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In 2010, the Big 12 had 12 teams. The Pac-12 was the Pac-10. The Big East still existed at the top level of college football. And the College Football Playoff was still four seasons away.
The 2010s were college football’s most transformative decade. A system steeped in tradition finally gave way to the cries for a playoff — albeit on a limited scale — as teams changed conferences and conferences changed names or ceased to exist entirely.
The decade was still dominated by the bluebloods, however. Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State won six of the nine championships contested so far while Clemson and Auburn — teams who can stake claim to past national championships — won the other three.
The past 10 years have been a lot of fun. And the next 10 years could be even more fun. Especially if the playoff expands to eight or even 16 teams at some point in the 2020s. As we conclude the 2010s, here is Yahoo Sports’ college football team of the decade.
QB: Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
Mayfield arrived at Texas Tech as a walk-on in 2013 and, after another TTU quarterback was injured, he found himself starting the season opener for the Red Raiders. Mayfield would play in eight games that season in Lubbock, but opted to transfer under somewhat tumultuous circumstances. From there, Mayfield landed at Oklahoma, and after sitting out the 2014 season, he emerged as the team’s starting quarterback in 2015. He thrived in Lincoln Riley’s offense and led the Sooners to three straight Big 12 titles and two College Football Playoff appearances. In all, Mayfield threw for 14,607 yards, 131 touchdowns and 30 interceptions while completing 68.5 percent of his passes as a college quarterback.
RB: Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
Gordon first caught the attention of many in 2012 when he was the third wheel of an excellent Wisconsin backfield trio with Montee Ball and James White in 2012. In 2013, Gordon would rush for 1,609 yards despite receiving 15 fewer carries than White, who has gone on to win three Super Bowls with the New England Patriots. When Gordon finally got the lead back duties in 2014, he put up one of the best seasons in college football history: 2,587 yards and 29 touchdowns on 343 carries. Only Barry Sanders (2,628 yards in 1988) had a better season.
RB: Christian McCaffrey, Stanford
McCaffrey was a threat to take it the distance every time he touched the ball for Stanford. After being used in a reserve role in 2014, McCaffrey exploded onto the national radar with his record-setting 2015 campaign. He ended up rushing for 2,019 yards, catching 45 passes for 646 yards, throwing two touchdown passes and returning both a kickoff and punt for a TD. In all, he set an FBS record with 3,864 all-purpose yards and finished second behind Derrick Henry in the Heisman voting. He followed that up with 1,603 rushing yards in 2016 before becoming one of the first players to sit out a bowl game to prepare for the NFL draft.
WR: Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
Blackmon had back-to-back monster seasons in 2010 and 2011 at Oklahoma State. In 2010, he caught 111 passes for 1,782 yards and 20 touchdowns and followed it up with 122 catches for 1,522 yards and 18 scores in 2011. Blackmon became the second player to win back-to-back Biletnikoff Awards, joining Michael Crabtree.
WR: Corey Davis, Western Michigan
By the time his career at Western Michigan came to an end, Davis held FBS records for most receiving yards and most 100-yard receiving games in a career. Over four years in Kalamazoo, Davis hauled in 331 receptions for 5,278 yards and 52 touchdowns. Davis topped 1,400 yards in his final three seasons and topped 100 yards in 27 of the 50 college games he played. He also helped WMU to an undefeated regular season and MAC championship as a senior.
TE: Evan Engram, Ole Miss
Engram was a reliable target for the Rebels during Hugh Freeze’s wild run in Oxford. Over his four-year career at Ole Miss, Engram caught 162 passes for 2,320 yards and 15 touchdowns before being selected in the first round of the 2017 NFL draft by the New York Giants. Engram’s best effort came as a senior when he registered 65 catches for 926 yards and eight touchdowns. He earned all-SEC honors three times, including twice being named to the first team.
T: Cam Robinson, Alabama
A five-star recruit, Robinson became the first true freshman to start at left tackle since Andre Smith a decade earlier. Over the course of his three seasons in Tuscaloosa, Robinson started all 43 games and helped pave the way for three SEC championships and one national championship. Robinson also won the Outland Trophy in 2016.
G: Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame
Nelson was a dominant presence as a two-year starter Notre Dame, making 23 starts at left guard for the Fighting Irish. Nelson was a unanimous All-American in 2017, a season in which the Irish won 10 games. That performance helped catapult Nelson toward the top of NFL draft boards and he ended up being selected No. 6 overall by the Indianapolis Colts. Nelson was a first-team All-Pro as a rookie.
C: Barrett Jones, Alabama
Jones started on the offensive line for three different Alabama national championship teams, starting at a different position for each of those teams. Jones began his career as the Tide’s right guard but ended up switching to left tackle as a junior. As a senior, Jones made another switch for the good of the team, moving to center for yet another title team. That year, Jones won the Rimington Trophy, which is given to the nation’s top center. He previously won the Outland Trophy for his work as a tackle.
G: Pat Elflein, Ohio State
Elflein was a reliable presence for three straight seasons on the Ohio State offensive line, starting a total of 41 games for the Buckeyes. Elflein played both left and right guard in 2014 before sticking at right guard in 2015. Ahead of his senior year, Elflein made the switch to center and ended up starting all 13 games, earning the Rimington Trophy and Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year. Elflein also earned first-team all-Big Ten honors three times.
T: Brandon Scherff, Iowa
Scherff made 36 career starts during his Iowa career, including all 26 games at left tackle over his last two seasons with the program. As a senior, the 6-foot-5, 320-pound Iowa native earned consensus All-America honors, won Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year and the Outland Trophy. He was the No. 5 overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft.
DE: Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
Yeah, the final year of Clowney’s college career wasn’t too great. But he was exceptional in his first two years at South Carolina. Clowney had eight sacks and five forced fumbles as a freshman in 2011 and was downright dominant as a sophomore with 13 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss as he was named a consensus All-American.
And we can’t forget this hit. Ever.
DT: Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh
Donald was one of the most dominant interior linemen in modern college football history before he became one of the best players in the NFL. He was a destroyer over his final three seasons at Pitt with 29.5 sacks and a whopping 66 tackles for loss. Pitt moved to the ACC ahead of Donald’s senior season in 2013 and the move from the Big East didn’t slow him down. He tied a career high with 11 sacks and had 28.5 tackles for loss while forcing four fumbles on the way to being named the ACC defensive player of the year and winning the Bronko Nagurski Award, the Chuck Bednarik Award and the Outland Trophy.
DT: Ed Oliver, Houston
Teams had to gameplan for Oliver before he even played a game at Houston. The Cougars scored a recruiting coup when the five-star Texan committed ahead of the 2016 season and had five sacks and 22 tackles for loss in his freshman season. Oliver’s sack totals never took a leap thanks to constant double teams from opponents, but he still recorded 31 more tackles for loss and won the 2017 Outland Trophy.
DE: Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
Before becoming the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NFL draft — and earning an indefinite suspension this year in one of the ugliest NFL moments in recent memory — Garrett averaged over 10 sacks a season in his three years at Texas A&M. He had 31 sacks and 47 tackles for loss for the Aggies. As teams tried to avoid him in the 10 games he played in 2016, Garrett had just 33 tackles. Remarkably, 15 of them were behind the line of scrimmage and 8.5 were sacks.
LB: Khalil Mack, Buffalo
Mack was insanely dominant in all four years of his college career. He increased his sack total in each season and had a senior year that was one of the best defensive seasons of the decade. Mack had 100 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, 3 interceptions, five forced fumbles and recovered three fumbles. Oh, he also scored two touchdowns.
LB: Luke Kuechly, Boston College
Kuechly was everywhere on defense for Boston College. Everywhere. He played three seasons for the Eagles and finished with an amazing 532 tackles. Had he played four seasons of college football he could have challenged the FBS record of 694 tackles held by Western Michigan’s John Offerdahl. As a consolation prize, Kuechly holds the modern FBS record for tackles per game at 14.
LB: Manti Te’o, Notre Dame
Te’o was a do-it-all linebacker for Notre Dame throughout his four years. He had over 100 tackles in his final three seasons and after recording 23 tackles for loss and six sacks as a sophomore and junior he played more pass defense as a senior. While his sack total decreased, Te’o had seven picks in his final season. We’d also be lying if we didn’t say that his role in one of the wildest college football stories of all time didn’t factor into his selection for this team.
DB: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
This is a secondary that’s extremely versatile. And what better player to lead it off with than a guy who played all over the field for Alabama during his career? Fitzpatrick could play outside, in the slot, some deep safety and was also a very good blitzer. Fitzpatrick returned four of his nine career interceptions for touchdowns and also had 16.5 tackles for loss.
DB: Tyrann Mathieu, LSU
Mathieu played just two seasons for LSU but was one of the most dynamic playmakers at the beginning of the decade. The Honey Badger forced 11 fumbles in those two seasons and also had eight fumble recoveries to go along with four interceptions. His 2011 season was so good with four defensive and special teams touchdowns that he finished fifth in the Heisman voting.
DB: Desmond King, Iowa
King had 14 interceptions in his four years at Iowa. Eight of them came in a dominant junior year where he had 72 tackles and 13 passes defensed on the way to being the Jim Thorpe Award winner and a consensus All-American. Teams didn’t throw his way as much when he was a senior but he still notched three picks.
DB: Jalen Ramsey, Florida State
Ramsey had just three career interceptions in three seasons but you need teams to throw in your direction if you’re going to get an interception. Ramsey’s best season came as a sophomore in 2014 when he had 80 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and two interceptions to go along with 12 passes defensed and three forced fumbles. His counting stats declined in 2015 when he was a consensus All-American because teams game-planned around him so much.
K: Roberto Aguayo, Florida State
Aguayo connected on 21-of-22 field goal tries as a freshman, helping Florida State win the national championship in 2013. Overall, Aguayo would make 69 of his 78 career field goal attempts (88.5 percent) and make all 198 of his extra point attempts over three seasons in Tallahassee.
P: Michael Dickson, Texas
Dickson was so good at Texas that he actually left school early for the NFL. Over three years at Texas, Dickson averaged 45.3 yards per punt on 226 attempts and was named the Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year. As a junior, the Australia native managed to place 42 of his 84 punts inside the 20-yard line. He also had 36 punts of 50 or more yards, including a 76-yard bomb against TCU.
KR: Rashaad Penny, San Diego State
Penny, who gained 3,266 rushing yards over his last two college seasons, tied an FBS record with seven kick return touchdowns in his career. Over his four seasons, Penny gained 2,449 yards on 81 kickoff returns — an average of 30.2 yards per attempt.
PR: Dante Pettis, Washington
Dante Pettis set an NCAA record for punt return touchdowns in a career when he returned a punt 64 yards for a score against Oregon in 2017. It was the ninth of Pettis’ career. He had one as a freshman, two as a sophomore, two as a junior and four as a senior. Pettis was a very productive receiver, too. He finished his career with 163 catches for 2,256 yards and 24 TDs.
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