CollegeFootballNews.com 20th Anniversary Top 20 Players
Who were the top 20 players since CFN started in 1998? No. 15 Ricky Williams, RB Texas
CFN Era Top 20 Players: No. 15 Ricky Williams, RB Texas
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.
Ricky Williams, RB Texas (1995-1998)
Williams might have been one of the greatest college football players of all-time, and he might have been the ultimate running back for the Texas offense, but he’s this low on the list because he only gets credit for that one special season – it was the first year of CFN’s existence and the first year of the BCS.
But it was a really, really good one season.
It all led up to the hype in 1998.
Williams split time as a freshman, running just 166 times for 990 yards and eight touchdowns in the regular season, but it didn’t take long before he became the workhorse who carried the Texas offense for another three years.
With the nearly perfect combination of size, power after contact, and hands out of the backfield, he showed a glimpse of things to come. In a whopper of a sophomore season, he averaged over six yards per carry with 1,272 regular season yards and 12 scores, while catching 25 passes on the way to All-Big 12 honors.
As a junior, with the all the pressure on his legs and shoulders to carry a mediocre Texas team, he did everything possible in a woeful 1997 season, winning the Doak Walker while finishing with 1,893 yards and 25 scores, averaging almost seven yards per pop.
He became a 200-yard rushing machine, blasting through Rice for 249 yards, destroying Baylor for 241, and even cranked up 223 yards against Oklahoma. But he took a beating as he handled the ball almost 300 times, and considering his bruising style, and with nothing left to prove, it was just assumed he’d be off to the NFL.
He waited one more year.
The spotlight was on to see if Williams could come close to taking down Pitt legend Tony Dorsett’s all-time NCAA rushing record, but it was going to take a 1,927-yard season to do it.
On a mission, the Texas team kept feeding its star the ball over and over and over again, and Williams always produced, highlighted early on with 318 yards and six touchdowns against Rice, and 350 and five scores against Iowa State.
Week after week, Ricky kept running, and Texas kept winning, overcoming the lousy previous season with 7-3 start, all leading up the showdown in the regular season finale against Texas A&M.
In the first quarter and with the rushing record in sight, Williams tore off one of the most dramatic rushing scores of all-time on a 60-yard run on the way to a 259-yard day and a win.
Including his bowl performance, he ran the ball 391 times for 2,327 yards and 29 touchdowns, and caught 29 passes for 307 yards and a score.
The Heisman, and the All-Time Record
To literally set the record straight, Williams is still the NCAA’s No. 2 all-time leading rusher.
Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne might have taken over the all-time rushing lead a year later, but including bowl game statistics, Williams finished his career with 6,592 yards – he’s still No. 2.
Dorsett is third with 6,526 yards, and San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey is fourth with 6,405 yards.
The NCAA record books don’t count bowl stats when Williams, Dorsett, and Dayne played, but this isn’t that hard. Williams ran for 62 yards in the 1995 Sugar Bowl loss to Virginia Tech, 49 in the 1997 Fiesta Bowl loss to to Penn State, and finished up with 203 in the 1999 Cotton Bowl win over Mississippi State.
To bring this all back to 1998 – the year that matters in the CFN era – Williams easily won the Heisman, beating Kansas State QB Michael Bishop by 1,563 points.
He also won the Maxwell, the Walter Camp, and his second Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top running back.
But if only one year is going to count, that was the one to do it.
CFN 20th Anniversary lists compiled by Rich Cirminiello, Pete Fiutak, Phil Harrison & Russ Mitchell
Photo credits: University of Texas