Last week when the 2022 ballot for the College Football Hall of Fame was released and 13 former SEC players were on it, I was surprised to see Tim Couch.

Not because I didn’t think the Kentucky legend and former No. 1 overall pick was worthy. Of course he is. Couch’s single-season SEC passing yards record stood for 21 years until Joe Burrow broke it in 2019. In Year 1 as a starter, Couch led the NCAA in completion percentage. In Year 2 as a starter, he was No. 2 in the NCAA in passing yards. Both years he started, he was among the top 10 in the Heisman Trophy voting (No. 9 in 1997 and No. 4 in 1998).

So what surprised me about Couch’s place on the ballot? Well, call me crazy, but I thought the guy was already in the College Football Hall of Fame.

Remember that this is nothing to do with the NFL. Couch didn’t live up to lofty expectations as the No. 1 overall pick, but he was much closer to an average NFL quarterback than you probably remember. For this discussion, that’s irrelevant.

It begs the question — what’s been keeping him out?

There’s not a definitive answer. He’s eligible by virtue of earning All-America honors by one of the organizations that’s recognized by the NCAA. FWAA and Walter Camp named Couch an All-American, so that’s not holding him back. After all, the guy has been on the ballot.

(If you ever want to read the list of SEC players who aren’t eligible because of that requirement, it’ll blow you away.)

Per CFB Hall of Fame requirements, he’s been eligible to be on the ballot since 2008, which was 10 years removed from his college career ending and no longer playing in the NFL. It’d be a different story if Couch had only been eligible for the last 3-4 years. It’s been more than a decade of this. Couch started appearing on the ballot in 2014.

If we’re breaking this down from an achievements perspective, the only real way to make Couch’s case is to examine other quarterbacks from his era who have already gotten in. Penn State’s Kerry Collins and Miami’s Gino Torretta are the best comparisons for this debate because like Couch, they essentially had 2 years as starters.

Here’s the statistical breakdown of those combined 2 seasons, all of which equaled a combined 22 games:

2 years as starters
Passing yards
Completion %
Avg. passer rating

(For what it’s worth, Collins threw an interception once every 28.9 passes while Couch threw an interception once every 32.3 passes.)

OK, now I know some people will look at some of the cumulative numbers and say, “well of course Couch put up bigger numbers. The guy threw 50 times a game.” To that, I say that’s why I included the efficiency numbers. I’d also say why is it a bad thing that Couch was asked to do more to help his team win?

It’s almost like the Air Raid is seen as so abstract compared to what other quarterbacks of the 1990s did that Couch gets punished for that. Instead, Torretta and Collins get praised for being “winners.”

You know what helps win games that has nothing to do with the quarterback? Having an all-world defense.

Here are the defensive ranks for those 3 quarterbacks in the 2 years they were starters:

Scoring defense rank
Year 1
No. 22
No. 1
No. 95
Year 2
No. 30
No. 5
No. 94

If we’re punishing Couch for playing on a team with a bad defense, that’s strange. He also played on a team without a winning SEC in multiple decades, unlike national powers Miami and Penn State. Still, Couch led Kentucky to its best single-season win total in 14 years and he led the program to its first win vs. Alabama in 75 years.

Wins matter, but they should only matter to a certain extent. Torretta winning games fueled a Heisman Trophy season that included 56.7% accuracy, 7.3 yards per attempt and a 19-7 touchdown-interception ratio per game. To say that Couch wasn’t, at the very least, as good as Torretta would be foolish.

What else would be foolish? Saying that Couch isn’t in the College Football Hall of Fame because of the No. 3 caveat. Here’s how that reads:

“While each nominee’s football achievements in college are of prime consideration, his post football record as a citizen is also weighed.  He must have proven himself worthy as a citizen, carrying the ideals of football forward into his relations with his community and fellow man. Consideration may also be given for academic honors and whether or not the candidate earned a college degree.”

For starters, that’s extremely subjective. Woody Hayes and Jim Tressel both made it in despite having nasty endings to their respective careers, yet Randy Moss remains out. That seems like potential wiggle room to justify certain people not making it over others.

Now let’s talk about performance-enhancing drugs.

Search Couch’s name and you’ll find the 2007 story about him having doping regimens that called for steroids and HGH. Couch, who said that he took HGH to recover from a shoulder injury at the discretion of a doctor, denied steroid use. He was suspended for 6 games for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.

By the way, if you haven’t seen Couch in a bit, check it out. The guy is jacked in his early-40s:

Some might connect those dots and suggest that it’s those PED-related character issues that’s keeping him out of the CFB Hall of Fame.

If it is, that’s extremely hypocritical.

Brian Bosworth is enshrined, and he was busted for steroids while he was in college. Bosworth was suspended for the Orange Bowl and defended his steroid use. Clearly, the induction process is vastly different than the Baseball Hall of Fame, which has repeatedly closed its doors to those accused or proven guilty of taking performance-enhancing drugs.

Bosworth was inducted 29 years after his prolific college career ended at Oklahoma. It’s true that sometimes that process takes a bit longer than one would think. Deion Sanders waited 5 years after he was initially eligible. Tommie Frazier took 7 years, and even the great Derrick Thomas waited 14 years.

Couch has been eligible for more than a decade. One would think that if it’s not this year, sooner or later, his time will come.

Until then, I’ll continue to scratch my head.