- David M. Hale, ESPN Staff Writer
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Charlie Ward's credentials are impeccable. He's second in school history in total offense. He was the first Florida State player to win a Heisman. He led Florida State to its first national championship.
In a draft of the all-time greatest Seminoles, Ward's an easy pick at No. 1, right?
Actually, it's not quite so simple. Ward, of course, never played a down in the NFL, so shouldn't future professional stars like Derrick Brooks or Warrick Dunn earn some consideration, too? And while Ward was certainly one of the elite quarterbacks in college football history, it's perhaps Chris Weinke that was the better pure passer, finishing his career with nearly 10,000 passing yards to go with a Heisman and national title of his own. Then there's the men who helped pave the way for those national championships by building Florida State into a powerhouse program -- from Fred Biletnikoff in the 1960s to Ron Simmons in the 1970s, and of course, Deion Sanders in the 1980s.
In other words, when it comes to picking the best players to come through Tallahassee in the past half-century, there's ample room for debate, and that's exactly what we'll be doing at NoleNation this week as we look at our all-time Florida State football team.
Our panel of experts will participate in a draft of Florida State's best players, and we'll analyze the picks. We'll dig into the archives to look at how FSU landed some of those key players on the recruiting trail, and we'll look ahead at which members of the current crop of Seminoles might go down in history as some of Florida State's all-time best.
Of course, to get it all started, we needed to figure out some way of ranking the best of the best, and it wasn't easy. Here are a few of the key debates that raged in advance of our draft:
What’s the criteria?
Does Ward get penalized because he didn't go on to professional stardom? Does Walter Jones get extra credit for what he did in the pros, despite spending just a year in Tallahassee? And what's a fair comparison between Biletnikoff and Warrick, who played the same position nearly 40 years apart? When you’re splitting hairs between the best of the best, simply finding a standard set of rules to judge them by isn’t easy.
Who’s at the top?
Never mind finding Florida State’s all-time top player. That’s an impossible task. Simply narrowing down the list to a top 10 was a painstaking experience, and surely the final results will earn some scorn from fans befuddled about the absence of their personal favorites. When a program spends the better part of two decades in the hunt for a national title, there’s no shortage of difference makers.
Offense or defense?
Sure, Ward and Weinke have the Heisman trophies, but should some glamor awards trump all the battered bodies Mickey Andrews’ boys left in their wake? From Simmons’ rise to stardom in the late 1970s to Sanders ushering in the “Prime Time” era in the ‘80s to Brooks, Terrell Buckley, Corey Simon, Peter Boulware and a few dozen more defensive stalwarts, there’s plenty of cases to be made that the defense was the building blocks for FSU’s championships, and the Seminoles’ defenders deserve the lion’s share of the top spots.
Who comes next?
Even after ironing out a list of FSU’s best, finding the next batch of greats for the later rounds of our draft was equally challenging. Who follows Ward and Weinke at quarterback? Once Dunn and Greg Allen were off the board, how do you decide between Sammie Smith, Travis Minor, Larry Key, Greg Jones or a host of other running backs? If Sanders and Buckley were the clear-cut top DBs, when’s the right time to jump on Corey Sawyer, LeRoy Butler or Tay Cody?
None of the answers were easy, but this week we’ll do our best to put an end to a few of the debates.