The Sporting News ranked the 50 greatest individual seasons recently, and college football was well-represented on the list.
And it wasn’t just quarterbacks or offensive skill position players. Even a defensive player proved to be so dominant, he was included among the best of the best.
SN 50: The 50 greatest individual seasons of all time
The six players who produced seasons worthy of our list:
Oklahoma State’s Barry Sanders (1988, No. 6 overall)
LSU’s Joe Burrow (2019, No. 25)
Alabama’s Derrick Thomas (1988, No. 27)
Pitt’s Tony Dorsett (1976, No. 33)
Auburn’s Cam Newton (2010, No. 46)
Florida’s Tim Tebow (2007, No. 49)
Sporting News college football writer Bill Bender has an essay remembering Burrow’s magical season that landed him a Heisman Trophy and a national championship:
Local boy makes good
You’re not supposed to cheer for players in the pressbox.
Joe Burrow made that almost impossible in 2019. Burrow passed for 5,671 yards and 60 TDs to lead LSU to a national championship that season, which ranked No. 25 on Sporting News’ 50 greatest seasons in sports history.
That is the best season by a college football quarterback. Some might take Cam Newton at Auburn in 2010 or Tim Tebow at Florida in 2007. That’s fine.
Burrow is the guy. The Athens, Ohio, native, grew up an hour from my hometown in Lancaster. I went to college in his hometown. He reps the “740” and all that comes with that label. He is everything kids in that area are taught to be.
Burrow walked that line between confidence and cockiness to perfection. My buddies texted me first-hand accounts from his high-school games at Athens High School. He was Mr. Football, and we know all of them dating back to the 1990s. For the Ohio U grads, we wanted him in the MAC knowing full well he was too good for that. Most of the texts had a simple message:
“When Burrow gets his chance, look out … “
Burrow is our guy. We wanted that through his career at Ohio State. When will he get that chance? I thought that after Burrow’s last pass at the 2018 spring game for the Buckeyes.
“I didn’t come here to sit on the bench for four years,” Burrow said afterward. “I know I’m a pretty good quarterback. I want to play somewhere.”
Of course, Dwayne Haskins won the job. Burrow transferred, and it took two years at LSU to see what we knew was possible. The Tigers hired Joe Brady as passing game coordinator, and Burrow arrived in the Big Easy with Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase.
Burrow lit up No. 1 Alabama for 393 yards and three TDs in a 43-38 victory in the Game of the Century, but that wasn’t the Heisman moment. It was the acceptance speech itself, where Burrow put light on the impoverished Southeast Ohio region he grew up in. It was the best Heisman speech ever. The response it generated was somehow better.
For forty-somethings like me who might slip into Uncle Rico occasionally (i.e. all of the time), Burrow was the guy we wanted to be growing up. He’s also the perfect role model for our children. My son Grant became a huge fan and shot me with a Nerf gun during a phone interview with Burrow just to get the quarterback’s attention.
Burrow laughed. So yeah, watching Burrow reset the record book against Clemson in the CFP championship game was hard. Not for Burrow. He lit up Clemson in a 42-25 victory and I spent most of the second half trying to calculate how many records the new gold standard for a QB single season would be. The season was amazing because he finally got that chance.
Afterward, everyone remembers Burrow smoking a cigar, but I remember Burrow thanking everyone from Ohio to Louisiana for his journey to the top. He’s handled all that with grace, and the best part is he returned home as the No. 1 pick for Cincinnati. Grant and I wear that “740” shirt he wore on draft night even though I’m not a Bengals fan.
I will always be a Joe Burrow fan, though.
It’s just a lot to easier to cheer when you’re not in the pressbox.