Like the 1913 (8-0) and 1993 (11-0) teams, Auburn’s 1983 team is recognized by the NCAA as a national champion. Auburn’s 1983 team went 11-1 (6-0 in SEC) against a schedule that Richard Billingsley (of BCS computer formula fame) has ranked the 5th most difficult schedule in the entire history of college football. This was a team full of great players, but the following is my list of the top 10.
1. Vincent “Bo” Jackson There is no suspense or debate about this pick. Bo still holds most of the Auburn rushing records, was the Heisman Trophy winner in 1985, and ESPN readers recently voted him the Greatest Athlete of All Time over such luminaries as Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali, and Michael Jordan. What more needs to be said – we all know how good Bo Jackson was in 1983.
2. Donnie Humphrey Coach Pat Dye‘s teams in the mid- to late-1980’s were strong and deep on the defensive line, but that depth hadn’t been fully developed by 1983 and Donnie Humphrey was a standout whose quality of play at defensive tackle ranks with notables such as Ken Rice and Tracy Rocker. Not only did he play strong against the run, he had the ability from his defensive tackle position to rush the passer and anchored the defensive line, as he did in a short NFL career.
3. Greg Carr Carr was a tough-as-nails leader for this defense. A sure, hard tackler, who led the team in that statistic, Carr was also adept at a linebacker’s role in pass defense. It would be hard to find a more complete college linebacker of that era and Carr was named an All-American in 1984. He would continue his career in the NFL.
4. Lionel James Although diminutive even by the standards of the time, James was a strong and physical blocker as well as exciting open field runner. He acted as quite a counterpunch to defenses focusing to stop Bo Jackson and was just about as liable to break a long touchdown run. He would go on to a record-setting NFL career.
5. Al Del Greco Some might say Del Greco, the team’s placekicker, is ranked too high at number five. However, Del Greco was practically a sure bet at kicks of almost any distance and his three clutch field goals in the Sugar Bowl against Michigan and it’s powerful run defense, were the difference in 9 – 7 win and clinched the National Championship for Auburn, as awarded by BCS-formula guru Richard Billingsley and other championship selectors recognized by the NCAA. Del Greco went on to an NFL career that almost lasted two decades.
6. Doug Smith A big and powerful defensive lineman comparable to Donnie Humphrey, he was likely the strongest player on defense. Add in his great toughness and with that combination Smith would go on to All-American status in 1984 and have a long NFL career.
7. Randy Campbell You can’t measure leadership by height and weight or with a stopwatch. Campbell was the leader this team needed, protected the ball in a triple option offense placing an emphasis on the quarterback being nimble in his fakes, smart in his reads and decision-making, and accurate in his pitches to Jackson or James and in the short passing game. With his adept play of the position, Auburn led the nation in fewest turnovers, a key statistic as Auburn faced one of the most difficult schedules in the entire history of college football.
8. Ed West Athough he may be overlooked by some, West is deserving of this spot based on being a model tight end for Coach Dye’s brand of run-first offense. He was an overpowering blocker for the running game and practically an automatic first down on third down when the distance dictated an intermediate pass. He was a clutch performer who went on to a long NFL career.
9. David King He was the leader of the defensive secondary. Even though he was a bit under-sized, King was a three year starter at cornerback and demonstrated great athleticism. A sure and hard hitting tackler, after his first year as a starter opposing team’s recognized his ability and seldom attempted passes to the receivers he covered. If teams in this era had run more passing plays, King would have had the opportunity to move up this list. He would go on to a short NFL career.
10. Tommie Agee Just a freshman in 1983, Agee makes this list because of the big plays he made that year as a fullback in the triple option, where his running ability up the middle kept defenses from keying on the flanks where Jackson and James did their damage on option pitches from Campbell. In addition to great skill as a runner, Agee was a strong blocker and was also a threat in the passing game. Agee would go on to a lengthy NFL career.
If you want to suggest other players from the 1983 team as being missing from my list of Top 10 Players, leave a comment to let me know what you think. And if you want to relive some of the highlights of that 1983 season, a chapter of “Auburn’s Unclaimed National Championships” is devoted to that season.