With the College Football Hall of Fame ballot out, here are the SEC's top 5 candidates for 2021 enshrinement
Take a look at this year’s ballot and you’ll probably have the same reaction that I did.
“Wait, that guy still isn’t in the College Football Hall of Fame?”
I found myself saying that several times, especially for a bunch of former SEC greats. There are 78 players on to the ballot this year. Last year, 13 of the 76 players on the ballot got the call, including the likes of Darren McFadden and Patrick Willis, who were the SEC’s lone representatives.
This year, dare I say, it feels like there will be more than 2 SEC players who get the nod. I tried to come up with the 5 I believe are most deserving of that title.
Let’s get into it:
5. Kevin Faulk, LSU RB
I don’t think Faulk gets extra credit for coaching the position group that he paved the way for, but he shouldn’t need it. From a statistical perspective, we’re talking about someone who ended his career with just 3 FBS players ahead of him on the leaderboard for all-purpose yards. LSU’s 1998 season didn’t turn out like fans hoped, but Faulk still ended that year with his third consecutive season of 1,100 rushing yards and double-digit scores.
Countless elite SEC backs didn’t earn first-team All-SEC honors multiple times, much less in 3 consecutive years like Faulk did. When Faulk hung up his cleats, Herschel Walker was the only SEC player ever with more rushing yards than him.
He’s still 4th all-time in the SEC with an LSU-best 4,557 yards.
And as many as LSU fans would point out, Faulk was anything but a 1-dimensional player. He caught passes, he returned punts and kicks. You just don’t see many Power 5 players do all of those things at an elite level for 3 years.
Faulk might have arrived a few years before LSU really became a consistent college football power, but as someone with similar career production to 2019 Hall of Fame inductee Lorenzo White, the LSU great shouldn’t have to wait much longer.
4. Antonio Langham, Alabama DB
You can’t tell the story of SEC football in the past 30 years without bringing up Langham. Sure, Shane Matthews totally didn’t see that Langham jumped the route, but in the history of college football, how many pick-6s have been more important than that one?
— BamaVideo (@BamaVideo_) November 30, 2015
In the inaugural SEC Championship in 1992, Langham was the hero, but he was obviously far more than a 1-play wonder.
Alabama’s all-time leader in interceptions (19) was a ballhawk if there ever was one. He won the Jim Thorpe Award in 1993 as the best defensive back in the country, which capped 3 consecutive seasons with at least 5 interceptions. He could line up and play receiver, he blocked punts and he made a habit of finding the end zone in unconventional ways (3 interception returns, 2 punt returns). He was a 3-time All-SEC selection and a unanimous All-American in 1993.
Is Langham already in the Hall of Fame if not for taking a few hundred bucks from an agent and putting Alabama on probation? Maybe. That, however, shouldn’t take away how important he was on the field for Alabama in the early 1990s. He was an immensely valuable player on a national championship team and is easily one of the top defensive backs in the SEC’s storied history at the position.
3. Al Wilson, Tennessee LB
Remember how I said that there were a few guys who when I saw their names on the ballot, I said “wait, he still isn’t in the Hall of Fame?” Wilson was one of them. In fact, I did a double-take when I saw his name.
That’s because Wilson was the heart and soul of that national championship team in 1998. For a 2-year stretch, how many defensive players were better than Wilson besides Charles Woodson? Few, if any. With Wilson running all over the place for that Tennessee defense, the Vols won SEC titles in 1997 and 1998, the second of which lives on as one of the top surprise national championship teams of the modern era.
It was a surprise because in Year 1 without Peyton Manning, the Vols went through an identity change thanks to Wilson. They became a smash-mouth team with a flair for the dramatics. Everyone remembers Clint Stoerner’s fumble at the end of the legendary Arkansas game, but it was Wilson who had a huge sack to set up a long field goal attempt in the 4th quarter … which was blocked by Tennessee and nearly returned for a touchdown by Wilson.
‘98 Rewatch: No. 1 Tennessee vs. No. 10 Arkansas
Deon Grant blocks the kick and Al Wilson scoops it up. pic.twitter.com/5saX3MM9j4
— More Important Issues (@More_Issues) May 4, 2020
Wilson was part of the true golden age in Tennessee football, and he’s on the short list as one of the storied program’s best players ever. There’s no doubt he deserves enshrinement. Few did it better than good ole No. 27.
2. Tim Couch, Kentucky QB
If you say anything about Couch being an NFL bust as to why he shouldn’t make the College Football Hall of Fame (“college” being the key word), take a hike. And besides, I’d argue he wasn’t nearly as big of an NFL bust as you might remember.
Couch was, by any stretch, a phenomenal college quarterback. It’s incredible that his SEC single-season passing yards mark (4,275) from 1998 stood until Joe Burrow broke it this past season. That’s for someone who only had 11 games.
Sure, he ran Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense and he didn’t play for particularly successful teams, but Couch still finished 4th in the Heisman as a junior. If Kentucky hadn’t had the No. 94 scoring offense among 112 FBS teams, perhaps his legacy would be remembered a bit differently.
Still, he was historically accurate and historically productive. Couch finished his career with 7 NCAA records and 14 SEC records, per UK. You can’t tell me that some of the quarterbacks who made it in 20-30 years before he played (Terry Bradshaw) were more deserving. Give the Kentucky legend his due.
1. Champ Bailey, Georgia CB/WR
I will not say “the champ is here” … I will not say “the champ is here” …
Oh, who cares.
The champ is here!
Bailey earned his Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement in 2019, and in 2020, he’s absolutely deserving of making it for what he did in college. When we think of a versatile, dynamic 2-way player from the 1990s, Charles Woodson is the first name who comes up. But Bailey shouldn’t be very far behind.
The Bronko Nagurski Award winner did everything, and he would have been a lock for the Paul Hornung Award had it existed in 1998. Even more so than Woodson, Bailey was a true 2-way player. That year, he was the nation’s best defensive player, he had 47 catches for 744 yards and 5 scores, he averaged 5 yards on his 16 carries, he returned kicks and he occasionally returned punts. The dude logged over 1,000 plays. Like, what more could you have wanted a football player to do?
The best defensive player in America would just casually rip off a 100-yard receiving game:
— UGA Vault (@UGAVault) October 3, 2017
And to be fair, Bailey wasn’t just a 1-year wonder. He earned first-team All-SEC honors as a sophomore, as well. Nationally, he might have been overshadowed a bit by Woodson in 1997, but Bailey was plenty dynamic. At a time when 2-way guys like Bailey were widely considered to be a thing of the past, few people in the last 30 years defined “football player” like Bailey.
It’s only a matter of time before Bailey is enshrined among college football greats in the state where he became a household name.