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March 16, 2011

Buchanan: Top 10 all-time JC transfers

Once, junior college players were thought to be too much of a risk for some top programs to pursue.

They were seen as a quick fix that could lead to quicker problems. After all, they were at junior colleges for a reason. They were too small, too slow, too unreliable on the field or in the classroom.

That was long before Bill Snyder used junior college players to transform Kansas State from a perennial doormat to a nationally elite program. Since then -- and in some cases, even before -- junior college transfers have played vital roles and made major contributions on teams that have won national championships.

Junior college players usually don't inspire as much National Signing Day excitement from fans as high-rated high school prospects, but it's likely some of those who have or will join FBS rosters will emerge as bona-fide stars -- perhaps even legends.

But which ones will attain such revered status? It could be Florida State defensive end Cornellius Carradine or Alabama defensive tackle Jesse Williams or Utah running back John White or LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger. Each member of that quartet is expected to provide immediate dividends this fall after transferring in from junior college, and they are readying to hit (or already are on) the field for spring practice.

Perhaps one day those guys will be remembered as some of the greatest players in their program's history.

With that in mind, here's a look at Rivals.com's all-time best JC transfers. This does not necessarily take into account NFL success.

10. RB Corey Dillon, Washington
The buzz: He started his college career at Garden City (Kan.) CC in 1994; he played for Dixie State College (Utah) in '95. He played one season at Washington, setting single-season school records with 1,695 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns in 1996. He finished third in the nation in rushing and was named to some All-America teams.
9. DT Cortez Kennedy, Miami
The buzz: After starring at Northwest Mississippi CC, Kennedy became a dominant force on one of the best defenses in college football history. He was a stalwart defensive tackle for the Hurricanes and earned All-America honors in 1989. That season, he wreaked havoc inside in helping Miami to an 11-1 finish and a national championship. The Hurricanes led the nation in total defense and scoring defense, ranked second in rushing defense and fifth in passing defense. Kennedy was the third player selected in the 1990 NFL draft.
8. QB Aaron Rodgers, California
The buzz: Virtually ignored by major-college programs out of high school, Rodgers originally attended Butte College in Oroville, Calif. He played one season there, then transferred to Cal in 2003. That season, he helped the Bears to an upset victory over USC. The next season, he led the Bears to a 10-1 regular-season record and a top-10 ranking. Their only regular-season loss was 23-17 to USC; at one point during the game, he completed 23 consecutive passes. He threw for 5,469 yards and 43 touchdowns in two seasons in Berkeley.
7. QB Michael Bishop, Kansas State
The buzz: Wildcats coach Bill Snyder used junior college players to transform Kansas State from perennial loser to national power. Bishop was the best of them. He led Blinn College (Texas) to consecutive national championships in 1995 and '96. A dual-threat quarterback, he earned All-Big 12 honors in leading Kansas State to an 11-1 finish in '97. The next season, he was the Heisman runner-up to Texas' Ricky Williams and earned All-America recognition while setting a school record with 2,844 passing yards. K-State was unbeaten and appeared headed for the BCS national championship, but Bishop lost a key fumble and the Wildcats were upset by Texas A&M in the Big 12 championship game.
6. QB Josh Heupel, Oklahoma
The buzz: Oklahoma had endured five consecutive seasons without a winning record when Heupel was recruited out of Snow College (Utah) in 1999. As a junior, he passed for 3,850 yards to help the Sooners to a 7-5 finish. The next season, he led them to an undefeated season and the national championship. Heupel passed for 3,392 yards that season while earning All-America and AP Player of the Year recognition. He was also the runner-up to Florida State's Chris Weinke in the Heisman voting.
5. OT Ron Yary, USC
The buzz: The Trojans hit the junior college jackpot in the '60s. Yary had played a year at Cerritos College (Calif.) before joining the Trojans in 1965. That season, he earned All-Pac 8 acclaim as a defensive tackle. The next season, he moved to offense and became a consensus All-American. As a senior in '67, he helped USC win the national championship and was a unanimous All-America and won the Outland Trophy -- the only Trojan to win that prestigious award. Twenty years later, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
4. RB Mike Rozier, Nebraska
The buzz: He spent a year at Coffeyville (Kan.) JC to get his grades in order, then signed with Nebraska in 1981. He first backed up Roger Craig, then eventually won the starting job. As a junior, Rozier set a then-school record with 1,689 rushing yards in leading the Huskers to a 12-1 record. The next season, he rushed for 2,148 yards and set an NCAA record with a 7.8-yard average per carry en route to winning the Heisman. The Huskers were unbeaten and ranked No. 1, but lost to Miami 31-30 in the Orange Bowl. Rozier rushed for 147 yards in that game, but was lost to an ankle injury in the third quarter.
3. QB Cameron Newton, Auburn
The buzz: As with Bishop, Newton led Blinn to a national championship, in 2009. Then, he duplicated that feat by leading Auburn to a national title in 2010. Auburn finished 8-5 in 2009 and had a strong nucleus returning, but Newton was the difference between a good team and a great one. He won the Heisman after passing for 2,854 yards and rushing for 1,473 and became only the third player in Division I football to rush and pass for at least 20 touchdowns in a single season.
2. QB Roger Staubach, Navy
The buzz: To get his grades up to Naval Academy standards, Staubach spent a year at New Mexico Military Institute, where he led the Broncos to a 9-1 record and was named Junior College All-America. At Navy, he earned All-America honors and won the Heisman in 1963 while leading the Midshipmen to a 9-2 finish. Navy was ranked second in the nation after the regular season and lost to Texas in the Cotton Bowl with the national championship at stake.
1. RB O.J. Simpson, USC
The buzz: After two years at San Francisco City College, Simpson joined the Trojans in 1967 and promptly led them to the national championship. His game-clinching 64-yard touchdown run in a 21-20 victory over UCLA is one of the greatest plays in college football history. Simpson won the Heisman the next season and finished his two-year USC career with 3,423 yards and 36 touchdowns. He set or tied 19 NCAA, conference and school rushing records.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.

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