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.
40. Shorty Miller, quarterback (1910-13)
Gene Miller became known as “Shorty” for a simple reason: He was 5-foot-5. Even 100 years ago, that was short for a quarterback.
Miller was a four-year starter for the Nittany Lions. It was a big deal when Rob Bolden started the season opener at quarterback as a true freshman in 2010, because no one had done so for Penn State since Miller did 100 years prior.
He was a third-team All-America selection in 1912 as a junior. Miller ran for 250 yards against Carnegie Tech in 1913, which remained a single-game record at Penn State until Curt Warner ran for 256 against Syracuse in 1981. Warner and Larry Johnson (four times) are the only players to top it.
Miller was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1974.
39. Harry Wilson, halfback (1921-23)
“Light Horse” Wilson is the only All-America selection in program history to transfer. Leaving for the United States Military Academy and eventually becoming a war hero as a pilot in World War II is a little different than leaving for a different program because he didn’t get along with the coach or wanted to play in a different system.
Wilson was a consensus All-America selection for Penn State in 1923. He was the team’s top offensive weapon in 1922 and 1923.
The Nittany Lions scored 9 touchdowns in the final six games of the 1923 season. Wilson scored all of them. He was an All-America halfback at Army as well, and earned a place in the College Football Hall of Fame in 1963.
38. Neal Smith, defensive back (1966-69)
Smith was a 170-pound tight end/middle linebacker in high school. His team won two more games than he had scholarship offers (that number was zero), according to the Associated Press.
So he went to Penn State and tried out for the team. Every team has walk-ons on the roster in 2017. They often contribute, including a couple of recent Penn State players who made this list (Carl Nassib, Matt McGloin).
They did not in the 1960s at Penn State. The AP said Smith was the first walk-on to play for the Nittany Lions in 10 years, and he did a little more than just get on the field.
Smith moved to defensive back as a sophomore and into the starting lineup. He picked off 8 passes as a junior. Then he snagged 10, a school record for a single season, as a senior in 1969. He was an All-America selection in 1969, and holds the program mark for career interceptions with 19.
37. Sean Farrell, offensive line (1978-81)
Farrell was recognized as an All-America guard as a junior in 1980 by a couple of major publications. A couple became all of them as a senior in 1981, and he was the program’s line consensus All-America selection from 1980-85.
Curt Warner ran for nearly 2,000 yards as a sophomore and junior with Farrell anchoring the line in front of him. Farrell was a finalist for a pair of major trophies, the Lombardi Award and the Outland Trophy, as a senior.
He was a first-round pick in the 1982 NFL Draft, and started more than 100 games in an 11-year career.
36. Jeff Hartings, offensive line (1992-95)
Hartings earned All-America recognition as a junior in 1994, when Penn State had arguably the best offense in school history. At 47 points per game, it was the most productive in the Big Ten in the past 100 years.
He followed that up with a consensus All-America selection as a senior in 1995. That team was good without Kerry Collins and Ki-Jana Carter, going 9-3 with three wins against ranked teams.
Hartings was a first-round pick by the Detroit Lions in the 1996 NFL Draft. He went to the Pro Bowl twice and won the Super Bowl with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
35. Dan Connor, linebacker (2004-07)
Derrick Williams is the highest-rated Penn State recruit in the 21st century, according to the 247Sports composite rankings. Connor is second, a 5-star prospect in the 2004 class who earned a .9944 composite rating.
He was the No. 3 linebacker in the nation, and lived up to that billing. Connor earned All-America honors as a junior in 2006 and then was a consensus All-America selection in 2007. He won the Bednarik Award, which is given to the best defensive player in college football. It was the third consecutive year a Penn State player won, after Paul Posluszny earned the award in 2005 and 2006.
Connor finished his career with 419 tackles, which is the most in program history. Posluszny set the record in 2006, then Connor established a new mark a year later.
34. Curtis Enis, running back (1995-97)
Enis was a workhorse for two really good but not quite great Penn State teams shortly after the perfect season in 1994. The Nittany Lions won 20 games in those two seasons, and spent five weeks at No. 1 in the Associated Press poll in 1997. He was a consensus All-America selection in 1997 and finished fifth in the Heisman voting.
He had 1,210 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns in 1996 and became a Heisman Trophy contender the following year. Enis finished with 1,363 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns. He was also the team’s second-leading receiver each year, and racked up 57 catches and 2 more touchdowns out of the backfield.
Listed at 250 pounds when he reached the NFL, Enis was bigger than the other elite running backs that have starred at Penn State. His combination of power and nimble feet produced plenty of highlights. Like Carter a few years before him, Enis sustained a major knee injury early in his NFL career and struggled to recover.
His son, Solomon Enis, is a 4-star wide receiver prospect in the Class of 2018. Solomon lives in Phoenix and several Pac-12 schools are among the favorites to land his pledge, but Penn State is in the mix as well.
33. Greg Buttle, linebacker (1973-75)
Before Posluszny and the Connor became Penn State’s tackle kings, that person was Buttle for more than 30 years. He had 343 in three seasons, including a school-record 165 in 1975.
He had the most tackles in a single game (24) against West Virginia in October, and then had the second-most against N.C. State (23) a month later. Buttle was a consensus All-America selection. He was the only Penn State linebacker to earn that honor between John Skorupan (1972) and Shane Conlan (1986).
Buttle was a third-round pick by the New York Jets in the 1976 NFL Draft and played nine season in the league.
32. Saquon Barkley, running back (2015-)
Trying to place Barkley on this list in July 2017 is hard to do. He’s already accomplished plenty, winning co-Big Ten MVP honors and moving into the top 12 in program history in career rushing yards and rushing touchdowns.
He had the best freshman season by a running back in program history. He had the best sophomore campaign by a running back in program history.
If Barkley just has a really good season (which would be disappointing based on expectations), he’ll have a chance to claim about every career record a running back can have at Penn State. That alone would vault him into the top 15.
If he contends for a Heisman Trophy and leads Penn State to another great season, he’ll settle in the top 10. If he wins the Heisman, or let’s say approaches 2,000 yards and the Nittany Lions reach the College Football Playoff, there will be an argument for him to be No. 1 on this list 12 months from now.
That’s legitimately on the table. That’s how great he is and can be.
31. Dexter Very, end (1909-12)
Very started for four seasons at right end for the Nittany Lions. Penn State went 26-2-4 in that span, including 16-0-1 in his final two seasons. The Nittany Lions outscored teams 484-21 in those two years.
He was a two-time All-America selection, and a two-time team captain. Very had 9 touchdowns in eight games as a senior in 1912.
Very was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1976. After his playing days, he became a college football official and was part of the crew for the 1927 Rose Bowl.