The Bowl Championship Series is dead. But even the harshest of BCS detractors must acknowledge that the 16-year run was arguably the best era of college football in the history of the sport.
The era was highlighted by the advent of the BCS Championship Game, conference realignment and mega-dollar contracts for conferences, programs and coaches. But the elite athletes had a huge, if not the biggest, hand in the unprecedented growth of college football over the last two decades.
So Athlon Sports is looking back on the players that made the BCS Era great — conference-by-conference, position-by-position.
More so than any other league in America, the Big 12 has had the most decorated wide receivers during the BCS Era. Only two players in the history of college football have ever won two Biletnikoff Awards and both of them played in the Big 12 during the 16-year BCS Era. In fact, 17 different times has someone caught more than 100 passes in the Big 12 (1996), and until 2013, no ACC player had ever topped 100 catches in a single season.
Note: Must have played at least one season between 1998-13 in the conference.
1. Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech (2007-08)
Stats: 231 rec., 3,127 yds, 41 TDs
No player has been as productive in just two seasons as the Dallas, Texas native. As a redshirt freshman, Crabtree set NCAA records for receptions (134), yards (1,962) and touchdowns (22) and won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top wideout. He also won Big 12 Newcomer and Offensive Player of the Year honors and still owns the single-season league record for receptions and yards as just a freshman. He became the first player in NCAA history to win a second Biletnikoff Award when he caught 97 passes for 1,165 yards and 19 touchdowns for the 11-2 Red Raiders the next year. He finished fifth in the Heisman balloting in ’08 — one of just four wide receivers to finish in the top five during the BCS Era. Certainly, Mike Leach’s system inflated the two-time consensus All-American’s numbers, but the 6-foot-2, 215-pound wideout was — and still is — easily the most talented Texas Tech receiver in program history.
2. Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State (2009-11)
Stats: 252 rec., 3,564 yds, 40 TDs, 136 rush, TD
Similarly to Crabtree, Blackmon’s numbers are inflated due to an elite offensive system. But make no mistake, he is the one of the greatest pass-catchers to ever play. He posted back-to-back seasons with at least 1,500 yards and 18 touchdowns, earning consensus All-American honors twice. The Ardmore (Okla.) Plainview product also became just the second player in NCAA history to claim two Biletnikoff Awards. Blackmon won Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year honors in 2010 and capped his illustrious career with a Big 12 championship and Fiesta Bowl MVP performance against Stanford. At a program with a long track record of elite wideouts, Blackmon has to be considered the best. He is one of just four wide receivers to finish in the top five for the Heisman Trophy (5th, 2010) during the BCS Era.
3. Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma (2008-11)
Stats: 349 rec., 4,586 yds, 45 TDs, 97 rush, TD, 1,307 ret. yds, 2 TDs
No one in NCAA history caught more passes than the smallish local star from Norman, Okla. And it didn’t take long for him to become a star, catching seven passes for a freshman school-record 141 yards in his first collegiate game. He posted three straight seasons of at least 80 catches, 1,100 yards and 10 touchdowns. He led the nation in both receptions (131) and punt returns (34) as a junior and is the Big 12’s all-time leading receiver in all three major categories. Broyles was a two-time consensus All-American.
4. Tavon Austin, West Virginia (2009-12)
Stats: 288 rec., 3,413 yds, 29 TDs, 1,031 rush, 6 TDs, 2,840 ret. yds, 5 TDs
Be it through the air, on the ground or in the kicking game, Austin was downright unstoppable. The diminutive talent won’t ever be confused with prototypical physical outside receivers, but with the ball in his hands, few were as productive. The Baltimore prospect was a two-time All-American and two-time Big East Special Teamer of the Year before moving to the Big 12. He posted back-to-back 100-catch/1,000-yard seasons and was a 1,000-yard rusher for his career. In fact, Austin’s signature performance came as a running back against Oklahoma as senior when he nearly set an NCAA record for all-purpose production with 572 yards (344 rushing, 82 receiving, 146 kick return). He scored four different ways during his unbelievable senior season and finished eighth in the Heisman voting. His 2,910 all-purpose yards set a Big 12 single-season record.
5. Roy Williams, Texas (2000-03)
Stats: 241 rec., 3,866 yds, 36 TDs, 243 rush, 3 TDs
Right out of the gate, Texas knew they had a great one in the massive 6-foot-3, 218-pound in-state star from Odessa. He was a three-time All-Big 12 selection and left school with the records for receptions, yards and touchdowns. “The Legend” never caught fewer than seven touchdowns or 800 yards in any of his four NCAA seasons. He is ninth all-time in Big 12 history in receptions, fourth in receiving yards and fifth in touchdown catches.
6. Jeremy Maclin, Missouri (2007-08)
Stats: 182 rec., 2,315 yds, 22 TDs, 668 rush, 6 TDs, 2,626 ret. yds, 5 TDs
He only played two seasons but was outstanding from the first time he stepped onto the college gridiron. He was a consensus All-American both years, topped 1,000 yards receiving in both years, scored at least 10 total touchdowns in both seasons and topped 1,000 return yards in both seasons. He set an NCAA freshman all-purpose yardage record with 2,776 total yards for a 12-2 Tigers team. He posted 5,609 all-purpose yards in just two seasons, which ranks ninth all-time in league history and third among all Big 12 wide receivers, and might be the most underrated wideout of the BCS Era.
7. Rashaun Woods, Oklahoma State (2000-03)
Stats: 293 rec., 4,414 yds, 42 TDs
Oklahoma State has one of the best wide receiver traditions in the nation and Woods was one of the first high-profile stars. Three seasons with at least 77 catches, 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns makes him one of the most prolific receivers in BCS history. And his NCAA-record seven touchdowns against SMU still stands today. The consensus All-American finished fourth in Big 12 history in receptions, second in yards and second in touchdowns.
8. Jordan Shipley, Texas (2006-09)
Stats: 248 rec., 3,191 yds, 33 TDs, 162 rush, 843 ret. yds, 4 TDs
Colt McCoy’s go-to target made big plays in big games and was as dependable as any receiver in Big 12 history. He was a consensus All-American in 2009 when he caught 116 passes for 1,485 yards and scored 15 total touchdowns for an unbeaten Texas team that lost to Alabama in the national championship game. He is seventh all-time in receptions, eighth all-time in yards and seventh all-time in touchdown catches, barely trailing the aforementioned Williams for all of Texas' big three receiving records.
9. Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State (2007-09)
Stats: 147 rec., 2,425 yds, 29 TDs, 574 ret. yds, 3 TDs
He may not have Blackmon’s numbers, but Bryant might be the most talented Pokes wideout of all-time. He was named a consensus All-American after 87 receptions, 1,480 yards and 21 total touchdowns as just a sophomore. Had he not been suspended for most of the 2009 season, his numbers would’ve rivaled anyone’s on this list. His overall physical ability was painfully obvious and it led to him being taken with the 24th overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.
10. Mark Clayton, Oklahoma (2001-04)
Stats: 220 rec., 3,236 yds, 31 TDs, 221 ret. yds, TD
Jason White's No. 1 target helped Oklahoma play in two national championship games. The Sooners had many elite wideouts but Clayton might have been the most dynamic (possibly, more so than Broyles even). His unstoppable junior season gets him onto this list alone: 83 rec., 1,425 yds, 15 TDs. He helped his team to three Big 12 championships, is sixth all-time in league history in yards and ninth all-time in touchdown catches.
Just missed the cut:
11. Kendall Wright, Baylor (2008-11)
Stats: 308 rec., 4,004 yds, 30 TDs, 425 rush, 2 TDs
There are just 15 receivers with 4,000 yards in their college careers and there are just 10 wideouts with at least 300 catches. There are just three such players with both (Ryan Broyles, Jordan White). Wright's offensive system certainly helped but he was as versatile, dependable and explosive as any player during this era.
12. Wes Welker, Texas Tech (2000-03)
Stats:259 rec., 3,069 yds, 21 TDs, 562 rush, 2 TDs, 2,102 ret. yds, 8 TDs
Welker’s ranks 5,699 all-purpose yards rank seventh all-time in league history and trail only Ryan Broyles for No. 1 all-time among wide receivers. He is fifth all-time in receptions and sits just outside of the top 10 in terms of receiving yards. The do-everything prospect was excelling at versatility long before the all-purpose position was en vogue.
13. Jordy Nelson, Kansas State (2005-07)
Stats: 206 rec., 2,822 yds, 20 TDs, 267 ret. yds, 3 TDs
Nelson was a consensus All-American after catching 122 passes (No. 3 in Big 12 history) for 1,606 yards (No. 9 in Big 12 history) and 11 touchdowns in 2007 before leaving for the NFL. He also returned two punts for touchdowns and threw two touchdowns during that memorable season. He finished just outside the top 10 all-time in league history in receptions and yards.
14. Terrance Williams, Baylor (2009-12)
Stats: 202 rec., 3,334 yds, 27 TDs, 1,342 ret. yds
The consensus All-American posted one of the greatest single seasons in league history when he caught 97 passes for 1,832 yards (second in Big 12 history) and 12 scores in ’12 (with Nick Florence under center). Depending on if bowl stats are counted or not, Williams finished sixth all-time in yards and was just outside the top 10 in receptions and touchdowns.
15. Stedman Bailey, West Virginia (2010-12)
Stats: 210 rec., 3,218 yds, 41 TDs
Like Austin, only one of his seasons took place in the Big 12, but it was a monster year. He caught 114 passes (sixth-best in Big 12 history) for 1,622 yards (seventh-best) and 25 touchdowns (Big 12 record). In fact, no Big 12 receiver has ever topped Bailey in single-season scoring and his 150 points ranks sixth all-time behind only Ricky Williams, Collin Klein and Joseph Randle among position players. His career yards would be top 10 in the Big 12 had he played all three seasons there. His 41 TD receptions would be tied for third in Big 12 history.
Best of the rest:
16. Dezmon Briscoe, Kansas (2007-09): 219 rec., 3,240 yds, 31 TDs, 37 rush, TD, 651 ret. yds, TD
Two monster years before leaving early for the NFL. Seventh in yards and ninth in TD receptions.
17. Todd Blythe, Iowa State (2004-07): 176 rec., 3,096 yds, 31 TDs
Tied for ninth with 31 TD receptions and is 10th all-time in yards. Holds every major ISU record.
18. Ryan Swope, Texas A&M (2009-12): 252 rec., 3,117 yds, 24 TDs
One year in SEC, but did most of his damage in the Big 12. Aggies' all-time leader in most categories.
19. Adarius Bowman, Oklahoma State (2003-06): 155 rec., 2,697 yds, 25 TDs
After two uneventful years at North Carolina, Bowman starred in Stillwater with two 1,000-yard seasons.
20. Danario Alexander, Missouri (2006-09): 191 rec., 2,778 yds, 22 TDs
Uninspiring career blossomed with monster 113-catch, 1,781-yard, 14-TD senior season.
21. Quan Cosby, Texas (2005-08): 212 rec., 2,598 yds, 19 TDs, 2,103 ret. yds, 2 TDs
Steady all-around performer for a team that went 45-7 in his four seasons (with a BCS title).
22. Quincy Morgan, Kansas State (1999-00): 106 rec., 2,173 yds, 23 TDs
Played only two years but topped 1,000 yards in both with 23 TDs in 24 games.
23. Jeff Fuller, Texas A&M (2008-11): 233 rec., 3,092 yds, 34 TDs
One of the conference's all-time leaders in all three categories but never seemed to reach full potential.
24. Juaquin Iglesias, Oklahoma (2005-08): 202 rec., 2,861 yds, 19 TDs, 1,676 ret. yds, TD
Consistent playmaker as a receiver and return man on team that won three Big 12 titles.
25. Jarrett Hicks, Texas Tech (2003-06): 198 rec., 2,859 yds, 30 TDs
Was injured his senior year or else his numbers could have been among the league’s best.