Asmussen | Hall calls? Here is who should get one

Jun. 6—Once again, former Illinois stars Simeon Rice and Kevin Hardy are on the College Football Hall of Fame ballot.

Do they deserve a spot at the Atlanta shrine after the latest list of possible inductees was released on Monday? Absolutely.

Rice holds the Big Ten career record for sacks with 44 1/2 and had a stellar run in the NFL. At some point, he should also go in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

Hardy won the 1995 Butkus Award as the nation's top linebacker. He was the No. 2 pick in the 1996 NFL draft and followed with a strong pro career.

Will Rice and Hardy gain entry into the College Hall this year? Maybe one of them. Almost impossible for both at the same time.

Unlike other Halls, the College Football version often requires a longer waiting period.

In baseball, players are eligible five years after their last pitch or at-bat. Fifty-eight have made it in their first year of eligibility with more on the way. Albert Pujols is a lock.

The College Football Hall of Fame makes players wait 10 years after the end of their school days.

Dana Howard, the Big Ten's career tackles leader and Butkus Award winner, became eligible for the Hall in 2004, but the former Illini All-American had to wait until 2018 to get in. Fourteen years. He didn't play a down in between.

Former Illini David Williams, one of the most prolific receivers in the history of the game, had to wait 10 years. Dominant defensive lineman Moe Gardner, another ex-Illini, had to wait 12 years.

Hardy and Rice have both been eligible since 2005, 10 years after the end of their time at Illinois. They have been on the ballot multiple times. Eighteen years later, they are still waiting.

It tells me there might be some flaws in the system. With no easy fixes.

As was pointed out Monday by the National Football Foundation, which administers the Hall, more than 1,500 players were in a pool of candidates that was whittled down to 78 players and nine coaches in the Football Bowl Subdivision. That leaves a lot of worthy people off the ballot, with no chance to make the cut this year or maybe ever.

Stiff competition

When the ballots are filled out and the 2024 class is announced early next year, who are the no-brainers?

Well, my list will include Rice and Hardy. Not just because I covered them for four years but because they were elite in both their time and at their positions.

In my opinion, there have been four College Hall-worthy players at Illinois since I came to The News-Gazette in 1989. Two of them — Gardner and Howard — are already in the College Hall of Fame. Hardy and Rice come next.

Who else? Here is one person's correct opinion:

Pittsburgh receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who was a star in the NFL, needs to get his tuxedo cleaned. If he isn't picked, shut down the Hall. He won the Biletnikoff Award and was a Heisman runner-up. Oh, he considered coming to Illinois, too.

Syracuse receiver Marvin Harrison deserves a call. His son, standout Ohio State receiver Marvin Harrison Jr., will get one a decade or so later. The All-American in 1995 left as the Orange career receiving leader before starting a stellar NFL career.

North Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers. I can't believe he isn't already in. He won the Bednarik and Lombardi trophies before a 17-year NFL career, which included four seasons with the Bears.

Indiana quarterback Antwaan Randle-El. I have never seen a better performance by an Illinois opponent than when he led the Hoosiers to comeback win in 1999. Every time the game appeared to be over, he made another play. He got my Hall vote that day in Bloomington. He ran 37 times in that game and threw another 30 passes. Unreal.

Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Vick. I don't condone his off-the-field conduct at all. On the field, he was one of the most electric players in history and likely deserved the Heisman Trophy.

Georgia running back Garrison Hearst. When the only name in front of you on a career rushing list is Herschel Walker, then you are in good company. Doak Walker Award winner finished third in the 1992 Heisman race.

Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis. And not just because he is good-natured when I mention his No. 1 team's 2007 loss to Illinois. He was a three-time All-American with the Buckeyes and a Butkus Award winner.

Arizona State defensive end Terrell Suggs. The 2002 Lombardi and Nagurski winner had a mind-numbing 24 sacks that season. Unless colleges go to 20-game schedules, that one is going to last a while.

Down the road

This past season, the Hall of Fame potential at Illinois grew by one. While he wasn't dominant all four years, Devon Witherspoon ranks as the best cornerback in school history. It seems likely he will prove it with a dominant career in the NFL.

Vontae Davis was a fantastic player. But potentially at least, Witherspoon is better.

Witherspoon meets the criteria because of his All-American status as a junior. Winning the Jim Thorpe Award, which he deserved, would have enhanced his credentials.

Being the No. 5 pick in the NFL draft earned Witherspoon another layer of attention.

So sometime in the early 2030s, his name will go be added to the College Football Hall of Fame ballot and will eventually be called.

Hope he doesn't have to wait too long.