College football turns 150 this year, and in lieu of candles, we thought we’d ignite some deliberation.
By ranking this state’s 50 best players, 50 top individual performances, and 50 best games involving at least one state school.
All of which amounts to 150, roughly equivalent to the hours our panel (more than a half-dozen current and former Tampa Bay Times staffers) spent debating these lists.
RELATED: We ranked every 2019 college football game involving Florida teams
Well, maybe not that long, but the process was lively, arduous, impassioned and darn near impossible. After all, Florida has produced 11 bona fide national champs (sorry UCF), eight Heisman Trophy winners, and enough riveting games to fill a month’s worth of programming on ESPN Classic.
As a result, some of this state’s most revered games — and gamers — didn’t make our cut.
Today’s installment: the state’s 50 greatest players.
1. QB Tim Tebow, Florida (2006-09)
The compilation of the top-50 list you’re reading incited thought and anger at varying intervals. Statistics were strewn across meeting tables and cyberspace. Criteria were dissected. Rational dialogue often transitioned to passionate debate.
At least for the last 49 spots.
Fittingly, the guy whose likeness is carved in bronze, whose most famous words are etched in stone, was a rock-solid No. 1.
Nearly a decade after his University of Florida career ended with an historic Sugar Bowl performance, Timothy Richard Tebow remains the greatest college player this state has produced.
More amazingly, his persona — a husky amalgam of Bronko Nagurski, Billy Graham and Brett Favre — remains stunningly true to life. Whereas most legends are shrouded in myth, Tebow’s is fortified by facts.
Yes, he really was born in the Philippines to a missionary couple. And he really did score a touchdown on his first collegiate carry. He actually did pull his name for consideration from Playboy’s preseason All-America team because he felt it conflicted with his Christian faith.
Indeed, he won a Heisman Trophy as a sophomore (the first sophomore to do so). And, yes, he really did make a tearful vow to outwork every other player and team in the country following an excruciating loss, then fulfilled the pledge by leading his team to a national title (‘08).
When his career concluded with that Jan. 1, 2010 Sugar Bowl romp of Cincinnati (when he totaled 533 yards, becoming the only player to eclipse 500 in a BCS bowl game), Tebow owned five NCAA, 14 SEC and 28 school records.
Today, he still owns UF’s career record for total yardage (12,232) and still holds the SEC all-time mark for touchdowns (57). Unofficially, he may be the Gators’ all-time leader in iconic plays. He was so transcendent, so dominant, he likely still will be regarded as the best player in state history a generation from now.
Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene
Subscribe to our free Sports Today newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
Write it down.
Better yet, chisel it.
RELATED: Tim Tebow came into their life and never left
2. QB Charlie Ward, FSU (1989, 1991-93)
While helping assemble food packages during a church mission trip in Mexico last summer, Charlie Ward suddenly became disoriented.
“I started putting some macaroni packs into a big Ziploc bag and I kept dropping the bag,” Ward told strokecast.com. “And I couldn’t figure out why I kept dropping the bag. And then my eyes and everything started going blurry. I was like, ‘Man, what is wrong with me?’”
A year later, Ward, 48, has mostly recovered from that mini-stroke, though the episode verified a truth many FSU fans couldn’t bring themselves to accept: Their school’s first Heisman Trophy winner and model student-athlete is indeed mortal.
Once upon a time, it didn’t seem that way. A three-sport extraordinaire (who played parts of 12 seasons in the NBA and once was drafted as a pitcher by the Milwaukee Brewers) and student government vice-president, Ward mastered Bobby Bowden’s offense like none before him (and arguably none after).
His Heisman season of 1993 was a thing of beauty. Ward completed nearly 70 percent of his passes (264-for-380) for 3,032 yards, 27 touchdowns and only four interceptions. His piece de resistance, a 33-21 win at Florida (446 yards, four TDs), handed fourth-year Gators coach Steve Spurrier his first loss at home.
When his career ended with a national-title-clinching Orange Bowl win against Nebraska, Ward owned 19 school and seven ACC records. In a national title celebration at Doak Campbell Stadium shortly after the Orange Bowl, Ward’s No. 17 jersey was retired.
And a mortal was immortalized.
3. CB Deion Sanders, FSU (1985-88)
Few legends are bereft of blemishes. In the case of Deion Sanders, the most glaring faux pas was a starring role in the Seminole Rap.
A brash, boastful and mostly boorish video featuring FSU players, it debuted shortly before Miami humiliated the ’Noles, 31-0, in the 1988 opener. “The video was fun,” Mark Richt, then FSU’s offensive coordinator, told ESPN. “But it wasn’t very fun after the first game was over.”
Fortunately for Sanders, that embarrassing misstep was offset by an assortment of dazzling high steps and stutter steps.
If this two-time consensus All-American wasn’t the greatest college player in state history, he may have been the most exciting. A three-sport athlete at FSU, “Neion Deion” totaled 14 career interceptions (not including the three he had in bowl games), highlighted by a 100-yard return against Tulsa in 1985.
Five of those picks occurred in 1988, when he won the Jim Thorpe Award. Additionally, his 15.2 yards per punt return that season led the nation; his three career punt returns for touchdowns remain tied for the school record.
Today, his No. 2 jersey is retired, and he owns two busts.
One exists in Canton, Ohio; the other on YouTube.
Every career has at least one bad rap.
4. QB Danny Wuerffel, Florida (1993-96)
His touchdown passes began with an unorthodox — and unsightly — release resembling a shotputter’s. They ended with him pressing his hands together and lifting his head skyward in acknowledgement of the one he worshiped.
If a flung visor isn’t the indelible image of Gator football in the 1990s, those snapshots of Daniel Carl Wuerffel certainly are. A decade after the Tim Tebow era, Wuerffel remains the most beloved Gator of all time to a certain legion of fans that includes Tebow himself.
A temperate, tenacious son of an Air Force chaplain, Wuerffel flourished under Steve Spurrier’s demanding, caustic tutelage like no other. After sharing snaps with Terry Dean his first two seasons, he assumed sole control of the Fun ‘n’ Gun in 1995, and took it to uncharted territory.
When his career concluded with a 52-20 embarrassment of FSU in the Jan. 1, 1997 Sugar Bowl that gave UF its first national title, Wuerffel owned UF’s career records for passing yardage (10,875), touchdown passes (114) and efficiency (163.6), not to mention a Heisman Trophy.
RELATED: Danny Wuerffel: Dan Mullen will get Florida Gators back in the hunt
5. S Ed Reed, Miami (1998-2001)
Debating the best player in Hurricanes history was one of the toughest parts of this project. So why Reed, who (somehow) never won a major national award during his four seasons? Because he was the top player and biggest leader on the best collection of talent in college football history.
Reed’s resume warrants consideration on its own. He was a two-time All-American who still holds school records in interceptions (21) and interception return yards (389). But he was more than that. Reed was the biggest star on a loaded roster that featured 17 future first-round picks and dominated its way to the national title.
He came up with two of Miami’s biggest plays during that championship run. With Boston College threatening an upset in November, a pass ricocheted to teammate Matt Walters for an interception. It wasn’t enough for Reed, who grabbed the ball from the defensive lineman and returned it the final 80 yards for a touchdown.
The other came at Virginia Tech, when the Hokies were down two and driving in the final five minutes. That’s when Reed made a diving interception (his second pick of the day) to keep Miami’s perfect season intact. Neither play factors in the behind-the-scenes vocal leadership that eventually got him to the Pro Football Hall of Fame and makes him our choice for the best player in ’Canes history.
6. WR Michael Irvin, Miami (1985-87)
Before this Fort Lauderdale native collected Super Bowl rings and sordid headlines, he asserted himself as arguably the greatest receiver in UM history. More than 30 years after his last game as a ’Cane (the Jan. 1, 1988 Orange Bowl that gave UM another national title), Irvin remains UM’s career leader in touchdown catches (26), and still ranks in the top five in receptions (143) and yardage (2,423). Few plays in ’Canes lore are more significant than his 73-yard TD catch from Steve Walsh with slightly more than two minutes remaining in a 26-25 win at FSU in ’87.
RELATED: Florida State-Miami: The game that made a rivalry
7. RB Emmitt Smith, Florida (1987-89)
In his first start as a Gator, Smith signaled the greatness to come, carrying 39 times for 224 yards to break Florida’s 40-year-old single-game rushing record in an upset of Alabama at famed Legion Field. Smith went on to amass 3,928 yards in his three-year career, including 1,599 yards in his junior year, when Florida seldom threatened with the pass. One of his most memorable performances came in a 10-7 loss at Auburn in ’89. Florida completed only 1 of 5 passes that night, but Smith rushed 27 times for 82 yards as the Gators’ lone offensive threat. The Tigers won on a last-second pass, leaving Smith in tears. He spent the next 15 seasons making NFL teams weep.
8. QB Freddie Solomon, University of Tampa (1971-74)
The ever-elusive “Fabulous Freddie” accounted for 5,803 total yards (then 16th all-time in the NCAA), while rushing for 3,299 yards (then first among all-time college quarterbacks). As a senior, he was 12th in Heisman Trophy balloting (13 first-place votes) while playing for a small-school program that finished 6-5. In 2002, Solomon and baseball player Tino Martinez were selected as UT’s co-athletes of the century. He played 11 NFL seasons as a wide receiver, twice winning a Super Bowl ring with the 49ers. After a nine-month battle with colon and liver cancer, he died in 2012 at age 59.
RELATED: Freddie Solomon leaves a huge legacy
9. LB Wilber Marshall, Florida (1980-83)
One of only six players inducted into the UF’s Ring of Honor, Marshall made a name for himself as a pass-rushing linebacker who helped reverse the fortunes of the program after it went 0-10-1 in 1979. Fans always will remember his 1982 performances in the Gators’ stunning 17-9 victory over Southern Cal. Marshall constantly chased down the Trojans’ sweep plays from behind, and finished with 14 tackles and four sacks. The Titusville native earned all-SEC honors for three consecutive years, was named a consensus All-American in 1982 and 1983, and finished his career with 23 sacks, which still ranks fifth on the Gators’ all-time list.
10. LB Derrick Brooks, FSU (1991-94)
He was FSU’s leader during one of the best eras in program history: a 44-5-1 record, Bobby Bowden’s first national championship, four bowl victories and a 3-1-1 mark against the Gators. Brooks arrived as a bigger safety, then morphed into an undersized linebacker. He was a two-time first-team All-American and a GTE Academic All-America choice. FSU has retired Brooks’ No. 10, and he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2016.
RELATED: A day in the life of Derrick Brooks
11. QB Jameis Winston, FSU (2013-14)
Although his time at FSU was marred by a sexual-assault scandal, his on-field reputation is sterling. After redshirting in 2012, Winston delivered the most prolific freshman season in NCAA history, setting records in passer rating (184.8), yards (4,057) and touchdowns (40) on his way to a Heisman Trophy and national title. The ’Noles won 26 of his 27 starts before the Bucs drafted him with the No. 1 overall pick in 2015.
12. WR/RB Percy Harvin, Florida (2006-08)
Tim Tebow was the biggest star of the Urban Meyer era, but Harvin may have been the best pure football player, regardless of where he lined up. His 3,781 total yards in three seasons rank seventh in UF history, and no Gators receiver has ever scored more total touchdowns than Harvin (19 rushing, 13 receiving).
13. WR Peter Warrick, FSU (1996-99)
At a school known for producing elite athletes, Warrick might be the best of them all. The Bradenton native and two-time All-American left FSU as the ACC’s all-time leading receiver (3,517 career yards) and still ranks second in touchdown catches. His crowning performance: a Sugar Bowl-record 20 points (three touchdowns and a two-point conversion) and MVP honors of FSU’s win over Virginia Tech that clinched the 1999 national championship.
14. QB Steve Spurrier, Florida (1964-66)
His initials of S.O.S. (for Stephen Orr Spurrier) were appropriate because this quarterback had a knack for bailing out the Gators. Eight times in his UF career, he led fourth-quarter comebacks, including a 30-27 home win against Auburn, when he waved off the regular place-kicker and booted a game-winning 40-yard field goal. That iconic performance likely earned him the 1966 Heisman Trophy. It also inspired these words from an Atlanta sports writer: “Blindfolded, with his back to the wall, with his hands tied behind him, Steve Spurrier would be a two-point favorite at his own execution.” He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a player in 1986, a few years before he became the “Head Ball Coach” (but that’s another story).
15. QB Ken Dorsey, Miami (1999-2002)
A 5,000-yard high school passer from the San Francisco area, Dorsey became UM’s full-time starter in 2000, when predecessor (and Tampa Catholic alumnus) Kenny Kelly opted to play professional baseball. To swipe a baseball term, he might have Wally-Pipped Kelly anyway. Dorsey went 38-2 as a starter, set nearly a dozen major school records, guided UM to the 2001 national title and darn near led the ‘Canes to another one in ’02. A two-time Heisman finalist, he once threw 193 consecutive passes without a pick, and tossed at least one touchdown pass in 31 consecutive games.
16. RB Dalvin Cook, FSU (2014-16)
One reason the Miami native edges Warrick Dunn as the best back in Seminoles history: He rushed for more yards in three seasons (4,464) than Dunn did in four (3,959) to become the program’s all-time leading rusher. Now with the Vikings, Cook led the ’Noles in rushing yards every year and ran for more scores (46) than anyone in FSU history.
RELATED: Where does Dalvin Cook rank among FSU’s all-time greats?
17. DL Ted Hendricks, Miami (1966-68)
Known as the “Mad Stork” for his lanky build (6-foot-7, 218 pounds), Hendricks wrecked opposing offenses long before evolving into an eight-time Pro Bowler. He had 327 total tackles (most by a UM defensive lineman) with 12 career fumble recoveries. He caused nine turnovers as a junior and had a four-sack game against Florida as a senior. A two-time All-American, he finished fifth in the 1968 Heisman Trophy voting and was selected for the College Football Hall of Fame in 1987.
t-18. S Bennie Blades, Miami (1985-87)
Blades’ 10 interceptions in 1986 are tied with Sean Taylor for Miami’s single-season record — and that might not have even been Blades’ best season. He picked off five passes and amassed 124 tackles the next year to help the ’Canes finish as undefeated national champions, and won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back. He led Miami in interceptions during all three of his seasons.
t-18. RB Warrick Dunn, FSU (1993-96)
One of the most beloved and productive Seminoles ever, Dunn registered three consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons and finished with a school-record 3,959 yards (since eclipsed). He scored 49 touchdowns including 37 on the ground. He was a freshman stalwart on the 1993 national champions and a senior standout on the ’96 team that took a No. 1 ranking into the national title game at the Sugar Bowl, won by the Florida Gators.
20. OT Bryant McKinnie, Miami (2000-01)
McKinnie’s signature game occurred in 2001, when he completely neutralized Syracuse All-American defensive end Dwight Freeney (52 plays, no sacks) as the ’Canes totaled 566 yards in a 59-0 romp. A 6-foot-9 juco transfer, McKinnie never allowed a sack in his two seasons at UM, winning the ’01 Outland Trophy as the nation’s top lineman. Perhaps not coincidentally, the ’Canes also won the national title that year.
21. QB Chris Weinke, FSU (1997-2000)
After several years in pro baseball, Weinke enrolled at FSU at age 25 and became the starter at 26. From there, success — and criticism about his age — remained steady companions. The first three-year starting quarterback for Bobby Bowden, Weinke remains FSU’s career leader in passing yards (9,839), touchdown passes (79) and completions. He led the ’Noles to the national title in 1999, and darn near led them to another in 2000, when he led the nation in passing (4,167 yards) and became the oldest Heisman Trophy winner ever at age 28.
22. DB Terrell Buckley, FSU (1989-91)
Buckley’s 21 career interceptions remain the most in FSU history, but that might not even be his best accomplishment. He returned those 21 interceptions for 501 yards — an NCAA record. Buckley scored seven touchdowns (four interception returns, three punt returns) in his three seasons and won the Jim Thorpe Award by picking off 12 passes in ’91.
23. QB Bernie Kosar, Miami (1983-84)
While the ’Canes produced great quarterbacks before and after Kosar, this lanky Youngstown, Ohio, native is the definitive symbol of “Quarterback U.” After edging Vinny Testaverde in a preseason duel for the starting job in ’83, Kosar proceeded to lead UM to the national title, earning Orange Bowl MVP honors in the historic 31-30 upset of top-ranked Nebraska. The following season featured five defeats, but Kosar’s numbers were even more dazzling (school-record 3,642 passing yards). Today, Kosar remains in UM’s career top 10 in passing yards (5,971) and touchdowns (40) despite playing only two seasons.
24. WR Ron Sellers, FSU (1966-68)
Sellers was far ahead of his time, using coach Bill Peterson’s pro-style offense to put up receiving statistics that hold up in today’s pass-happy game. He still holds 17 receiving and scoring records at FSU, including the single-game and single-season marks for receptions (16) and receiving yards (260). He finished with 212 catches for 3,598 yards (then an NCAA record) and 23 touchdowns. After finishing 10th in the 1968 Heisman Trophy voting, he played five professional seasons. In 1988, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
25. QB Quinton Flowers, USF (2014-17)
He lost both parents before graduating high school, and had a stepbrother murdered two days before his first collegiate start. Yet tragedy somehow seemed to buoy the greatest player in USF history. Confined to a pro-style offense with little room to improvise at the outset of his career, Flowers was turned loose by Willie Taggart five games into his sophomore year. He went 28-6 as a starter the rest of the way, saving Taggart’s job in the process. By the time he took his final snap (and threw a game-winning TD pass) in the Birmingham Bowl, Flowers owned 42 school records. His magnum opus in 2017 at UCF (605 total yards, five TDs) may never be topped.
RELATED: Quinton Flowers’ top 10 plays at USF
26. QB Vinny Testaverde, Miami (1982, ’84-86)
Hard to imagine a story such as Testaverde’s in the transfer portal era. Insted of bolting after getting beaten out for Miami’s starting job by Bernie Kosar in 1983, Testaverde persisted and ultimately forged a College Football Hall of Fame career. In 1985, his first full season as a starter, Testaverde threw for 3,238 yards, second-highest season total in school history at the time. The following year, he guided UM to an undefeated regular season that included a legendary performance (21-for-28, 261 yards, four TDs, no INTs) in a 28-16 win against top-ranked Oklahoma. Testaverde won the Heisman Trophy that year, but a national title eluded him with a five-INT performance in a Fiesta Bowl loss to Penn State.
27. DT Warren Sapp, Miami (1992-94)
Before revolutionizing the three-technique position in the NFL, Sapp posted one of the most dominant seasons by a defensive tackle in collegiate history. As a junior in 1994, he totaled 84 tackles, a team-best 10.5 sacks, 25 quarterback pressures, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries for the 10-2 ’Canes. He was a unanimous first-team All-America selection that year, winning both the Nagurski Trophy (nation’s best defensive player) and Lombardi Award (best lineman or linebacker).
t-28. WR Fred Biletnikoff, FSU (1962-64)
The only guy on our list to have a national award named after him. Before earning a bust in Canton as an Oakland Raiders receiver in the 1960s and ’70s, Biletnikoff was the Seminoles’ first great football player. As a junior in 1963, he led FSU in receptions (24) and had a 99-yard interception return against Miami. The following year, he evolved into a consensus All-American (70 catches, 1,179 yards, 15 TDs).
t-28. DT Ron Simmons, FSU (1977-80)
The rise of coach Bobby Bowden’s Seminole program coincided with the recruitment of Simmons, a two-time consensus All-American and unquestioned defensive leader. The Seminoles were 39-8 with consecutive Orange Bowl appearances during Simmons’ career. He finished ninth in the 1979 Heisman Trophy voting and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008. To a generation of middle-agers, he’s better known today for his career as a professional wrestler.
30. RB Edgerrin James, Miami (1996-98)
For ’Canes fans, this Immokalee native was a ball-carrying beam of light in the otherwise dim years of the mid-90s. UM’s No. 3 all-time rusher (2,960 yards), James posted consecutive 1,000-yard seasons (1997-98) and remains second on the school’s career list with 32 rushing touchdowns. He became an undisputed ’Canes legend on Dec. 5, 1998, when he ran for a school-record 299 yards on a record 39 attempts in a 49-45 upset of No. 3 UCLA. For all intents, that triumph marked the start of “The U’s” ascension back to national dominance.
t-31. DT Russell Maryland, Miami (1987-90)
Lightly recruited out of Chicago’s Whitney Young High, Maryland evolved into arguably the Hurricanes’ greatest interior defensive lineman, helping lead UM to a pair of national titles (1987, ’89). He totaled 279 tackles and 20.5 sacks in his four-year career, earning consensus first-team All-America honors and the Outland Trophy as a senior. His pro career wasn’t shabby either, as evidenced by his three Super Bowl rings.
t-31. QB McKenzie Milton, UCF (2016-present)
If he never takes another collegiate snap, this mildly undersized Hawaii native has achieved a career warranting jersey retirement. Before his horrific knee injury against USF last November, Milton was bearing down on every major QB-centric record at UCF. In 2017, he engineered Scott Frost’s cutting-edge, spread-option scheme to … well … perfection. His 4,037 passing yards and 37 touchdown passes were school single-season records, and his 613 rushing yards were most by a UCF quarterback. But even those numbers pale in comparison to this one: Milton has won the past 23 games he has started.
RELATED: McKenzie Milton, Mazzi Wilkins share a stage
33. WR Carlos Alvarez, Florida (1969-71)
Dubbed by the media as the “Cuban Comet,” Alvarez — who fled Castro-led Cuba with his family at age 10 — blasted his way into the Gator Nation’s consciousness as one of coach Ray Graves’ “Super Sophs” in 1969. Alvarez caught 88 passes that year (still tied for UF’s single-season record) for 1,329 yards and 12 touchdowns, leading UF to a 9-1-1 record and earning consensus first-team All-America honors. Knee injuries slowed him his final two seasons, but he remains Florida’s career leader in receiving yards (2,563) and is ranked second in catches (172).
34. WR Wes Chandler, Florida (1974-77)
One of the great hypotheticals in Gator football lore is to project what Chandler might have accomplished in a Steve Spurrier offense. As it was, this New Smyrna Beach native still flourished despite being mired in a wishbone system most of his career. UF’s leading receiver as a sophomore, junior and senior, Chandler finished his college career with 92 catches for 1,963 yards, earning first-team All-America honors his final two seasons. Today, he remains UF’s all-time leader in yards per catch (21.3), and is eighth in touchdown catches (22).
35. DT Larry Little, Bethune-Cookman (1963-66)
If this list recognized the state’s 50 greatest over-achievers, Little would be a top-10 lock. Barely recruited out of Miami’s Booker T. Washington High, this Georgia native evolved into a team captain, all-Mid Eastern Athletic Conference pick and arguably the greatest player in B-CU history. Undrafted in 1967, he spent two unproductive years with the AFL’s San Diego Chargers before being traded to Miami, where Don Shula forced him to drop weight and converted him to a pulling guard. Today, Little remains the only B-CU alumnus in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
36. WR Bob Hayes, Florida A&M (1961-64)
“Bullet Bob,” a gold medalist at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics in the 100 meters and 4x100 relay anchor, used his world-class speed to revolutionize the NFL’s receiving position in 11 pro seasons. But before that, he was used as wingback, halfback and receiver with the Rattlers. He scored a team-high 11 touchdowns as a junior, while leading FAMU in kickoff returns all four years, including an eye-popping 34.3-yard average as a freshman. Hayes died in 2002 at age 59 and was posthumously inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009.
37. LB Ray Lewis, Miami (1993-95)
A football and wrestling force of nature at Lakeland’s Kathleen High, Lewis took UM’s defense by storm almost upon his arrival in Coral Gables, and never relented for three seasons. He led UM in tackles as a sophomore (152) and junior (160), setting consecutive records for solo tackles by a middle linebacker (91 in 1994, 95 in ’95). A first-team All-American in his final season, Lewis remains No. 6 on UM’s career tackles list (388).
38. DE Jack Youngblood, Florida (1968-70)
He arrived in Gainesville as a 195-pound linebacker and exited as a legend. Agile, instinctive and powerful, Herbert Jackson Youngblood III remains in the discussion of greatest Gator defensive ends ever, nearly a half-century after his career ended. He led the Gators with 66 tackles in ’69, when Florida finished 9-1-1; and was an Outland Trophy finalist as a senior, when he had 58 tackles and 10 sacks. His signature moment came in the 1970 Florida-Georgia game, when he stopped a Dawgs tailback near the goal line, forced a fumble and recovered it, sparking a come-from-behind 24-17 Gators triumph.
t-39. DT Jerome Brown, Miami (1983-86)
A former three-sport standout at Hernando High, Brown earned a starting job as a freshman in ’83, when UM won its first national title, and evolved into a consensus All-American by his senior year. A starter in four New Year’s Day bowl games, he remains in UM’s career top 10 in sacks (21) more than 30 years after his college career ended. He died in the summer of 1992 following an automobile accident in his hometown of Brooksville.
RELATED: Numbers align for Jerome Brown’s family
t-39. LB Marvin Jones, FSU (1990-92)
Jones had the most decorated season of any defensive player in FSU history in 1992, when he won both the Butkus and Lombardi awards, and finished fourth in Heisman Trophy balloting. That year, he had 111 tackles, notching 10 or nine times for an 11-1 team that finished No. 2 nationally. A two-time consensus All-American, Jones remains in the top 10 of FSU’s career tackles chart (369) despite playing only three seasons, and his No. 55 jersey is retired.
41. RB Rick Casares, UF (1951-53)
Casares, offered a shot at professional boxing and projected as a potential Olympian in the javelin, was also heavily recruited by Kentucky basketball coach Adolph Rupp. The Jefferson High graduate followed his heart and played football for the Gators. His career statistics (1,163 yards) seem pedestrian, but he was an unusually large back for his era (6-foot-3, 210 pounds) and sometimes pounded the opposition into submission. “If anybody got in Rick’s way, their anatomy could be rearranged pretty quickly,” UF roommate Mike Karaphillis once said. Casares, also a punter and place-kicker, averaged a career double double (15.9 points, 11.3 rebounds) for UF’s basketball team. After a 12-year professional career, he retired as the Chicago Bears’ all-time leading rusher (a mark that was later topped by Walter Payton).
RELATED: Ditka joins mourners at Rick Casares funeral
42. RB Errict Rhett, Florida (1990-93)
Because his career was sandwiched between Emmitt Smith’s and Fred Taylor’s, this Pembroke Pines native remains mildly overshadowed in Gator history, though he remains Florida’s all-time leading rusher (4,163 yards). Bottom line, the early versions of the Fun ‘n’ Gun don’t flourish without Rhett, who provided offensive balance with four consecutive seasons of 845 or more rushing yards. In 46 career games, Rhett averaged 90.5 rushing yards a contest, second-highest figure in school history.
43. QB Gino Torretta, Miami (1989-92)
Though his name remains a fixture on any list of least-deserving Heisman Trophy winners, Torretta’s numbers — and that national title ring — speak for themselves. He remains No. 5 on UM’s career passing yardage list (7,690), ahead of Vinny Testaverde and Bernie Kosar, and is still seventh in career touchdown passes (47). Moreover, his three 400-yard passing games are tied for the most in school history. The major knock on this California native is a feeble career completion percentage (.560), though it’s more than offset by that winning percentage (26-1 as a starter).
44. WR Santana Moss, Miami (1997-2000)
A walk-on from Carol City High in Miami Gardens, Moss earned a scholarship by the third game of his freshman year, a clear harbinger of the history that would ensue. If Michael Irvin isn’t the greatest receiver UM has ever produced, Moss might be. He remains the school’s career leader in receiving yardage (2,546), is tied with Irvin for fourth all-time in receptions (143), ranks No. 2 in career all-purpose yards (4,394) and has more punt-return touchdowns (six) than anyone in school history. A consensus first-team All-American in 2000, he became the first Big East player to earn the league’s offensive and special teams player of the year awards in the same season.
45. LB Dan Morgan, Miami (1997-2000)
A Pennsylvania native, Morgan spent his first few practices at UM as a fullback before a career- and program-altering position switch. Today, he remains the school’s all-time leading tackler (532) and the only ’Canes player to record 100 or more tackles in each of his four seasons. He totaled 11 or more solo tackles in five games during his monstrous 2000 season, when he became the first player in collegiate history to win the Butkus (top linebacker), Nagurski (best defensive player, Football Writers Association of America) and Bednarik (best defensive player, Maxwell Football Club) awards in the same season.
46. S Sean Taylor, Miami (2001-03)
A vicious-hitting ball hawk raised in Miami’s outskirts, Taylor posted an historic season as a junior in 2003, when he had a nation-best 10 interceptions and was named a consensus All-American. He returned three of those picks for touchdowns (a UM season record), including a 50-yarder in a 22-14 win at FSU. The year before, in his first full season as a starter, Taylor led all UM defensive backs in tackles (85) and picks (four), and had two interceptions against Ohio State in UM’s infamous Fiesta Bowl defeat.
47. RB Willis McGahee, Miami (2001-02)
No Miami ball carrier has produced a finer season than the one this resident bell-cow back delivered on the 12-1 team of 2002. Nearly two decades after his departure, he remains UM’s single-season record-holder for carries (282), yards (1,753), rushing touchdowns (28) and yards per game (134.8) — all in ’02. McGahee had six consecutive 100-yard games that season, none more memorable than his 205-yard, six-TD performance in a wild 56-45 win against Virginia Tech that clinched UM’s second consecutive BCS national title game berth. McGahee earned consensus All-America recognition that year and placed fourth in the Heisman voting.
t-48. RB Willie Galimore, FAMU (1953-56)
Galimore (known as “The Wisp”) was FAMU’s first 1,000-yard rusher (1,203 yards in 1954) and averaged 94 yards per game in his Rattler career, but statistics alone can’t tell the story. His quickness and lateral movement left many defenders grasping at air. He was a four-time All-Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference choice and a three-time Black College All-American. He played for the Chicago Bears from 1957-63, rushing for 2,985 yards and 26 touchdowns while twice being named All-Pro. Galimore, enshrined posthumously into the College Football Hall of Fame, was killed in an automobile accident on July 27, 1964, at age 29.
t-48. QB Shane Matthews, Florida (1990-92)
A sophomore fifth-stringer entering the first spring of the Steve Spurrier era, Matthews won a congested quarterback derby, then helped usher in the first truly glorious era of Gator football. Operating the Fun ‘n’ Gun with stunning efficiency, Matthews led the 1990 Gators to a 9-2 record and SEC title (later revoked), then guided the ’91 team to a 10-2 mark and another SEC crown (not revoked). He was named the SEC Player of the Year both years, and was a first-team All-SEC pick all three of his seasons as a starter. He remains third on UF’s career passing yardage chart (9,287) and fifth in career TD passes (74).
50. RB Fred Taylor, Florida (1994-97)
In the transitional year of 1997, when Steve Spurrier was struggling mightily to find a suitable heir to Danny Wuerffel, Taylor essentially carried the offense. He ran for 1,292 yards that year — fourth-highest season total in school history — and averaged a season-record 6 yards a carry. How fitting then, this sleek, sturdy Belle Glade product scored the season’s most critical touchdown: a 1-yard dash with 1:52 to play (after a 16-yard run) to help seal a 32-29 upset of then-No. 1 FSU. Six weeks later, he capped his career by rushing for a Gators bowl-record 234 yards on 43 carries in a 21-6 Citrus Bowl win against Penn State. His 3,075 career yards remain No. 5 on the Gators’ career list.
Staff writer Matt Baker and correspondent Joey Johnston contributed to this report.