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Which player from college football history would you move to another team?

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Would you send somebody back? Forward? To a different school? Etc.?

Chase Young in a Nebraska uniform Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images. Banner Society illustration.

Maybe you’re curious whether an elite receiver on a so-so team could’ve scored a zillion touchdowns in the air raid. Maybe you’d like to know how an unstoppable running back would’ve done behind an unstoppable line. Or maybe you’d like to know how such an RB would’ve done behind one of the worst lines, just to test greatness.

If we could each take one player (from any era) and stick them on another team (from any era), who would go where?

2019 Chase Young on 2009 Nebraska, by Alex Kirshner

Could I put 2009 Ndamukong Suh on 2019 Ohio State and created an even better defense? Yes. Am I declining to do that, because Ohio State is annoying and I don’t want them to have more good players? Also yes.

Suh’s 2009 and Young’s 2019 are the two best defensive line seasons of the century, though Aaron Donald’s 2013 is up there. Suh ruined running games pretty much by himself and got 12 sacks as a tackle, something that doesn’t happen. Young had 16.5 sacks and would’ve broken 20 if he didn’t serve a stupid suspension against Maryland and Rutgers.

If these guys are together, Nebraska’s 13-12 loss to Texas in the Big 12 Championship is a win. One-point and two-point losses to Virginia Tech and Iowa State are, too. I’m not sure Nebraska could’ve made the BCS title game, but they would’ve performed the public service of keeping Texas out, which could’ve put the Cincinnati Bearcats in.

I choose not to imagine what Bama would’ve done to Cincinnati.

Cam Newton on 1916 Cumberland, by Jason Kirk

IRL Cam powered a mediocre team to a title. But could he have done the same for the most overmatched team ever, these dozen-ish slapdash frat guys who lost 222-0?

  1. Opponent Georgia Tech’s biggest player weighed 190 pounds. Send the 6’5, 250-pound Newton back a century, and he might be the strongest and fastest player ever, on top of being by far the most skilled and tactically knowledgeable. (One of the fastest humans ever, in fact — Newton’s 4.59 40-yard dash could equate to 1910s Olympic 100-meter speed, based on estimated conversions.)
  2. At Auburn, Newton devastated huge, fast, future NFL defenders via a glorified 1910s offense. Now he’s facing 165-pound dirigible mechanics? Just use the same Gus Malzahn offense, and once all 11 defenders follow Cam every play, send one guy deep.
  3. One of Cumberland’s biggest problems (saying a lot) was a total lack of preparation. Newton can give his frat boys a crash course in the week (or whatever) before kickoff. Cumberland’s coach was a baseball student manager; let Cam install a Tecmo Bowl playbook, oversee practice, and call plays.
  4. Another huge issue: instant attrition. Cumberland’s QB was carted off three times. The reverse might be true as 165-pound Model T enthusiasts bounce off Cam-berland’s QB.
  5. This was the two-way era. Cam would’ve gotten to trample 165-pound golfers even when Tech had the ball. Put him at nose tackle, and see if Tech has time to hand off. Triple- and quadruple-team him, but even 1916 Cam-berland defenders can take advantage of one guy occupying a third of the offense. Put him at free safety, and the line of scrimmage is now a force field. And if Tech scores, the extra point is going back the other way.

“Oh, but these are 1916 rules. They can punch and do choke holds and drop elbows off the top rope during plays.”

Ok, so can one of the most powerful athletes in human history to that point.

Cam-berland 22, Tech 2

Calvin Johnson on 2010 Auburn, by Brian Floyd

What if we gave Cam a super weapon on his Auburn team instead? Quick, name Cam’s top three receivers at Auburn. Give up yet? Darlin Adams, Terrell Zachery, and Emory Blake. None broke 1,000 yards.

If we take junior year Johnson and plop him onto that Auburn team — a team that already ran the table — Cam suddenly has a massive threat outside (to go with his constant rushing touchdown threat). Despite being in a creative, run-first offense, having Johnson changes how that Auburn team is defended, and also gives Cam a “throw it up to Megatron” safety net.

Besides, imagine Johnson catching passes from Newton instead of Reggie Ball.

Calvin Johnson on 2010 Oregon, by Brian Floyd

The Ducks were three points and one wrist away from the school’s first national title. Auburn took away the Ducks’ run game and made Darron Thomas throw. Up until the title game, Oregon breezed undefeated with steady, explosive doses of the read option, a running game that looked mostly unstoppable, and wide receiver Jeff Maehl — who nearly doubled the second-leading receiver in catches, more than doubled them in yards, and caught 12 touchdown passes (nobody else caught more than four).

Thomas wasn’t even supposed to be the starter, but was fine running the offense and gashing teams in the hurry up. What he needed was another receiver, a big target in the red zone — especially in the title game, when Oregon ran four times from inside the Auburn 10 before turning the ball over on the 1.

If you put Johnson onto the Ducks for just those four plays, it probably changes the 2010 title. If you give Megatron to Oregon for the whole game, it probably isn’t particularly close. If he spends the whole season on the Ducks — a team that regularly scored in the 40s, 50s, and 60s — we’re talking about hilarious numbers.

Besides, imagine Johnson catching passes from Thomas instead of Reggie Ball.

Red Grange on any modern team, by Richard Johnson

I don’t care to build a superteam with legends. I want to highlight how insane the athletes of today really are.

So bring one of the best players of yesteryear to the now. You’re telling me this guy gains a damn yard today?

Look at this and tell me how he breaks the line of scrimmage in 2020.

It does not matter that he lacked the modern training or nutrition or other caveats someone will use to uphold the sanctity of the game from a bygone era. If you think Grange is outrunning a defensive lineman who can do this ...

... you’re just wrong.

Alex Henery on 2012 Wisconsin, by Ryan Nanni

In our timeline, the Badgers finished the regular season 7-5 and third in their division (RIP Leaders) ... and still won the Big Ten because the teams ahead of them, Ohio State and Penn State, were postseason-banned.

But four of those losses were by three points, and the fifth was in overtime. Wisconsin didn’t enjoy kicking success, making 55.6% of their field goals, tied for 113th in the nation in 2012.

I say “was” because I have given them Nebraska bootin’ legend Henery, the most accurate kicker in NCAA history (with a minimum of 55 career makes). Henery made just under 90% of his field goals, and he can give the 2012 Badgers an undefeated record. Missed field goals against Penn State and Nebraska in the regular season go in, as does a field goal in regulation in that OT loss to Ohio State, and we can find an opportunity for a makable field goal in the other two losses. They’re still beating the Huskers in the Big Ten Championship, which means our BCS argument is between:

  • 12-0 Notre Dame
  • 12-1 Alabama
  • 13-0 Wisconsin

Are the Irish out because they didn’t have a conference championship? Does Alabama’s win over #3 Georgia count for that much more than Wisconsin beating Nebraska again? Did I just give Wisconsin its first post-WWII national title after they beat Notre Dame? And how obscene is Bret Bielema’s contract if I did?

Barry Sanders on 1999 Virginia Tech, by Spencer Hall

The 1999 Hokies already got through their regular season undefeated without historical hacking, only hitting serious turbulence once. Trailing West Virginia on the road with 1:15 remaining and standing on his own 15-yard line, Michael Vick took the Hokies 58 yards to set up a game-winning, 44-yard field goal from Shayne Graham.

Vick almost singlehandedly beat Florida State in the BCS Championship, too. Under constant pressure, Vick rushed for 97 yards, passed for 225, and kept the Hokies alive until the roof finally caved in the fourth quarter. To this day, Virginia Tech stands one fateful quarter from a championship.

That’s not much ground to make up, but I don’t believe in doing just enough. I believe in overkill, and that’s why I’m adding Sanders.

Would Barry get the same astonishing results he had in 1988, when he hit 2,628 yards rushing for Oklahoma State? No, but he would be running options out of the same backfield as Vick, still the fastest high-level quarterback anyone has ever seen. The idea of defenders trying to pick which one to tackle, then trying to make that tackle before their heads explode from frustration? If that tragicomedy does not delight you, I don’t know what delight means.

With Sanders, there isn’t a close game in the regular season. The Florida State game is a walk. They two score three touchdowns in the fourth quarter while lateraling the ball like they’re playing Hot Potato. No one ever wants to play defense again. Football has no more problems, because we have killed football. No one minds, because they got to watch Vick and Sanders in the same backfield.

P.S. We need to steal a modern offensive coordinator, too. Vick could have put up much bigger numbers if Frank Beamer hadn’t had Ricky Bustle running a high school offense. We’ll just slide Rich Rodriguez over from Tulane.

Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger on the 2012 Alabama scout team, by Brian Floyd

Let’s ruin a movie.