Editor’s note: In June 1917, the Intercollegiate Conference of Faculty Representatives invited Michigan back into the league, increasing membership to 10 and eventually spawning the iconic “Big Ten” nickname. One hundred years later, Land of 10 will spend the summer looking at the history of America’s legendary conference and its teams.
80. Matt Suhey, running back (1976-79)
Matt Suhey spent four years as a versatile contributor out of the backfield. He’s 10th in program history in rushing yards with 2,818, though that does not include the 276 he collected in four bowl games because the NCAA didn’t count postseason stats back then.
He actually rushed for 1,085 yards as a senior, and would be ahead of at least Larry Johnson in both yards and touchdowns if those four games counted for official stats (Johnson’s bowl game does count).
Suhey had a long NFL career as the other guy in the Chicago Bears backfield with Walter Payton. He’s also one of many Suheys to play at Penn State. He won’t be the last on this list, and we’ll dive more into the family tree later.
79. Tony Hunt, running back (2003-06)
Just getting to State College was an interesting story for Tony Hunt. He de-committed from Southern California after the Trojans signed some guy the NCAA record book does not acknowledge named Reggie Bush (and later paid dearly for the extra benefits he received), and chose the Nittany Lions over Michigan on signing day.
He wasn’t supposed to be the star running back in the class. Austin Scott was called the “best running back to emerge from the state of Pennsylvania since Tony Dorsett” by Phil Grosz of G&W Recruiting Report, according to the Allentown Morning Call.
Scott had more carries as a freshman, but Hunt became Penn State’s go-to tailback for the next three seasons. He finished his career with 3,320 rushing yards, which is third in program history.
He was also the first player from T.C. Williams High School (Alexandria, Va.) to be drafted by an NFL team after a heavily-fictionalized account of the 1971 state championship team became the movie Remember the Titans.
78. John Urschel, offensive line (2009-13)
The first thing anyone says about John Urschel is always something about his brain. Urschel is probably the smartest player on this list, and maybe the most intelligent in the history of the program.
Weirdly, his exploits in academia often overshadow his ability on the football field. Urschel was a first-team All-Big Ten selection twice, in 2012 and 2013. After he was a fifth-round pick by the Baltimore Ravens, he’s played in 40 NFL games in three seasons.
Urschel not only earned a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in mathematics while playing for Penn State, he worked on a second master’s in education during his senior season. Now he’s working on a doctorate at MIT during his offseasons.
The smartest guy in football was also really good at it for Penn State.
77. Chris Godwin, wide receiver (2014-16)
Chris Godwin would have broken just about every Penn State career record available for catching footballs had he returned for his senior season in 2017. Of course, it was pretty tough to see a way back for him after an incredible performance in the Rose Bowl (9 catches, 187 yards, 2 touchdowns) against a talented USC secondary.
He still finished fourth in receiving yards and tied for fourth in touchdown catches despite only being a featured target for two seasons and a supplemental option for one. Godwin was an all-Big Ten selection in 2015.
Godwin was a complete receiver, and loved to play in bowl games. He had 133 yards in the TaxSlayer Bowl vs. Georgia as a sophomore, and 140 yards and a touchdown as a freshman in the Pinstripe Bowl vs. Boston College.
— Chat Sports (@ChatSports) January 2, 2017
— uSTADIUM (@uSTADIUM) January 3, 2017
— Philly Influencer (@PHL_Influencer) January 3, 2017
76. Matt Millen, defensive tackle, (1976-79)
Matt Millen has remained a high-profile figure in football for years after his playing days, both as an NFL general manager and as an analyst at the pro and college levels. Younger Penn State fans might think of Millen as a former great Nittany Lions linebacker before some of the players from the 1960s and 1970s who will end up ahead of him on this list.
He was a great defensive player for the Nittany Lions, earning All-America honors in 1978. He wasn’t a linebacker at Linebacker U — that’s where he moved for a long, successful NFL career. At Penn State he was a disruptive defensive tackle, and had the chance to be one of the very best in school history but his senior season was mostly washed out by a back injury.
Speaking of that, Millen told PennLive’s David Jones an incredible story about how the Oakland Raiders were willing to take a player with a bulging disc in his back in the second round of the 1980 NFL Draft. Or how he was able to keep that bit of information from them.
75. Mark Robinson, defensive back (1980-83)
One of the defining memories of the 1986 national championship is Penn State forcing Miami’s Heisman Trophy winner Vinny Testaverde into a flurry of mistakes.
The title-decider in 1982 is remembered most for Gregg Garrity’s sprawling fourth-quarter touchdown catch, but a couple of huge plays earlier helped Penn State ward off what would have been an incredible Georgia comeback.
The Bulldogs only committed 2 turnovers in the 1983 Sugar Bowl, and Mark Robinson collected both for Penn State. He also had 9 tackles in the game, helping to hold Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker to 103 yards on 28 carries.
Robinson was an All-America safety in 1982. Like Millen, he missed about half of his senior season with a serious injury, but went on to play eight seasons in the NFL. Were it not for his 2 interceptions, that Sugar Bowl against Georgia might not be one of the greatest moments in program history.
74. Jared Odrick, defensive line (2006-09)
The modern recruiting era started roughly when the 247Sports composite rankings had other meaningful national sites to compile with Rivals, and generally 2005 works as a start date. Since 2005, Jared Odrick is the highest-ranked defensive tackle Penn State has signed.
He was the No. 6 defensive tackle in the nation in 2006, when Penn State had its highest-ranked class (seventh in the country) in the past 13 years.
Odrick was an all-Big Ten selection in 2008, then followed that up with all-conference, All-America and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2009. Then he became the program’s most recent first-round NFL draft pick, in 2010.
73. NaVorro Bowman, linebacker (2006-09)
Penn State had a great team in 2008, but NaVorro Bowman’s ability to step in and replace Sean Lee — the expected leader of the defense who missed the year with a torn right ACL — was critical in helping the Nittany Lions clinch a share of the Big Ten title and a spot in the Rose Bowl. He earned first-team All-Big Ten honors despite not starting until the fourth game of the season.
Bowman missed two games the following season, and that likely cost him more postseason recognition. He still had 17 tackles for loss — tops among Big Ten linebackers — and scored a pair of touchdowns, one on a interception return and one on a fumble return.
When he’s been healthy, Bowman has developed into a Hall of Fame-caliber linebacker at the NFL level. His career, starting with his second season, reads like this: first-team All-Pro, first-team All-Pro, first-team All-Pro, major injury, first-team All-Pro, major injury.
There are only two current active NFL players who have been first-team All-Pro selections more often than Bowman — punter Shane Lechler (six) and former Wisconsin tackle Joe Thomas (six).
72. Dave Joyner, offensive lineman (1969-71)
Dave Joyner has had a pretty interesting career in sports, which is an incredible understatement. Let’s focus on his days as a Penn State football player first.
He was a standout offensive lineman during one of the most successful three-year bursts in program history. The Nittany Lions went 29-4, and finished inside the top 5 of the final AP poll twice — in 1969 (No. 2) and 1971 (No. 5). Joyner was a consensus All-America selection in 1971 — the only player on an 11-1 team to earn that distinction.
There is enough to talk about with Joyner’s post-playing days to fill a thick book. He was on Penn State’s Board of Trustees and voted in favor of removing the most well-known figure in campus history in the midst of the worst scandal in the history of college sports.
Shortly after that, he became the school’s athletic director at the darkest point in its history. He hired Bill O’Brien, an unpopular decision with his peers as ex-football players, and then hired James Franklin, an unpopular decision with … well, a lot of people.
Joyner was not a popular figure during that period. His tenure looks better and better with time, and, without wading too far into what happened before, during and after the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, Joyner’s efforts not only helped save the football program and the university from further disgrace, but both of his choices to be coach turned out to be excellent ones.
71. Michael Robinson, quarterback (2002-05)
Michael Robinson spent his first three seasons drifting from position to position on offense because Penn State needed his dynamism on the field, but the coaching staff couldn’t commit to replacing Zack Mills with him at quarterback. When he finally got the job as a senior, Robinson produced the best dual-threat season in program history.
He finished with 2,350 passing yards and 806 on the ground in 2005, earning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors and a fifth-place finish in the Heisman Trophy voting. That year alone would make him the leader in program history in rushing yards by a quarterback.
The Nittany Lions, after four losing seasons in five years, roared back in 2005 to claim a share of the Big Ten title, beat Florida State in the Orange Bowl and finish No. 3 in the nation. The team’s breakout game came Oct. 1, when it was 4-0 but unranked and thoroughly outclassed No. 18 Minnesota in a 44-14 rout.
Robinson threw for 175 yards and ran for 112 more, including one of the most memorable plays of the season when he met Gophers safety Brandon Owens near the sideline (play starts at 3:20 in the video below).