To kick off the NCAA football season, we’ve been counting down our favorite college football players of all time. Today we’re down to number 5 in the countdown. If you want to see any of the previous picks, just click on the links below:
Darren McFadden (RB, Arkansas, 2005-2007)
The affectionately nicknamed Run-DMC never played on a great college football team, but damn was he a great college football player. A two-time winner of both the Jim Brown and Doak Walker awards, McFadden sported a ridiculous blend of speed and power that sometimes seemed unfair at the college level. He was everything you wanted from a player you loved on another team. He juked, he trucked, he flew, he danced, he threw (a lot, and well!), and he did it all while playing for a team that was just bad enough that you didn’t feel bad when you cheered for him. McFadden played against nine and ten man boxes every single week and still managed to rank second in career rushing yards in the SEC. Hell, the second and third best players on that team might have been the two running backs who played behind him. The video above is a 13-minute highlight video with grainy footage and terrible music and I just watched it twice. Any player that can make me listen to an entire hick-rap remix of Wild Boy, that can make the Razorbacks interesting, that can – almost – make living in Arkansas bearable, is a player that has to be in my College Favorites top 5.
Aaron Murray (QB, Georgia, 2009-2013)
Throughout these rankings, I’ve tried to include personal or unique reasons why I liked a certain player at a certain time. Most of my remaining picks have some element of personal connection for why I liked them, despite playing for teams I dislike or not necessarily being great. But for this spot, something can be said for a guy on your favorite team who is really good for a really long time. Aaron Murray was a four year starter at UGA, and a steady foundation for consistently good Bulldog teams. After a 6-7 season as a freshman, Murray led Georgia to ten and twelve win seasons before a senior season injury slowed them to an eight win season. He led Georgia to within five yards of a likely National Championship before heartbreakingly falling to Alabama in the 2012 SEC Championship. When all said and done, Murray finished his career as the all-time SEC passing touchdown and passing yards leader.
I can’t imagine a fan base or student body adoring a student athlete the way the University of Georgia appreciated Todd Gurley. The guy ran as hard and gracefully as anybody I have ever seen. I know Gurley has already been mentioned in the countdown, but I have never witnessed a louder, more raucous, explosive moment in a college football game than the way Sanford Stadium erupted when Gurley returned a kickoff to the house the first time he touched the ball after returning from suspension against Auburn in 2014. Granted, the play got called back for a holding call, but it didn’t matter. Sanford loved it. Despite getting suspended for taking payment for signing merchandise, Gurley was still adored on campus; the ill will was at a minimum. I think some people understood, get it while you’re here. On top of it all, Gurley could have just called it a season and started getting ready for the NFL, but he came back to finish the season for that 2014 team that probably wasn’t going anywhere. And after tearing his ACL during that Auburn game, in a different era it would have been a perfect example of why college players deserve more. But that’s for another time. Todd Gurley was thrilling to watch and go to school with.
See the first play of this clip for the Auburn return.
– Will Mahaffey
Johnny Football was one of those “must watch” guys every Saturday. He is probably the third most dominant college player in the last 10 years behind Tebow and Cam Newton. Despite having multiple first-round offensive lineman throughout his tenure in College Station, it seemed that he never had any protection, yet was always able to find Mike Evans downfield for a 40+ yard play. His Heisman season was one of the easiest decisions for voters in the last 20 years. His NFL career might be a bust, but watching Manziel run around Kyle Field, likely under the influence of one substance or another, was a spectacle to behold.
– Bear Deneau