The 2019 college football season is finally here, and it’s a special one – the 150th anniversary of the game.
To celebrate, we at USA TODAY Sports set out on a mission – one we need your help to accomplish.
We want to identify the *best* college football player of all time. Thanks to the American Football Coaches Association and 14 former college football coaches, we’re getting closer.
We started by asking the coaches to pick their 50 top players and then tabulated their votes to create a list of 64 players.
Those 64 names were separated into four regions of 16 each with players grouped by era and seeded by the coaches’ voting. Sound familiar? It’s March Madness – but in the fall. College Football Madness, for sure.
This is where you come in.
Over the next 10 weeks, we’ll be rolling out the matchups for you to vote on. We start in Region 1. The first round will consist of four, four-player matchups. You vote on the best and they advance. Then Region 2 in a week. Region 3 after that … and so on.
Below are the regions and the matchups. Voting on the first round for Region 1 begins Monday and runs through noon ET on Aug. 31. We’ll name the champion, the best college football player in history, on Nov. 6, which is also the anniversary for the first college football game played.
Here’s the bracket breakdown, with bios for every player:
No. 1 Dick Butkus vs. No. 16 Bronko Nagurski vs. No. 8 Doak Walker vs. No. 9 Chuck Bednarik
Dick Butkus, Illinois LB, 1962-64: Butkus played center and linebacker and was named all-conference as a center even though he went on to a Hall of Fame career in the NFL as a linebacker. He made a school-record 23 tackles in a game against Ohio State in 1963.
Bronko Nagurski, Minnesota FB, 1927-29: The Canadian-born standout played fullback and defensive tackle. In 1929, he was so dominant on both sides of the ball that he made some All-American teams at fullback and some at tackle.
Doak Walker, SMU RB, 1947-49: The three-time All-American was nicknamed “Dynamite Doak” while scoring 288 points in his career. In his last three seasons at SMU, triple-threat Doak helped his school to a 23-5-4 record.
Chuck Bednarik, Penn C-LB, 1945-48: A two-way player, Bednarik won the Maxwell Award in 1948 as college football’s best all-around player. In 1969, a panel of sportswriters, coaches and Hall of Famers chose him as the “Greatest Center of All-Time.”
No. 2 Jim Brown vs. No. 15 Doc Blanchard vs. No. 7 Sam Huff vs. No. 10 Sammy Baugh
Jim Brown, Syracuse RB, 1954-56: In one college game against Colgate, Brown rushed for 197 yards, scored six touchdowns and kicked seven extra points for a school-record 43 points. He was also a standout in basketball, track and lacrosse at Syracuse.
Doc Blanchard, Army RB, 1944-46: In 1945, Blanchard became the first junior to win the Heisman Trophy. In Blanchard’s three years playing football at West Point, the team was 27-0-1. When Blanchard’s hard running led Army to a 59-0 win over Notre Dame, Irish coach Edward McKeever said: “I’ve seen Superman in the flesh. He wears No. 35 and goes by the name of Blanchard.”
Sam Huff, West Virginia LB, 1952-55: With Huff leading the defensive charge, West Virginia won three consecutive conference titles. The 225-pound heavy hitter was an intimidating presence as he stood behind his defensive lineman staring at the quarterback.
Sammy Baugh, TCU QB, 1935-37: Nicknamed “Slinging Sammy,” Baugh was among the first college quarterbacks to take full advantage of the passing game. At a time when QBs rarely threw 10 times per game, Baugh would throw 40 passes. He had 39 touchdowns in three seasons.
No. 3 Jack Tatum vs. No. 14 Billy Cannon vs. No. 6 Bob Lilly vs. No. 11 Red Grange
Jack Tatum, Ohio State DB, 1968-70: His ferocious hitting helped Ohio State win the 1968 national title. Opposing teams would run away from Tatum’s side of the field. He was seventh in the 1970 Heisman Trophy voting.
Billy Cannon, LSU RB, 1957-59: He helped LSU win the 1958 national championship and then won the 1959 Heisman Trophy. He was the first LSU player to have his number retired.
Bob Lilly, TCU DT, 1957-60: In his three collegiate seasons, TCU gave up an average of eight points per game. He was a consensus All-American in his final college season.
Red Grange, Illinois RB, 1922-25: The College Football Hall of Fame website says Grange “was to college football what Babe Ruth was to baseball.” In one 1924 game against Michigan, he had TD runs of 95, 67, 56 and 44 yards in the first 12 minutes.
No. 4 Roger Staubach vs. No. 13 John David Crow vs. No. 5 Ernie Davis vs. No. 12 Paul Hornung
Roger Staubach, Navy QB, 1962-64: Staubach set 28 school records and won a Heisman Trophy before his college career was completed. Known for his efficiency, Staubach threw just 19 interceptions in his college career.
John David Crow, Texas A&M RB, 1955-57: He averaged 4.9 yards per carry to spark his school to a 24-5-2 record during his career. He won the 1957 Heisman Trophy.
Ernie Davis, Syracuse RB, 1959-61: In 1961, Davis became the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy. He broke many of Jim Brown’s records at Syracuse. He averaged 6.6 yards per carry and scored 35 touchdowns. He died of leukemia before he had the chance to play in the NFL.
Paul Hornung, Notre Dame QB, 1954-56:: Hornung won the Heisman Trophy in 1956, even though Notre Dame was 2-8. He was second in the nation in total offense that season.
No. 1 Tony Dorsett vs. No. 16 Tommy Nobis vs. No. 8 Gale Sayers vs. No. 9 Lee Roy Jordan
Tony Dorsett, Pittsburgh RB, 1973-76: He set an NCAA record when he rushed for 6,082 yards in his four-season college career. He set the tone by rushing for 265 yards against Northwestern as a freshman.
Tommy Nobis, Texas LB, 1963-65: Playing both guard and linebacker as a sophomore, rugged Nobis helped Texas knock off Roger Staubach’s Navy team to win the national championship in 1963. He won both the Maxwell and Outland awards during his career.
Gale Sayers, Kansas RB, 1962-64: The legend of Sayers was born in 1962 when the mercurial halfback rushed for 283 yards on 21 carries to trigger a wild come-from-behind 31-17 win against Oklahoma State. A 96-yard run from scrimmage was included in Sayers’ heroics.
Lee Roy Jordan, Alabama LB, 1960-63: In Jordan’s three collegiate seasons, Alabama posted a record of 29-2-2. He was crucial to the Crimson Tide’s 1961 national title. He once made 30 tackles in an Orange Bowl game against Oklahoma.
No. 2 Archie Griffin vs. No. 15 Bubba Smith vs. No. 7 Ray Guy vs. No. 10 Joe Greene
Archie Griffin, Ohio State RB, 1972-75: Griffin rushed for 1,428 yards as a sophomore, 1,620 as a junior and 1,357 as a junior. He’s the only player to win the Heisman Trophy twice (1974, 1975).
Bubba Smith, Michigan State DE, 1964-66: Before enjoying a lengthy acting career, Smith was a dominant 6-7 defensive force. The two-time All-American played a major role for the Spartans in a 10-10 game against Notre Dame in 1966. That game has been called “The game of the century.”
Ray Guy, Southern Mississippi K, 1970-72: He was the first punter elected to the College Football Hall of Fame. He averaged 46.2 yards per punt in his senior season.
Joe Greene, North Texas DT, 1966-68: Known throughout his career as “Mean” Joe Greene, he was known as a force, particularly against the run. Opposing teams averaged less than 2 yards per carry in his three seasons at North Texas.
No. 3 O.J. Simpson vs. No. 14 Earl Campbell vs. No. 6 Lawrence Taylor vs. No. 11 Fred Biletnikoff
O.J. Simpson, Southern California RB, 1967-68: In 1967, the blazing-fast Simpson led the nation in rushing with 1,451 yards and led USC to the national championship. He tallied 1,709 rushing yards the following season.
Earl Campbell, Texas RB, 1974-77: A power runner, Campbell rushed for 1,744 yards as a senior to finish with 4,443 yards in his career. He gained 100 or more yards on the ground 21 times and accumulated 200 or more three times. He won the 1977 Heisman Trophy.
Lawrence Taylor, North Carolina LB, 1977-80: In his final collegiate season, Taylor recorded 16 sacks and was named Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year. He was known for his intensity and athletic playing style.
Fred Biletnikoff, Florida State WR, 1962-64: One of Biletnikoff’s top collegiate performances came in the 1965 Gator Bowl when he caught 13 passes for 192 yards and four touchdowns – all Gator Bowl records – to lead the Seminoles to a 36-19 win against Oklahoma.
No. 4 Walter Payton vs. No. 13 Alan Page vs. No. 5 Ronnie Lott vs. No. 12 John Hannah
Walter Payton, Jackson State RB, 1971-74: The Mississippi native finished his Jackson State career with 464 points and 3,563 rushing yards. He was the black college player of the year in both 1973 and 1974.
Alan Page, Notre Dame DE, 1964-66: In 1966, his defensive ability was key to Notre Dame winning the national championship. After playing in the NFL, he became an associate justice on the Minnesota State Supreme Court.
Ronnie Lott, Southern California DB, 1978-80: He has long held the reputation as one of the hardest hitters ever to play football. Lott was an important performer for USC’s national championship team in 1978 and its undefeated team in 1979.
John Hannah, Alabama G, 1969-72: Famed Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant called Hannah the best lineman he coached. In 1981, Sports Illustrated called Hannah “the best lineman of all time.”
No. 1 Herschel Walker vs. No. 16 Kenny Easley vs. No. 8 Reggie White vs. No. 9 Tim Brown
No. 1 Herschel Walker, Georgia RB, 1980-82: Walker was named an All-American in each of his three seasons as a running back at Georgia, even earning the Heisman Award in 1982. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1999, and he holds the record for career rushing yards in the Southeastern Conference with 5,259.
No. 16 Kenny Easley, UCLA DB, 1977-80: Easley was named all-Pac 10 four times and an All-American three times. As a defensive back, he had 19 interceptions and 374 tackles in four years as a Bruin. Easley was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1991.
No. 8 Reggie White, Tennessee DL, 1980-83: White still holds the record for career sacks at Tennessee (32). He also accumulated almost 300 tackles and four fumble recoveries as a Volunteer. But he’s best known for his 1983 senior season, during which he had 15 sacks to be named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, a consensus All-American and a Lombardi Award finalist.
No. 9 Tim Brown, Notre Dame WR-RB, 1984-87: Brown, a two-time All-American, made college football history in 1987 as the first wide receiver to win the Heisman Trophy. Known as “Touchdown Timmy,” Brown set 19 Notre Dame records during his career, including what’s still the most all-purpose yards in a season with 1,937 yards. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2009.
No. 2 Bo Jackson vs. No. 15 Randy Gradishar vs. No. 7 Jerry Rice vs. No. 10 Randy White
No. 2 Bo Jackson, Auburn RB, 1982-85: Jackson was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1996. He rushed for 4,303 yards and 43 touchdowns in his career at Auburn, including 1,786 yards and 17 touchdowns to win the Heisman Trophy in 1985.
No. 15 Randy Gradishar, Ohio State LB, 1971-73: A three-year starter at Ohio State, Gradishar helped lead the Buckeyes to a 25-6-1 record that included two Big Ten championships and a Rose Bowl victory. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1998 after a career with 320 total tackles and two consensus All-American honors in 1972 and ‘73.
No. 7 Jerry Rice, Mississippi Valley State WR, 1982-85: Rice brought Mississippi Valley State into national prominence during his college career, and he was eventually inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006. He tallied 301 catches, 4,693 yards and 50 touchdown receptions, which was an NCAA record until being passed in 2006.
No. 10 Randy White, Maryland DT, 1971-74: White is considered one of the best defensive players in Maryland football history. He had All-American seasons in 1973 and ‘74. He was named the ACC Player of the Year and winner of both the Vince Lombardi Award and John Outland Trophy in 1974. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1994.
No. 3 Barry Sanders vs. No. 14 Mike Singletary vs. No. 6 Dave Rimington vs. No. 11 Keith Jackson
No. 3 Barry Sanders, Oklahoma State RB, 1986-88: Though he didn’t break out until his final season at Oklahoma State, Barry Sanders set the precedent for college running backs in 1985. He set NCAA records that still hold today with 2,628 rushing yards and 37 rushing touchdowns that year. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2003.
No. 14 Mike Singletary, Baylor LB, 1977-80: Though the NCAA record book has Texas Tech’s Lawrence Flugence as the all-time leader for single-season tackles at 193, Singletary had 232 tackles in 1978 — the record book didn’t include tackles until 2000. Singletary was named a consensus All-American in 1979 and 1980. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1995.
No. 6 Dave Rimington, Nebraska C, 1980-83: Rimington made history as the only player to win the Outland Trophy, awarded to the best interior lineman in college football, twice in 1981 and ‘82. While attention usually goes to quarterbacks, receivers and running backs, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1997, and now the best center is awarded the Rimington Trophy in his name.
No. 11 Keith Jackson, Oklahoma TE, 1984-87: Inducted in 2001, Jackson is one of the few tight ends in the College Football Hall of Fame. He was named a consensus All-American in his junior and senior seasons, averaging 28.8 yards per reception in 1986 as a junior and 27.5 yards per reception in 1987.
No. 4 Marcus Allen vs. No. 13 John Elway vs. No. 5 Deion Sanders vs. No. 12 Lee Roy Selmon
No. 4 Marcus Allen, Southern California RB, 1979-81: Allen finished his college career by winning the 1981 Heisman Award, Maxwell Award, Walter Camp Player of the Year Award and being named the Pac-10 Player of the Year. Allen was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2000.
No. 13 John Elway, Stanford QB, 1979-82: Elway held the Stanford career passing yards record with 9,349 until 1991, and he set the record for touchdown passes with 77 until 2009. He was named the Pac-10 Player of the Year in 1980 and ‘82, also winning the Sammy Baugh Trophy and being named an All-American in ‘82. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2000.
No. 5 Deion Sanders, Florida State DB, 1985-88: Deon “Prime Time” Sanders played football, baseball and track at Florida State, and his performance on turf earned him College Football Hall of Fame honors in 2011. Sanders won the Thorpe Award in his senior season and was named an All-American twice.
No. 12 Lee Roy Selmon, Oklahoma DT, 1973-76: Selmon lost just one game in his three years as a starter at Oklahoma, winning two national championships during that span. In 1975, he established himself as the best defensive lineman in college football, winning the John Outland Trophy and Vince Lombardi Award. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1988.
No. 1 Orlando Pace vs. No. 16 Cornelius Bennett vs. No. 8 Drew Brees vs. No. 9 Champ Bailey
No. 1 Orlando Pace, Ohio State OL, 1994-96: Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2014, Pace raised the standard for offensive linemen in his time at Ohio State. He won two Vince Lombardi trophies, was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 1994, and didn’t allow his sack for two years. Pace was named a consensus All-American in 1995 and ‘96, also winning the John Outland Trophy then.
No. 16 Cornelius Bennett, Alabama LB, 1983-86: Bennett is one of the only Alabama linebackers to be named an All-American three times. He won the 1986 Vince Lombardi Award and earned SEC Player of the Year honors. His career 287 tackles, 19 tackles and 15 sacks gave him a spot in the College Football Hall of Fame in 2005.
No. 8 Drew Brees, Purdue QB, 1997-2000: Brees was a two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year as well as a two-time Heisman finalist, also winning the Maxwell Award in 2000. Brees took Purdue to its first Rose Bowl in 34 years in 2001, and he still holds the Big Ten record in career completions (1,026) and passing yards (11,792).
No. 9 Champ Bailey, Georgia DB-WR, 1996-98: Though known as a cornerback in the NFL, Bailey played both sides of the ball at Georgia as a wide receiver, cornerback and safety. He won the Bronko Nagurski Award in 1998.
No. 2 Peyton Manning vs. No. 15 Bill Fralic vs. No. 7 Randy Moss vs. No. 10 Derrick Brooks
Peyton Manning, Tennessee QB, 1994-97: Manning set the pace for SEC quarterbacks, leading the conference with 243 completions on a 63.9 percentage in 1996 and then leading the following year with 3,789 total yards. Manning racked up numerous awards in his senior season, including the Davey O’Brien Award (most outstanding QB), Maxwell Award and SEC Player of the Year honors. He made the College Football Hall of Fame in 2007.
Bill Fralic, Pittsburgh OL, 1981-84: Fralic was a two time All-American. As a junior in 1983, he was a finalist for the Vince Lombardi Award, and in 1984 he finished sixth in voting for the Heisman Award. Fralic was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1998.
No. 7 Randy Moss, Marshall WR, 1996-97: His numbers at Marshall might be overlooked because the Thundering Herd were in Division I-AA in 1996, before ascending to I-A in ’97, but they’re ridiculous. Moss hauled in 54 TD grabs (including 26 in ’97, then a I-A record) and had at least one TD in each of his 28 career games. He won the Fred Biletnikoff Award before being named a Heisman finalist in ’97.
No. 10 Derrick Brooks, Florida State LB, 1991-94: A two-time consensus All-American, Brooks helped lead FSU to its first national title in ’93, the same season he won the ACC Defensive Player of the Year award. That was after he switched from safety to linebacker.
No. 3 Jim Thorpe vs. No. 14 Ricky Williams vs. No. 6 Eddie George vs. No. 11 Tim Tebow
No. 3 Jim Thorpe, Carlisle RB, 1907-09, 1911-13: There’s a trophy named after Thorpe, given every year to the country’s top defensive back. He was a star in track and field but also excelled at running back, placekicker and punter. According to former NCAA historian Steve Boda, Thorpe recorded 27 touchdowns and 244 total points at Carlisle.
No. 14 Ricky Williams, Texas RB, 1995-98: He ranks second on the all-time Division I-A rushing list with 6,592 yards, behind only Ron Dayne (7,125). He was the first player, and only the second all time, to twice win the Doak Walker award. A unanimous two-time All-American, Williams scored 79 total touchdowns.
No. 6 Eddie George, Ohio State RB, 1992-95: A couple of costly fumbles as a freshman almost defined George’s career at Ohio State, but he bounced back. He culminated his time as a Buckeye by winning the Walter Camp Award, the Doak Walker award, the Maxwell award, and the Heisman in ’95 (1,927 rushing yards and 25 total TDs).
No. 11 Tim Tebow, Florida QB, 2006-09: Tebow won the Heisman Trophy, AP Player of the Year Award and the Maxwell Award (twice). He also won the Manning Award and SEC Offensive Player of the Year honors in 2008. Tebow currently holds the career SEC records for passing yards per attempt (9.3), touchdowns responsible for (145), rushing touchdowns (57) and passing efficiency rating (170.8).
No. 4 Larry Fitzgerald vs No. 13 Eric Dickerson vs. No. 5 Charles Woodson vs. No. 12 Dan Marino
No. 4 Larry Fitzgerald, Pittsburgh WR, 2002-03: Fitzgerald caught 92 passes for 1,672 yards and 22 touchdowns his sophomore season. It allowed him to become the first sophomore to win the Walter Camp Player of the Year award and win the Biletnikoff award. He caught a TD in 18 consecutive games, setting an NCAA record.
No. 13 Eric Dickerson, SMU RB, 1979-82: It’s remarkable that Dickerson put up the numbers he did when you consider he did it while splitting carries with Craig James for most of his career. Still, Dickerson was a Heisman finalist in ’82 as a senior when he averaged 7.0 yards per carry and totaled 1,617 yards and 17 touchdowns.
No. 5 Charles Woodson, Michigan DB, 1995-97: If anything is impressive about Woodson it’s that he won the Heisman in 1997 by playing on both sides of the ball. A lockdown corner who also contributed as a receiver for two years, Woodson was also a stellar special teams star. In his final two years in Ann Arbor, Woodson scored five offensive touchdowns and intercepted 11 passes.
No. 12 Dan Marino, Pittsburgh QB, 1979-82: Marino was consistently productive, but his first three years in Pittsburgh, in particular, were outstanding. He helped lead the Panthers to a 33-3 record in that span, though his 1981 campaign (2,876 passing yards and school-record 37 TDs) landed him fourth in the Heisman voting. He finished his career with a Pittsburgh record that still stands of 79 passing scores.