Top 10 Biggest Hits in College Football History
10. Dunham's Decapitation (2005)
Even with the increased emphasis on football player safety, fans still emit their fair share of “oohs” and “aahs” at the sight of big hits. We’re right there with them, as we rank the 10 Biggest Hits in College Football History. (NOTE: Clean hits only. And if you’re a football player, please don’t try recreating some of these brutal collisions.)
Matt Ryan silenced any doubts that he had what it took to be Boston College’s starting quarterback in the third game of his sophomore season, at Clemson.
Scrambling to evade the Tigers pass rush, Ryan dumped a pass off before getting leveled by Clemson LB David Dunham right in the chest - which was so powerful it sent Ryan’s helmet flying. Not only did Ryan only sit out one series after the hit — which could have potentially sidelined him for the rest of the game — he also led the Eagles to a 16–13 overtime win.
As for Dunham? He’s got a great video to show his grandkids.
9. Barnes Shell-Shocks Best (2008)
Upon being traded to the Detroit Lions from the Washington Redskins in August 2012, Kevin Barnes told the Detroit media of his desire to be known for more than his 2008 hit on Jahvid Best — who, ironically, was Barnes’ teammate with the Lions. There’s little chance of that happening.
The hit in question came when Barnes was a senior DB at Maryland and Best was a budding star sophomore RB at Cal. On a swing pass to the outside, Bears QB Kevin Riley led Best too far — right into a hard-charging Barnes, who had read the play perfectly and leveled Best with a clean tackle.
Best vomited from the impact of the hit — a rather grim foreshadowing of the concussion problems that have derailed his NFL career.
8. Clowned by Clowney (2013)
In addition to appearing to break Michigan RB Vincent Smith on a hit that’s already legendary, South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney also broke Twitter.
It felt as though Clowney’s bone-shattering hit during the 2013 Outback Bowl was a trending topic for a full week. People couldn’t stop talking about it or finding hilarious ways to memorialize it — whether it was a Chuck Norris-like hacking of Clowney’s Wikipedia page or a Mortal Kombat-inspired animation of the play.
Adding to the legend of “The Hit” is that it came directly after the Outback Bowl officials incorrectly gave the Wolverines a first down. In retrospect, we’re glad they did.
7. Maualuga Mauls Cowan (2007)
If one had to describe Rey Maualuga’s style of linebacking play for USC, the operative phrase would be “hunt and destroy.” Former UCLA signal-caller Patrick Cowan can definitely attest to that.
During the fourth quarter of the two teams’ rivalry game in 2007, Cowan scrambled to his right, hoping to pick up a Bruins first down. But roughly four yards short of the marker, Maualuga sent Cowan flying out of bounds with a hit that epitomized his Trojans legacy.
Give Cowan a lot of credit. He popped up off the Rose Bowl turf mere seconds after being leveled. Maybe his body was in shock after the punishment it took.
6. Bennett Buries Beuerlein (1986)
Despite spending 17 years in the NFL, QB Steve Beuerlein once said that “The Sack” during his senior year at Notre Dame in 1986 was the hardest he’d ever been hit.
It was Alabama LB Cornelius Bennett who was the culprit. With Beuerlein following through on a play-action fake, Bennett was much too fast for the pulling Fighting Irish guard responsible for blocking him. His hit not only jarred the ball loose from Beuerlein — resulting in a fumble that Bennett himself recovered — it also knocked Beuerlein out cold.
“The Sack” lives on thanks to a well-known painting of the same name courtesy of artist Daniel A. Moore. Beuerlein himself is an owner of a limited edition print.
5. Moore's Massacre (2005)
Quinton Moore’s Oklahoma State profile describes how the former Pokes DB “broke up a pass against Arkansas State” in 2005. It is a hilariously non-descriptive way of recalling a hit that WR Levi Dejohnette likely has nightmares about to this day.
The long pass over the middle intended for Dejohnette went a little farther than his QB intended (are you sensing a pattern here?), and Moore was there to break it up by laying out Dejohnette. It was one of the first hits of Moore’s college career — and it was his most memorable.
4. Mallard Packs a Wallop (2000)
The awesomely named Wesly Mallard racked up his fair share of tackles as an Oregon LB — he was the Ducks’ leading tackler as a senior in 2001 — yet by far his biggest hit came when he was blocking on special teams, against Arizona DB Michael Jolivette, in 2000. Jolivette’s helmet and chin strap immediately went flying.
“I remember running down the field, and I was breaking stride, and the play was nearly dead, and I just looked to my left and I saw nothing but green in my face,” Jolivette told the Daily Wildcat in 2001. “The next thing you know, I saw my helmet in the air and it was all over.”
Jolivette received 11 stitches from the hit, which resulted in a four-inch scar running across his chin.
3. Coryatt's Wreckin' Time (1991)
With one hit in 1991, Quentin Coryatt simultaneously gave Texas A&M’s “Wrecking Crew” defense something to epitomize and (one can argue) made himself the No. 2 overall selection in the following spring’s NFL draft.
Facing TCU in a nationally televised game, Coryatt de-cleated Horned Frogs WR Kyle McPherson with a hit so ferocious that it broke McPherson’s jaw in three places. ESPN’s “Hit of the Year” for the 1991 season, it was one of many that Coryatt had en route to winning SWC Defensive Player of the Year.
Making it more impressive? Coryatt barely moved while delivering the hit, as if McPherson ran into a refrigerator.
2. Samuels Ragdolls Parrish (2003)
Even if Miami (FL) WR Roscoe Parrish had caught a pass from QB Brock Berlin out in the flat during the second quarter of the Hurricanes’ rain-soaked matchup with Florida State in 2003, he likely wouldn’t have had it for long.
Not accounting for the presence of Seminoles DB Stanford Samuels, Berlin led Parrish a bit too far. As a result, Samuels unloaded on Parrish. At just 5-foot-9 and about 175 pounds, Parrish looked like a rag doll flying in the air after the hit.
The hit — Warchant.com’s No. 8 Play of the 2000s — looked so devastating that Parrish left the game and was taken to a local hospital for fear of internal bleeding.
1. Taylor & Stephenson's Titanic Collision (1997)
What hit could possibly top this list after the collisions you’ve just seen? How about a hit that immediately ended the careers of both players involved?
Michigan safety Daydrion Taylor hit Penn State tight end Bob Stephenson so hard on the final play of the first quarter in the teams’ 1997 game in Happy Valley that it horrifyingly knocked both players out. Stephenson was later diagnosed with a Grade 3 concussion, while Taylor underwent neck fusion surgery.
Our choice for the Biggest Hit in College Football History is so legendary that the Big Ten Network did a feature on it last fall on the 15-year anniversary of the play, showing the permanent effect it had on both Taylor’s and Stephenson’s lives.
We’re just glad neither player was permanently injured during a hit that looked like two freight trains colliding.