CollegeFootballNews.com 20th Anniversary Top 20 Players
Who were the top 20 players since CFN started in 1998? No. 19, Pitt WR Larry Fitzgerald
CFN Era Top 20 Players: No. 19 Pitt WR Larry Fitzgerald
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 made the biggest difference? Who were the defining players of the last 20 years?
Also, nothing before 1998 counts.
Larry Fitzgerald, WR Pitt (2002-2003)
The former Minnesota Vikings’ ball boy was a nice prospect, but a Heisman-caliber, all-time great of a college football receiver?
An okay recruit out of Minneapolis, Larry Fitzgerald was hardly supposed to be a program-maker who’d go on to be among the college football legends.
Ohio State showed interest, but Pitt – who was growing into a great place for receivers to rock – ended up landing the 6-4, 215-pounder with 4.4 speed.
For an okay class of Panthers, Fitzgerald was just behind QB Tyler Palko as the team’s top get, but in terms of national wide receiver talent, Fitzgerald was considered way behind Ryan Moore (Miami), Rhema McKnight (Notre Dame), Marquis Johnson (Texas), and the Florida State combination of Chris Davis and Dishon Platt.
Pitt did just fine with its guy.
The Larry Fitzgerald Streak
Fitzgerald caught one pass for 11 yards in the first game of his college career – a 27-14 win over Ohio. The next week he showed a glimpse of things to come with ten catches for 103 yards in a loss to Texas A&M, and followed it up with three catches for 64 yards against Rutgers.
And no touchdowns.
But with 121 yards and two scores against Toledo and a big day with a touchdown grab against Syracuse, he started becoming the type of playmaker to revolve the entire offense around.
Notre Dame might have won a 14-6 Week Seven fight, but Fitzgerald stood out with 83 yards on seven catches.
But he didn’t score.
That would be the last game Fitzgerald didn’t catch a touchdown pass for a very, very long time.
With a scoring grab in a win over Boston College the following week, Fitzgerald would start an all-timer of a run, coming up with touchdown catch in an NCAA record 18 straight games.
He lit up a strong Virginia Tech secondary with three touchdowns, scored twice in the loss to to West Virginia, and came up with a touchdown against a loaded Miami team on the way to a 69-catch, 1,005-yard, 12 touchdown freshman season.
That was good, but his sophomore season was something else.
The hype was growing for the young star after his terrific 2002, but he was even better than advertised, hitting the 100-yard mark in ten of the first 11 games – but being held under the mark in a loss to Notre Dame.
And he kept scoring, and scoring, and scoring, with two touchdowns or more in eight of those 11 games.
While he came up with a touchdown catch against Miami, he was held by one of the greatest teams of all-time – the eventual national champion – to just three grabs for 26 yards in the thriller of a 28-21 loss. It would be Fitzgerald’s final score, as Virginia kept him out of the end zone in the Continental Tire Bowl to break the run of touchdown catches.
Because of the streak, Fitzgerald became an every week national storyline, finishing 2003 with 92 catches for 1,672 yards and 22 touchdowns, averaging over 18 yards per grab.
Everyone’s All-American and the easy choice to win the Biletnikoff Award, the speculation grew around his chance to win the 2003 Heisman. While he lost to Oklahoma’s Jason White by a mere 128 points, he finished ahead of Eli Manning of Ole Miss, coming as close as any wide receiver had to winning it since Desmond Howard brought the award to Michigan in 1991.
The other consolation prize? He was the third pick in the NFL Draft by the Arizona Cardinals, where he went on to become one of the league’s all-time greatest players, both on and off the field.
CFN 20th Anniversary lists compiled by Rich Cirminiello, Pete Fiutak, Phil Harrison & Russ Mitchell
Photo credits: University of Pittsburgh