Sporting News College Football All-Decade team features players who starred in both the Bowl Championship Series and College Football Playoff eras.
Much like the decade itself, this list is dominated by Nick Saban’s Alabama machine. A total of five Alabama players made the all-decade team; led by Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry. A total of 10 players from the SEC made the list – the most of any conference.
Sporting News remains one of five publications used to determine consensus All-Americans, and most these are the players that dominated our postseason awards list. With that in mind, a look at our All-Decade Team:
Sporting News’ college football All-Decade team: Offense
QB: Deshaun Watson, Clemson
Why he’s here: Watson did not win a Heisman Trophy, but he elevated Clemson to a national champion with an incredible three-year stretch that included 10,163 passing yards and 90 TDs along with 1,934 rushing yards and 26 TDs. He finished 32-3 as a starter, and it was the two legendary performances against Alabama in the College Football Playoff championship game that defined his career. Watson fittingly closed that career with a two-yard TD pass to Hunter Renfrow that gave the Tigers a national championship.
By the numbers: In the two matchups against Alabama, Watson accounted for 941 yards of offense with eight total TDs. He even added one punt for 38 yards.
RB: Derrick Henry, Alabama
Why he’s here: Henry rushed for 2,219 yards in 2015 — a year in which he over-shadowed LSU star Leonard Fournette to break the SEC’s all-time single-season rushing record. Henry was the ultimate work-horse that season with five games with 30-plus carries and four games with 200-plus yards. There might other running backs that had more talent in the last decade. Henry, however, willed the Crimson Tide to a national championship.
By the numbers: Henry had 368 yards and six TDs in the victories against LSU and Clemson that season.
RB: Saquon Barkley, Penn State
Why he’s here: A Big Ten running back had to be on this team, and we chose Barkley over Ezekiel Elliott — who led a national championship run at Ohio State — and Melvin Gordon — who nearly broke Barry Sanders’ single-season rushing record. Barkley, however, got the nod with an incredible three-year career that includes 5,538 all-purpose yards and 53 total TDs. Perhaps no running back had that blend of speed, power and play-making ability quite like Barkley.
By the numbers: Barkley’s most-memorable performance might have been in the Rose Bowl loss to USC, where he had 306 all-purpose yards and three TDs.
WR: Amari Cooper, Alabama
Why he’s here: Alabama receivers Julio Jones and Jerry Jeudy could have made the list, but SN selected Cooper — who shattered the school record books with an incredible junior season that totaled 124 catches, 1,727 yards and 16 TDs. Lane Kiffin unlocked the potential with his star receiver, and Cooper finished third in the Heisman voting that season.
By the numbers: Cooper had nine games with multiple TD catches at Alabama, and the Crimson Tide finished 8-1 in those games.
WR: Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
Why he’s here: Blackmon set a FBS record with a streak of 14 straight 100-yard games which stretched through the 2010 and 2011 seasons. He continued a long tradition of great receivers at Oklahoma State with back-to-back monster years. He finished his career with 3,564 yards and 40 TDs. Blackmon finished fifth in the Heisman voting in 2010.
By the numbers: Blackmon had 10 games in college with all of the following: 10 or more catches, 100 or more yards and a TD.
TE: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington
Why he’s here: Seferian-Jenkins was a steady contributor in the offense for three seasons with the Huskies, and he was a reliable target in the red zone. He finished with 23 career receiving TDs, and had season highs in receptions (69) and yardage (852) in 2012.
By the numbers: Seferian-Jenkins had eight games with 75 receiving yards or more at Washington.
T: Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M
Why he’s here: Joeckel started in all 39 games at tackle for the Aggies and helped the program make the adjustment to the SEC. Joeckel developed into a 6-6, 309-bookend for Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. He won the Outland Trophy and was a Unanimous All-American selection in 2012.
By the numbers: Texas A&M averaged 242.1 rushing yards with Joeckel leading the way in 2012.
G: Pat Elflein, Ohio State
Why he’s here: Elflein played in 55 games at Ohio State after redshirting in 2012, and he made the move from guard to center and won the Rimington Award in 2016. Elflein was a smart player and a leader of “The Slobs,” which helped carry the Buckeyes to a national championship in 2014.
By the numbers: Elflein was a three-time first-team Big Ten selection from 2014-16.
C: Barrett Jones, Alabama
Why he’s here: Jones was a mainstay on three national championship teams for Alabama, but the defining characteristic was his versatility. He switched from guard to left tackle to center, and he made those transitions while maintaining a 4.0 grade point average. Few athletes exemplify what Jones could do. He won the Outland Trophy in 2011 then won the Rimington Award in 2012.
By the numbers: Jones was a two-time consensus All-American and two-time Academic All-American at Alabama.
G: Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame
Why he’s here: Sometimes an interior lineman comes along who is just flat-out nastier than everyone else. Nelson is that guy. He started in 12 games in 2016 and 2017 for the Irish and helped flip a losing team into a 10-win team that had a vaunted rushing attack. Nelson’s physical style has translated well with the Colts in the NFL.
By the numbers: The Colts took Nelson with the No. 6 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft; the highest a guard has even been taken.
T: Gabe Carimi, T, Wisconsin
Why he’s here: Carimi had the unenviable task of replacing Joe Thomas at Wisconsin, but by his senior season the 6-7 tackle had lived up to expectations. He won the Outland Trophy in 2010 and was the lead blocker for a dominant offense that averaged 41.5 points per game.
By the numbers: Carimi started in 49 games in four seasons fort the Badgers.
ATH: Christian McCaffrey, Stanford
Why he’s here: McCaffrey put together one of the most-incredible seasons in college football history in 2015 with a record 3,864 all-purpose yards. He had 2,019 rushing yards, 645 receiving yards, 1,070 kickoff return yards and 130 punt return yards. There was nothing he could not do at Stanford, and that all-around talent continues at the next level.
By the numbers: McCaffrey closed that season with a record 368 all-purpose yards at the Rose Bowl in a 45-16 victory against Iowa.
SN’s college football All-Decade team: Defense
DE: Joey Bosa, Ohio State
Why he’s here: Which Ohio State defensive end do you pick? Nick Bosa and Chase Young are possibilities here, but Joey Bosa set the standard with a career that included 26 sacks and 50.5 tackles for loss. He enjoyed a dominant 13.5-sack season in leading the Buckeyes to the first College Football Playoff championship. That opened the door for others to follow his footsteps.
By the numbers: Bosa had more tackles for loss at Ohio State than linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer, who finished with 50.
DT: Aaron Donald, Pitt
Why he’s here: Donald piled up sacks and tackles for loss at Pitt from 2010-13, and he got better with each season. Donald finished his career 29.5 sacks and 66 tackles for loss from the interior; numbers that more than hinted a dominant career in the NFL would follow.
By the numbers: Donald had seven games with the Panthers where he had at least one sack and three tackles for loss in the same game.
DT: Ed Oliver, Houston
Why he’s here: Oliver, a 6-1, 287-pound defensive tackle, was blessed with uncommon athletic ability from the interior. He was almost impossible to block at times for the Cougars, and he put together a three-year highlight reel that included 13.5 sacks and 53 tackles for loss.
By the numbers: Oliver’s signature game came against Louisville and Lamar Jackson in 2016, when he had three tackles for loss, two sacks, two passes defensed and a fumble recovery in a 36-10 victory.
DE: Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
Why he’s here: Clowney delivered “The Hit” against Michigan’s Vincent Smith, a viral moment that defined his freakish ability off the edge. Clowney was the top recruit in the country, and he elevated the profile of the Gamecocks under Steve Spurrier. Clowney’s sophomore season — which included 13 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss — showed just how dominant he was off the edge.
By the numbers: Clowney’s big hits registered. He ranks fifth all time in SEC history with nine forced fumbles.
LB: Manti Te’o, Notre Dame
Why he’s here: Te’o was a five-star recruit and the heart of a turnaround that helped propel Notre Dame to the national championship game in 2012. Te’o had three straight seasons with 100 tackles or more, and he finished with seven interceptions in 2012. Te’o finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting that season.
By the numbers: Te’o finished with 437 tackles at Notre Dame. Only Bob Crable (521) and Bob Golic (479) have more.
LB: Luke Kuechly, Boston College
Why he’s here: Kuechly swept the Lombardi, Nagurski, Lott and Butkus awards in 2011, and with good reason. The three-time All-American finished his college career with a 191-tackle season. Kuechly finished with 532 tackles and set the FBS record with 14.0 tackles per game for his career.
By the numbers: Kuechly had 15 games with 15 tackles or more at Boston College.
LB: C.J. Mosley, Alabama
Why he’s here: The middle linebacker is the quarterback of Nick Saban’s defense at Alabama, and Mosley made an instant impact with 67 tackles as a freshman All-American in 2010. He played through injuries in 2011 before back-to-back seasons with 100-plus tackles in 2012-13.
By the numbers: Mosley was more than just a solid tackler. He had 23 tackles for loss and 17 passes defended at Alabama.
CB: Patrick Peterson, LSU
Why he’s here: Peterson won the Thorpe Award in 2010, and the two-time All-American flashed the skills of a shut-down cornerback throughout his career with the Tigers. He had seven interceptions and averaged 24.4 yards per interception return.
By the numbers: Peterson also was an electric returner who piled up 1,350 return yards between kickoffs and punts in 2010.
CB: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
Why he’s here: Fitzpatrick won the Thorpe Award in 2017 and was a member of two national championship teams at Alabama. Fitzpatrick was a sleek defender with uncommon side-to-side range in coverage. He had nine interceptions with four returns for TDs, and it was his ability to move around the secondary that made him a matchup nightmare for opposing offenses. He piled on an average of 57 tackles per season, too.
By the numbers: Fitzpatrick averaged 30.4 yards per interception return.
S: Tyrann Mathieu, LSU
Why he’s here: The “Honey Badger” had a knack for finding the football during a dominant stretch from 2010-11. Mathieu had four interceptions and eight fumble recoveries, and he added two punt returns for TD as a part of an incredible career with the Tigers. Mathieu’s penchant big plays led to him finishing fifth in the Heisman voting in 2011.
By the numbers: Mathieu had 16 passes defended and 11 forced fumbles in just two seasons with the Tigers.
S: Jabrill Peppers, Michigan
Why he’s here: Peppers played so many positions at Michigan we lost count, but he was a do-it-all defensive player who finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting in 2016. He was an instinctive player who took off in Don Brown’s defense in 2016. Peppers had just one career interception, but he 13 tackles for loss and three sacks in his junior season.
By the numbers: Peppers scored five offensive TDs and had one punt return for a score with the Wolverines.
SN’s college football All-Decade team: Specialists
K: Roberto Aguayo, Florida State
Why he’s here: Aguayo burst on to the scene as a freshman on Florida State’s national championship team. He hit 21 of 22 field goals and made all 94 extra points in a 157-point season. Aguayo won the Lou Groza Award and was a three-time All-American before foregoing his senior year to enter the NFL Draft.
By the numbers: Aguayo hit 46 of 46 field goals from inside 40 yards in his college career.
P: Braden Mann, Texas A&M
Why he’s here: Mann is wrapping up a magnificent career at Texas A&M where he averaged more than 47.0 yards per punt in each of three seasons. Mann even averaged a career-high 51 yards per punt as a junior. Mann won the Ray Guy Award in 2018.
By the numbers: Mann’s career average of 49.3 yards per punt would break the FBS record by almost three yards.
KR: Rashaad Penny, San Diego State
Why he’s here: Perhaps no game showed Penny’s return skills more than Nov. 18, 2017, against Nevada. Penny had two TD runs, but he returned a punt 70 yards for a score in the first quarter and ran a kickoff back 100 yards for a TD in the fourth quarter. Penny averaged 30.2 yards per kickoff return for his career.
By the numbers: Penny finished with seven kickoff returns for TDs, which is tied with three others for the FBS record.
PR: Dante Pettis, Washington
Why he’s here: Pettis averaged 13.8 yards per catch and caught 24 TDs for the Huskies, but it was his punt-return skills that put this explosive playmaker on the map. He returned a punt for a TD in the first three games of the 2017 season and averaged 14.2 yards per return for his career.
By the numbers: Pettis holds the FBS record with nine career punt return TDs.