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American Football is enjoyed on more than one level. While fans of the pros have the National Football League, fans of college football have their own leagues. Most schools of any size will at least have one sport; football is a popular one because a successful football team, particularly in the southern states, is a huge boon on prestige and enrollment. In some schools, it's 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, with National Signing Day. Prospects, rated on a scale from one to five stars, are selected by the colleges of their choice and are given scholarships.

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College football players are not allowed to be directly paid, and schools face harsh punishment if they are found to have paid their players, directly or indirectly. The University of Southern California was found guilty of providing "improper benefits" to football player Reggie Bush in 2004 and 2005, and as a consequence USC was required to forfeit all the games in which Bush appeared after receiving the gifts, including the 2005 national championship gamenote . The player himself was scrubbed from team records and university promotional materials.note  Many other schools have suffered similar fates, most infamously Southern Methodist, which is 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 SMU, a former powerhouse, had its first winning season since the scandal (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. Needless to say, the school still hasn't come anywhere near its former prominence.note 

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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  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. The Mid-American Conference is especially famous for playing on midweek nights (even Tuesday or Wednesday); Penn State was long famous for not using a bye week. Virtually all college football games are sanctioned by the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

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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 about a dozen teams who play most games amongst themselves. A handful of teams (most notably Notre Dame) are independent of any conference.

Division I FBS is the highest level of play and garners the most national attention. For most of the FBS's history, national champions were chosen in polls of sportswriters or coaches, with a sole "national champion" being unofficially crowned if both polls agreed and a split national championship resulting if they didn't. (Originally the sport was primarily played in a number of regional conferences that no one particularly bothered to organize into a coherent whole; the AP didn't start crowning a "national champion" until the '30s.) Since the 1998 introduction of a postseason system, one split national championship has occurred that gives the two top teams an opportunity to compete against each other for the title. Starting in 2014, a committee has selected four teams to play a semi-final bracket before the championship game. That said, to this day, the NCAA has never organized an official championship in FBS or its predecessors. Not only that, the NCAA never operated a football championship at any level until 1973, when it launched the D-II and D-III championships. The FCS playoffs started in 1978, once the NCAA split D-I football into what's now FBS and FCS.

The rules of collegiate football 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.

While professional football players can ostensibly play as long as they like (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  (but 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. Finally, a college player has the option after he is three years out of high school, if he so decides, to forgo the rest of his collegiate eligibility and enter the NFL Draft early. Also, a player forfeits his eligibility in a sport if he accepts a salary to play the same sport (but not a different sport - mostly notably a few high-profile college footballers have played minor league baseballnote ), accepts endorsements, or signs with a sports agent. A player who leaves early for the NFL Draft but pulls out of the draft before it's held can apply for reinstatement of college eligibility, and the NCAA normally grants it. But once the draft has been held, it's too late even if he isn't drafted.

The Football Bowl Subdivision has quite a few teams, separated, as stated earlier, split among number of conferences. There are a total of 10 conferences in FBS, not including the various independents - such as Notre Dame. See Collegiate American Football Conferences for a list of all Division I leagues, including those in FCS. Independents at both levels are also listed in this page.

The Bowl Games

    The Bowl Games 
A number of "bowl games" are played between high-ranked teams at fixed sites in late December and early January, but they don't form any sort of organized tournamentnote . (Originally the bowls were exhibitions; there wasn't even any polls taken after the bowls until the '60s.) 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 bowl, the Rose Bowl Game, which was named after the bowl-shaped stadium where it's played (which in turn got its name from Yale University's stadium, the Yale Bowl; the Rose Bowl was designed as simply a bigger version of the Yale Bowl... and in the better wintertime climate of Pasadena, California).

The lower divisions of the NCAA actually have NCAA-operated national championship tournaments, and have for decades, but these divisions get little interest except from students and alumni of the participating schools themselves (along with NFL scouts, as many successful pro players have come from the lower-division schools), and sometimes not even then (although in recent years, FCS teams such as Eastern Washington, Youngstown State and most notably, North Dakota State have been getting some national attention).

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 through 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-upnote .

In addition to the conferences with 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".

If Notre Dame was in the top 8 of the final BCS ranking, they were guaranteed a BCS bowl. 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 

If there were any berths remaining after these criteria are dealt with, and the team ranked third in the final BCS ranking was from one of the AQ conferences and was eligiblenote , they got a bid, and if this didn't fill the last bid and the #4 team in the final BCS rankings met those same criteria, they were given a bid. If there were still any berths in BCS games left, any remaining eligible teams in the top 14 of the final BCS rankings could be given at-large bids to fill them, at the individual bowl game's discretion, though if somehow there weren't enough eligible teams in the top 14, this could be extended to the top 18, then the top 22, and so on in increments of four until the bids were filled.

Things finally came to a head at the end of the 2011 season, 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 brand new "College Football Playoff" model was formally drawn up and was adopted beginning in the 2014 season to replace the BCS.

The current four-team playoff model features the teams being 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 however. 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 FBSnote . The TV deals for this new system extend through the 2025 season, so any hope of expanding the playoff to 8 or 16 teams is a ways down the road.

The second tier of games consists of lower profile bowls such as the Cheez-It Bowlnote , Citrus Bowlnote , Outback 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.

For many years prior to the implementation of the BCS, the Cotton Bowl was one of the top four bowl games, but was surpassed by the Fiesta Bowl and demoted to second-tier status by the time the BCS came around, mainly because of the condition of the Cotton Bowl stadium and heavy campaigning by the Fiesta Bowl contingent to up their game's reputation (and the fact that when the Big Eight became the Big 12, they switched their affiliation from the Cotton Bowl to the Fiesta Bowl). It long sought to regain its former status and become the fifth major bowl, and is now played in the showplace Cowboys Stadium (the world's largest domed stadium) to demonstrate this. The Cotton Bowl succeeded in this quest when it became one of the "New Year's Six" bowls of the College Football Playoff system. The Cotton Bowl stadium itself remains in use by the decidedly less tradition-filled First Responder Bowlnote .

Like the BCS and CFP bowls, these second-tier bowls also have conference tie-ins, but for second place, third place (and so on) 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. While the Cotton Bowl has strongest tradition and retains its famous name, the current Cheez-It Bowlnote  has the largest cash payout of any non-CFP bowl; the Chick-fil-A Bowl, which reverted to its historic name of Peach Bowl when it became part of the New Year's Six (though retaining Chick-fil-A as name sponsor), usually had the best attendance among non-BCS bowls in the BCS era.

The lower tier of bowl games exists solely as cash grabs and Padding for ESPN during the traditionally quiet holiday week in sports, and the stadiums and cities the games are played in (until ESPN grabbed a monopoly on most bowl games in the 1990's, most of these games were still few and far between, aired on syndicated broadcast television and were special. In fact, ESPN actually runs many of these bowls themselves nowadays). If there was a playoff in college football, the teams in these bowls would be blown out of the first round of the playoffs by the top teams or not even make it, as they usually have records which are only one game above .500 (if that)note . 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 , Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl note , the Redbox Bowlnote , the Famous Idaho Potato Bowlnote , the Duke's Mayo Bowlnote , the Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowlnote , the Walk-On's Independence Bowlnote  or the Bad Boy Mowers 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 in front of the bowl name (something near-universally loathed by football fans) came aboutnote . These games are solely of interest to the universities playing only (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, Louisiana or Birmingham, Alabama 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.

There now so many lower tier bowl games that a majority of FBS teams 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 on it in 2016, imposing a three-year freeze on certification of new bowl games. 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 bowl-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 are exclusively with the bottom-tier bowls, non-AQ champions are almost always stuck in these bowls, but with exceptional seasons they can become BCS busters and jump all the way to the top four bowls.note 

Obviously, as stated above, it's far from perfect, 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.) Oh, and 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 , with some members proposing a law that would ban the BCS from being advertised as a "national championship" unless it were converted to a playoff system. To the surprise of very few, the most vocal proponents of this idea were Congressmen whose local schools were perceived as having been "screwed" by the BCS. There are pro-BCS and anti-BCS parties, and while the sheer fatigue from injuries might make an elaborate playoff difficult (though lower-division schools manage it), most feel something has to happen.

Different Levels

Not all American universities, that sponsor varsity football, play within the bowl system. The NCAA has three divisions and Divisions II and III actually have a normal football playoff system. Likewise, Division I has a special subdivision called the "Football Championship Subdivision,"note  where Division I schools, that don't want to put as much emphasis on football as their larger cousins, can play. The current all-divisions record holder for most consecutive winning seasons is Linfield University, a Division III school from Oregon, which entered the 2020 season on a 64-season streak. Each of these has its own playoff system to determine a national champion. While most regular season games are done within a division, several teams will play one or two games outside of their division. Teams in the NCAA's Divisions II and III sometimes even play non-NCAA teams. Playing lower-division teams isn't without its risks; when a highly regarded FBS team loses to an FCS team (such as the infamous defeat of then #5-ranked Michigan by FCS opponent Appalachian State in 2007, quite possibly the biggest upset in college football history), they become a national laughing stock.note  Also, 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. Despite the great majority of these games resulting in a win for the higher-division team, the lower division schools are happy to play them because the higher-division team invariably pays them a lot of money to do it.

There are also smaller college sports organizations outside of the NCAA, including the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, National Junior College Athletic Association, and California Community College Athletic Association.note Added note  While these organizations are greatly overshadowed by the NCAA, several NAIA, NJCAA, and CCCAA football players have gone on to play in the NCAA and/or the NFL. Notably, the NAIA national championship predates any NCAA championship, having been played since 1956. The CCCAA has had its own system of bowls for decades; it operated a championship for its smaller schools for a few years in the 1960s and 1970s, but did not establish its current championship until 1997.

Conferences

As in most American college sports, college football teams are divided into regional athletic conferences. These conferences determine most of a team's schedule, and winning a conference is an easy way to get into a major bowl game. A full detailed list of these conferences and their member schools can be found on their own dedicated page.

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, and still going strong. 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 traditionally the last regular-season game of the year and also a focal point for the oldest and strongest Interservice Rivalry in the American military, making it a big draw even when, as is usually the case in the modern era, neither team is nationally relevant. 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.
  • 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, and 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.note 
    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 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")
    • California (Berkeley) vs. Stanford ("The Big Game"; see also "The Play", which refers to the downright surreal ending to the 1982 edition of The Big Game.) 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"note ) - Dates back to 1891, and grew out of the considerable animosity that already existed between the states. 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.
  • 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")
  • Mississippi State vs. Ole Miss ("The Battle For The Golden Egg"/"The Egg Bowl") note 
  • Miami note  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.
  • University of 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.
  • Auburn vs. Georgia ("The Deep South's Oldest Rivalry") – First played in 1892 and became an annual game in 1898. But 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.
  • 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 because of conference realignment. With A&M leaving the Big 12 for the SEC, Texas has said they have no room on their schedule for the game until 2018 at the earliest. Both fanbases seem to simultaneously blame the other school for the ending of the game as if this is a bad thing, 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.
  • Arkansas vs. Texas A&M – An old Southwest Conference rivalry that was recently revived as a non-conference game played in Arlington, 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 2020) by a mere 56–53–7.
  • 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 will return in 2021 and 2022 with two specially-scheduled games.
  • Cincinnati vs. Miaminote  - 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 April 2021 game was the 156th) 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.

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.

    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. Most recent winner (2020): DeVonta Smith, WR/RS, Alabama
  • Bronko Nagurski Trophy: Award given to the best defensive player in college football. Most recent winner (2020): Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa
  • Buck Buchanan Award: Award given to the best defensive player in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) of college football. Most recent winner (spring 2021): Jordan Lewis, DE, Southern
  • 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). Most recent winner (2020): Jimmy Morrissey, C, Pittsburgh
  • 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. Most recent winner (2020): Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame
  • 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. Most recent winner (2020): Brady White, QB, Memphis
  • 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. Most recent winner (2020): Collins
  • Davey O'Brien Award: Award given to the best quarterback in college football. Whenever a quarterback wins the Heisman, there is a good chance that he will win this award as well. Most recent winner (2020): Mac Jones, Alabama
  • 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. Most recent winner (2020): Najee Harris, Alabama
  • 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.) Most recent winner (2020): Smith
  • Gagliardi Trophy: Award given to the "most outstanding" player in Division III football. Most recent winner (2019): Broc Rutter, QB, North Central (IL)
  • Gene Upshaw Award: Award given to the best lineman, offensive or defensive, in Division II football. Most recent winner (2019): Austin Edwards, DE, Ferris State
  • Harlon Hill Trophy: Award given to the "most valuable" player in Division II football. Most recent winner (2019): Roland Rivers III, QB, Slippery Rock
  • 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. Most recent winner (spring 2021): Cameron Ward, QB, Incarnate Word
  • 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. Most recent winner (2020): Avery Williams, Boise State
  • Jim Thorpe Award: Award given to the top defensive back in college football. Most recent winner (2020): Trevon Moehrig, S, TCU
  • John Mackey Award: Award given to the "most outstanding" tight end in college football. Most recent winner (2020): Kyle Pitts, Florida
  • Johnny Unitas 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. Most recent winner (2020): Jones
  • 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 former 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. Most recent winner (2019): Chuba Hubbard, RB, Oklahoma State; 2020 winner expected to be announced some time in May 2021
  • Lombardi Award: From 1970 to 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. Most recent winner (2020): Collins
  • Lou Groza Award: Award given to the top placekicker in college football. Most recent winner (2020): Jose Borregales, Miami
  • Manning Award: Another award given to the best quarterback in college football; named after the Manning quarterbacking family.note  Whenever a QB wins the Heisman, there is a good chance that he will win this award as well. Like the now-apparently-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. Most recent winner (2020): Jones
  • 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. Most recent winner (2020): Smith
  • Outland Trophy: Award given to the best "interior lineman" in college football. This includes any offensive linemen, as well as defensive tackles. Most recent winner (2020): Alex Leatherwood, OT, Alabama
  • Paul Hornung Award: Another relatively new award (first given in 2010), presented to the most versatile player in college football. Most recent winner (2020): Smith
  • Ray Guy Award: Award given to the top punter in college football. Most recent winner (2020): Pressley Harvin III, Georgia Technote 
  • Rimington Trophy: Award given to the top center in college football. 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. Most recent winner (2020): Landon Dickerson, Alabama
  • 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  Most recent winner (2020): Kekaula Kaniho, CB, Boise State
  • 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. Most recent winner (2020): Smith
  • 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. Most recent winner (spring 2021): Cole Kelley, QB, Southeastern Louisiana
  • Wuerffel Trophy: Presented for outstanding community service by an FBS player; named after 1996 Heisman winner Danny Wuerffel. Most recent winner (2020): Teton Saltes, OT, New Mexico
  • The Touchdown Club of Columbus presented a complete suite of seasonal awards through the 2018 season, most notably the Archie Griffin Award (most valuable player) and Chic Harley Award (player of the year). However, the club announced that due to a failure to gain corporate sponsorship, it would not hold its anticipated 2019 awards banquet and strongly hinted that it would fold completely. Assuming this is the case, the final winners of the two main awards were both QBs—Clemson's Trevor Lawrence (Griffin) and Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins (Harley). The TD Club's awards were unusual in that they were not presented until after all bowl games were played.
    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 head coaches 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, NCAA Division II, NCAA Division III, and NAIA. Most recent FBS winner: Tom Allen, Indiana
  • 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". Most recent FBS winner: Randy Bates, DC, Pittsburgh
  • 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. Most recent winner: Jamey Chadwell, Coastal Carolina
  • 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. Most recent winner: Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern
  • 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. Most recent winner: Steve Sarkisian, OC, Alabamanote 
  • 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 Grambling State coaching legend Eddie Robinson for the last few decades. The FWAA also presents the Nagurski and Outland Trophies, as well as a separate Eddie Robinson Award for the top FCS head coach. Most recent winner: Chadwell
  • 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. Most recent winner: Chadwell
  • 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). Most recent winner: Chadwell
  • 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. Most recent winner: Nick Saban, Alabamanote 
  • Walter Camp Coach of the Year: Presented since 1967 by the same body responsible for the Walter Camp Award. Most recent winner: Chadwell

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

Many great college players also went on to noteworthy NFL careers. Details on many of their post-college careers can found on the National Football League Names To Know or National Football League Quarterbacks pages or, if they notably fell short of their college promise in the pros, the "Draft Busts" sections of the National Football League Notorious Figures page (three in all–one for busts in general, with dedicated folders for quarterbacks and Cleveland Browns draftees).

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    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 and Administrators 
  • Barry Alvarez: Was the head coach who put the Wisconsin football program on the map. After a playing career as a linebacker at Nebraska in the late '60s, he moved up the assistant coaching ranks until landing the defensive coordinator 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. They hadn't had a winning season since 1984 and only had three (losing) appearances in the Rose Bowl in the '50s and early '60s as the last time they were nationally relevant. By 1993, Alvarez led Wisconsin to a one-loss season, their first of three Big Ten titles under his reign, and the first of three Rose Bowl victories as well. The Badgers went to 10 bowl games in Alvarez's next 12 years as coach, and he became the school's Athletic Director in 2004. He stepped down as coach following the 2005 season, but remained AD, during which he stepped back into coach the school's Bowl Game appearances in 2012 and 2014 after the head coaches left the program. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2010 and continued to serve as AD until announcing his retirement in 2021.
  • Dana X. Bible: Was a head coach for five different schools in the first half of the 20th century, including most famously 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 head coach in college football history to hold opponents completely scoreless for two full seasons, doing so in 1917 and 1919 while at Texas A&M (defeating opponents by a combined 545-0 in those seasons). The reason for the gap in between? He left to serve as a pilot during World War I. He later had successful stints at both Nebraska and Texas and 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.
  • Earl Blaik: While he had a successful early career gig as the head coach of Dartmouth from 1934-1940, putting up a 45-15-4 mark, he's probably best known as the head coach of Army from 1941-1958, putting up an impressive 121-33-10 record and winning 3 consecutive national championships from 1944-1946 while also serving as the academy's AD from 1948-1959. 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 the 1958 season to take a job in the private sector and died in 1989.
  • Bobby Bowden: While he had early-career gigs at Samford and West Virginia, he's most famous for his long tenure at Florida State (1976–2009), building the school into a national powerhouse. He won two national titles at FSU, and also had 14 consecutive 10-win seasons (1987–2000). Broke Bear Bryant's record for most wins as an FBS head coach, ending with 377 (not counting 12 wins vacated by the NCAA). His two sons, Terry and Tommy, also became college head coaches. Neither one had the amount of success their dad had, as Terry has a 175-114-2 record across stops at Samford, Auburn, North Alabama, and Akron while Tommy has a 90-49 record across stops at Tulane and Clemson.
  • Paul "Bear" Bryant: Often considered the definitive college football coach, he played for Alabama in the '30s, then spent 25 years as the Crimson Tide's head coach (1958 to 1982), after shorter stints at Maryland, Kentucky and Texas A&M. He won 6 national titles in his time as coach, while also serving as the school's athletic director. His 323 wins were the most ever by a Division I head coach when he retired; he died in January 1983, less than a month after his final game. Famously wore a houndstooth fedora on the sidelines. One of the many awards for the National Coach of the Year bears his name. In 2019, celebrating college football's 150th anniversary, ESPN put Bryant at #1 on their list of the 150 greatest college football coaches of all time. 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).
  • Walter Camp: Known as the "Father of Football", Camp was one of the early pioneers of sport, first as a player at Yale and later as a coach at Yale and Stanford. 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. One of the many annual "player of the year" awards is named after him. He is also notable for having coached two teams in the same season, Yale and Stanford in 1892 (Stanford playing later in the year after Yale's season was over.)
  • Lloyd Carr: A longtime assistant at Michigan throughout the '80s and early '90s, he 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 122-40 record as head coach, including splitting the 1997 national championship with Nebraska after winning the Rose Bowl. He retired in 2007 after seeing Michigan collapse late in the 2006 season against Ohio State and USC in Rose Bowl, which carried over into the 2007 season, seeing Michigan tumble from the top 5 after losing to then-FCS juggernaut Appalachian State, with his last game seeing him beat Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow and his Florida Gators in the Capital One Bowl.
  • Larry Coker: A former player at Northwestern from 1966-1969, he was the head coach of the Miami Hurricanes from 2001-2006. In his first three years at Miami, he won the Big East title and the 2001 National Championship. His last three years were marked by disappointed, as Miami struggled to adapt to the ACC. He finished with a 60-15 record and was fired after the 2006 season, largely due in part 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 head coach of the UTSA Roadrunners in 2011, remaining head coach until resigning in 2015, finishing with a 26-32 record.
  • John Cooper: A former running back and defensive back at Iowa State from 1959-1961, he was known as one of the "Dirty 30", a group of 30 players who survived a grueling 1959 season. His first head coaching job was at Tulsa University from 1977-1984, where he had a 56-32 record, including leading them to 5 straight Missouri Valley Conference titles from 1980-1984. His next head coaching stop was at Arizona State from 1985-1987, taking them to a bowl game in all three seasons, including winning the 1987 Rose Bowl against Michigan and 1987 Pac 10 championship with a 25-9-2 record. His last stop as a head coach took him to Ohio State, where he coached from 1988-2000, leading them to a share of 1993, 1996, and 1998 Big Ten Titles, winning the 1997 Rose Bowl against Arizona State, and ultimately going 111-43-4. However, Cooper struggled against his programs' respective rivals, going 0-2-1 against Arizona as head coach of Arizona St and putting up an abysmal 2-10-1 record against Michigan as head coach of the Buckeyes.
  • Herbert "Fritz" Crislernote  : A former player at the University of Chicago from 1919-1921, he coached the Minnesota Golden Gophers from 1930-1931, then coached the Princeton Tigers from 1932-1937, putting up a 35-9-5 record and winning 2 national championships. While at Princeton, he created the winged football helmet design they continue to wear to this day. He then coached the Michigan Wolverines from 1938-1947, putting up a 71-16-3 record, winning a national championship after an undefeated season in 1947, and served as the school's AD from 1941-1968, when he retired. He brought the winged helmet design to Michigan and created the iconic maize and blue color scheme Michigan continues to don to this day. He also oversaw the expansion of Michigan's football stadium, and also is the reason the stadium's official capacity ends in "1", as an extra seat is allegedly reserved for him. Additionally, Michigan's current basketball arena, which opened less than a year before his retirement as AD, bears his name. Crisler is also responsible for the two-platoon system that eventually ended the era of two-way position players. He passed away in 1982.
  • David Cutcliffe: Is the head coach at Duke and 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 head coaching 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 their greatest coaches in school history. Something of an Almighty Janitor, Cutcliffe has repeatedly turned down interviews from schools with stronger football programs and even some NFL teams in order to stay at Duke, an academically oriented institution far more famous for its basketball program.
  • Jim Delany: A name little-known except to the most dedicated college sports geeks, but along with Mike Slive (also listed below) he arguably had more impact on the 21st-century college sports scene (not just football) than anyone else. 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 a couple of years after graduating took a position with the NCAA. He then 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 became the main architect of the Bowl Championship Series, and in the following years 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. 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, launching in 2007. Though not immediately successful, it became a major cash cow for the already-wealthy conference by the time the 2010s rolled around. Most notably, Delany 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. Announced his retirement in 2019, effective at year's end.
  • LaVell Edwards: Was the coach who brought Brigham Young University to football relevance. Before Edwards, the school had won only a single conference title in its entire history. Edwards coached there for 28 years, won 257 games (6th most all time, 2nd most with a single school), won 19 conference titles, and won a national championship in 1984 (the only "mid-major" school to win one in modern college football history). Edwards is credited for jumpstarting the idea of high-volume passing offenses in college football, doing so in order 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). 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. (Amos Alonzo Stagg, listed below, is another member of this club.) He passed in 2016 a few days after breaking a hip.
  • Dennis Erickson: After some early success at Idaho, Wyoming, and Washington State, served as head coach of the Miami Hurricanes from 1989-1994, replacing Jimmy Johnson. He led the Hurricanes to two national titles in 1989 and 1991 and the Big East conference titles in 1991, 1992, and 1994, putting up a 63-9 record. He departed for the NFL to coach the Seahawks from 1995-1998, then came back to college as head coach of the Oregon State Beavers, where he led them to a 31-17 record from 1999-2002, including arguably the greatest season in the program's history in 2000, where he led them to a 11-1 record and a victory in the Fiesta Bowl. He then left again for the NFL to coach the 49ers for the 2003-2004 seasons. In 2006, he returned for a single lackluster season at Idaho and had a last college stop was Arizona State, where he coached from 2007-2011 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 a head coach before fizzling out and going 1-7 in his last eight.
  • Hayden Fry: Was the head coach of three schools over his nearly 40 year career, including most famously as with Iowa for 20 years. 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, a fellow College Football Hall of Fame coach famous for his time at Kansas State. Craig T. Nelson's character in the sitcom Coach was named Hayden Fox in Fry's honor.
  • Phillip Fulmer: Now retired from Tennessee, where he first was a player, later a national championship winning head coach, and finally athletic director. He is considered one of the greatest "recruiter" head coaches 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 at the end of the 2008 season (just one year after taking the team to 10 wins and a #12 final ranking), 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 January 2021.
  • John Gagliardi:note  The winningest coach in college football history by wins, regardless of division. Began his head coaching career in 1949 at NAIA school Carroll College in Montana. He then went to Saint John's of Minnesota, an NCAA D-III school, in 1953, and stayed there for 60 seasons, finally retiring in 2012 with 489 total wins. 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 
  • Jim Harbaugh: Was a successful QB at Michigan and then in the NFL for over a decade before entering the college coaching ranks, first with FCS San Diego and then with Stanford, who he built up from Pac-12 bottom-feeder into a legitimate title contender. After a stint in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers (which went better than the NFL coaching experiences of most other coaches on this list such as Saban and Spurrier - 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), he returned to his alma mater as head coach. Despite being relatively successful (winning 10 games in three of his first four years and finishing ranked inside the top 15 three times), his tenure as Wolverines head coach has been disappointing to fans as Harbaugh has yet to defeat hated rival Ohio State (with four of the losses coming in blowout fashion) and is a disappointing 1-4 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.
  • Percy Haughton: Was another of college football's pioneering coaches, most famous for his nine seasons at Harvard (1908-1916) 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 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. 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 College Football Hall of Fame's inaugural class in 1951.
  • Woody Hayes: Was the coach who put Ohio State on the map as a college football heavyweight, winning five national championships during his tenure with the school. 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. After a Clemson defender intercepted an Ohio State pass, the defender returned it and went out of bounds along the Ohio State sideline. The defender stood up taunting the Buckeyes sideline, where Hayes punched him in the throat, triggering a bench-clearing brawl. Shortly after, Hayes attacked the referee, drawing multiple Personal Foul penalties. Hayes was fired as head coach the next day but remained employed by the school for several more years as a history professor.
  • John Heisman: Was a college football pioneer, first as a player and later as a coach. He coached for eight schools, compiling a record of 186–70–18, while winning the 1917 national championship. 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. 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 )
  • Bill Hess: The head coach of the Ohio Bobcats from 1958-1977. He led the program on the best run of success in its history with a 108-91-4 record, 4 MAC titles, and the 1960 national championship for small colleges (though he went 0-2 in bowl gamesnote ). He passed away from cancer in 1978.
  • Lou Holtz: Spent nearly 35 years as the head coach of six different schoolsnote  including most famously for Notre Dame in the late '80s and early '90s. He was also the head coach of their last National Championship team in 1988. To younger fans, Holtz is likely more famous 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 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.
  • Jimmy Johnson: Before he became known as the architect of the '90s Dallas Cowboys dynasty, he was head coach for the Oklahoma State Cowboys from 1979-1983 and the Miami Hurricanes from 1984-1988. At Oklahoma State, he put a respectable 29-25-3 record, including winning the 1983 Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl. At Miami, he put a 52-9 record, including winning back-to-back the 1988-1989 Orange Bowls and the 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.
  • Howard Jones: Put the University of Southern California on the map as a football powerhouse. He was first a player and later coach at Yale, where he won a national championship in 1909. Four schools laternote , he went west to USC and won four more championships as head coach of the Trojans. Compiling a career record of 194–64–21, the gap between his first national championship win (1909) and his last (1939) is the longest span of any coach with at least two national championship victories.
  • June Jones: Was a head coach most famous for his time at Hawaii (1999-2007) and SMU (2008-2014), where he became one of the propagators of the modern "wide open passing attack" style of offense popular in modern college football. A former college and pro quarterback, he made his way through the NFL coaching ranks with a three year stint as head coach 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, going 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.
  • Ralph "Shug" Jordan:note  A former center for the Auburn Tigers from 1928-1932, he would later come back to coach his alma mater from 1951-1975. During his tenure, Auburn slowly transformed 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. In 1973, the football stadium was renamed 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.
  • 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 to 2012, also serving as AD in his final years on the sidelines. 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).
  • Mike Leach: Is the current head coach at Mississippi State and is perhaps best known for his time as head coach at Texas Tech, typically a Big 12 bottom-feeder who Leach transformed into a winning program and never experienced a losing season while with the school. Leach 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, to the point where even historically dominant schools such as USC and Oklahoma are now running some variation of it. In large part 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 head coaching jobs. (Most prominent is former Texas Tech QB Kliff Kingsbury, who coached at his alma mater and is currently the head coach of the NFL's Arizona Cardinals.) Despite his success at the school, Texas Tech fired Leach after he was accused of improperly treating RB Adam James who suffered a concussion. Later revelations showed that Leach may not have knowingly committed any wrongdoing, and that his firing came after significant lobbying from Adam's father, former NFL RB and then-current ESPN analyst Craig James, who was upset at his son's lack of playing time. Leach took Texas Tech to court, but being a state school, the case was dismissed on the grounds of sovereign immunity. He eventually ended up at typical Pac-12 bottom-feeder Washington State, taking them to respectability they hadn't seen since Drew Bledsoe and Ryan Leaf were there in the 1990s. After six bowl appearances in his eight seasons on the Palouse, including five straight from 2015–2019, he left for SEC mid-pack fixture Mississippi State.
  • Frank Leahy: A former tackle at Notre Dame from 1928-1930, he got his first head coaching job for Boston College in 1939. The next year, he took them to a national title and was signed to a contract extension, but got in hot water as he signed a contract with his alma mater around the same time. He got out after calling a press conference, saying he been granted his release when he hadn't. After his stunt, he was granted a release by Boston College and went on to coach Notre Dame. When he arrived at Notre Dame in 1941, the program had been reeling from the death of Knute Rockne in 1931. Leahy turned Notre Dame into a powerhouse once again, leading them to the 1943 National Championship. 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 the 1953 season, saying he felt he was longer wanted by the university. He is considered a part of the "Holy Trinity" of Notre Dame coaches, along with Rockne and Ara Parshegian.
  • Urban Meyer: A very successful college head coach, most recently at Ohio State with prior stops at Florida, Utah, and Bowling Green. A three-time national champion (once with Ohio State, twice with Florida), Meyer is credited with popularizing the "spread option" offense throughout college football. Using this offense, he led drastic turnarounds at each school where he served as head coach. However, he has also been subject of controversies at many of his schools for fostering toxic workplace environments, to the point where Meyer "retiring" due to alleged health issues after a scandal only to return to broadcasting or coaching shortly after is almost a Running Gag. Currently the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
  • Tim Murphy: The current head coach of Harvard since 1994, who he has led to a record-tying nine Ivy League championships in that time. 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. Murphy was also elected president of the American Football Coaches Association in 2012.
  • Robert Neyland: Head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers from 1926-1934, 1936-1940, and 1946-1952, with the interruptions being 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 put a losing season and won the national championship an impressive 4 times in 1938, 1940, 1950, and 1951. He is also seen an innovator of the game of football, being credited as the first coach to use a sideline phone and game film to study opponents, as well writing 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. He also designed Tennessee's home stadium, which was renamed in his honor prior to his death in 1962.
  • Tom Osborne: While he wasn't the coach who turned Nebraska into a football powerhouse—that would be his predecessor Bob Devaney—Osborne took the program to even greater heights. In his 25 years as head coach 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. 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.
  • 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. In 1987, he became the successor to Bill Yeoman (see his entry on the Notorious Coaches) at Houston, in which the brunt of the punishments handed down by the NCAA from the infractions the previous regime committed. He put a respectable 22-11-1 record from 1987-1989, including back-to-back 9 win seasons in 1988 and 1989. During the 1989 season, 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 Trophy; 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 and passed away in 2013.
  • Ara Parseghian: Began his coaching career at Miami University (OH), succeeding Woody Hayes, after Hayes left to go coach at Ohio State. Over his five years at Miami, he compiled a 39-6-1 record and brought the school two MAC (Mid American Conference) titles in 1954 and 1955. In 1956, he took over a Northwestern team that was in dire straits and compiled a record of 36-35-1, including 4 straight wins over Notre Dame from 1959 to 1962. He left Northwestern in 1963 to take over Notre Dame and brought the Fighting Irish back to prominence. At Notre Dame, he compiled a record of 95-17-4 (second most behind only Knute Rocke), going 3-2 in bowl games and winning two national titles in 1966 and 1973. He retired at the end of the 1974 season, with his 83.6 winning percentage being the third highest in Notre Dame history, leading to him being inducted as a member of the "Holy Trinity" of Notre Dame coaches (Knute Rockne and Frank Leahy being the other two coaches to hold that honor). In 1980, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. He 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 head coach in 1966, JoePa won two national titles, had five unbeaten seasons, won 24 bowl games, and amassed an FBS record of 409 career wins. 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, giving Bowden the record for most FBS wins. The wins were restored in January 2015, once again making him the winningest FBS coach, after it came out in court that the NCAA had, shall we say, bent its own rules to the breaking point in the Sandusky investigation.
  • Eddie Robinson: Started up the football program at Grambling State University, a historically black school in Louisiana, in 1941, and stayed for next 57 seasons (not counting two years without a team during World War II), retiring in 1997. 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). Another one of the many national coach of the year awards bears his name.
  • 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 (1918–1930) and also 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 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. Rockne's death in a plane crash during the 1931 offseason 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.
  • Darrell K Royal: A former quarterback and defensive back at Oklahoma from 1946-1949, he immediately entered coaching and never had a losing season as a head coach. After a year with Edmonton in the CFL, his first head coaching stop at the college level was for the Mississippi State Maroons from 1954-1955, putting up a 6-4 record each season, then coached the Washington Huskies in 1956, going 5-5. He then became the head coach for the Texas Longhorns from 1957-1976. Under his leadership, Texas turned into a national powerhouse. Royal put up a 167-47-5 record, winning or sharing 11 Southwest Conference titles and three national championships in 1963, 1969, and 1970 (going undefeated in the first two; in My All American, a film adaptation of the 1969 season, Royal was portrayed by Aaron Eckhart. He also oversaw the racial integration of Texas' program. Texas renamed their stadium in his honor in 1996; he passed away in 2012.
  • Nick Saban: Currently the colossus of college coaching, with the most national titles in college football history at seven and the only coach to win them at two different FBS schools. 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 defensive coordinator under Bill Belichick with the Cleveland Browns, Saban had a successful run at Michigan State before being hired by LSU, which he led to a national title in 2003. After two seasons with the Miami Dolphins, Saban returned to college coaching at Alabama, where he asserted himself as one of the greatest coaches in college history by returning the school to its former dominance and leading the program to six national titles (2009, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2017, 2020). Fun fact: As the end of the 2020 season, Saban has led the Crimson Tide in 23 games in which the opposing head coach was one of his former assistants. Bama's record in these games? 23–0.
  • Bo Schembechler: Was the coach of University of Michigan during the '70s and '80s, putting the program back on the map after a few Dork Age decades in the '50s and '60s. He played under and later was an assistant coach under Woody Hayes (see above) at Miami University (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, and this period is known as the "Ten-Year War". In head-to-head meetings during that period, Schembechler narrowly won the "war", compiling a 5-4-1 record against Hayes' Buckeyes. However, Schembechler 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.)
  • Howard Schnellenberger: Head coach of the Miami Hurricanes from 1979-1983, Louisville Cardinals from 1985-1994, Oklahoma in 1995, and Florida Atlantic from 2001-2011, putting up, what would look on paper, a rather pedestrian 158-151-3 record in his career (though it included a 6-0 bowl game record). At Miami, he took a team 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. He was 41-16 in his tenure there, including wins in the 1981 Peach Bowl and 1983 National Championship. He left Miami after that championship win after being promised near complete control in a Miami USFL franchise; that deal fell through, so he next returned to his hometown of Louisville, where again, the football program was facing elimination or demoting themselves to Division I-AA. He put up a weaker 54-56-2 record there, but throttled Alabama in the 1991 Fiesta Bowl. He quit the program due to the university wanting to join the newly created Conference USA. His 1995 season at Oklahoma is one of the most polarizing, because he put up a 5-5-1 record, ordering 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 the Florida Atlantic Owls, where he built the program from the ground up as a NCAA Division I-AA Independent school that eventually seen them move into the Sun Belt Conference. He put a 58-74 record at the program but was 2-0 in bowl games after the program moved to the Sun Belt. Schnellenberger retired after the 2011 season, and Florida Atlantic renamed the playing field of its stadium in his honor in 2014. He passed in March 2021, a little more than four months after his high school teammate Paul Hornung (in the "Running Backs" folder).
  • Mike Slive: Along with the aforementioned Jim Delany, Slive was also 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 administrative 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 to 2015. First, he cleansed some of the stench around the SEC, 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, for better or worse. Slive had proposed a similar system as early as 2004, and thought he had the votes to get it approved in 2008. He didn't; the swing conferences of the Big East and Big 12 were opposed. But then the SEC, for want of a better term, became THE SEC, especially on the football field. The Big 12 came on board with Slive's plan 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. While we're on the topic of realignment, 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. Slive, seeing the success of the Big Ten Network, 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 in 2018.
  • Bill Snyder: A Long Runner head coach for Kansas State, with two tenures going from 1989-2005 and 2009-2018. Before he came to Kansas State, the program had a woeful 293-510 record in 93 years of play, only reached one bowl game in 1982 and hadn't won a game since 1986. Under his leadership, Kansas State became a contender for the Big 12 title and got his team as high as 2nd in the 1998 BCS Rankings. His team won the Big 12 title in 2003, marking the school's first conference title since 1934. The next two seasons were disappointing, with Kansas St finishing below .500, leading to Snyder to retire after the 2005 season. The day after his retirement, Kansas St 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. He won 215 games between his two tenures, by far and away the most wins of any head coach in program history, as no other coach has more than 40.
  • Steve Spurrier: Was a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback at the University of Florida in the '60s and later came back as head coach during the '90s, where he won a national championship. Famous for his "Run and Gun" (sometimes "Fun 'n' Gun") offensenote , he is also the only Heisman-winning head coach to coach a Heisman-winning player (QB Danny Wuerffel, 1996). His time at Florida is sandwiched between two other reasonably successful head coaching stints at Duke and later South Carolina. Like Nick Saban above, it's best not to bring up his time in the NFL... He's also notable for having coached in the USFL and the AAF.
  • 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—most notably Chicago, where he coached for 41 seasons and won national titles in 1905 and 1913. Even after being forced out at his last head coaching job at Pacific in 1946 (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 was a kicking coach for six seasons at a California junior college until finally retiring at age 96 (he finally passed at age 102 in 1965). 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. He was a member of the first induction class of the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951 as both a player and coach—and the only person to be inducted in both roles until the 1990s. The NCAA Division III championship game is named the Stagg Bowl in his honor.
    • 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—Stagg played in the first public game of basketball in 1892, a few months after James Naismith invented the sport, and was 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 the University of Chicago's abandoned football stadium: Stagg Field.
  • Buddy Stephens: Is the head coach East Mississippi Community College, who he has turned into the powerhouse school on 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 head coach of the Oklahoma Sooners from 1998-2016, he turned the program around and helped it 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 Oklahoma, he put a 190-48 record, winning the 2000 National Championship and putting up a 9-9 record in bowl games. He was also the only head coach in the BCS era to ever win the Rose, Orange, Fiesta, and Sugar Bowls. He retired from Oklahoma in 2017 but has since returned to coaching in the XFL for the Dallas Renegades, putting up a 2-3 record in the shortened 2020 season. His brothers, Mark and Mike, also became head coaches, with Mike putting a 41-50 record as the head coach of the Arizona Wildcats from 2004-2011 and Mark putting up a 49-50 record as the current head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats from 2013-2020.
  • William "Dabo" Swinney: The head coach of Clemson which, under his leadership, has been one of the few programs (perhaps the only program) to regularly compete with Alabama under Nick Saban. Winner of the 2016 and 2018 national championships, beating Alabama in both instances. (Swinney played WR at Alabama in the early '90s.) Made the somewhat unprecedented leap from Clemson Wide Receivers Coach straight to Head Coach in 2008 after the previous coach resigned and then kept the job after salvaging Clemson's season. Got his nickname as an infant when his older brother mispronounced "that boy".
  • Barry Switzer: Former center and linebacker at Arkansas from 1956-1960, he became the head coach of the Oklahoma Sooners from 1973-1988. He led the Sooners to a 157-29-4 record under his tenure and won three national titles in 1974, 1975, and 1985. He is one of four coaches to achieve 100 wins at Oklahoma;note  no other college program has more than three coaches to have done so. His tenure at Oklahoma 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 would later return to coaching in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys, where he would become one of three coaches to win both a national championship and a Super Bowl.
  • Tommy Tuberville: Before he became the junior Senator for Alabama, Tommy Tuberville was a successful college head coach. He began his head coaching career as the coach of the Ole Miss Rebels in 1995. His first two teams were marred by NCAA sanctions, barring postseason play and TV games, but his teams made their bowl games in their last two seasons. 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 enjoyed his greatest run of success. At Auburn, his teams made a bowl game every season from 2000-2007, including finishing No. 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 36-0 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. His record at Texas Tech was only 20-17 before he infamously departed during a recruiting dinner in 2012 to go coach at Cincinnati. At Cincinnati, his first seasons saw general success, with the program losing all its bowl games before collapsing in his fourth and final season, putting up a 4-8 record before retiring 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.
  • Wallace Wade: The head coach of Alabama from 1923-1930, he's responsible for leading Alabama to their first three national titles in 1925, 1926, and 1930. From 1927-1929, his Alabama teams were disappointing, resulting in him resigning after the 1930 season. He then became the coach of Duke, much to the surprise of the college football world, as Duke didn't have a prestigious football program. He held the Duke job from 1931-1941 and 1946-1950, with the gap being for his military service in WWII. He coached to what was Duke's greatest run of success to that point, as the school had never been to a bowl game, although he lost the bowl games he led them to, including a hard fought loss in the 1942 Rose Bowl on Duke's homefield.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.
  • Glen "Pop" Warner: Was an innovative coach at eight different schoolsnote  for over 40 years from 1895 to 1939, winning four national championships and retiring as the winningest coach in college football history with 319 wins (still ranking in the top 10). 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 is also famous for founding the Pop Warner Little Scholars, now simply known as Pop Warner Football, the largest organization in the US for youth football.
  • Fielding H. Yost: A former player at West Virginia (and a single game at Lafayette) from 1894-1896, Yost had one-year stints at Ohio Wesleyan, Nebraska, Kansas, and Stanford (and one game at San Jose State) before landing at Michigan in 1901. From 1901-1923 and again from 1925-1926, he was the head coach of the Wolverines, putting up a 165-29-10 record, winning 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 would later become 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. Yost was a charter member of the College Football Hall of Fame. He passed away in 1946.

     Quarterbacks 
  • Colt Brennan Was 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 listnote . He later briefly played in the NFL, UFL, CFL, and finally the Arena League. He suffered a brain injury in a 2010 car accident then struggled with alcoholism in the final years of his life until passing away in a rehab facility in 2021.
  • Joe Burrow: Was 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 touchdowns and touchdowns responsible for (i.e., combined passing and rushing), and earned the #1 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
  • Eric Crouch: A record-holding QB for Nebraska who won the 2001 Heisman Trophy (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.
  • Ty Detmer: Was a record-shattering passer for BYU and winner of the 1990 Heisman Trophy. Was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2012.
  • Ken Dorsey: Was 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.
  • Doug Flutie: Won the 1984 Heisman Trophy 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. Went on to have a successful professional career as well in the CFL and NFL.
  • Tommie Frazier: Was a record-setting option quarterback for Nebraska in the early 1990s. He went 33-3 as a starter, led his team to national championships in 1994 and 1995, and was the Heisman Trophy runner up in 95. Frazier unfortunately suffers from blood clots, causing him to go undrafted by the NFL, though he briefly spent time in the CFL.
  • Mark Harmon: Prior to his acting career, Harmon was a wishbone quarterback at UCLA. His father Tom Harmon (see below) was a Heisman-winning halfback at Michigan and broadcasted games for UCLA while his son played.
  • Case Keenum: Was a record-shattering quarterback for the University of Houston. He is the current holder of the NCAA career records for passing touchdowns, passing yards, and completions. He is also the only quarterback in NCAA history to throw for 5000+ yards in three seasons (in fact, only two other quarterbacks have even passed for more than 4000 yards three times). Despite his college success, Keenum went undrafted due to playing in a weaker conference and being part of an offensive scheme many deemed unworkable at the professional level, but he still went on to have some moderate NFL success as a journeyman spot starter.
  • Trevor Lawrence: Was a quarterback prodigy for the Clemson Tigers who took over the starting job as a true freshman and won his first 28 games with the team, including a National Championship after the 2018 season. 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 Trophy runner-up, but Lawrence suffered his second career loss during the 2020 College Football Playoff to Ohio State. He declared for the 2021 NFL 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 Trophy. Had an incredibly successful career at USC as part of what is widely considered one of the most talented football teams ever from 2003-2005. 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: College Football Hall of Famer who had a legendary career at Ole Miss. Was a Heisman finalist twice, falling just short both times. Went on to have 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 College Football Playoff Selection Committee but took a health-related leave in the fall of 2014 and resigned from the committee the next spring, never having participated in any voting.
  • Kellen Moore: Was the quarterback of the perennial "BCS Buster" Boise State Broncos of the late 2000s. Though significantly undersized compared to most high level NCAA QBs, the notable southpaw ended his college career as one of the winningest QBs in history, and the winningest at the FBS level with 50 career victories.note  Moore had a short NFL playing career and went into coaching; he's now the Dallas Cowboys' offensive coordinator.
  • Davey O'Brien: A legendary QB for TCU, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1939. He 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.
  • Keenan Reynolds: The triggerman for Navy's option offense from 2012 to 2015, Reynolds is notable for a couple of reasons. First, he is arguably one of the greatest running QBs in NCAA history, notably setting an all-time FBS record for most career rushing touchdowns (88), and also holding the all-time FBS record for career scoring at 530 points (88 TDs and one two-point conversion). Second, despite holding two of the NCAA's highest-profile records, he will never be in the College Football 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 offense is heavily run-oriented (being more similar to the types of option offenses seen in the last third of the 20th century), which means that Reynolds was never able to put up the type of passing numbers that would have given him All-American notice.
  • Phil Robertson: Before he became known for appearing on the reality TV Show Duck Dynasty, Phil Robertson was a QB at Louisiana Tech from 1966-1968, notably being ahead of future Pro Football Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw on the depth chart. He turned down offers to play professional football, as he wanted to hunt and thought football interfered with his hunting.
  • Tim Tebow: Two-time BCS Championship-winning QB for Florida and winner of the 2007 Heisman Trophy. Another candidate for greatest running QB in NCAA history, with a unique style of preferring to plow through defenders like a fullback (most running quarterbacks are more agile and try to avoid hits). Went on to a brief, somewhat controversial NFL career. Returned to college football as an analyst for the SEC Network; gave the NFL another try in 2015 with the Philadelphia Eagles, but was one of the last roster cuts, and then played minor league baseball for several years. A 2019 ESPN program celebrating college football's 150th anniversary named him as the greatest college football QB of all time.
  • Charlie Ward: Was a dual-threat quarterback 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 Trophy 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 would have a 12 year career. He was only the fourth Heisman Trophy winner to go undrafted by the NFL, and the first since 1958.
  • Jason White: Led Oklahoma to two BCS National Championship Game appearances following the 2003 and 2004 seasons, 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 Trophy in 2004, but became the fifth Heisman winner to go undrafted in the NFL due to concerns over his knee injuries.
  • Vince Young: Won the 2005 BCS National Championship with Texas and was runner-up in Heisman voting to Reggie Bushnote . Is considered one of the greatest players in Texas' storied history, as well as one of the greatest ever in NCAA history. He was drafted 3rd overall into the NFL but after some initial success, is considered a borderline draft bust.

     Running Backs and Fullbacks 
  • 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.
  • Jay Berwanger: Halfback for the University of Chicago, and winner of the first ever Heisman Trophy. 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 to 1946, 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.note  Each won a Heisman Trophy, Blanchard in 1945 (the first junior to win) and Davis in 1946, and both are in the College Football Hall of Fame.
  • Reggie Bush: Was an All-American running back and return specialist for the University of Southern California during their run of dominance in the mid-2000s. He won the Heisman Trophy in 2005 with the largest margin of victory in that award's lengthy history at the time but had to forfeit it (along with USC forfeiting their 2004 national championship victory) when an NCAA investigation revealed that Bush's family received over $290,000 worth of improper gifts from a sports agent. Bush was selected #2 overall in the NFL Draft in 2006 with immense hype but had a rather middling NFL career marred by frequent injuries. Now a Fox college football analyst.
  • 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 fullback at Temple University before dropping out to launch his stand-up comedy career.
  • Ernie Davis: Was a halfback and linebacker for Syracuse University, where he won a national championship in 1959 and the Heisman Trophy in 1961 (in one of the closest votes of all time). He was selected #1 overall in the 1962 NFL Draft by the Washington Redskins, 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 Davis and President John F. Kennedy sending a message to be read at Davis' funeral. He is a member of the College Football 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.
  • Ron Dayne: A Heisman-winning running back for the University of Wisconsin who, when including Bowl game statistics, is the FBS all-time leading rusher with 7125 yards. Dayne twice ran for over 2000 yards, and rushed for at least 1400 in all four of seasons in Madison. Was known for 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 draft bust.
  • Tony Dorsett: A legendary three-time All-American running back for the University of Pittsburgh, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1976. Is a member of both the College and Pro Halls of Fame.
  • Marcus Dupree: Was a running back for Oklahoma in the early 1980s who is best known for the 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's high school coach was receiving over 100 calls a day from college coaches who were trying to recruit Dupree. Ultimately, it came down to hated rivals Texas and Oklahoma. After verbally committing to Texas, Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer sent former Sooners RB and Heisman Trophy 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.
  • Harold Edward "Red" Grange: Was a legendary halfback 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 Football Halls of Fame. ESPN named him as the greatest college football player of all time in 2008.
  • Archie Griffin: Star running back for Ohio State and, to date, the only two-time winner of the Heisman trophy. He is also the only player to ever start in four Rose Bowl games. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1986. Also known for being rather undersized for the position, even by today's standards. (5'9", 182)
  • Charles "Chic" Harley: Was a legendary halfback (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, helped to popularize college football nationally. Ohio State famously only lost one game in which Harley played (being 21-1-1 during his tenure). He also 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 College Football Hall of Fame.
  • Tom Harmon had a legendary college career 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 would narrowly survive 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  Harmon 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.
  • Paul Hornung: Was primarily a halfback but was known for his versatility, also playing quarterback, safety, kicker, punter, and return man in the 1950s at Notre Dame. Won the 1956 Heisman Trophy, 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 Football 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). As noted above, he was a high school teammate of Howard Schnellenberger (in the "Coaches and Administrators" folder) in his hometown of Louisville, and died in November 2020, a few months before Schnellenberger.
  • Nile Kinnick: Was a halfback at the University of Iowa in the late 1930s, winning a host of awards including the 1939 Heisman Trophy. He 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 unfortunately killed during a training flight. The University of Iowa renamed their football stadium Kinnick Stadium in his honor.
  • Marcus Lattimore: Was a running back for South Carolina in the early 2010s and 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 1500 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 NFL 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 NFL 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.
  • Bronislaw "Bronko" Nagurski: Was a legendary, Canadian-born fullback 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 Football Halls of Fame. He 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.
  • Donnel Pumphrey: Was an undersized (5'8", 175 lbs) running back for San Diego State University who nonetheless became the FBS all-time rushing leader (without bowl game statistics being included), amassing 6405 yards.
  • 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.
  • O.J. Simpson: A Heisman Trophy-winning running back 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.
  • Doak Walker: Was a running back (and kicker and punter) for Southern Methodist in the 1940s, winning the Heisman Trophy in 1948. The award for the nation's top RB is named after him. Is a member of both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame.
  • Herschel Walker: Legendary running back for Georgia in the early 1980s. He was named an All-American in each of the three years he played, winning the Heisman Trophy in 1982. Went on to have a moderately successful NFL career as well. Expect any analysis of a great college football running back to make at least one comparison to Walker.
  • 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.

     Wide Receivers and Tight Ends 
  • Fred Biletnikoff: Was an All-American wide receiver for pre-Bowden Florida State and a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. The award for the best receiver in college football is named for him. Also had a Hall of Fame professional career with the Oakland Raiders.
  • Michael Crabtree: Was a prolific receiver for Texas Tech. He set 7 NCAA receiving records for freshmen in his first season and became the first two-time Biletnikoff Award winner.
  • Larry Fitzgerald: Was an All-American wide receiver 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 as well.
  • Matthew Fox: Was a wide receiver at Columbia before going into acting.
  • Desmond Howard: Was a wide receiver and return specialist at Michigan where he set numerous school records in both categories. He won the Heisman Trophy 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. He currently serves as an analyst alongside Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit on ESPN's College GameDay.
  • Joel McHale: Was a walk-on tight end at Washington prior to his acting career.
  • John Mackey: Was a tight end 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 Football Hall of Fame. The annual award for the nation's best tight end is named after him.

     Offensive Linemen 
  • Brandon Burlsworth: Was 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, he was a Division III All-America center at Springfield College in Massachusetts.
  • Gerald Ford: Was a center and linebacker (he switched, as happened more often back then) for the Michigan Wolverines in the early 1930s. He was recruited by the Lions and Packers, but decided to go to law school instead, and ended up President of the United States.
  • Tommy Lee Jones: Before his acting career, he 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, he 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: Was an All-American offensive tackle for Pittsburgh and won the Outland Trophy in 1980. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006 and famously serves alongside Lou Holtz as an ESPN college football analyst.
  • Dave Rimington: A two-time All-American center at Nebraska, most notable as the only two-time winner of the Outland Trophy (1981, 1982), as well as the only offensive lineman ever to be Big Eight Conference player of the year (1981). The award for college football's outstanding center bears his name.
  • John Wayne: Yes, the Duke himself was an offensive tackle at the University of Southern California 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.

     Defensive Players 
  • Chuck Bednarik: Was a linebacker and center for the University of Pennsylvania. 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 Football Halls of Fame. The annual award for the best defensive player in college football is named after him.
  • Buck Buchanan: Was a defensive tackle 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 Football Halls of Fame. The annual award for the top defensive player in the FCS is named after him.
  • Dick Butkus: Legendary All-American linebacker 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 Football Halls of Fame.
  • Dean Cain: Was 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.
  • Pat Fitzgerald: All-American linebacker for Northwestern in the mid-1990s, and to date, only player to win the Dick Butkus Award twice. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008. He is the current head coach for his Alma Mater.
  • Dwayne Johnson: Before he was a Hollywood superstar, even before his professional wrestling career, "The Rock" was a defensive lineman at the University of Miami. After a promising freshman season, Johnson lost playing time to budding superstar (and future Pro Football Hall of Famer) Warren Sapp, which helped to accelerate Johnson's jump from the gridiron to the wrestling ring.
  • Ed O'Neill: Before his acting career, he was a defensive lineman at Ohio and Youngstown State.
  • Roman Reigns: Before he became a multi-time WWE champion and 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.
  • Ron Simmons: An All-America defensive tackle 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: Before he became known as an actor, who appeared in the Police Academy series of movies, he was a defensive end for the Michigan State Spartans. 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 quarterback en route to a 10-10 tie. He later went on to have a fairly successful NFL career with the Baltimore Colts, Oakland Raiders, and Houston Oilers.
  • Manti Te'o: One of the most accomplished and decorated defensive players in college football history, Te'o was 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.
  • Carl Weathers: Was a defensive end for San Diego State and 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 Trophy (winning out over Peyton Manning). This was likely due to the fact that he was occasionally inserted into the offense as a wide receiver/running back, 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.

     Special Teams 
  • 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: Was an All-American punter for Southern Miss, and is a member of both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame. The award given out annually to the nation's top punter is named after him.
  • Johnny Rodgers: Nicknamed "The Jet", Rodgers was a RB, WR, and return specialist for Nebraska in the early 1970s. He won the Heisman Trophy 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: Is most famous as 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 quarterback 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.
  • 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 quarterback, 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.
  • Keith Jackson: Was 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 Football Hall of Fame does not recognize journalists or broadcasters (unlike the Pro Football 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 people like Jackson (and sports administrators such as Jim Delany and Mike Slive). He passed away in 2018.

     Notorious Players and Coaches 
  • Art Briles: Was one of the most successful high school head coaches in Texas during the '90s before moving into the college ranks, first as the head coach of Houston and later Baylor, 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 Canadian Football League and spending a season in the Italian Federation of American Football, Briles returned to the high school coaching ranks.
  • Bobby Collins: Was the head coach at Southern Methodist University 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 after the scandal.
  • Mark Dantonio: Is the winningest head coach in Michigan State program history, working for the school from 2007-2019 during which he won three Big Ten conference championships. However, Dantonio abruptly retired early in 2020, 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. Further, Dantonio's retirement came just weeks after accepting a $4.3 million "longevity bonus" from the school "in recognition of his long service to the university”.
  • Michael Haywood: Coached at Miami (OH) from 2009-2010, 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 head coaching job at Pittsburgh in 2010. Before he could begin his coaching career at Pittsburgh, he was arrested for felony domestic violence and fired the next day, after only 16 days, the second shortest tenure as a head coach (see George O'Leary below).
  • Les Miles: Had been most famous for his 11+ years at LSU, with whom 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 a loss in the first ever all-SEC national championship game in 2012 (an ugly 21-0 shutout at that), combined with a general decline in the LSU program (at least when it came to contending for SEC honors). 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). On top of that, another report detailed systemic failures by LSU to report and deal with sexual misconduct and abuse by players during Miles' tenure, and also that the president that LSU had hired in 2013 knew about the allegations against Miles. 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 president, 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 1967-1976 and again from 1980-1990, the interruption being a forgettable three-year head coaching gig at Illinois. He would occasionally fill in for Schembechler when he would have health issues and took over as head coach after he retired in 1990. Moeller led the Wolverines to either a share of or outright winning the Big Ten in his first three seasons. He also led the Wolverines to a 4-1 bowl game record under his watch. 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 head coach in 2000, going 4-3 and just missing out on the playoffs.
  • George O'Leary: Was a head coach for 20 seasons at both Georgia Tech and Central Florida 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 to the NFL before landing the UCF job.
  • Bobby Petrino: A Long Runner 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 head coach 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.
  • Jerry Sandusky: Was an assistant defensive coach at Penn St. under Joe Paterno for 30 years, including as defensive coordinator 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 and found to be "self-serving" and "full of unsupported conclusions", 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.
  • Gene Stallings: One of the Junction Boys from the 1954 Texas A&M team, he later became a head coach at his alma mater from 1965-1971, where he achieved only one winning season in 1967. After a lengthy NFL coaching career, mostly as an assistant, he became the head coach of Alabama from 1990-1996 and led Alabama to a national title in 1992. An investigation that lasted from 1993-1995 found he knew Alabama fielded an illegible player for the 1993 season, resulting in Alabama forfeiting all victories from that season outside of the bowl game and being put on a postseason ban for the 1995 season and lost a total of 30 scholarships from 1995 to 1998, beginning a Dork Age for Alabama that lasted until Nick Saban was hired.
  • Jim Tressel: Best known for his tenure as head of the Ohio State Buckeyes, he brought immediate success to the program, winning the BCS Championship in 2002. He also turned the school's fortunes around against Michigan as the team had went a dismal 2-11 in the previous 13 seasons against their archrival. 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 the 2010 season were vacated, including the Sugar Bowl victory. Tressel never returned to coaching and went into university administration, first as a VP at Akron (where he had started his coaching career as a graduate assistant) and then as president at Youngstown State, the school where he coached before going to OSU. He officially retired from coaching when he took the latter job in 2014.note 
  • Bill Yeoman: Head coach of the Houston Cougars for an impressive 24 seasons, going from 1962-1986. 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 1976-1986. However, his tenure was marred by illegal recruitment inducements and extra benefits tendered to players. He was also alleged to have paid players, and was forced into retirement by the university after the 1986 season. Because of his actions, Houston had some of the harshest sanctions the NCAA has ever handed down, being barred from bowl games in the 1989 and 1990 seasons, barred from appearing on TV for the 1989 season, and being limited to 15 scholarships for 1989. The NCAA has said the punishments would have been more severe if he remained the head coach, including being limited to 20 scholarships for 1990 and only 50 paid recruiting visits for 1989.


Alternative Title(s): College Football

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