CollegeFootballNews.com 20th Anniversary Top 20 Players
Who were the top 20 players since CFN started in 1998? No. 14 Ndamukong Suh, DT Nebraska
CFN Era Top 20 Players: No. 14 Ndamukong Suh, DT Nebraska
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.
Ndamukong Suh, DT Nebraska (2005-2009)
What’s the hardest position to find at a high-level in team sports?
Quarterback? Everyone has one of those, and even the most mediocre of passers can shine in the right offense on the right day.
A two-inning closer? A stand-on-head goalie?
How about a college defensive tackle who can do everything.
Think about it. Most 6-4ish, 300-pound football players are stuck on the offensive line, or if they have the feet, will work at offensive tackle – another worth-weight-in-gold position.
But to be that big, that aggressive, that quick, and that strong for the defensive interior? If you can find a freakish human being like that, you’ve got a difference-maker who can carry your entire defense, and sometimes, your team.
In 2005, RB Marlon Lucky out of Hollywood was Nebraska’s superstar recruit, and a whole lot of attention was paid to the new quarterbacks, Zac Taylor and Harrison Beck.
6-5, 275-pound Ndamukong Suh out of Oregon was a good pickup, but he was no DeMarcus Granger – who landed at Oklahoma – or Callahan Bright (Florida State), Jerrell Powe (Ole Miss), Roy Miller (Texas) or Kade Weston (Georgia).
Suh didn’t even generate as much buzz as Duke’s prize defensive tackle recruit, Vince Oghobaase.
But after a few years of bulking up and grooming, what would emerge was one of the greatest interior defensive forces of all-time.
Nebraska was stuck in a malaise. The 2005 team was a pedestrian 8-4 – Suh made one tackle, and redshirted – and while it got to the Big 12 title game in 2006, it was an okay 9-5. But Suh showed a glimmer of potential greatness, playing in every game as a redshirt freshman making 19 tackles with 3.5 sacks and seven tackles for loss.
And then cam the fall. In 2007, the Huskers went an unthinkable 5-7, mostly due to a struggling defense that was uncharacteristically lit up like a Christmas tree time and again.
How times have changed – Kansas put up 76 on the Huskers and Colorado scored 65.
Suh, though, was solid, coming up with 34 tackles with a sack and six tackles for loss.
Enter new head coach Bo Pelini, and welcome to the fire lit under No. 93.
In 2008, Suh was turned loose on the defensive interior, turning into the catalyst for the rebound in a 9-4 season with 76 tackles, 7.5 sacks and 16 tackles for loss. But what really got him on the national map was a two-yard touchdown catch against Kansas and two pick-sixes, one for 49 yards against San Jose State, and another for 30 yards against Colorado.
While he was ready for the NFL with the size, the quickness, and the upside to be a franchise next-level tackle, he stuck around for one more year.
It might not have been a typical Big Red Machine Nebraska team in 2009, but it was very, very good over the back half of the season, reeling off five straight wins to earn its way into the Big 12 Championship game vs. an unbeaten Texas.
As the season went on, Suh was the steadying force who blew up everything for the improved D, coming up with 60 tackles in the regular season and play after play in the backfield.
The best defensive player in the country, he saved his magnum opus for the biggest stage in what would go down as one of the greatest individual performances by a defensive player in the history of college football.
The 2009 Big 12 Championship
Way overmatched by Colt McCoy and a loaded Texas team that appeared destined to be off to play Alabama for the national title, Nebraska was expected to be a mere speed bump in the Big 12 title game.
Offensively, the Huskers were as ineffective as expected, struggling to do much of anything to take advantage of a gem pitched by the defense that stalled McCoy and Texas time and again, keeping the game close in the first half.
And then Suh took over. He wore Texas as a hat.
The numbers don’t quite do his performance justice – he tied a career-high with 12 tackles with 4.5 sacks and six tackles for loss. He wasn’t a one-man gang – the Huskers picked off McCoy three times – but he was the textbook definition of unblockable.
How bad was the Nebraska O? It generated just 106 yards, but the Nebraska D allowed just 202.
Yeah, the game will also be remembered for the Hunter Lawrence 48-yard field goal for a 13-12 win – and for the clock controversy with McCoy throwing it out of bounds with one second to play to set up the try – but this was Suh’s day …
Before being taken by Detroit with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft – Sam Bradford went first – Suh won just about every possible defensive award for a lineman in 2009, taking home the Outland, Lombardi and Nagurski.
He even finished fourth in the Heisman – I argued until I was blue in the face that he should’ve won; he got my vote – behind Mark Ingram, Toby Gerhart and Colt McCoy – and just ahead of Tim Tebow.
How’s this for a college career by a defensive tackle? 215 tackles, 24 sacks, 49.5 tackles for loss, four interceptions with two for touchdowns, and a touchdown grab.
CFN 20th Anniversary lists compiled by Rich Cirminiello, Pete Fiutak, Phil Harrison & Russ Mitchell
Photo credits: University of Nebraska