Florida State’s Top 5 Best Cornerbacks Ever
What USC is for tailbacks and Penn State is for linebackers, Florida State is for cornerbacks. All the players on our list of the top five corners in Seminoles history helped FSU become known as “Cornerback U” throughout college football during the 1980s and 1990s.
Sawyer was one of two dominant CBs on the Seminoles’ 1993 national title team, along with Clifton Abraham (more on him in a bit). It was Sawyer’s interception that salted away the ’93 matchup with archrival Florida and sent FSU to its de facto national title game with No. 2 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.
During his final year in Tallahassee, Sawyer was a consensus All-American and picked off six passes after intercepting seven the year before. The future Cincinnati Bengal was also a standout punt returner, averaging 14.8 yards/return in 1992 including one TD.
Highlight: An over-the-shoulder interception against Virginia in 1993. Small wonder FSU’s opponents averaged less than 10 points per game that year.
The last in the original “Cornerback U” line of All-Americans, Abraham’s penchant for big plays was Honey Badger-esque.
A Dallas native, Abraham established a school record with four career blocked punt returns for touchdowns. He helped lead the ‘Noles to the 1993 national title, and the lowest one of his FSU teams would ever finish in the national rankings was fourth.
Abraham finished his collegiate career with eight interceptions and 22 pass break-ups.
Highlight: The following quote in a Sports Illustrated story before the ’93 FSU-Notre Dame clash: “A Florida State guy is sort of like Madonna. A Notre Dame guy is more like, you know, Reba McIntyre.”
Cornerbacks shifting to safety isn’t uncommon. Butler went the other way in 1989 in order to replace a departed Deion Sanders. And he picked up right where “Prime Time” left off.
Butler was among the nation’s leaders in interceptions that season with seven, averaging nearly 20 yards per return (19.9). He also made an impressive 94 tackles while breaking up nine passes. After turning pro the next season, he became a standout defensive back with the Packers.
Highlight: The 1988 “Puntrooskie” at Clemson. His 78-yard run on the trick play set up a game-winning field goal.
Ball hawk, thy name is Buckley. It’s mind-boggling that Buckley finished his FSU career with 21 interceptions, including 12 during his Jim Thorpe Award-winning season of 1991. (Why opponents dared to throw at him is anyone’s guess.)
Not only did Buckley pick passes off, he did damage with the ball once it was in his hands. His 501 interception return yards still stands as the all-time NCAA record.
More amazing is that Buckley accomplished this in just three seasons in Tallahassee, having declared for the NFL draft after his junior year. (He would be selected fifth overall by the Packers in 1992.)Highlight: Stepping in front of eventual Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard for a pick six on the first play from scrimmage in FSU’s 51–31 smackdown at Michigan in 1991.
It was "Neion Deion" who kick-started Florida State’s lineage of do-everything cornerbacks.
Sanders’ legacy goes beyond his 14 career interceptions, 1988 Jim Thorpe Award and nearly 1,500 punt return yards. He is responsible for giving FSU its trademark swagger, a major reason for the program’s 14 straight seasons of 10 wins or more from 1987-2000 (the first two of which Sanders was a part of).
And among all the greats that have worn a Florida State uniform, Sanders is the one that ESPN’s College Football Encyclopedia calls “the best ever.” That includes Heisman winner Charlie Ward.
As Deion himself put it in 1988: "I'm not just any defensive back. I'm three players in one. I'm a punt returner, the best cornerback you'll ever get and an entertainer."
Highlight: Backing up his trash talk before the ’88 Clemson game with a punt return TD. The current Seminoles hope to duplicate his and Butler’s heroics from that game when they host the Tigers on Saturday.
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