College Football Discussion: Which School Is Offensive Center U?

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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:  https://johnbaranowski.wordpress.com/

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 center position in my series on which school should be known as Offensive Center U.

To make the top five for a school to be considered for Offensive Center U, a school needed at least eight centers named All-America in the past 50 seasons.

We begin with number five in our countdown to Offensive Center U and that is the University of Michigan. Michigan’s All-America centers the past 50 seasons were: Walt Downing ’77, George Lilja ’80, Tom Dixon ’83, ‘John Vitale ’86, Rod Payne ’96, Rimington Trophy winner David Baas ’04, another Rimington Trophy winner in David Molik in 2011, and Michigan’s most recent All-America center Mason Cole in 2016.

The University of Nebraska, despite having produced nine All-America centers, one more than either Michigan or Ohio State, is ranked behind Ohio State because the Cornhuskers have not an All-America center since Rimington Trophy recipient Dominic Raiola in 2000. It may seem hard to believe, but Nebraska has not had an All-America center in the past 17 seasons.

In the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, the Cornhuskers regularly had a center named All-American. In 1974 and 1975, it was two-time All-American Rik Bonness, followed by Tom Davis in 1977. In the ‘80s, Nebraska was unquestionably Offensive Center U. The Cornhuskers had maybe the greatest college center ever in two-time All-American Dave Rimington in 1981 and 1982, then Mark Traynowicz in ’84, Bill Lewis in ’85 and then another two-time All-American Jake Young in ’88 and ’89 adding to the Husker All-American lineage at center followed by Aaron Graham in ’95 and then Aaron Taylor in ’96.

Both Michigan and Ohio State have produced eight All-America centers but Ohio State gets the edge over their Big-10 counterpart because they have three Rimington Trophy recipients to Michigan’s two. In fact, Ohio State gets the nod over Nebraska as well for the number three spot on our list.

Ohio State’s eight All-America centers the past 50 seasons were: Tom Deleone ’71, Steve Myers ’74, Jeff Uhlenhake ’88, Rimington Trophy winner LeCharles Bentley ’01, and Nick Mangold ’05. Then along came two-time All-American Mike Brewster in 2010 and 2011 and later a pair of Rimington Trophy winners in Pat Elfein in 2016 and Billy Price in 2017. The Buckeyes have produced an All-America center four of the past eight seasons which is very impressive.

At number two for Offensive Center U is the University of Notre Dame. No school has produced more All-America centers in the past 50 seasons than Notre Dame with 11. Notre Dame’s All-American centers were:  Mike Oriard ’69, Dave Huffman ’78, John Scully ’80, Mike Kelley ’84, Chuck Lanza ’87, Mike Heidt ’90, Tim Ruddy ’93, Jeff Faine ’02, Eric Olsen in 2009, Braxton Cave in 2012 and Nick Martin in 2015. What is surprising and what keeps Notre Dame from being Center U, despite having the most centers named All-America is that none of them ever won the Rimington Trophy as the nation’s top center.

That is why Alabama with 10 All-American centers, and four in the last seven years with two of them Rimington Trophy winners, surged past Notre Dame and has become Offensive Center U. Alabama’s All-American centers were: Jim Krapf ’71 & ’72, Sylvester Croom ’74, Dwight Stevenson ’78 & ’79, Steve Mott ’82, Wes Neighbors ’85 & ’86, Antoine Caldwell ’08, William Vlachos ’11, Rimington Trophy winner Barrett Jones in 2012 and another Rimington Trophy winner in Ryan Kelly in 2015 and Alabama’s latest All-America center Bradley Bozeman in 2017.

Interesting fact:  Tennessee has not had an All-American center in the past 50 seasons.

Alabama logo Photo credit: Greece Trip Admin on VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-SA

Nebraska Herbie Husker Photo used courtesy of: beatboxbadhabit and found at: https://visualhunt.com/photo/296858/ CC BY

Notre Dame Photo credit: Urthstripe on Visual Hunt / CC BY

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:  https://johnbaranowski.wordpress.com/

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