Jerry Rice, perhaps the greatest football player of all time, saw humble beginnings at Mississippi Valley State University.
SBNation's college bloggers, being an incredibly bored lot of overzealous and wordy football fans, have decided to pool our collective knowledge to create our very own college football hall of fame, the name of which is uncreatively enough "The SBNation College Football Hall of Fame." Each blog has been charged with nominating five players per year - we'll see how long that lasts - and have been encouraged to nominate from both their own schools and their region.
There are some criteria and stuff, but whatever, we'll just keep this ballot very simple: we wanted to nominate some of the best athletes to ever play college football in Mississippi, Ole Miss or otherwise. This is mainly because the best players to come out of this state did not play for Ole Miss, but also because these guys deserve all the praise they can muster for their incredible college (and professional) careers.
So, on to the nominees.
LB Patrick Willis - Ole Miss (2003-06)
Call me a bad Rebel if you must, but if Patrick Willis played for someone other than Ole Miss - especially Ole Miss under Ed Orgeron - he'd be considered one of the greatest collegiate linebackers to have ever taken the field. If a guy can get consensus all-America honors and win the Butkis Award as a senior on a team which only won three games, imagine what kind of name brand recognition he could have gotten playing for Alabama, USC, or Notre Dame. During Willis' junior and senior years he led the SEC in tackles, and finished his career at Ole Miss with 345 total tackles, 33 tackles for a loss, 10 sacks, five forced fumbles with three recoveries, 11 passes deflected and one interception. In 2005 and 2006, he posted 90 and 87 solo tackles respectively, which stand as numbers one and two all time on the SEC solo tackles in a season list.
Few are willing to say it right now, because he until recently has played on losing teams, but Patrick Willis is one of the greatest defensive players to ever see the field in the history of the Southeastern Conference, if not all of football. By the time he retires from a (hopefully) long NFL career, we'll all know this.
WR Jerry Rice - Mississippi Valley State University (1980-1984)
In his junior and season, before the advent of the spread, Rice posted a reception total of 102 and a yargade total of 1,450. Both statistics were NCAA records until Rice's senior year, where he registered 112 receptions for an astonishing 1,845 yards along with 27 touchdowns, which also set a record. The offense at MVSU was literally to line Rice up left and four receivers to the right. If Rice wasn't triple covered, they threw to him. Here's a diagram of this offense as drawn by Willie Morris on a cocktail napkin. Obviously, he holds almost every receiving record in the NFL, but he was a spectacular college player as well.
QB Steve McNair - Alcorn State (1992-1995)
McNair's sophomore and junior seasons saw strong numbers 3,500 and 3,000 yards passing. It was his final year, though, that "Air" broke out. He amassed over 6,000 yards of offense and 53 total touchdowns, breaking dozens of records and earning McNair an All-American selection despite playing in 1-AA. His 14,496 career passing yards and 16,238 career total yards records still stand. McNair finished third in Heisman voting to Rashaan Salaam and Ki-Jana Carter. He would go on to win an NFL MVP award and go to the Pro Bowl three times in a strong career.
HB Walter Payton - Jackson State (1972-1975)
In the earliest days of the Southeastern Conference's acceptance of black football players, few roster spots were given to nonwhite players. Because of this, schools such as Jackson State, Grambling, and Southern U became incredibly powerful football programs which consistently fielded teams littered with NFL ready talent. How foolish we all were to pass up on the talent that was Walter Payton (the only BCS-level school to offer him a scholarship was Kansas). Sweetness was not only a damn fine person, but also a monster of a football player, rushing for over 3,500 yards with a 6.1 yards per carry average. He rushed for 65 touchdowns in his career, setting an NCAA record. He earned 1973 all-America honors and was drafted by the Chicago Bears in 1975, and subsequently established himself as one of the faces of the storied Chicago franchise.
QB Eli Manning - Ole Miss (1999-2003)
Look, there are lots of college quarterbacks who deserve a spot in this Hall of Fame over Eli Manning. And Eli certainly deserves it over that Jason White corncob. But this is Red Cup Rebellion - who'd you expect us to nominate? Eli's 4th all time in SEC passing yards (one of few SEC quarterbacks to have a 10,000+ yard career), 3rd all time in SEC passing touchdowns (he held the #1 spot for three years until Chris Leak and then Tim Tebow broke it), and had an all time efficiency rating of 137.66.