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Best Individual Performances in College Football in 2016

Lamar Jackson

Lamar Jackson

The 2016 college football regular season featured dozens of memorable, individual performances. Your humble author has gone to the liberty of channeling his inner Eric Roberts, and pared the season's top games down to the best-of-the-best. 

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Performances that put the special in special teams, demonstrations of defensive dominance and – SPOILER – a lot of Lamar Jackson headline the 17 best individual games of '16.

Honorable Mention

Tennessee DE Derek Barnett at South Carolina, Oct. 29: Three sacks, two quarterback hurries 

Wyoming RB Brian Hill at Nevada, Oct. 22: 289 rushing yards, three touchdowns 

Louisville QB Lamar Jackson vs. Charlotte, Sept. 1: 17-of-23 for 286 passing yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions; 119 rushing yards, two touchdowns 

Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey at Cal, Nov. 19: 284 rushing yards, three touchdowns 

Toledo QB Logan Woodside at BYU, Sept. 30: 30-of-38 for 505 passing yards, five touchdowns  

17. San Diego State RB Donnel Pumphrey vs. Cal - Sept. 10

Pumphrey, college football's new rushing king, set the tone for his standout senior season with a 281-yard, three-touchdown outpouring against Cal.

"The numbers he put up speak for themselves," Cal wide receiver Chad Hansen said of Pumphrey in his postgame press conference, via "He’s a great player. Great, great player."

16. Eastern Washington WR Cooper Kupp at Washington State - Sept. 3

This countdown may be reserved for the FBS, but Kupp deserves recognition on two fronts. First, he won the 2015 Walter Payton Award -- the FCS equivalent of the Heisman Trophy. Second, Kupp torched a Power Five opponent.  

His 12 receptions for 203 yards and three touchdowns set the tone for Eastern Washington's second win over a Pac-12 opponent since 2013.

15. Texas A&M WR Christian Kirk vs. New Mexico State - Oct. 29

Some programs go literally years without a punt returned for a touchdown. UCLA, for example, hasn't had one since 2005. Christian Kirk took two back in a single game in 2016. 

Both of his returns against New Mexico State exceeded 70 yards. I'm winded just typing that. 

14. Oklahoma State DT Vincent Taylor vs. Texas - Oct. 1

Rare is the occasion when a couple of PATs set the scene for one of the best performances of a football season. In the case of Oklahoma State's Taylor, however, two blocked kicks tell only part of the story. 

On one of his two blocked PATs against Texas, Taylor scooped the ball and headed down field. Channeling an option quarterback, he tossed a lateral to teammate Tre Flowers, who took the assist to the house for two points. The score gave the Cowboys momentum in a Big 12 win.

13. Utah LB Hunter Dimick at Arizona State - Nov. 10

Hunter Dimick became such a permanent fixture in the Arizona State backfield on Nov. 10, he should have had to pay a hotel tax. Dimick led the charge for Utah on a night in which the Utes accrued an eye-popping 22 tackles for a loss and 11 sacks, accounting for 6.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage and an FBS season-high 5 QB takedowns on his own.

12. Clemson QB Deshaun Watson vs. Louisville - Oct. 1

Big-time players come through in the clutch. Watson proved that in a pivotal win over Louisville. 

The Heisman Trophy runner-up didn't play a perfect game. Of the contests listed here, he may have had the most unimpressive from a purely statistical standpoint, throwing three interceptions. 

But his five touchdown passes were integral to the Tigers' victory -- a victory that, with the benefit of hindsight, we see was necessary for Clemson getting back to the College Football Playoff. What's more, Watson struck for two of his five scores in the final seven minutes. Clutch.

11. Alabama DE Jonathan Allen vs. Texas A&M - Oct. 22

You just know the best player on the best defense in college football is bound to have at least one of the season's top games. For Alabama's Allen, it came in a showdown of undefeateds. 

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Texas A&M visited Bryant-Denny Stadium with designs on a landscape-shifting upset. What the Aggies got was a whole lot of Allen in the backfield. He got to quarterback Trevor Knight for a sack, four hurries, and took a fumble to the house for a touchdown.

10. Utah RB Joe Williams at UCLA - Oct. 22

A little more than a month before steam-rolling the UCLA defense, Williams was retired. A series of injuries to Utah running backs brought him back on the field, much to the delight of head coach Kyle Whittingham, who said of the running back's return: "What a blessing." 

Blessing for the Utes, curse for the Bruins. Williams set what was then the FBS season-high for rushing yards in a game with 332.

9. Louisiana Tech WR Carlos Henderson at UMass - Oct. 15

Has does a wide receiver follow up a 232-yard, three-touchdown performance? If you're Louisiana Tech's Henderson, your encore is a 326-yard, five-touchdown game.

Henderson followed up a monster night on Oct. 6 against Conference USA rival Western Kentucky with an even more impressive showing at UMass. He didn't quite reach the NCAA record for receiving yards in a game -- coincidentally held by another Louisiana Tech product, Troy Edwards -- but he did set the benchmark for pass catchers in the 2016 season. 

8. Florida State RB Dalvin Cook vs. Clemson - Oct. 29

Cook was twice denied an invitation to the Heisman Trophy ceremony. No one game from his standout career made a better case for him to go to New York than his performance against rival Clemson. 

Cook rolled off nearly nine yards per carry en route to 169 for the contest. His four touchdowns account for nearly one-quarter of all the rushing scores the Clemson defense has allowed in 14 games this season. 

7. Arizona State RB Kalen Ballage vs. Texas Tech - Sept. 10

Call the direct-snap formation used in Tempe whatever you want, so long as you don't call it the Wildcat. It's dubbed the Sparky there, and in an early-season matchup with Texas Tech, it landed Ballage a spot in college football history. 

Ballage rushed for seven touchdowns out of the set, and caught an eighth score to tie an NCAA record in the Sun Devils' 68-55 win.

6. Washington QB Jake Browning at Oregon - Oct. 8 

Washington snapped a 12-year losing streak to rival Oregon in emphatic fashion, and Browning set the pace. The Hukies' quarterback went 22-of-28 for 304 passing yards with a ridiculous six touchdowns and zero interceptions. 

Browning also scored a couple of rushing touchdowns for eight on the afternoon -- one of which quite literally pointed to the end of Oregon's dominance in this series.

5. Texas RB D'Onta Foreman at Texas Tech - Nov. 5

In an otherwise down year for Texas football, Foreman elevated his game to a level rarely seen in Austin. He joined the illustrious 2,000-Yard Club in 2016, with an incredible 341 coming in the Longhorns' 45-37 win at Texas Tech. 

Foreman averaged more than a first down on every touch that afternoon -- 10.33 yards per, to be exact -- and crossed the goal line a season-high three times.

4. USC CB/Ret. Adoree' Jackson vs. Notre Dame - Nov. 26

Get you somebody that can do both, raps Rae Sremmurd's Swae Lee on the chart-topping hit, "Black Beatles" -- lyrics that apply nicely to USC's do-everything star. 

Jackson demonstrated he's a Jack-of-all-trades in a rout of rival Notre Dame, hitting the Irish for touchdowns of 52 yards on a reception; 55 yards on a punt return; and 97 yards on a kickoff return.

3. Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes vs. Oklahoma - Oct. 22

Numerous record-setting quarterbacks have called Lubbock, Texas, home. None have ever had the kind of performance Mahomes put together in the 2016 season.

Mahomes passed for a staggering 734 yards in a 66-59 loss to Oklahoma. While that was a record-setter, a Texas Tech quarterback piling up huge numbers through the air is nothing new. Add his 85 rushing yards, and consider he scored seven total touchdowns, and Mahomes set himself apart from every Red Raider to man the air-raid before him. 

2. Louisville QB Lamar Jackson at Syracuse - Sept. 9

It's the game that launched a Heisman candidacy. While Jackson's Week 1 performance against Charlotte commanded attention, his show-stopping game against ACC competition truly put the nation on notice. 

Jackson used the unfettered spotlight of a Friday night contest to deluge poor Syracuse with 610 yards of total offense -- 411 passing and 199 rushing -- with five touchdowns. For most players, it would be considered the game of a lifetime. In most seasons, it would stand out as No. 1. 

Lamar Jackson isn't most players, nor was his 2016 any average season. 

1. Louisville QB Lamar Jackson vs. Florida State - Sept. 17

Rarely can one point to a mid-September game as the moment a Heisman winner sewed up his stiff-arm trophy. And, indeed, Jackson had to do more to ensure he claimed the hardware in December. 

However, this Week 3 contest put the Louisville quarterback so far ahead of the pack, there would be no catching him. 

On an afternoon when Louisville honored late hometown hero Muhammad Ali, Jackson paid homage by KO'ing Florida State in a fashion similar to The Greatest's 1965 fight with Sonny Liston. Jackson's total stats against Florida State weren't as gaudy as the previous two weeks against Charlotte and Syracuse, but rushing for four touchdowns and passing for a fifth against the Seminole defense is a whole different level of excellence. 

Truly, it was the day Lamar Jackson shook up the world.

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.