My All Time NCAAF Team (Skill positions only. Sorry fat guys)
Part I: Dual-Threat Quarterbacks
This is a position by position break down of my all time favorite college football players from 2001 through 2016. While this is a team made up of my favorite players (and not necessarily who I think is the best player at each position) almost every player chosen has the credentials, accolades and body of work to be considered for an All-Decade Team. When making this team, I did not take into account their respective potential NFL draft statuses, their professional careers, or successes. I solely looked for the guys at each position who stood out above the rest every single game I watched them play. And trust me, from the ages of 12 to 27, I watched a lot, lot…lot of college football.
1st Team: Cam Newton (Auburn)
Cam Newton is the most dominant force that college football has ever seen. For one magical season, in 2010, Auburn had the college football equivalent of Shaquille O’Neal in his prime. Cam wasn’t a quarterback that could also run; he truly was a running back with an unbelievable ability to play quarterback. Cam wasn’t the first “dual-threat quarterback”, but he was certainly the first and possibly only dual-threat quarterback that was equally deadly at both. Michael Vick, Troy Smith, and Pat White, were elite rushing quarterbacks and ranged from at least decent to good passers, but none of them were very big. Tim Tebow, Vince Young and Terrell Pryor were also elite rushers and even had good size, but none of them were incredibly accurate pocket passers. Cam was the definition of the total package; a dangerous rusher with the ability to beat teams as a passer from both inside and outside the pocket. He was as big a threat to throw 65-yard bomb as he was to break off an electrifying 65-yard run.
Cam had possibly the strongest arm of any quarterback to ever play the game, and it was evident from week one. Routinely throwing the ball 40 and 50 yards while flat-footed, or more impressively, while being tackled, became something I started to take for granted. I remember a play at Kentucky where Cam left his feet, and while being tackled out of bounds, completed a perfect pass to his man 35 yards down the field. I remember it vividly because I had never seen a QB with that type of strength. Worthy of his Superman moniker indeed.
The run game was much of the same. Cam was a unicorn. He was the only player in college football history who could outmuscle the d-lineman but had the speed to outrun defensive backs. He was unstoppable in goal-line situations, making Hershel Walker’s “epic jump” look like a small child leaping into a ball pit. Spare the whole, “handing it off to a running back thing.” Auburn would snap the ball to Cam, have all ten other players block someone, and let Cam do the hard part, which he routinely made look easy.
2nd Team: Tim Tebow (Florida)
If Cam Netwon was an I-Phone 7 Plus, then Tim Tebow was the original I-Phone model. The legend of Tim Tebow began during his freshmen year when Chris Leak, a damn good national championship winning college quarterback in his own right, was the starter and leader for the Gators. Ever so often, then coach Urban Myer, would send Tebow in at quarterback to run one of three plays, all of which worked to perfection; QB power left, QB power right, and QB straight dive. Then… IT HAPPENED.
In the 2nd quarter of a home game versus LSU, with the game tied 7–7, Tebow checked in for what was sure to be his signature QB power play from just inside the two-yard line. As the ball was snapped and Tebow proceeded toward the mass of bodies at the goal-line preparing to either leap over them or plow through them, he stopped just short of the pile, jumped, not forward but straight up in the air, and ever so gently threw a wobbly, balled-up piece of paper thrown at a trashcanesque touchdown pass to his receiver, who by this point had already fallen down and was practically out of bounds in the back of the endzone. The play itself was wild, but the Tebowmania that would follow for the next four years and beyond would be unprecedented.
With all the things that surround Tim Tebow now, it’s easy to forget just how great a college player he was (except maybe it isn’t easy to forget since the only reason we talk about him today is because of who he was and what he did over at Florida more than eight years ago). In his first two seasons, Tebow wasn’t a great passer, defending teams knew he wasn’t a great passer and that Florida wanted to run him as much as possible, yet they still couldn’t stop him from rolling right through their face week after week. By the time he graduated in 2009, he had won two National Championships (started for one), won 22 straight games after saying this, and is still to my knowledge the only player ever canonized while playing a game. Given what I witnessed those four years, believing that Tim Tebow might have been the embodiment of Jesus’ four years of college eligibility might not be such a blasphemous concept.
3rd Team: Vince Young (Texas)
To make this team behind Cam and Tebow is like winning the bronze in the 100m dash against 2012 Usain Bolt and 2008 Usain Bolt. Choosing to continue with the evolution of the cell phone analogy, VY is the VX 9800 (you know you had that phone); not yet the full-blown smart phone, but the glimpse into the future of what was to come.
Young was again third in a line of great college quarterbacks to play at Texas, following 1st Team All-Name, Major Applewhite, and then Chris Simms. But Vince was nothing like his predecessors.
As a freshmen and sophomore, Young hardly ever threw the ball, going for less than 4,000 yards. He threw 18 touchdowns and as many interceptions through his first season and a half as a starter. As a rusher, it was a different story. He was a threat from Day One. He ran for 998 yards his freshman year and scored 11 touchdowns on the ground with a ridiculous 7.4 yards per carry. His sophomore year only got better when he racked up 1,079 yards and 14 scores. It wasn’t until his final performance of his sophomore season in The Rose Bowl that Young truly broke out on a national level. And it set the stage for a next to perfect junior year campaign.
In his junior year alone, Young threw almost as many passes (325) as he had his first two seasons (393). This put defenses in the unwinnable position of having to decide whether they could still commit men to shutting down Vince in the running game, without getting beat with the pass. What happened of course was that teams weren’t able to stop either, and Vince had one of the greatest statistical seasons in college football history. He swept the award circuit, taking home everything except the Heisman. But of course he would get his revenge on eventual winner Reggie Bush and USC with arguably College Football’s greatest performance in the greatest National Championship Game ever played.
My favorite part about watching Young play was the way his composure, calmness and general demeanor made it seem like he was playing in slow motion, all while soundly outrunning even the fastest defenders on the field. His strides looked like his feet never left the ground, yet somehow he was covering what seemed like five yards with each step. His side-to-side jukes resembled a Cadillac Deville erratically swerving in-and-out of lanes with unexplainable efficiency for a car that size, make and model. And his ability to always reach the edge and turn the corner on defenses had me questioning whether he was truly running his full speed, or just making sure he was moving one step faster than the defender. The final play of his career is a testament to that effortless speed, and that should be the way we remember him (not this).
Missed The Cut: Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M)
This was a hard guy to leave off the team because if you know me, you know I love me some Johnny Football! Sure his play on the field was dynamic, and yeah he had a powerful arm for someone his size, and watching him beat Alabama his freshman year absolutely ranks as one of the three most impressive quarterback performances I’ve ever seen, but none of these reasons were why I was all in from the very first time I saw him score a touchdown. This was.
Drug and alcohol related issues aside, I had been waiting for the guy who played quarterback with both middle fingers held high, and refused to be Robo-QB but alas, like a shooting star, he came and went.