College Football Hall of Fame: The ’23 nominees, why Junior Seau can’t be inducted and our list of snubs from every Pac-12 school

(AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

Some of the conference’s greatest players are up for election this year

The 2023 College Football Hall of Fame ballot released Monday features some of the most accomplished Pac-12 players of the past quarter century, from Ryan Leaf and Tony Gonzalez to Marshawn Lynch, Toby Gerhart and LaMichael James.

Then there’s the headliner of headliners: Mr. Reginald Alfred Bush Jr. is on the ballot.

Yep, the guy from the Wendy’s commercials.

And if you’re wondering why it took nearly two decades for one of the most electrifying players in the sport’s history — and the landslide winner of the 2005 Heisman Trophy — to appear on the Hall of Fame ballot, well, the Hotline has news for you:

How flawed?

So flawed that Junior Seau isn’t in the College Football Hall of Fame.

In fact, Seau, who produced the most dominant defensive season in USC history and is a member of the NFL’s 100th anniversary All-Time Team, isn’t eligible for nomination because he doesn’t meet the performance criteria.

Settle in, folks. We have a story to tell …

Understandably, the Hall of Fame has established a waiting period. Players aren’t eligible for nomination until 10 years after their final college season. (The process is different for coaches and depends, in part, on their age at retirement.)

Also noteworthy in the selection process: Voters are instructed to consider a player’s “post-football record as a citizen.”

But the most important criteria is performance. To be eligible, a player “first and foremost” must have “received First-Team All-America recognition by a selector that is recognized by the NCAA and utilized to comprise its consensus All-America teams.”

At the end of the 1989 season, Seau was named to a slew of All-America teams, but only The Sporting News gave him first-team honors.

And in 1989, the NCAA didn’t recognize The Sporting News as an official selector. It does now, but it didn’t back then.

As a result, Seau, who died in 2012, will never be eligible for the College Football Hall of Fame as long as the current selection process remains in place.

Our intent here isn’t to bash the Hall of Fame or its partner, the National Football Foundation, whose membership makes up the Hall’s electorate.

With so many schools and so many deserving players, the nomination process must have guardrails.

But perhaps the Hall should create a pathway for special exemptions — for players who weren’t named first-team All-American by one of the recognized selectors. After all, the NCAA’s list has changed over the years.

Why not allow each school to put forward one nominee for special exemption? If deemed worthy by the electorate, he’s in. If not, he’s out.

We can think of several players who would have a decent shot at induction, including an All-American, record-breaking tailback for UCLA who had a solid career as a second baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

And with that …

The Hotline presents its Hall of Fame fast-track list:

One former player (or coach) for each Pac-12 school who would deserve immediate induction if the Hall offered the one-time exemption.

Please note: We did not consider active NFL players.

Arizona: Dick Tomey. The only coach on our list doesn’t meet the Hall’s qualifications: He lacks a .600 winning percentage — a standard that punishes coaches who take the most difficult jobs. Tomey either rebuilt programs from ashes (Hawaii and San Jose State) or produced unmatched success (Arizona) but never cleared 60 percent for his career. He also made a vital contribution to the game: No coach did more to open Mainland access for players from the Pacific Islands.

Arizona State: Terrell Suggs. The edge rusher extraordinaire won the Lombardi and Nagurski awards in 2002 and set the NCAA single-season sack record (24). It was Seau-level dominance and came on the heels of a sophomore season (2001) in which Suggs also performed at an all-conference level. ASU has a slew of fast-track candidates, including linebacker Vernon Maxwell. Our preference is Suggs.

Cal: Chuck Muncie. The Hotline was stunned to discover during our research process that Muncie, who passed away a decade ago, isn’t in the Hall of Fame. After all, he rushed for more than 3,000 career yards and finished second to Archie Griffin in the ’75 Heisman race. Perhaps the citizenship factor is an obstacle — Muncie was imprisoned on drug charges after retirement — but if that’s the case, shouldn’t the Hall of Fame have booted O.J.?

Colorado: Darian Hagan. Our distinct sense is the Hall’s criteria (first-team All-America by a recognized selector) inherently works against the superb option quarterbacks of the 1980s and 90s who weren’t as well regarded as the pocket passers of the era. Hagan, who led the Buffaloes to their 1990 national title and was 28-5-2 as a starter, belongs in that company. Also not in the Hall: Oklahoma’s Jamelle Holieway.

Oregon: Haloti Ngata. If there has been a more dominant interior defensive lineman in the Pac-12 this century, we cannot name him. Ngata was an Associated Press first-team All-American — yes, the AP’s team counts — who should have been elected years ago. We considered Dennis Dixon and Joey Harrington and believe Chip Kelly should be elected immediately upon retirement for his immense impact on the game during his six years in Eugene. (Also in that immediate-induction category: Mike Leach.)

Oregon State: John Didion. The Beavers don’t have a handful of obvious fast-track candidates from the past 30 or 40 years, so we opted for Didion, an All-American center from the late 1960s. (The program’s clear choices, Heisman-winning quarterback Terry Baker and record-breaking receiver Mike Haas, are already in the Hall.) Frankly, you could make a strong case for Mike Riley, whose success in Corvallis is comparable to what Dick Tomey achieved at his career stops.

Stanford: Troy Walters. The 1999 Biletnikoff Award winner and first-team All-American (by all the major selectors) is the clear fast-track pick from a program that has produced more Hall of Famers than you might think. And the players most deserving, from Ernie Nevers and Ken Margerum to John Brodie and Jim Plunkett — plus John Elway and Andrew Luck — have been inducted. Also, the current head coach is a mortal lock, once he meets the retirement qualifications.

UCLA: Jackie Robinson. Led the nation in punt returns in back-to-back seasons, averaged 12.2 yards per carry as a tailback and was an All-American. Also, from the Hall of Fame: “While each nominee’s football achievements in college are of prime consideration, his post-football record as a citizen is also weighed. He must have proven himself worthy as a citizen.”

USC: Junior Seau. We covered his situation above but should mention other Trojans who aren’t in the Hall: Chris Claiborne, Curtis Conway, Jack Del Rio, Keyshawn Johnson, Don Mosebar, Bruce Matthews, Tim McDonald, Rodney Peete, Willie McGinest, Sam Baker, Dwayne Jarrett. Oh, and Pete Carroll.

Utah: Star Lotulelei. Former defensive lineman Luther Elliss is on the 2023 ballot and deserves induction for his performance when the Utes were in the WAC. But if the fast-track option were available, Lotulelei, who hasn’t played in the NFL since 2019, would be our pick as a dominant force during the Utes’ first two seasons in the Pac-12. Utah is another instance of the current head coach being a no-brainer Hall of Famer.

Washington: Lawyer Milloy. First of all, we can confirm that Steve Emtman is in the Hall. Same goes for Lincoln Kennedy. And Don James, too. But that’s it — no one else from the Huskies’ glory years in the 80s and 90s has been inducted yet. We slotted Milloy at the top of the fast-track list for his two-year dominance in the conference and first-team All-American selection in 1995. A close second to Milloy, in our view, is tailback Napoleon Kaufman.

Washington State: Rien Long. With Jason Hanson’s 2020 induction and Ryan Leaf appearing on the current ballot, Long was the obvious fast-track pick for the Cougars (ahead of Lamont Thompson). All he did was win the 2002 Outland Trophy and receive AP All-American honors. Of note: Long took home the Outland the same year another Pac-12 defensive lineman, ASU’s Terrell Suggs, won the Lombardi and Nagurski awards. Goodness, how times have changed.

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