interim HC in 2000 where he went 4-3 and just missed out on the playoffs. After leaving his last assistant's gig in 2003, Moeller never coached again until his passing in 2022.
  • Shawn Oakman: A DE in the early 2010s who was the most high-profile player in the Baylor sexual assault scandal (see coach Art Briles entry above). A Lightning Bruiser at 6'9", 290 lbs with impressive pass rush potential, Oakman was a four-star recruit who spent a redshirt season at Penn State before being dismissed after physically assaulting a female cashier who tried to stop him from stealing food from a campus store. He transferred to Baylor where he broke out, won All-American honors, and was projected as a first round NFL Draft pick (with Sports Illustrated projecting him as a potential #1 overall pick). However, Oakman struggled in his final collegiate season and, just two weeks before the 2016 Draft, was arrested for felony sexual assault. Oakman went undrafted, and though ultimately found not guilty, his other off-field concerns combined with the other incidents coming out of Baylor at the time cost him an NFL opportunity. He moved through various other pro leagues and currently plays in the CFL. He is also known for being the subject of the Shawn Oakman Tweets meme.
  • George O'Leary: A HC for 20 seasons at both Georgia Tech (1995-2001) and Central Florida (2004-15) where he was considered a strong program builder. His notoriety, however, comes from a five-day stint at Notre Dame in 2001 between his stops at those schools. A media investigation found discrepancies on O'Leary's resume after he was hired, including O'Leary claiming that he was a three-time letterman at New Hampshire (he never even saw the field) and that he received a master's degree from "NYU-Stony Brook University", a non-existent institution named after two separate schools over 50 miles apart. (He had taken only two courses at Stony Brook and never graduated.) The incident was incredibly embarrassing for Notre Dame, while O'Leary detoured for several seasons as a NFL assistant before landing the UCF job.
  • Charley Pell: Best known for his tenure at Florida from 1979-84 after a successful early career gig at Jacksonville State from 1969-73 and a mildly successful tenure at Clemson from 1977-78. He led a massive turnaround for Florida, going from 0-10-1 in his first season to 9-2-1 in 1983 with a win in the Gator Bowl. He was fired three games into the 1984 season after the NCAA accused Florida of 107 infractions. note  Although his replacement led Florida to their first SEC championship that same season, they were banned from playing in the Sugar Bowl by the conference and the title was retroactively revoked. The violations committed under his tenure rippled throughout the rest of the '80s, as Florida was barred from appearing in bowls and on live TV for the 1985-86 seasons as well as received reduced scholarships. Pell is a source of controversy for fans of Florida, as some like him for rebuilding the program's finances and improving the athletic facilities but some hate him for the sanctions that harmed the team. He became an advocate for depression awareness after he tried to commit suicide in 1994 and passed away in 2001 from lung cancer.
  • Ryan Perrilloux: One of the most hyped QB recruits in history who ultimately left a disappointing and controversial legacy. After a record-setting, national award-winning high school career in Louisiana, he was the near-unanimous #1 QB recruit in the class of 2005 and chose to stay in his home state by committing to LSU. After redshirting as a freshman, he was expected to compete for the starting job his sophomore year but was suspended in the spring following an incident where he attempted to use his older brother's ID to get onto a casino riverboat, relegating him to backup duty. He started just one game that season while mired in controversy, including being named a person of interest in a federal investigation and getting into a fight at a night club along with multiple lower-profile teammates who were all dismissed from the program while Perrilloux was not. LSU went on to win the national championship that season, and before Perrilloux could take over as starter for a repeat run the next season, he was dismissed from LSU following a positive marijuana test and multiple missed classes, workouts, and team meetings. He transferred to FCS Jacksonville State, where he immediately moved into the starting role but was yet again suspended at the beginning of his senior season for violation of team rules, though rebounded to be named Ohio Valley Conference Offensive Player of the Year. Perrilloux went undrafted by the NFL, though spent time on offseason rosters and practice squads (being part of the New York Giants' Super Bowl XLVI championship) before moving through a number of other professional leagues.
  • Bobby Petrino: A coach currently at Missouri State whose 35+ year career has spanned over a dozen different college and pro programs. Petrino originally had a reputation as an outstanding offensive mind, but to most fans developed a bigger reputation of being an opportunist who would abandon programs at the first sign of trouble or a better contract somewhere else, including abandoning his first head coaching job at Louisville for a job in the NFL right after signing a long-term contract. That turned out to be a disaster in more ways than one (more on that on his entry on the NFL's Notorious page), and he returned to college football as the HC of Arkansas. After his fourth year, Petrino got into a motorcycle accident. After giving a press conference in a neck brace and with his face still red from scrapes insisting he was the only one on the motorcycle, it came out that he did have a passenger: a mistress half his age whom he had given a job in the program, breaking school protocol. Petrino was fired and spent a year away from coaching while on an apology tour, got a job at Western Kentucky for one year, and returned to Louisville, where he again saw success with QB Lamar Jackson... only for the program to slump after Jackson's departure, with Petrino losing the locker room and getting fired again.
  • Mike Price: After a decent tenure at Weber State (1981-88), led his alma mater Washington State from 1989-2002, bringing the program back to national prominence with QBs Drew Bledsoe and Ryan Leaf despite struggling to string together consecutive winning seasons. As soon as he finally did, Price became the next member of a carousel of HCs brought in to try to rehab the Alabama program. However, he never coached a single game for the Tide, being fired during spring training after reports came out of him attending strip clubs and bringing back women to his hotel room. He eventually wound up as HC at UTEP, where he coached from 2004-12, putting up winning records only in his first two seasons before retiring (and coming back briefly as interim HC in 2017).
  • Rich Rodriguez: A Long Runner hired as HC by Jacksonville State for 2022, where he'll (presumably) oversee the Gamecocks' move from FCS to FBS. After serving as head coach at Salem (a small school one county south of his West Virginia hometown) for that program's final season in 1988, "Rich Rod" returned to his alma mater of West Virginia for a season as LB coach until becoming HC at another small WV school, Glenville State, in 1990. During his successful tenure there, he helped pioneer a run-oriented, no-huddle version of the spread offense. After he left Glenville State in 1997 to serve as OC under Tommy Bowden at Tulane and Clemson, he became HC at WVU in 2001, where he had a great run of success. He agreed to coach for Michigan in 2008, but West Virginia sued when he failed to pay for his $4M buyout, with Michigan eventually having to cover part of the bill. The endeavor proved to pointless for Michigan, as his tenure was abysmal with a 15-22 record, ending a 33-year bowl streak by going 3-9 in his first season, and losing their only bowl game in his third year. He also got the program into major trouble with the NCAA for the first time in its history, which led to his firing in 2010. He resurfaced in 2012 as HC for Arizona and found some success, only to be fired in 2018 after he admitted to having an extramarital affair with an administrative assistant who alleged she had been sexually harassed by him. Rodriguez bounced around the sidelines at a few schools before taking the JSU job.
  • Nick Rolovich: A QB at Hawaii who bounced around the Arena Football League and NFL Europe for a few years after failed tryouts with the NFL. After a few years as an assistant, Rolovich was hired as Hawaii's HC in 2016, which he guided to some success by running the pass-happy Run-and-Shoot offense. In 2020, he took the HC job at Washington State, bringing his wide-open offense and offbeat personality with him. He started courting controversy in 2021 when he became outspoken regarding his refusal to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. After the state of Washington set an October 2021 deadline for all state employees to get vaccinated unless they had a valid medical or religious exemption, Rolovich tried and failed to obtain a religious exemption.note  Once the deadline hit, Rolovich and several of his assistants were ultimately fired in the middle of the season.
  • Jerry Sandusky: One of the most reviled names in all of sports. An assistant defensive coach at Penn State under Joe Paterno for 30 years, including as DC for both of Paterno's national championship teams. He retired in 1999 but continued to use Penn St. facilities as part of his "The Second Mile" charity which served Pennsylvania's underprivileged and at-risk youth. In 2011, following a two-year grand jury investigation, Sandusky was arrested and charged with 52 counts of sexual abuse of young boys, most of whom participated in his charity. A follow-up report implicated Paterno and university leadership in covering up Sandusky's crimes, leading to their firings. (That report was later challenged in court, forcing the NCAA to restore Paterno's vacated wins and remove the remaining sanctions on the school.) Sandusky himself is now serving 30-60 years in prison for his crimes.
  • O. J. Simpson: A Heisman-winning RB at USC in 1968 who is perhaps the most prominent example of a juco player going on to greatness; he played two years at the City College of San Francisco (his hometown) before arriving at USC in 1967. He went on to a Hall of Fame career in the NFL, followed by success as an advertising pitchman and actor... before being accused of murdering his ex-wife and her male friend in 1994. He was acquitted in one of the most sensational trials of all time, but later found liable for the deaths in civil court. Simpson was later convicted of robbery, serving nine years in Nevada state prison. All this and more made him the subject of an Oscar-winning documentary on his life.
  • Gene Stallings: One of the Junction Boys from the 1954 Texas A&M team, he later became HC at his alma mater from 1965-71, where he achieved only one winning season in 1967. After a lengthy NFL coaching career, mostly as an assistant, he became the HC of Alabama from 1990-96 and led them to a national title in 1992. An investigation that lasted from 1993-95 found that he knew Alabama fielded an ineligible player in 1993, resulting in Alabama forfeiting all victories from that season outside of the bowl game, being put on a postseason ban for 1995, and losing a total of 30 scholarships from 1995-98, beginning a Dork Age for Alabama that lasted until Nick Saban's hiring; were it not for this derailing, the colossus of college football programs would likely hold even more D-I records than it already does.
  • David Stanley and Sean Stopperich: Part of SMU's recruiting class of 1983, these players became the main whistleblowers in the SMU scandal that eventually resulted in the Mustangs' "death penalty". Stopperich, an offensive lineman, was the first to come forward, telling NCAA investigators that SMU boosters and assistant coaches gave his family thousands of dollars to renege on a verbal commitment to Pitt and sign with SMU. The NCAA responded by placing the Mustangs on probation, including a two-year postseason ban. Stopperich had an injury-plagued tenure at SMU and left in 1985; after not being offered a scholarship by Pitt, he tried to come back at Temple, but never played there and suffered injuries in a 1986 car crash that ended his playing career. Stanley, a linebacker, was plagued by injuries at SMU and was dealing with a growing substance abuse problem, and was cut from the team after 1984 and eventually lost his scholarship. He then talked to Dallas–Fort Worth TV station WFAA and to NCAA investigators, claiming that SMU athletic officials had paid his family $25,000 to sign with the Mustangs and continued to pay him monthly while he was on the team. He also produced conclusive evidence that SMU had made some of those payments after being placed on the first probation, which (with other violations uncovered) led the NCAA to impose the "death penalty" in 1987. In a sad postscript, both whistleblowers died prematurely of drug overdoses, Stopperich in 1995 and Stanley in 2005.
  • Jim Tressel: The only coach to win national championships at the FCS and FBS levels and part of the first father-and-son pair to win national championships.note  He first made his name at Youngstown State, guiding the Penguins to four I-AA national titles from 1991-97. In 2000, Ohio State hired him from YSU, and he brought immediate success to the program, winning the BCS Championship in 2002 and turning around the school's fortunes against archrival Michigan. However, his tenure ended after a 2010 investigation found his players sold memorabilia to a drug dealer. As a result of the investigation, he was fired, the Buckeyes were banned from the 2012 postseason, and all victories from 2010 were vacated, including the Sugar Bowl victory. He returned to the college ranks in 2012 as an administrator, being named Vice President of Strategic Management at Akron (where he had started his coaching career as a grad assistant) before returning to Youngstown State as the school's president in 2014 (at which time he officially ended his football career). His appointment as president was controversial for a couple of reasons. First, due to the OSU scandal, he was under an NCAA "show-cause penalty" (essentially a blackballing from athletic department positions) until 2016. Second, his highest degree is a master's; a research doctorate or law degree is normally a necessity for a US university president. Tressel's defenders pointed out that the NCAA penalty only barred him from direct involvement with the athletic department and that his main role would be fundraising, in which he had plenty of experience from his coaching days. Tressel has announced he will retire from that position effective in February 2023.
  • Bill Yeoman: Head coach of the Houston Cougars from 1962-86. He was one of the biggest advocates of racial integration at the predominantly white school and helped Houston transition from a middling independent team to a powerhouse in the Southwest Conference (SWC), winning 4 titles from 1976-86. However, his tenure was marred by illegal recruitment inducements and extra benefits tendered to players that amounted to payments, and was forced into retirement by the university after 1986. Because of his actions, Houston had some of the harshest sanctions the NCAA has ever handed down, being barred from bowl games in 1989-90, barred from appearing on TV in 1989 (costing Heisman-winner Andre Ware's record-shattering performance some national recognition), and being limited to 15 scholarships for 1989. The NCAA said the punishments would have been more severe if he remained the HC. He was still inducted into Houston's Hall of Honor in 1998 and the Hall of Fame in 2001 before passing away in 2020.


Alternative Title(s): College Football

Top