College Football Discussion: Which School Is Cornerback U?5 min read

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John Baranowski is a sports historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites. This and other articles written by him can be found on his blog:

You have probably heard the names Linebacker U or Tailback U associated with college football programs with perhaps more than one school proclaiming to be a position U. Which schools truly deserve that distinction?

I used the following criteria to determine which school is truly a position U:

  1. One can certainly debate how good a player was in college. However, when it comes to being named an All-American, there is no debate. If a player was named an All-American, he had to be very good. Rather than add to a school’s claim of being “position U” with players who weren’t All-Americans, and debate how good they were, such as the University of Miami’s quarterbacks Jim Kelly and Bernie Kosar or Auburn’s running backs William Andrews, Joe Cribbs, James Brooks, Lionel James, and Ronnie Brown, only 1st, 2nd and 3rd-team All-Americans factored into the selection and evaluation process.
  2. Only a player’s collegiate performance was taken into account and considered, and not what they accomplished as a professional. If a Heisman Trophy winner or an All-American was a bust in the NFL, that doesn’t diminish what they accomplished at the collegiate level. Their performance as a pro does not factor in or influence this selection process.

Also, occasionally a position change occurs for a player from his college to professional career so which position does the school get credit for? For example, should Terrelle Pryor count as a wide receiver for Ohio State?  That’s absurd. That’s why only their college career should count towards a being a position U.

In comparing each school’s All-Americans from the past 50 years, obviously some were greater than others. Past and recent greatness as well as consistency through the years are what constitute a school being chosen as a position U.

This is my look at the cornerback position in my series on which school should be known as Cornerback U.

This may come as a surprise to you but not that long ago, the title of Cornerback U rightfully belonged to Notre Dame. From 1970 to 2002, the Fighting Irish had 10 All-American cornerbacks, but since that time, the Irish had only one All-American cornerback and that was Julian Love in 2017.

In the past 50 seasons, Notre Dame had 11 All-American defensive backs beginning with two-time All-American Clarence Ellis in 1970 and 1971. Following Ellis as Irish All-American cornerbacks were:  Mike Townsend ’73, 3-time All-American Luther Bradley ’75, ’76 and ’77, Ted Burgeimer ’77, John Krimm ’81, Todd Lyght ’89 and ’90, Tom Carter ’92, Jeff Burris ’93, Bobby Taylor ’94, Vontez Duff ’02 and Shane Walton in 2002.

It takes having, at minimum, 10 cornerbacks named All-American in the past 50 seasons to crack the top five on this list. Some of you might be thinking LSU has to be on this list with Tyrann Mathieu and Jim Thorpe Award winners Patrick Peterson and Morris Claiborne. Well that is not the case. LSU had nine All-American cornerbacks in the past 50 seasons and went from 1983-2002 without having a single one.

Counting down to number four on our list, the Alabama Crimson Tide. Like Notre Dame, the Tide also had 11 All-American cornerbacks and their list is an impressive one. Beginning with two-time All-American Mike Washington in ‘73 & ‘74, then: Don McNeal ’79, Jeremiah Castille ’82, and John Magnum ’89, and two-time All-American and Jim Thorpe Award winner Antonio Langham in ’92 & ’93.

Then you can see the Nick Saban influence at work with Javier Arenas in ’09, Dre Kirkpatrick in ’11, DeQuan Menzie ’11, Dee Milliner ’12, Marlon Humphrey ’16 and Minkah Fitzpatrick in ’16 as well. Fitzpatrick would go on to become an All-American safety in 2017.

At number three, we have the Ohio State Buckeyes. Ohio State gets the number three spot for Cornerback U with their 11 All-American cornerbacks beginning with Ted Provost in ’69, two-time All-American Jack Tatum ’69 & ’70, Tim Anderson ’70, Neal Colzie ’74, Shawn Springs ’96, Jim Thorpe Award winner Antoine Winfield ’97 and ’98, another Jim Thorpe Award winner in Malcolm Jenkins in 2008, Chimdi Chekwa in 2010, two-time All-American Bradley Roby in 2012 & 2013, Marshon Lattimore in 2016 and Denzel Ward in 2017.

At number two for Cornerback U, is the University of Florida Gators. Overall, the Gators have produced 12 All-American cornerbacks in the past 50 seasons. However, since 1996, the Gators have produced 11 All-American cornerbacks which is nearly one every other year for the past two decades.

Beginning with Steve Tannen in 1969, then a 20-year drought till two-time All-American Richard Fain in ’89 and ’90, then Antoine Lott ’96, Fred Weary ’97, two-time All-American Lilo Shepard ’00 & ’01, Keiwan Ratliff ’03, Ryan Smith ’06, Joe Haden ’09, Janoris Jenkins ’10, then three-time All-American Vernon Hargreaves 2013-2015, Jalen Teez Tabor in 2015 & 2016, and most recently, Duke Dawson in 2017.

Now on to Cornerback U, drum roll please. Cornerback U is Florida State. Beginning with James Thomas ’72, better known as J.T. Thomas, then Bobby Butler in 1980, and then beginning in 1986, the Seminoles would have an All-American cornerback for nine straight years beginning with perhaps the greatest cover corner ever in three-time All-American Deion Sanders ’86-’88, LeRoy Butler ’89, Terrell Buckley ’90-’91, Corey Sawyer ’92-’93, and Clifton Abraham in ’94. Sanders won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back in 1988 and Buckley won it in 1991.

After Abraham, the next All-America Seminole cornerback was Tay Cody in 2000 and last year saw Florida State’s streak of five straight seasons of having an All-American cornerback end: Xavier Rhodes ’12, Lamarcus Joyner ’13, P.J. Williams ’14, Jalen Ramsey ’15, and Tavarus McFadden in 2016. That is why Florida State is Cornerback U.

Interesting fact:  Both Georgia and USC only had two cornerbacks each named All-American in the past 50 seasons. For Georgia, it was Scott Woerner in 1980 and Champ Bailey in 1998, and for USC, it was Adoree Jackson in 2016 and Jack Jones in 2017.

Alabama Cap photo credit courtesy of Lisa Zins and can be found at:

Florida gator Photo credit: photo-gator on Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC

Florida State Photo credit: RMTip21 on Visual hunt / CC BY-SA

Notre Dame Photo credit: gbozik photography on / CC BY-NC-ND

Ohio State Photo credit: buckeyekes on Visual Hunt / CC BY-SA

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John Baranowski

John Baranowski is a sports historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites. This and other articles written by him can be found on his blog: