Before advancing to the major leagues, many young athletes first show their talent in the National Collegiate Athletic Association. This organization covers 1,268 institutions in North America and mainly governs the sports being played, but stars in the NCAA are also scouted for their talents at sports like football and basketball.
Today we’re looking at some of the most successful stars in the history of NCAA football, often called the NCAAF. Many of them are from the ‘60s to the ‘90s, due to the nostalgia that surrounds them and because their careers are over, so we can appreciate them better at a distance.
Like every other tier of sports, NCAA games have a robust betting crowd and football is no different. Fanduel offers odds on many NCAAF games.
Jim Brown is considered by many to be the quintessential football athlete, often called the best in Syracuse and the best in all of the collegiate sports as a result. That’s because he was a great all-around athlete, earning his stripes in four separate sports. In fact, he earned a lot more than just his stripes, gathering 10 varsity letters for football, basketball, lacrosse, and track.
For football, he’s remembered as a running back between 1954 and ’56 and starting the Jersey No. 44 legend. During that time, his prowess was mainly demonstrated by his 1955 nation-leading kickoff return average and his performance rushing TDs that next year. He quickly became Syracuse’s All-American by unanimous decision, the first-ever. By the end of his short collegiate career, he’d gathered 2,091 rushing yards and 26 TDs.
Herschel Walker is another accomplished running back who played for the University of Georgia between 1980 and 1982. He averaged 159.4 rushing yards per game for a total of 5,259 yards across his collegiate career, during which he scored 52 TDs. This aggressive performance often has up-and-coming RBs measured against Walker instead of Brown.
During his collegiate career, Walker set nearly 70 records for the time. 41 of them were local University of Georgia records, 16 of them were for the SEC, and then 11 were for the NCAA. His rushing yard count is because he consistently ran over 1,500 yards each year – 1,616 as a freshman, 1,891 as a sophomore, and 1,752 as a junior.
Archie Griffin was a running back for Ohio State from 1972 to ’75, during which he gathered more rushing yards than Herschel Walker. He averaged at 121.5 yards per game and had scored 27 rushing TDs by the end of his collegiate career. He achieved 1,695 of those yards and 12 of those touchdowns in his junior year, which was enough to get him the 1974 Heisman Trophy. He won it again the next year, making him the only person to win it twice and solidifying him as one of the NCAAF’s stars.
Bo Jackson was a running back for the Auburn Tigers at Auburn University from 1982 to ’85. He was an accomplished athlete in both football and baseball. If you’re a baseball fan and the name is familiar, it’s because he played for the Kansas City Royals, Chicago White Sox, and the California Angels throughout his career. He would go on to become the only professional athlete to hold All-Star status in both football and baseball.
As for his collegiate football performance, he covered 4,303 rushing yards and achieved 43 rushing takedowns. He has been compared to Herschel Walker a lot in his powerful and speedy plays but can bring out some agility when needed. He also played with a 34 jersey, the same number that Walker played under at Georgia.
Jim Thorpe is the oldest football star on our list and, because of that fact, many of the stories surrounding him seem unbelievable. He scored the most touchdowns out of the players above, beating Walker’s 52 by getting 53. He covered 3,616 rushing yards and covered 8.4 yards per rush, approximately.
Thorpe played as a back for the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. One of his most famous tales is that he kicked a ball, ran downfield, and then caught it to score a touchdown. You can’t do that now, it’s illegal, but back then they didn’t have any regulations against it because they didn’t even know it could be done! Doing things nobody had done yet was a consistent trend in his career, so it’s no surprise that he was in the very first College Football Hall of Fame batch.
Dick Butkus was the linebacker and center for the Fighting Illini, the football program at the University of Illinois. From 1962 to ’64, he averaged out at 14.4 tackles per game and racked up a grand total of 374 tackles as their linebacker. For his performance, he was made a two-time All-American and he became known for consistent, hard-hitting plays. He broke a school record at the time by making 23 tackles against Ohio State in a 1963 game.
He’s considered by many to be one of the best linebackers in college football history, so much so that his name is literally on the trophy for the best linebacker. The Butkus Award was instituted in 1985, where it’s awarded to the best linebackers in college football.
Earl Campbell was the running back for the University of Texas from 1974 to ’77. During that time, he rushed 4,443 yards with an average of 5.8 yards per rush and 40 touchdowns. Half of those rushing yards were from his first two seasons playing in Austin, where he rushed 2,046 yards.
A big part of Campbell’s collegiate journey is his comeback. After suffering from hamstring issues and gaining extra weight that kept him back, he missed three games and his performance suffered. He shifted the weight under a new coach and then rushed the second half of his total yards, 1,744 yards. This led to him winning the 1977 Heisman Trophy.