Barry Sanders on the 150 is Great, but Could the Pokes Have Had Another?

Robert Allen

STILLWATER -- That was a real treat for Oklahoma State fans on Monday night at halftime of the CFP National Championship Game. While the Cowboys head football coach was doing a stellar job (by media accounts) on the ESPN Coaches Film Room, the Heisman Trophy and record-setting running back that he spent much of 1988 handing the football to, was being honored on stage in the Super Dome as one of ESPN's panel of experts Top 150 College Players of All-Time.

ESPN brought in the top 11 starting with Roger Staubach of Navy and then the others followed by Kansas' Gale Sayers 10th, Sanders was ninth, and then in order followed Dick Butkis of Illinois eighth, Earl Campbell of Texas seventh, Red Grange of Illinois was sixth, Jim Thorpe another Oklahoma connection from the Carlisle Indian School at fifth, and Archie Griffin of Ohio State was fourth. The top three counting down were Bo Jackson of Auburn, Herschel Walker of Georgia, and Jim Brown of Syracuse was number one. 

Sanders had the single greatest season of any player in college football history. He was one of eight running backs among that group, but his 1988 season stands alone. He rushed for an FBS-record 2,628 yards and set 34 NCAA records in his Heisman-winning 1998 campaign. He had four 300-yard plus games that season. Something no one has even come close to since. He went on to prove his talent in the NFL as well despite retiring earlier than most would have thought and when he was on the verge of becoming the all-time leading rusher in the NFL. 

Sanders decision showed last night as backs older than him like the very physical Earl Campbell is mostly moving by wheel chair and Jim Brown was using a cane. Sanders looks really good. Of course, his slippery style never really allowed defenders to get a great shot at him. 

Now, the entire list of 150 players honored by ESPN and their panel is available here. Many schools are represented by multiple players. In the Big 12 alone you can find multiple players from Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas. Sanders is the lone Oklahoma State player, but we think had the committee looked really hard, there could have been more. 

Bob Fenimore guided the Oklahoma A&M Aggies to the 1945 AFCA National Championship and really helped keep the excitement of college football going during the years of World War II. A two-time All-American, Fenimore played well on both sides of the football and  finished ninth in the 1944 Heisman balloting and then third in 1945 behind Army's Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis. Fenimore was the national leader in total offense and rushing in 1945 and his amazing 18 interceptions in his career is still a school record. 

Thurman Thomas proceeded Barry Sanders and kept him on the bench as a back-up his sophomore season. Thomas was the All-American running back with 1,767-yards and 21 touchdowns while Sanders was the All-American kick returner. Thomas finished his career with 5,001-yards and 47 touchdowns and a 5.1-yards per carry average. He went on to a Pro Football Hall of Fame career with the Buffalo Bills. Like Sanders, he is a college and pro hall of fame inductee. 

Those are the two that I really feel should have made the 150, but a shout out to Leslie O'Neal, probably the finest defensive player in Oklahoma State history and truly one of the best defensive linemen I have ever seen play the game. O'Neal was a two-time All-American in 1984 and 1985 and finished his Cowboy career with 372 tackles and that fails to count his 1982 season as those tackles weren't kept. He also had 32 sacks and 47 tackles for loss. O'Neal, shamefully, has not made it into the College Football Hall of Fame despite being on the ballot multiple times.