CollegeFootballNews.com 20th Anniversary Top 20 Players
Who were the top 20 players since CFN started in 1998? No. 9 Ron Dayne, RB Wisconsin
CFN Era Top 20 Players: No. 9 Ron Dayne, RB Wisconsin
CollegeFootballNews.com is turning 20 this season, so we’re looking back on the greatest players, games, coaches and more since we first kicked things off back in 1998.
For the Top 20 Players since CFN started, the rules are simple. Who made the biggest impact, who were the most important, and who were ones who generated the most buzz – for good and bad?
This isn’t necessarily a list of the most talented players – that’s what the NFL Draft is for. Who were the defining players of the last 20 years?
Also, nothing before 1998 counts.
Ron Dayne, RB Wisconsin (1996-1999)
In one way on this list, Ron Dayne falls into the Ricky Williams problem.
Since this is a ranking of the top players since CFN was formed in 1998, Dayne’s 1996 and 1997 seasons – while being acknowledged in the entire body of work – don’t really count.
Second – and this isn’t a Ricky Williams issue – there was no pizzazz.
There wasn’t anything flashy about Dayne’s game or his style, and while the results were amazing at an all-time level, he didn’t capture the college football imagination.
Part of the CFN Top 20 Players List is about who generated the most conversation and the biggest buzz – that wasn’t Dayne.
There wasn’t the social media world back in the late 1990s like there is now, but that wouldn’t have mattered much.
He didn’t talk too much, didn’t do anything outlandish, and was … boring.
Even so, the guy finished his career – and remains – as the NCAA’s all-time rushing leader while taking Wisconsin to a whole other level.
The Big Badger Get & Pre-CFN
Wisconsin had won a Rose Bowl in 1993 under head coach Barry Alvarez, and while that wasn’t a fluke, it didn’t yield immediate results over the next few years.
The Badgers was good – they didn’t slip back to their days as a Big Ten speed bump – but they went just 11-9-3 over the two years after going to Pasadena.
But the program had a growing reputation for being able to run, run, and run some more. So when an oversized, athletic running back out of New Jersey was told he could be a tailback – and not be moved to the defensive side – the 270-pounder signed on.
Given a shot immediately as a true freshman, he ran for 129 yards and two scores in a loss to Penn State – one of the other schools that wanted him as a running back – but that was one of only two 100-yard performances in the first seven games.
He still finished with 2,109 yards and 21 scores as a freshman, helped by five games in the final six with 244 yards or more.
Banged up a bit, he took a step back as a sophomore, running for 1,457 yards in 1997. By the time 1998 rolled around, Ricky Williams was the national superstar on the way to the all-time rushing record and the Heisman – but the Texas legend was just renting the NCAA mark.
The 1993 team helped spark a good run of recruits who fit the type of player Alvarez was looking for, and they all started to rise up and rock around their big, pounding back.
After missing the opener against San Diego State, Dayne went on a run of eight straight 100-yard games as the Badgers got off to a 9-0 start. Michigan put an end to any dreams of a perfect season, but with a blowout win over Penn State, Wisconsin earned a trip to Pasadena.
UCLA would’ve been playing for the national title if it could’ve figured out how to stop Edgerrin James and Miami, losing in a shootout thriller that allowed Tennessee and Florida State to square off for the first BCS Championship. But the porous run defense showed a sign of things to come.
A rested and surprisingly quick Dayne went off, ripping through the Bruins for a season-high 246 yards and four scores, averaging over nine yards per carry as the Badgers won 38-31 to finish fifth in the Coaches Poll, and sixth in the AP.
The Run To The Record
After the Rose Bowl performance, and after the excitement of Williams breaking Tony Dorsett’s long-held NCAA rushing record, 1999 became Dayne’s season – at least it did once he announced he was returning for his final season.
The NCAA didn’t count bowl game statistics at the time – it’s just not that hard to retroactively do that – so Dayne came into the year needing 1,717 yards to break Williams’ record.
While the Badgers were stunned early on by Cincinnati, and lost to Michigan for a 2-2 start, Dayne was terrific, tearing off 612 yards in those four games.
With 214 yards against Michigan State and 222 yards against Purdue as part of a string of six straight 100-yard games to close out his carer, everything was set up to not only break the record in the regular season finale against a bad Iowa team, but to also get the Badgers back to the Rose Bowl.
And on a 31-yard run – showing off the stunning feet and quickness to go along with his power on his defining dash – he became the greatest statiscial rusher in the history of college football.
Wisconsin went on to win the 2000 Rose Bowl over Stanford with a lackluster 17-9 performance, but Dayne was Dayne, closing out his career with 200 yards and a score.
While the NCAA is trying to sell the world that San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey is the all-time rushing leader after this year, his bowl game statistics count.
Pumphrey finished his career with 6,405 yards, but some of Dayne’s best performances were in the bowls, running for over 200 yards in three of them. Including bowls, Ricky Williams is still No. 2, Tony Dorsett third, Pumphrey fourth.
The stats are staggering.
Dayne finished with 7,125 yards – hitting the 2,000-yard mark in two seasons – and 71 touchdowns, averaging 5.8 yards per carry, along with 31 catches for 304 yards. Craziest of all for a powerback like he was, in 1,524 touches, he fumbled just nine times.
Dayne easily won the 1999 Heisman, blowing away Georgia Tech QB Joe Hamilton, Virginia Tech QB Michael Vick, and Purdue passing star Drew Brees.
He also won the 1999 Doak Walker, Maxwell and Walter Camp awards.
In 2013, Dayne was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame.
CFN 20th Anniversary lists compiled by Rich Cirminiello, Pete Fiutak, Phil Harrison & Russ Mitchell
Photo Credit: Wisconsin Athletics