CollegeFootballNews.com 20th Anniversary Top 20 Players
Who were the top 20 players since CFN started in 1998? No. 13 Roy Williams, S Oklahoma
CFN Era Top 20 Players: No. 13 Roy Williams, S Oklahoma
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.
Roy Williams, S Oklahoma (1998-2001)
In the late 1990s, Oklahoma wasn’t the Oklahoma that you know now, and it wasn’t even close to being the Oklahoma your older relatives probably were familiar with.
By 1999, the Sooners were struggling, pushing through five straight seasons without a winning record or even a bowl appearance – much less being any sort of a factors on a Big 12 or national scale.
In stepped new head coach Bob Stoops in 1999, and with him came an attitude, a tough-guy defensive style, a high-powered offensive system, and a way to turn a few overlooked recruits into national championship-caliber killers.
Roy Williams was a good prospect out of California, but he was headed to UCLA. Late in the process, he chose Oklahoma, where he got a little bit of playing time right away in 1998 before getting knocked out for the year with a. back injury.
By the time Stoops starting getting the program rolling in 1999, Williams was getting back to form, finding a starting role over the last half of the year finishing with 75 tackles and 11 broken up passes.
The 7-5 season was a nice run that finished up with a bowl appearance, but even with the turnaround, no one could’ve foreseen what was coming next.
Oklahoma’s defense was about to shock the college football world.
Oklahoma ripped through the easy first four games of its schedule, but that wasn’t any big deal with Texas – who had won three straight in the series – up next.
With a 63-14 stomping of their hated rival, the Sooners announced to the world that they were different. They played like a team on a mission.
While the offense was rolling, Williams and the defensive side were pitching gem after gem, allowing just two teams – Texas A&M and Kansas State – to score more than two touchdowns. The Wildcats did it twice, first in a 41-31 loss in Manhattan, and second in a 27-24 fight of a Big 12 championship. Against everyone else, forget about it.
Oklahoma was 12-0, and while QB Josh Heupel was the Heisman-caliber star for the terrific offense, it was Williams, LB Rocky Calmus, and the amazing defense that brought the Sooners to the national title game.
Just when everyone thought all the fun was going to come to a crashing thud against defending champion Florida State, Williams and the defense took things to a whole other level.
The Seminoles – led by Heisman-winner Chris Weinke – scored 509 points on the season, and while they had a loss, they were the easy favorites to win the 2001 Orange Bowl.
Helped by a fumbled recovery by Williams that led to the game’s only touchdown, Oklahoma stuffed FSU in a 13-2 win that ranks among the greatest defensive performances of all-time.
The 2000 defense was great, but the 2001 version was even better. Once again, Kansas State proved to be the only team with the offense able to give the Sooners problems in a 38-37 OU win. Only Nebraska and Heisman-winning quarterback Eric Crouch – sparked by a trick play – were able to get by the Sooners, but even in a 20-10 loss, and later a 16-13 shocker to Oklahoma State, the defense was still amazing.
Again, the catalyst on a decorated veteran D was Williams, cranking up with a 93-tackle season while doing a little bit of everything, often in spectacular fashion.
He was like an extra linebacker with 12 tackles for loss, four sacks, two interceptions and a knack for making a really, really big play at the biggest of moments.
As good as Williams was over his first two seasons – making 168 tackles with 20 broken up passes – he took things to a whole other level in 2001 with 101 stops, 11 tackles for loss, a ridiculous 27 broken up passes, five interceptions, three recovered fumbles, and one really, really big play …
Superman vs. Texas, 2001
Oklahoma came into the showdown vs. Texas on a 17-game winning streak, while a special Longhorn team – that would go on to come within a Big 12 championship whiff against Colorado of playing for the national title – was 4-0 and on a roll of its own.
In a defensive slugfest, Oklahoma was up 7-3 with 2:06 remaining and the Longhorns deep in their own territory. Could Texas pull off the big drive needed to take hold of the college football season and take the Red River Rivalry back?
Williams put an end to the drama.
Texas QB Chris Simms dropped back, and in came Williams flying over the line and into the play, forcing a fumble that went right to star LB Teddy Lehman, who took it for a touchdown on the way to a 14-3 lead.
As if Williams didn’t do enough, he picked off Simms to seal the game and finish off a classic performance.
“Do these guys ever lose a big game? Not today.”
Oklahoma was the bully. It was the tough guy. It was the team with the brilliant defense that always seemed to do the right thing.
DT Tommie Harris might have turned into the best defensive pro player during the early part of the Stoops era, and Torrance Marshall, Calmus and Lehman were on various all-everything lists, but it was Williams who was the star.
There were several game-winning plays coming from the other defensive stars, but Williams was something different. From his safety spot, he was just a wee bit more special than the rest.
In the final two seasons with Williams at safety, Oklahoma’s defense allowed more than 17 points just six times in 26 games.
In his career, Williams finished with 269 tackles, 46 broken up passes, and countless moments of intimidation, winning the Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back and the Bronco Nagurski as the top defensive player.
CFN 20th Anniversary lists compiled by Rich Cirminiello, Pete Fiutak, Phil Harrison & Russ Mitchell
Photo credits: University of Oklahoma