Voting is underway for the 2024 Class of the College Football Hall of Fame, hosted (perhaps fittingly) in South Bend, Indiana on the campus of Notre Dame. Though I would argue Notre Dame’s national relevance has long-passed, few teams were able to capture the imagination, attention, and adoration that the Irish did in the sport’s nascent days — particularly among working class immigrants and first-gen Americans. Without decades of a powerhouse Notre Dame in the industrial, populous, highly Catholic North, I don’t think you get college football’s popularity of 2023. So, begrudgingly, we’ll let you have Rudy — but we’ll keep the hardware and money down here, thanks.
It is an exceptionally prestigious group too: far more discriminatory than even the NFL. There have been 5.62 million kids who have played college football, but only 1,074 players and 230 coaches have been inducted: 2/100ths of one percent (.02%). This year, 59 schools are represented on the NFF Ballot from 53 schools.
The complete nominees are here for you to download (2024 Ballot.pdf), and below follows our selections for the 2024 Class:
Tim Couch, Kentucky-Quarterback-1998 consensus First Team All-American who finished fourth in Heisman voting in 1998 and ninth in 1997; 1998 SEC Player of the Year who led Cats to first win over Alabama in 75 years. Set seven NCAA, 14 SEC and 26 school records.
This guy was part of the quarterbacking revolution in the 90s and early 2000s that brought the SEC into the modern era, alongside Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Eric Zeier, Danny Wuerffle and a handful of others. He was done dirty by a Browns team that refused get him an offensive line, but in college, Mumme’s Air Raid was a sheer terror to face for a league accustomed to paleoball, and Couch was a ferocious competitor at a Kentucky program that had been in the dumps for decades. The modern success story of UK football begins here. Every bit a program changer as Julio Jones was at Alabama.
34 days till kickoff and a happy bday to Kentucky legend Tim Couch! Throwback to the Cats beating Bama, 40-34 pic.twitter.com/Oc1jwywT8M— Barstool Kentucky (@BarstoolUK) July 31, 2022
“Legend” doesn’t even begin to do it justice: With Mike Leach as his OC, Couch set an SEC record that still stands: seven 400+ yard games. His success also showed blue blood teams with winning chops that this whole passing game business could translate to major college football. Forget the legacy of Valdosta, there’s no 2000s Oklahoma dynasty without Leach and Mumme at Kentucky — with Tim Couch under center.
Greg Eslinger, Minnesota-Center-Two-time First Team All-American, earning unanimous honors in 2005…First-ever First Team All-Big Ten center in three-straight seasons (2003-05) en route to winning the Outland Trophy and Rimington Trophy in 2005…2005 NFF National Scholar-Athlete who twice anchored the Big Ten’s top rushing offense.
Glen Mason could build some manball, and those mid-2000s Gophers were terrifyingly stout up front. But it began with Eslinger, who was one of the nastiest, smartest, most blue collar guys I’ve ever seen. If you want an exemplar of what Big 10 football thinks it is, Eslinger is actually that and more. For a conference built up front, with punishing ground games, the fact he was the first three-time All B1G center is an amazing feat and every bit deserved.
Larry Fitzgerald, Pittsburgh-Wide Receiver-2003 unanimous First Team All-American and Heisman Trophy runner-up…2003 Biletnikoff Award winner and first-ever sophomore to take home Walter Camp Player of the Year honors…2003 Big East Offensive POY set eight conference and 11 school records in just two seasons at Pitt.
Do we really need to elaborate? Alongside Julio and Megatron, Fitz was the wideout of his generation. And, like those two guys, he was NFL-ready as a Freshman. Dominant player.
Paul Posluszny, Penn State-Linebacker-Two-time First Team All-American (consensus in 2005) and one of only two two-time winners of the Bednarik Award…2005 Butkus Award recipient and two-time First Team All-Big Ten performer…2006 NFF National Scholar-Athlete ranks second all-time at PSU with 372 career tackles.
At a school that has produced superior linebackers for decades, Paul was as prolific as anyone who’s played the position. He didn’t leave it on the fied in Happy Valley either: He later had a decade-long NFL career that saw him rack up over 1200 tackles, 15 interceptions, and scads of other defensive stats and honors.
Antonio Langham, Alabama-Defensive Back-1993 unanimous First Team All-American and winner of the Jim Thorpe Award…Led Bama to four postseason berths, highlighted by the 1992 National Championship…Three-time All-SEC selection and the Tide’s all-time leader in career INTs (19).
Mr. Big Play himself. One of the most impactful, big-play defenders in the secondary you’ll see. Langham had a knack for always being there when a play needed to be made, and with his breaking ability, ability to bait throws and straight line speed, was a threat to be in the other endzone almost as soon as the ball was released. Langham was Sauce Gardner before it was cool: a prototype player, in a prototype body, with a prototype skill set that transcends eras. Antonio would have been an All-American last year, much less thirty years ago. Otherwordly talent.
Julius Peppers, North Carolina-Defensive End-2001 unanimous First Team All-American and winner of the 2001 Bednarik and Lombardi awards…2001 Chevrolet Defensive Player of the Year who finished 10th in Heisman Trophy voting…Two-time First Team All-ACC selection, leading the conference in TFL (24) and sacks (15) in 2000.
Just as Langham may be considered one of the first modern corners, Peppers was one of the handful of players who would define the Edge position for decades to come. As fast a first step as you will ever see, strong enough to play the weaksisde, and athletic enough to peel back and be a true OLB. Pass rushing terror. You knew he was a transcendent talent the second he laced them up.
Simeon Rice, Illinois-Linebacker-Two-time First Team All-American and three-time First Team All-Big Ten selection…Holds conference and school record for career sacks (44.5) and Illini record for career tackles for loss (69)…Set school record for single-season sacks (16).
I honestly have no idea how he’s not already a HOFer. One of the best to ever do it: Yes, he’s a bit of one-trick pony, but it is one helluva’ specialized skill set, and one that would make him obscenely wealthy had he played a quarter of a century later: Get in the backfield. In the NFL, he added 20 pounds, moved to WDE, and he was just as good — “In his 12-year NFL career, Rice recorded 122 sacks, forced 25 fumbles, recovered 8, and intercepted 5 passes. His sacks rank 20th all-time in NFL. In his first eight out of 10 seasons in the NFL, Rice recorded at least 10 sacks and in three of those seasons he recorded at least 15 sacks.”
And he was even better than that in college.
Terrell Suggs, Arizona State-Defensive End-2002 unanimous First Team All-American, winning the Nagurski and Lombardi awards after leading the nation in sacks (24) and TFL (31.5)…2002 Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year and Morris Trophy winner as the conference’s top lineman…Ranks second all-time in Pac-10 history with 65.5 TFL and 44 sacks in his career.
Along with Julius Peppers, another one of those freakish athletes that would define the later EDGE position. Suggs walked so Myles Garret could run. His bend, body control, viciousness, and speed were otherwordly.
Alex Smith, Utah-Quarterback-2004 First Team All-American who finished fourth in Heisman Trophy voting…2004 SI National Player of the Year, leading Utah to its first-ever 12-0 season, a BCS bowl victory (2005 Fiesta) and a No. 4 final national ranking…2004 MWC Offensive Player of the Year boasted two league titles and multiple school records.
If any player brought respectability to the Midmajors, it was Smith — insanely prolific and as hard-nosed a guy as you’ll find at the quarterback spot. Many guys have great stats, some are trailblazers. Alex Smith did a little bit of both back in the days when Utah was just another forgotten Mountain West team. Smith’s longest-lasting legacy is in buying credibilty for Boise, TCU, Cincinnati, Memphis, UCF and other talented Midmajor teams who can later would earn the right to stand toe-to-toe with the big boys, and even knock them on their keister. Without Smith, I don’t think that happens. Urban Meyer was the perfect coach for the perfect time and place, and Smith was the perfect player to change the whole landscape.
Antwaan Randle El, Indiana-Quarterback-2001 First Team All-American…First player in FBS history to pass for 6,000 yards and rush for 3,000 yards in career…Rushed for more yards than any QB in FBS history upon conclusion of career.
Do you know how good this guy was? So good he made Indiana relevant. Alongside guys like Hines Ward, Deuce, and Cordell Stewart, he set the table for the modern “slash” athlete — and he was every bit as good a wide receiver and return man as he was a QB.
If it weren’t for his contemporary, Michael Vick, we’d have been talking about how this guy changed the face of the quarterback position.
Seriously, watch how insane this guy was.
Terence Newman, Kansas State-Defensive Back-2002 unanimous First Team All-American and winner of the Thorpe Award…2002 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, also earning First Team All-Big 12 honors as a specialist after leading the league in kickoff return yards (28.5 avg.)…2002 team captain and MVP was just the second Wildcat in history to score on both a kickoff and punt return in the same season (2002).
So good he was the Big 12’s best corner, best kick returner, best punt returner, and best overall defender — all in the same year. Put Javier Arenas in an NFL frame and you have Terence Newman at his best.
James Laurinaitis, Ohio State-Linebacker-Three-time First Team All-American (consensus-2006, 2008; unanimous-2007)…Two-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year who led the Buckeyes to two national championship games and four consecutive conference titles…2007 Butkus and 2006 Nagurski recipient, leading OSU in tackles three-straight seasons.
Son of Road Warrior Animal, like Paul Posluszny, James was an absolute beast on the inside. Strong, quick, smart, mean as hell, productive, and a great leader. You wanted to run on the Buckeyes interior, you had best pack a lunch: No. 33 had already blown up your fullback, stoned your center, and was waiting to blast you into next week. Sometimes, I really hate the Big 10’s knack at producing these aggro white boys.
Just missed the cut:
Ken Dorsey (QB, Miami) — How much of his production was that NFL talent around him? When the Canes stepped outside of the Big East, and he faced similar NFL talent, he came up short. Sweatervest zoned this kid into the biggest choke job in major CFB history — there is no way Miami should have lost that game.
Willie Gault (WR, Tennessee) — Yes, I know. He probably should be on here. But I just can’t bring myself to be objective about a Vol. Not this week anyway. Catch me next year, Willie. I may be in a better mood.
Steve Hutchinson, Michigan-Offensive Lineman- The Big 10 of the early 2000s was a changing landscape. Hutchinson was talented, no doubt. But he also got a lot of accolades because of that navy and maize sweater (and a weak conference) that other players at lesser programs could have just as easily earned (go take a look at Purdue’s offensive line in 2000, if you want to head to head them). I may rethink this one, but for now, on the outsies.
John Lee, UCLA-Placekicker-Two-time First Team All-American, earning consensus honors in 1985…Boasted the NCAA’s highest career field goal percentage among players with at least 55 attempts (.859)…Two-time First Team All-Pac-10 selection who helped UCLA to three league titles and finished his career as the Bruins’ all-time scoring leader (390). Only two PK are in the CFB HOF for now (Kevin Butler from UGA and Jason Hanson at Wazzu). Once guys like Henery start getting some more love first, then Lee will follow. But with players like Henery, Mason Crosby, Sebastian Janikowski and others still not in the Hall, I can’t in good faith vote for Lee. Yet.
Who was the better pass rusher?
This poll is closed