Top 10 Best Ohio State College Football Players of All Time

Top 10 Best Ohio State College Football Players of All Time

The Ohio State Buckeyes are a Division 1 NCAA football team based in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State first took the football field at the end of the 19th century, in a 1890 game against Ohio Wesleyan University. Since these meager beginnings, Ohio State has become one of the biggest names in NCAA College Football, capturing eight National Championships, an amount surpassed by only six NCAA teams. Read on to learn about the ten best to ever play football for Ohio State University.

Who Are the Best Ohio State University Football Players of All Time?

  1. Archie Griffin
  2. Eddie George
  3. Vic Janowicz
  4. Les Horvath
  5. Orlando Pace
  6. Chris Spielman
  7. Troy Smith
  8. Chris Carter
  9. Ezekial Elliot
  10. Charles Harley

1. Archie Griffin

  • Rose Bowl All-Century Player
  • 1974 and 1975 Heisman Trophy Winner
  • Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1986

Running back Archie Griffin is possibly the most well-loved and celebrated Ohio State Buckeye of all time. Griffin played college football with the Buckeyes from 1972-1975 and immediately began setting records. With 27 career touchdowns, Griffin is a two-time Heisman Trophy Winner. In 1974, he became the fifth junior ever to receive this high honor, and the following year, he was the first college athlete to receive the honor in two separate seasons. 

Most impressively, Archie Griffin’s 5,589 rushing yards remain the most in Ohio State Buckeye history. Beyond Griffin’s Heisman Trophies, Griffin’s 31 consecutive 100 yard or more games set the NCAA D1 record. He was named Rose Bowl All-Century Player in 2013, inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1986, and was the first recipient of the Big Ten Ford-Kinnick Leadership Award in 2011.

2. Eddie George

  • 1995 Heisman Trophy winner
  • Fourth most rushing yards in school history (3,768)
  • 1995 Doak Walker Award winner

From 1992-1995 Eddie George was turning heads in Columbus as the Buckeyes’ running back. In 1995 in particular George put on a rushing show, setting a school record for yards ran in a season, at 1,927. This year George collected a slew of trophies, the Heisman, the Doak Walker Award, Big Ten Most Valuable Player, and the Walter Camp Player of the Year. George wasn’t just fantastic his final season, though. He holds the 4th most rushing yards in school history at 3,768. He scored 45 career touchdowns and 534 career receiving yards. 

Eddie George continued into the NFL, drafted number 14 overall by the Titans, and winning NFL Rookie of the Year in his first season. Eddie George’s no. 27 jersey has been retired by Ohio State, along with the four other Heisman Trophy winners in school history, Vic Janowicz, Archie Griffin, Les Horvath, and Howard Cassady. 

3. Vic Janowicz

  • No. 31 jersey retired by Ohio State
  • 1950 Heisman Trophy winner
  • 1950 All-American

In 1976, former Buckeye running back Vic Janowicz was inducted into the Ohio State Football Hall of Fame. Janowicz is remembered as nothing short of an Ohio State legend for his 1949-1951 collegiate career. Janowicz rushed for a total of 804 yards in his career, which may seem insignificant in comparison to other prominent players’ numbers. However, Janowicz not only played the running back position, but also defensive back.

An all-around star, Janowicz was one of only a handful of players who could successfully run, punt, block, and pass. In the East-West Shrine game and the Hula Bowl, Janowicz took home the Most Valuable Player award, as well as being named All-American and Heisman Trophy winner. Amazingly, Janowicz went on to play both professional football and baseball briefly, playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates (MLB) from 1953-1954 and the Washington Redskins (NFL) from 1954-1955.

4. Les Horvath

  • 1944 Heisman Trophy winner
  • Number 22 retired by Ohio State
  • 1944 Big Ten Championship winner

1944 was a remarkable year for the Ohio State Buckeyes, with Les Horvath manning the quarterback position the Buckeyes went 9-0 and won the Big Ten Championship. Horvath was awarded the Heisman Trophy for his efforts, plus Big Ten’s Most Valuable Player. Remarkably, this incredible 1944 season was Horvath’s first and only season as a quarterback.

Horvath played only the 1942 and 1944 seasons with Ohio State. In fact, in 1942, he began his football career as a running back. Once in the quarterback position, though, Horvath couldn’t be stopped. He scored over 2,000 offensive yards. In 1969, Les Horvath was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

5. Orlando Pace

  • 1995 and 1996 Lombardi Award winner
  • 1996 Outland Trophy winner
  • Two-time All-American

Orlando Pace is, nearly indisputably, the best offensive lineman in Ohio State history. He is certainly the most decorated. Pace won both the Lombardi Award and was an All-American in consecutive seasons, in 1995 and 1996. Pace was the first ever player to win the Lombardi twice. In 1996, he also stacked the Outland Trophy and Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year on top of these trophies. Even from the start of his collegiate career, Pace’s talent was recognized, he won Big Ten Freshman of the Year in his 1994 season.

Pace’s style of play was unique and is credited as being game changing, as he was one of the first college lineman to popularize downfield blocking and a signature move called the “Pancake Block.” Orlando Pace was unsurprisingly drafted into the NFL, taken as the overall number one draft pick by the St. Louis Rams, who he went on to win a 1999 Super Bowl with.

6. Chris Spielman

Chris Spielman, one of the best linebackers to take the Buckeye field, played NCAA football from 1985 to 1987. Two out of Spielman’s three seasons, he led the Buckeyes in tackles (1986 and 1987). Inarguably, 1987 was Spielman’s best season, where he collected Defensive Player of the Year and a Lombardi Award. He also played in a Rose Bowl and a Cotton Bowl with the Buckeyes.

Spielman set and holds the school record for solo tackles at 283. Spielman’s 546 career tackles have only been surpassed by two Buckeyes, Marcus Marek and Tom Cousineau. In 1988, Chris Spielman was drafted in the second round by the Detroit Lions and went on to have a successful NFL career.

7. Troy Smith

  • 2006 Heisman Trophy winner
  • Number 10 retired by Ohio State
  • 2006 Walter Camp Award winner

Troy Smith dominated in the quarterback position at Ohio State from 2003-2006. Although each year of his collegiate career was more than impressive, Smith truly rose to every occasion in the 2006 season. Smith threw for 30 touchdowns this season and 2,542 yards, more than earning the Heisman Trophy he was awarded at the end of the year. 

As any Buckeye fan knows, beyond bowl games and playoffs, the most important game of each football season is the rivalry game against the Michigan Wolverines. Smith was 3-0 in games against Michigan. On top of that, Smith’s 5,720 passing yards are the eighth best in school history. Smith played an integral role in the Buckeyes reaching the National Championship in 2007, though OSU was defeated by Florida in a 41-14 blowout.

8. Chris Carter

  • 1985 First Team All Big 10
  • First All-American receiver in Ohio State history
  • 4th most career receptions in school history (168)

From 1984-1986, Chris Carter played wide receiver for the Ohio State Buckeyes and put up unbelievable statistics. Carter caught 27 touchdowns in three seasons, earned 2,725 receiving yards, and caught 164 completed passes. In the 1985 Rose Bowl, Carter made receiver history with his performance, with 172 yards and nine catches. 

Carter’s 1986 season was even more impressive though, with 69 receptions, 1,127 yards, and 11 touchdowns. Carter’s 168 career receptions are the 4th most in school history. After leaving Ohio State, Carter was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 4th round. He went on to become the first Ohio State Buckeye to win an All American.

9. Ezekiel Elliot

  • 2015 National Champion and Championship MVP
  • 3rd most rushing yards in school history (3,961)
  • 2015 AAU Sullivan Award winner

Ezekiel Elliot played for Ohio State from 2013-2015 at the running back position. In the 2015 Football National Championship, Elliott scored 4 touchdowns and rushed for 246 yards, earning Championship MVP. Elliott played a huge role not only in this victory, but in bringing the Buckeyes all the way to the Championship, scoring 23 touchdowns in the 2015 season. 

One of the most elite rushers in school history, Ezekiel Elliot rushed for 3,961 yards, which is the third most of any Buckeye. Elliott was named Offensive Rookie of the Year in his 2013 season, and later collected the AAU Sullivan Award and Fedex Ground Player of the Year. Elliott left the Buckeyes in 2016, electing to enter the NFL Draft, where he was selected as the fourth overall pick by the Dallas Cowboys.

10. Charles Harley

  • Three-time All-American
  • No. 47 jersey retired by Ohio State
  • Led the Buckeyes to very first conference championship wins

Few players hold as much Buckeye historical significance as Charles “Chic” Harley. Ohio State University first established a football team in 1890, but it wasn’t until Chic Harley came along that the team began gaining traction. They had found their first star. Harley played in a time before carefully recorded statistics, before the Heisman Trophy, and long before Ohio State won their first National Championship (1945), but the Buckeye lore surrounding this running back speaks volumes for his talent. 

Harley won consensus All-American consecutively in his first two seasons, 1916 and 1917, and then again in 1919 after he returned from a break from his college career. Harley played a critical role in Ohio State’s first two conference championships, was team captain, and led the Buckeyes to a 6-1 season in 1919. Ohio State has retired Harley’s number 47 jersey.

Honorable Mentions

  • A.J. Hawk
  • Andy Katzenmoyer
  • Bill Willis
  • Howard Cassady
  • Jack Tatum
  • Jim Otis
  • Jim Stillwagon
  • Keith Byars
  • Paul Warfield
  • Rex Kern


Who is the best Ohio State quarterback of all time?

Les Horvath is the best Buckeye quarterback of all time. Although Horvath began his Ohio State career as a running back, it wasn’t until he was moved to the quarterback position that he began to shine. Horvath won the 1944 Heisman Trophy, Big Ten Most Valuable Player, and scored over 2,000 offensive yards. Horvath played a critical role in bringing Ohio State to their 1944 Big Ten Championship win after a 9-0 season.

Who is the best Ohio State wide receiver of all time?

Chris Carter is the best Buckeye wide receiver of all time. With 168 career receptions, Carter has the 4th most in school history. His status as 1985 First Team All Big 10 and the first All American receiver in Ohio State history, add to his prestige in Buckeye football history. Chris Carter’s performance in the 1985 Rose Bowl was record setting, at nine catches and 172 yards.

Who is the best Ohio State running back of all time?

Archie Griffin is the best Ohio State running back of all time. The Rose Bowl All-Century Player holds the school record for most rushing yards at 5,589. He is a College Football Hall of Famer and was the first college football player to win the Heisman Trophy twice. Archie Griffin scored 27 career touchdowns, set the D1 record for consecutive 100 yard games, and had his number retired by Ohio State in 1999.