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Top 10 Michigan State Football Players in History

Updated on September 21, 2014

They've had their biggest successes in the 50's and 60's. Today, I rank the top 10 Michigan State football players of all time.

10. Javon Ringer

He is one of the most productive running backs in school history.

Javon Ringer played in all four years at Michigan State. In his career, he rushed for 4398 yards in at Michigan State with a 4.1 yards per carry average. Ringer is the second all time leading rusher in school history and is the schools all time leader in all purpose. He is also the all time single season leader in touchdowns and points.

Ringer went on to be a fifth round pick in 2009 by Tennessee. He has since been named to the Big Ten's all decade team of the 2000's.


9. Julian Peterson

He might be the most underrated Spartan ever.

After spending two years at Valley Forge Military Academy, Julian Peterson transferred to Michigan State before his junior year. He put together a remarkable year in 1999 with 30 tackles for loss and 15 sacks, and he finished his career with 48 tackles for loss. That was good for first team All-American honors. Peterson capped his career with eight tackles, including five tackles for loss, in the 2000 Citrus Bowl win against Florida.

Peterson went on to have an 11 year NFL career with Seattle, San Francisco, and Detroit. There he was a five time pro bowler and three time All-Pro.

8. Darqueze Dennard

He coined the term "No Fly Zone" at Michigan State.

Joining the Spartans in 2010, Darqueze Dennard was a physical press coverage cornerback for the stingy Michigan State secondary. Dennard won the Jim Thorpe Award and helped the Spartans win both the Big Ten championship and the Rose Bowl. He had 62 tackles, four interceptions and 10 pass breakups as a senior and was a three year starter for the team. He was also a two time All-Big Ten and All-American.

Dennard went on to be a first round pick in 2014 by Cincinnati.

7. Charles Rogers

He was the most productive wide receiver in school history.

Charles Rogers joined the Spartans in 2000 and made an almost instant impact on the offense. In three years in college, he broke numerous receiving records. Rogers still holds the school records for most touchdowns in a career with 27, and the school record for most receiving yards in a single game with 270. He broke Randy Moss's NCAA record of 13 consecutive games with a touchdown catch. During his 2002 junior season, he had 68 receptions for 1,351 yards and 13 touchdowns, won the Fred Biletnikoff Award and Paul Warfield Trophy as the best college wide receiver in the nation.

Rogers, like Mandarich, was a bust in the NFL after being selected second overall in 2003 by Detroit.

6. Tony Mandarich

He is now remembered as won of the biggest NFL busts ever, but he was a dominant college lineman.

Tony Mandarich was a 6'6", 315 pound dominant force at offensive tackle. He finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1988 despite playing in just eight games because of a NCAA suspension. Michigan State averaged 268.8 rushing yards per game with him in the lineup. Mandarich did not allow a sack and recorded 50 pancake blocks in his college career.

Mandarich went on to be the second overall pick in 1989 by Green Bay. After being hyped as the best offensive line prospect ever, he drastically underperformed and is now seen as one of the biggest busts ever.

5. Kirk Cousins

He helped revive the program in recent years.

After being redshirted and playing sparingly in his first few years, Kirk Cousins won the starting job in 2009. He led the Spartans to back to back 11 win seasons in 2010 and 2011. He holds school records in career completions, passing yards, and touchdowns. Those numbers are great, but Cousins will be forever adored by Spartans fans for the Hail Mary against Wisconsin in 2011 and having a perfect 3-0 record against Michigan.

Cousins went on to be a fourth round pick in 2012 by Washington.

4. Percy Snow

He is one of the best tacklers in school history.

Percy Snow tackled everything and finished as one of Michigan State's most decorated linebackers. The three year starter and two time All-American career with 473 tackles, and he was the first player to sweep the Butkus Award and Lombardi Award in the same season in 1989. He is one of only four players to accomplish that feat. Snow had 11 games with double digit tackles that season. That included a 23 tackle effort against Illinois.

Snow went on to play four seasons in the NFL for Kansas City and Chicago. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2013.

3. Brad Van Pelt

He was first safety to be named the best player in college football.

Brad Van Pelt joined Michigan State in 1969 and made an instant impact on the defense. The two time All-American safety served as the team leader through Duffy Daugherty's last years at Michigan State. Van Pelt finished with 256 tackles and 14 interceptions. He also starred in basketball and baseball at Michigan State. In 1972, he won the Maxwell award as the nation's best overall player.?

Van Pelt went on to have a 14 year NFL career at linebacker with the Giants, Raiders, and Browns. There he was a five time pro bowler. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001.


2. Lorenzo White

The "Great White Hope from the Green and White" is one of the most productive running backs in school history.

In 1984, Lorenzo White joined the Michigan State team. The 5'11", 204 pound workhorse still holds most of Michigan State's rushing records. As a sophomore, he became the first Big Ten running back to rush for over 2,000 yards in a season. He led Michigan State to a Big Ten title and Rose Bowl victory in 1986 with the signature game a 56 carry, 292 yard effort against Indiana. White closed out his college career with an incredible 1,082 carries, 4,887 yards and 43 touchdowns.

White would go on to play eight seasons in the NFL with Houston and Cleveland.

1. Bubba Smith

You may remember him more from "The Police Academy" movies, but he is also the best Spartan football player.

After being unable to play a Texas due to racial segregation, Bubba Smith decided to play football at Michigan State. He didn't have gaudy statistics, because teams double and triple teamed him and avoided his side of the field. He anchored a Spartans defense that limited Ohio State, Notre Dame, and Michigan to negative rushing yards in 1966. Smith was a popular athlete at Michigan State, with the popular fan chant of "Kill, Bubba, Kill." he was a two time All-American in his final two years in college.

Smith would go on to be the first overall pick in 1967 by Baltimore. In his 10 NFL seasons, he was a two time pro bowler, a 1971 All-Pro, and Super Bowl champion. He went on to pursue a career as an actor with his most notable roles coming in the Police Academy movies.

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