Greatest Individual College Season
College Football started November 6, 1869 when the College of New Jersey Tigers (now Princeton University) lost to the Rutgers Queensman 6-4. The IVY league had long tradition of “intramural” games played on campus. Harvard had “Bloody Monday”, Dartmouth had “Old Division Football”, Yale played as well but the city of New Haven, CT pressured them to abandon the game. Actual rules were developed in 1863 and when Rutgers and their team of 25 outlasted “Princeton” college football was born.
The game has obviously changed since 1869. There have been several great seasons I am leaving off the list, Dick Butkus had 145 tackles as a two-way player (ILB/C) for Illinois in 1963. Sammy Baugh had some good ones at TCU, winning a Sugar Bowl in 1936 as well as the inaugural Cotton Bowl in 1937. I left Randy Moss off and his season at Marshall in 1997 was only 96 receptions 1,820 yards 26 touchdowns. Narrowing it down to five was exceedingly difficult and I am sure some will not agree and that is fine. Here we go.
Herschel Walker, RB, Georgia, 1981
Stats: 1,891 rushing yards 18 touchdowns
The amazing part of Walkers sophomore year was he did not win the Heisman Trophy. Walker already had a great freshman year and continued to live up to the hype with this year. 6’1 215 pounds of muscle Walker ran all over the field doing everything to take the Bulldogs to a 10-2 season. Walker showed he was not just a track star and he seamlessly transitioned in a running back.
Tony Dorsett, RB, Pittsburgh, 1976
Stats: 2,150 rushing yards 22 rushing touchdowns
Dorsett won the Heisman Trophy literally running away. He was the instrumental weapon in taking Pitt to a National Title. This capped off a tremendous college career as he topped 1,000 yards each year. 1976 however Dorsett took it to another level. He carried the ball a four year high of 370 times, averaging an incredible 5.8 a carry. He dominated the clutch part of the year averaging 215 rushing yards a game in the final seven games of the year.
Derrick Thomas, DE/OLB, Alabama, 1988
Stats: 27 sacks, 39 tackles for loss, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery, blocked punt, blocked field goal
You read it right 27 sacks. Thomas was an unstoppable force in 1988. His 27 sacks and 39 tackles for loss would be NCAA records if those were kept at that time. Playing on the edge, in the middle, or 3-point stance, Thomas fought double teams and triple teams to win the Butkus Award. As amazing as Walker not winning the Heisman Thomas did not either finishing tenth.
Charles Woodson, CB, Michigan, 1997
Stats: 7 interceptions, 231 receiving yards, 2 touchdowns, one rushing touchdown, punt return touchdown
While Derrick Thomas should have been the first defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy, the world waited until 1997 for Woodson to win it. Putting Woodson over Thomas was a hard choice but breaking down the season, Woodson did so much for Michigan including playing both ways and special teams. Not only could you not throw his way, you could not in the biggest spots of the year. He was so clutch throughout the year including a red zone interception in the Rose Bowl to help Michigan clinch a share of the National Title.
Barry Sanders, RB, Oklahoma State, 1988
Stats: 2,628 rushing yards, 37 rushing touchdowns, 515 return yards, 2 return touchdowns
There should be no debate about this being the greatest individual college football season of all time. His 2,628 rushing yards are not only a NCAA record, it could be the most unattainable record out there. Several have a chance to best it, with more games, and not come close. The 1988 Holiday Bowl, Sanders rushed for 222 yards and 5 touchdowns; those stats do not even figure in his year stats, and he did not play the fourth quarter. Adding the special teams plays Sanders could make he was an absolute lock for the Heisman Trophy in 1988.