AJ McCarron (QB, Alabama, 2009-2013)
This spot in the rankings could also be filled by John Parker Wilson, Greg McElroy, or Jake Coker, because they’re all essentially the same person. They were all good “game managers” that excelled because of the players and schemes around them, doing just enough to maintain Nick Saban’s dominance. AJ separated himself on the field, winning two national championships compared to JPW’s zero and McElroy and Coker’s one each. More importantly, he separated himself in personality- he actually had one. In uniform he was just like the others, Alabama bangs tucked under a crimson helmet. But outside of it, he had the chest tattoo! He had Katherine Webb. He was the perfect combination of absurdity and cockiness, with the success to justify it. This makes him the face of Alabama’s near decade of dominance outside of Nick Saban in my mind. I’m by no means an Alabama fan, but during McCarron’s time there it seemed as though Alabama was playing on CBS every Saturday afternoon. It was hard to not have at least a little fun watching McCarron give goofy interviews with Tracy Wolfson while Nick Saban stared daggers into the camera.
Vince Young (QB, Texas, 2002-2005)
The hero of arguably the greatest National Championship game ever played, Vince Young was an absolute pleasure to watch as a Longhorn. Sunday morning SportsCenter was covered with Young highlights and “Top Ten” plays week in and week out, but Young secured a place in my memory when he and the Longhorns overthrew that mighty USC team in the 2006 Rose Bowl. I was barely twelve at the time, and this was the first Natty that I remember staying up and watching every snap of. When #10 led Texas back from behind and scored that game winning touchdown at the pylon, I was ecstatic. Because of Vince Young I laid in bed that night feeling hyped up only the way a heroic quarterback and the game of the decade could make you feel.
– Will Mahaffey
Mark Ingram and Julio Jones (RB and WR, Alabama, 2008-2010)
Confession time: I grew up an Alabama fan. When I was little I cheered on teams with Glen Coffee, Brodie Croyle and Kenneth Darby. It’s hard to remember it in the midst of the reign of Saban, but those Bama teams were not very good. Then Saban came, and with him came a recruiting rush the likes of which Alabama fans hadn’t seen in decades. The crown jewels of that first great class were two ultra-talented offensive weapons. I was at the Georgia Dome when they made a statement in their first game as freshmen by demolishing a Clemson team that was ranked tenth at the time. I was watching a year later as they won Alabama’s first national title in their sophomore year. Ingram would pound opponents repeatedly, and then Jones would fly past defensive backs for a big play. These were the stars that started a dynasty. That dynasty has become an empire whose domination has become boring, even depressing. Still, in 2008 they blasted onto the scene as something new and exciting, and two freshmen named Ingram and Jones were the reason for that excitement.
Reggie Bush (RB, USC 2003-2005)
Though he may not exist according to the NCAA and USC record books, Reggie Bush’s college career will forever live-on in the minds of the fans that got to witness it. Reggie was the player that ever kid in 2005 pretended to be in their front yard. Elusive does not even begin to describe Bush’s game. His sub 4.4 speed made defenders miss often during his days as a Trojan. The combination of his speed, vision, moves, and hands made him an every-down back and kept him on the field for special teams. There really wasn’t a need for a Heisman campaign for Reggie in 2005 because his highlight tape was all you needed to watch to know he was worthy of such praise.