The selection process for the College Football Hall of Fame can't help but be unwieldy and complicated. After all, it represents the best of nearly 150 years of college football, with 987 inductees among a claimed 5.19 million players in the history of the sport. And unlike professional halls of fame, college football provides, at most, four years of players' achievements to judge. Some inductees are even evaluated based on what they accomplished in just one year.
Thus, the list of nominees every year features plenty of players who you might think would already been enshrined. The National Football Foundation released the ballot for the class of 2018 on Thursday, with the inductees announced on Jan. 8, the day of the national championship game. Last year, 10 players (including Peyton Manning, Marshall Faulk and Matt Leinart) and three coaches (Steve Spurrier, Larry Kehres and Danny Ford) got the call. This year's candidates include 75 FBS players and six coaches (Mack Brown, Frank Beamer, Jim Carlen, Pete Cawthon, Billy Jack Murphy and Darryl Rogers). A key requirement for players is that they must have been first-team All-Americans, according to organizations officially recognized by the NCAA.
Even with that requirement, the list of potential candidates can feel endless, and like every year, seemingly everyone on the 2018 list of candidates has a strong argument to be included. Let's try to highlight 15 FBS players on the ballot who have the strongest case, while recognizing that many more than 15 deserve to be recognized.
1. Charles Woodson, DB, Michigan. After retiring from the NFL, Woodson is on the ballot for the first time, and he's a no-brainer for the college Hall. He checks just about any box, as he's the last defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy, beating out Peyton Manning in a tight race in 1997. He was the face of Michigan's only national championship team since 1948, serving as a star cornerback who had 16 career interceptions, in addition to returning punts and playing some offense with five career touchdowns on that side of the ball. A three-time All-Big Ten performer, he was named Big Ten defensive player of the year and won the Walter Camp, Nagurski, Bednarik and Thorpe awards in addition to the Heisman in '97. Heisman winners are locks to get in eventually, and it shouldn't take Woodson long to get the nod.
2. Raghib Ismail, WR, Notre Dame. Rocket was never a high-volume contributor, but few players delivered more bang for the buck. He was a big-play machine, averaging 7.7 yards per rush and 22 yards per reception in his career, with five kick return touchdowns and one punt return touchdown. Ismail was an all-purpose superstar, sparking Notre Dame's last national championship team in 1988 as a freshman with two return touchdowns and finishing second in the Heisman race in 1990 with 537 rushing yards, 699 receiving yards and a kick return TD. In his last game, against No. 1 Colorado in the Orange Bowl, Ismail came up with what would have been a legendary, Hall-clinching play … had it not been called back by a penalty. With under a minute left and Colorado's championship on the line, Ismail returned a punt 92 yards for a touchdown, but a clipping call sealed the Buffaloes' 10-9 win. Whether it counted or not, Ismail was a Hall of Fame player.
3. Eric Dickerson, RB, SMU. Everybody associated with SMU football in the 1980s is going to have a difficult time getting honored for anything in college football. But Dickerson is a no-doubt Hall of Famer, the all-world recruit who teamed with Craig James in often unstoppable Pony Express backfields. Dickerson ran for 1,428 yards and 19 TDs as a junior and topped it with 1,617 yards, 17 TDs and an average of seven yards per carry as a senior, when he finished third in the Heisman race behind Herschel Walker and John Elway and SMU went 11-0-1. Regardless of what was going on at SMU, Dickerson was an all-time great.
4. Terrell Buckley, CB, Florida State. Buckley's final season at Florida State in 1991 was outrageous: In 12 games, he intercepted 12 passes. This, in a time when teams weren't passing nearly as often as they are now. Buckley had 21 interceptions in three seasons, returning four for touchdowns, and he also returned three punts for touchdowns. He did this for Florida State teams that went a combined 31-6 with three straight top-five rankings, and he finished eighth in the '91 Heisman vote while winning the Thorpe Award.
5. Ed Reed, S, Miami. The Hurricanes had such a ridiculous collection of talent in the early 2000s that nobody was truly the face of the team. The 2001 team in particular was filled with pro stars and deserving Hall of Fame candidates. But if anyone was the face of the defense, it was Reed, who had 21 interceptions from 1998-2001 (four returned for TDs) and also blocked four kicks. A two-time All-American and 2001 Big East defensive player of the year, Reed was the leader of the defense of one of the most dominant teams ever in '01.
6. Keith Byars, RB, Ohio State. Byars' case is tougher because his senior season was lost to a broken bone in his foot, limiting his production to 213 rushing yards. Had he played, he likely would have been a Heisman frontrunner. Still, Byars -- a versatile 238-pound playmaker -- did enough to build a Hall case in two seasons. As a sophomore in 1983, he had 1,199 yards and 20 TDs on the ground, plus 359 receiving yards. As a junior in 1984, he had 1,764 yards and 22 TDs on the ground, plus 479 receiving yards, earning him Big Ten player of the year honors and a second-place finish in the Heisman race behind Doug Flutie.
7. Rick Leach, QB, Michigan. Leach's legacy would be a bit different had Michigan actually been capable of winning bowl games in the 1970s. A four-year starting quarterback under Bo Schembechler, Leach led the Wolverines to the Orange Bowl in the 1975 season, followed by three straight trips to the Rose Bowl. Michigan lost all four games. Still, Leach twice finished in the top 10 of the Heisman race and quarterbacked four top-10 teams, three Big Ten champions and three wins over Ohio State -- all before spending a decade in the Major Leagues as a baseball player. At the time, he set the NCAA's career record for touchdowns accounted for, and he still holds the record for highest percentage of passes that went for touchdowns.
8. Aaron Taylor, OT, Notre Dame; and Aaron Taylor, G/C, Nebraska. They have the same name. They were both two-time All-Americans. They both won a major national award -- Notre Dame's Taylor won the 1993 Lombardi, Nebraska's Taylor won the 1997 Outland. They both played for some great teams, although Nebraska's Taylor gets an edge because he was a key part of three national championship teams. How can either be left out?
9. Calvin Johnson, WR, Georgia Tech. Georgia Tech starting quarterback Reggie Ball completed just 44 percent of his passes in 2006. And yet Johnson played like an All-American anyway, winning ACC player of the year with 76 catches for 1,202 yards and 15 TDs. He was a dominant player in college, just like he was in the NFL, catching 28 TDs in three seasons with 2,927 yards. It's hard to imagine what Johnson would have done with more accurate quarterbacking, because few receivers in football history have had ball skills like his.
10. Dana Howard, LB, Illinois. Fellow Illinois defender Simeon Rice is also on the ballot, and he has a strong case, as well. We will focus on Howard, who was named Big Ten defensive player of the year in back-to-back seasons in 1993-94. Howard was a first-team All-American both seasons and won the Butkus Award as a senior, and he was a leader of excellent Illini defenses -- the '94 unit gave up only 13 points per game -- and finished his career with an absurd 595 tackles in four years.
11. Warren Sapp, DT, Miami. Sapp was so dominant in the middle that he finished sixth in the 1994 Heisman race, a rarity for defensive tackles. Sapp had 10 ½ sacks that season, winning the Lombardi, Nagurski and Big East defensive player of the year awards as part of a Miami defense that finished second in points allowed and just barely lost to national champion Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.
12. Eric Crouch, QB, Nebraska. Should Crouch have won the 2001 Heisman Trophy? Maybe not. Rex Grossman would have been a better choice. But that doesn't mean Crouch isn't still an iconic player at the end of the Nebraska dynasty. He finished his career with 59 rushing touchdowns, 29 passing touchdowns and two receiving touchdowns. No, he wasn't a particularly efficient passer, but his job was to be the point man for a run-first offense, and he did that with aplomb, rushing for 3,434 yards in four years, leading three top-10 teams and one that played for the national title. He's the type of player who becomes underrated because of backlash to actually winning the Heisman. And every Heisman winner should be in the Hall anyway.
13. Michael Bishop, QB, Kansas State. "Quarterback wins" can be an awful way to judge players, but consider where Kansas State had been, and consider that Kansas State won 22 games in Bishop's two seasons as starting quarterback. He was electric, the player who pushed Kansas State nearly to the national title game, if it had been able to beat Texas A&M in the 1998 Big 12 championship. As a senior, Bishop averaged 9.6 yards per pass attempt, rushed for 748 yards and 14 TDs, threw 23 TD passes and led Kansas State to its first win over Nebraska in 30 years, all earning him a second-place Heisman finish behind Ricky Williams. He's the most valuable player in Kansas State history.
14. Kerry Collins, QB, Penn State. The quarterback for one of the greatest offenses in history, Collins and the Nittany Lions were robbed of at least a share of the 1994 national title after a 12-0 season in which they averaged 47 points per game and won the Rose Bowl. Collins' passer rating of 172.9 was far ahead of anyone else, and he also averaged 10.1 yards per attempt, a full yard more than the next-best nationally. Collins finished fourth in the Heisman vote -- teammate Ki-Jana Carter finished second -- but he won the Maxwell, Davey O'Brien and Big Ten offensive player of the year awards. Collins was unfairly denied a national title, but the Hall of Fame would be a deserved consolation.
15. Leslie O'Neal, DE, Oklahoma State. Think of 1980s Oklahoma State, and surely you'll first think about Barry Sanders and Thurman Thomas in the backfield. But the Cowboys also had an all-time great defensive end in O'Neal, who went on to be a six-time Pro Bowler in the NFL. At Oklahoma State, O'Neal was a two-time All-American in 1984-85, and he had 47 career tackles for loss and 351 tackles.