While individual game performances are impactful, a player who can extend his dominance over the course of an entire season deserves recognition, too. In honor of college football's 150th anniversary, here are the top 10 individual seasons in the history of the sport.
10. Herschel Walker, Georgia, 1981
It’s hard to decide which of Walker’s three campaigns in Athens was his best. In between helping Georgia win the national title in 1980 and his Heisman-winning season in ’82, Walker rumbled for 1,891 yards and 18 touchdowns on 385 carries in 1981, hitting the century mark in every game. Walker’s pro football stock was so high, that his family took out a $1 million insurance policy that year, believed to be the first-ever issued to a college football player.
9. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M, 2012
Manziel’s freewheeling playmaking style quickly captured the nation’s attention during his redshirt freshman season and when he led A&M to an upset road victory over No. 1 Alabama, the phenomenon known as ‘Johnny Football’ was officially born. He became the first freshman to win the Heisman after gaining an SEC-record 4,600 yards and scoring 43 touchdowns.
8. Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska, 2009
Suh was a one-man wrecking crew in 2009, an unblockable, disruptive force that frustrated offensive coordinators and terrified quarterbacks. Suh recorded 85 tackles, 12 sacks and 24 tackles for loss, but the best example of his dominance came in the Big 12 title game loss to Texas. Suh harassed and chased Texas quarterback Colt McCoy all game long, at times slinging him around like a rag doll. McCoy was sacked nine times in total that day, with Suh directly responsible for half of them.
7. Ricky Williams, Texas, 1998
Running through, over and around opponents, Williams rushed for 2,124 yards and 27 touchdowns in 1998 en route to the Heisman. His signature moment: a 60-yard gallop in an upset win over Texas A&M which made him the NCAA’s all-time career rushing leader.
6. Sammy Baugh, TCU, 1936
At a time when much of college football was still resistant to the forward pass, “Slinging” Sammy Baugh put the Horned Frogs on the map, leading the nation in passing—and punting—during his junior and senior seasons. In that senior season, 1936, Baugh had 1,196 passing yards and 12 touchdowns, finishing fourth in the Heisman voting.
5. Reggie Bush, USC, 2005
Bush had a season for the ages in 2005, creating YouTube-worthy highlight reels at every turn, from helping push Matt Leinart across the goal line at Notre Dame to turning on a dime and flipping the field against Fresno State. Bush finished the season with 1,740 rushing yards and 478 receiving yards, scoring 18 total touchdowns.
Bush gave up his Heisman Trophy amid pressure in 2010 after the NCAA determined that he and his family received improper benefits while he was at USC. Only two running backs have won the Heisman award since Bush’s forfeited award.
4. Steve McNair, Alcorn State, 1994
McNair was such a force during the 1994 season that, despite playing less than stellar competition, Sports Illustrated featured him on the cover telling voters to "Hand Him the Heisman."
“Air” McNair lived up to the nickname throwing for 4,863 yards and 44 touchdowns, but he ended up finishing third in the Heisman Trophy voting behind Rashaan Salaam and Ki-Jana Carter.
3. Marcus Allen, USC, 1981
Allen’s 1981 season would have never come to fruition if USC had kept firm on its original plan to use him as a defensive back. But Allen wanted to run the ball and worked his way from a third-string fullback to a USC legend, becoming the first player to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a season and setting 14 NCAA records in the process.
2. Tim Tebow, Florida, 2007
Tebow went from being used on gimmicky goal line plays his freshman year to taking the reins of Urban Meyer’s offense in his sophomore campaign. Tebow had 3,286 yards and 32 touchdowns through the air and bulldozed his way to another 895 yards and 23 scores on the ground during his breakout season. He became the first player in FBS history to throw for and run for more than 20 touchdowns in a season and was the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy.
1. Barry Sanders Oklahoma State, 1988
Sanders’s 1988 season started the same way as the previous season—with a kickoff return for a touchdown—and ended 2,628 rushing yards and 37 rushing touchdowns later (records that still stand to this day). Sanders could not be stopped, leaving defenders flailing in the dust all season. He capped it off with a 222-yard, five-touchdown performance in the Holiday Bowl—and he didn’t even play in the fourth quarter of the game.