CollegeFootballNews.com 20th Anniversary Top 20 Players
Who were the top 20 players since CFN started in 1998? No. 3 Vince Young, QB Texas
CFN Era Top 20 Players: No. 3 Vince Young, QB 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.
Vince Young, QB Texas (2002-2005)
For most of the college football world, Vince Young is remembered for that one game.
He didn’t win a Heisman, and he always played in the shadow of the USC juggernaut, but his legend has grown over the years with his name became synonymous with pure greatness with everything on the line.
Clemson’s Deshaun Watson came up with a special second half to beat Alabama for the 2016 national championship, and instantly his big game was being compared to what Young did to beat USC in the 2006 BCS Championship.
Cam Newton took being a big, tall, freakishly athletic speedster of a quarterback to a whole other level, but Young got the job done with more pressure on his shoulders and in a much bigger national championship.
Jameis Winston led Florida State to a game-winning scoring drive to beat Auburn for the 2013 national title, and he finished it off in what will forever be known as the Vince Young end zone of the Rose Bowl.
Of course, as amazing as Young’s performance was against the Trojans to fill the desperate need of Longhorn fans to see a national title for the first time since 1970, the mythology has been a wee bit overblown.
That 2005 Texas team was loaded with talent. It had NFL players across the board for a program that had long been known for being just-this-close. It was hardly a one-man gang that brought the Longhorns the national championship, or cranked out a brilliant run to the Rose Bowl the year before.
But it was Young who turned in – considering the stakes, build-up and stage – arguably the greatest individual performance in modern college football history.
So okay …
2006 Rose Bowl: Texas 41, USC 38
To go pretentious/cliche, it’s impossible to overstate just how big the buildup was for the 2006 national championship.
USC was the defending national champion, starting out the season ranked No. 1 in both polls. Texas was No. 2, coming off an 11-1 season with a Rose Bowl win over Michigan. And nothing changed the entire way.
When the first round of the BCS rankings were released, USC was No. 1, Texas No. 2,. While the Trojans sputtered and struggled a wee bit here and there, the Longhorns marched with ease after battling through a 25-22 win over a loaded Ohio State team in Columbus.
Momentum was building, and building and building, helped by a Heisman race that came down to eventual winner Reggie Bush, Young, and Matt Leinart, just to add an extra dose of pizzazz and star power to the already hyped up situation.
And in the end, after a month between games, and after way too much speculation and discussion, close to 36 million people tuned in to watch, doing a ridiculous 21.7 rating. By comparison, around 26 million people – both TV and online – watched Clemson beat Alabama for the 2017 College Football Playoff national championship.
To put this into further perspective, around 40 million people watched Game 7 of the 2016 Chicago Cubs-over-Cleveland Indians World Series.
With all the attention, and all the pressure, and all the build up, Reggie Bush was fantastic. Matt Leinart was outstanding. Both teams played a game at as high a level as possible for the circumstances, but in the end, USC couldn’t stop VY.
The knock on Young coming into the 2005 season was his lack of consistency as a passer. Against USC, he hit 30-of-40 throws for 267 yards.
But it was his scrambling ability that was the difference, running 19 times for 200 yards and three scores, taking off for game-saving runs time after time.
And then, on fourth down with the national title on the line, Young closed out his magnum opus with this …
Oh Yeah, The Rest Of His Career …
A big-time recruit out of Houston, was was considering by many to be the top quarterback prospect in the 2002 recruiting class. But no one was quite sure how he was going to grow into the gig – after all, quarterbacks weren’t this tall, this fast, and this athletic.
A backup for the first part of the 2003 season, he came in as a situational runner in a quarterback rotation, finishing his redshirt freshman season with 998 yards and 11 scores, while completing 84-of-143 passes for 1,155 yards and six touchdowns. While he wasn’t able to take over the job for himself, his 163 rushing yards and score in the 27-24 win over Nebraska showed off a glimpse of what was coming.
By 2005, he was the unquestioned leader of the Longhorns, turning into a far more efficient and effective passer to go along with his running ability.
He turned on the ground game when he had to – running for 267 yards and two scores against Oklahoma State, but hitting the 100-yard mark just twice before the Rose Bowl. Through the air, he became deadly, hitting 65% of his throws for 3,036 yards and 26 touchdowns with just ten interceptions.
But before taking the Longhorns to the title, he needed one more year of seasoning …
Texas was expected to be outstanding in 2004, but it was up to Young to be the catalyst as the starter from Day One.
He was fine.
While he didn’t have to push too much early on – he ran well and did a decent job throwing over the first four games – he was stuffed by Oklahoma, completing just 8-of-23 passes for 86 yards, and running 16 times for 54 yards in the 12-0 loss.
Young would never lose another game as a Longhorn.
He didn’t exactly bounce back in a hurry – hitting just 3-of-9 passes for 19 yards in a 28-20 fight against a mediocre Missouri team.
On the year he completed just 59% of his throws for 1,849 yards and 12 touchdowns with 11 interceptions, but he ran for 158 yards and four scores against Texas Tech, and finished up the season with three 100-yard games in the final four.
That included a 21-carry, 192-yard, four touchdown day in a 38-37 Rose Bowl win over Michigan.
He liked Pasadena in big games.
2005 Heisman Trophy Runner-Up
National Championships: 2005
Rose Bowl MVP: 2005, 2006
Maxwell Award Winner: 2005
Davey O’Brien Winner: 2005
CFN 20th Anniversary lists compiled by Rich Cirminiello, Pete Fiutak, Phil Harrison & Russ Mitchell
Photo Credit: Texas Athletic Department