Before Barry Sanders rewrote the Oklahoma State record book, he had the task of following Cowboys legend Thurman Thomas
Kelly Bryant’s performance in Clemson’s 47-21 victory over Louisville this past Saturday seems like he has picked up right where Deshaun Watson left off last season. Watson, a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist who led the Tigers to two national title games and a win over Alabama in the most recent one, didn't seem too surprised at his successor's breakthrough game where Bryant stole the spotlight from reigning Hesiman winner Lamar Jackson.
He will be better than me! https://t.co/CUyyNcesZO— Deshaun Watson (@deshaunwatson) September 17, 2017
If Kelly proves Watson correct, he will make this list of players who filled some of the biggest shoes in college football history.
10. Brent Fullwood, RB, Auburn (1986)
Followed: Bo Jackson
Fullwood got quite a few carries and filled in for Jackson when he was injured, but did not get the starting job until 1986 after Jackson had left with a Heisman Trophy. He stepped up, rushing for 1,391 yards and 10 touchdowns, averaging 8.3 yards a carry as Auburn went 10-2 and Fullwood finished sixth in the Heisman voting.
9. Tee Martin, QB, Tennessee (1998-99)
Followed: Peyton Manning
Manning left Knoxville as the greatest quarterback to ever wear the orange and white. However, when Martin took the reins in 1998, he did what Manning could not do, leading the Volunteers to a 13-0 season and the national title. He also set the NCAA record for consecutive completions with 24 (it has since been surpassed).
8. Raghib Ismail, KR/PR, Notre Dame (1988-90)
Followed: Tim Brown
Brown’s success as a receiver and return specialist earned him a Heisman Trophy in 1987. When he left, “The Rocket” took over return duties, averaging 36.1 yards a kick return and scoring two touchdowns as the Irish rolled to a national title in 1988. He would go on to greater success, finishing second in the Heisman voting to Ty Detmer in 1990.
7. Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama (2012)
Followed: Trent Richardson
After serving as backup to Mark Ingram and Richardson, Lacy got the starting spot in 2012, rushing for 1,322 yards and 17 touchdowns. His greatest performances came on the biggest stage, when he ran for 181 yards in the SEC Championship Game and 140 in the BCS title game as Alabama defeated Notre Dame to win a second consecutive national crown.
6. Steve Young, QB, Brigham Young (1982-83)
Followed: Jim McMahon
McMahon had gone 23-3 and led BYU to its first two bowl wins in 1980 and '81. Young then led the Cougars to an 8-4 season in 1982 and then an 11-1 season in '83. During the 1983 season, Young threw 33 touchdown passes and ran for eight and finished second in the Heisman voting behind Mike Rozier.
5. Sebastian Janikowski, K, Florida State (1997-99)
Followed: Scott Bentley
Florida State’s kicking woes were so well known in the early 1990s that the highly-touted Bentley was on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s college football preview before ever attempting an extra point. Bentley kicked the game-winning field goal in the 1993 Orange Bowl to give the Seminoles their first national title, overcame problems on and off the field and had a spectacular senior year. His replacement, Janikowski, had his own share of off-field problems, but on the field he was arguably the greatest college kicker of all time and is the only player to win the Lou Groza Award two years in a row.
4. Sean Taylor, FS, Miami (2002-03)
Followed: Ed Reed
Reed was the best player on the Hurricanes’ loaded 2001 national champion squad, and that is saying something. The late Taylor took over the free safety duties in 2002 and patrolled the field as Miami went 12-1, losing the BCS title game to Ohio State. In 2003, Taylor led the nation in interceptions and was a first team All-American.
3. Marcus Allen, RB, USC (1980-81)
Followed: Charles White
After backing up and then sharing the field as a fullback with White, the 1979 Heisman winner, Allen got the starting duties the following season and ran wild. He rushed for 1,563 yards in 1980 and 2,342 in '81 and won a Heisman of his own.
2. Matt Leinart, QB, USC (2003-05)
Followed: Carson Palmer
When Leinart learned he would get the starting job after Palmer, the 2002 Heisman winner, was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals, he told the coaching staff, "You're never going to regret this." With two back-to-back to national championships and a Heisman Trophy, it’s safe to say he was right.
1. Barry Sanders, RB, Oklahoma State (1988)
Followed: Thurman Thomas
Thomas left as Oklahoma State’s all-time leading rusher in 1987 and Sanders followed with the greatest single season for a running back in college football history. He rushed for 2,628 yards and 37 touchdowns and averaged 7.6 yards a carry, winning the Heisman Trophy.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.