To coincide with the 50th anniversary of the organization’s annual college football magazine, editors at Athlon Sports convened a 16-member voting panel to identify the top 50 college football players of the last half-century.
The results, released Thursday, show a pair of Texas Longhorns among the Top 10 in that time frame: running back Earl Campbell, the 1977 Heisman Trophy winner, landed at No. 4; quarterback Vince Young, who led the Longhorns to the 2005 national championship, checked in at No. 8.
Only two schools had multiple inclusions among the top 10, Texas and Pittsburgh. The Pitt honorees were defensive end Hugh Green (No. 7) and running back Tony Dorsett (No. 10), the 1976 Heisman Trophy winner who played his way into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a member of the Dallas Cowboys.
But the top overall player, based on ballots cast by the voting panel, is best remembered in Dallas-Fort Worth for his role in elevating the Cowboys’ franchise in the Jerry Jones era … by leaving town. That would be former Georgia running back Herschel Walker, the 1982 Heisman Trophy winner who led the Bulldogs to the 1980 national championship as a freshman.
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Walker, who rushed for 5,259 yards and 49 touchdowns during a three-year college career (1980-82), made arguably his biggest contribution to the Cowboys when he was traded to the Minnesota Vikings during the 1989 season in a deal that involved 18 players and draft picks. The trade netted multiple draft picks that helped Dallas acquire key members of teams that won three Super Bowls between the 1992 and 1995 seasons (Super Bowl XXVII, Super Bowl XXVIII, Super Bowl XXX).
The Top 10 players from the past half-century, in order, were Walker, Oklahoma State running back Barry Sanders; Ohio State running back Archie Griffin; Campbell; Auburn running back Bo Jackson; Florida quarterback Tim Tebow; Green; Young; Florida State cornerback Deion Sanders and Dorsett. Southern California finished with the most honorees among the top 50 players (6).
Among Texas-based schools or current Big 12 members, the breakdown of honorees included players from Texas (3), Oklahoma (3), Baylor (1) and Oklahoma State (1).
On a school-by-school basis for local teams, the breakdown looked like this: Texas had Campbell (No. 4), Young (No. 8) and running back Ricky Williams (No. 37). Oklahoma landed defensive tackle Lee Roy Selmon (No. 13), linebacker Brian Bosworth (No. 32) and tight end Keith Jackson (No. 46). Baylor had linebacker Mike Singletary (No. 39) and Oklahoma State had running back Barry Sanders (No. 2), the 1988 Heisman winner.