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Six Panthers ranked among college football’s 150 all-time greats by ESPN

Hugh Green and Mike Ditka were ranked as the best ever at their positions

Dan Marino - University of Pittsburgh - File Photos Photo by Anthony Neste/WireImage

In recognition of the 150th anniversary of organized college football, many outlets have honored the game’s best players, coaches and programs. To that end, ESPN created a list of the 150 greatest players in college football history, and six Pitt players were included.

The list was assembled by a panel of 150 media members, college administrators, former coaches and former players, and the result was a list dominated by Notre Dame and USC, as those two schools led the way with nine selections each. The second-highest total was seven, and Ohio State and Alabama were the only two schools to accrue that many selections. But behind them was Pitt, which placed Mike Ditka, Tony Dorsett, Bill Fralic, Larry Fitzgerald, Hugh Green and Dan Marino on the list of the game’s all-time greats.

For comparison, Pitt’s top rivals, Penn State and West Virginia, were not as well represented on the list. Penn State had four players ranked, and West Virginia had none. Syracuse, a rival of great frequency and minimal intensity, had solid representation, with the top player overall in Jim Brown as well as two others.

Green was Pitt’s top-ranked player at No. 12, and by the panel’s estimation, he was also the greatest defensive end in college football’s history and its second-best defender, with only Dick Butkus ahead of him at No. 8 on the list. Some of the greats he finished ahead of at his position include Reggie White and Bruce Smith, and while he finished second to George Rogers in Heisman voting in 1980, Rogers was not included among ESPN’s top 150 players.

Dorsett had the second-highest ranking of any Pitt player on the list, as he came in at No. 17. However, in contrast to Green, he did not fare well at his own position, as the top of the list was saturated with running backs, leaving him at 14th among ball-carriers. Nine of the list’s top 10 players and 19 of its top 25 were running backs, and that explains Dorsett’s exclusion from ESPN’s recent All-Time All-America team, which included Jim Brown and Herschel Walker on the first team and Bo Jackson and Archie Griffin on the second.

Fitzgerald was Pitt’s final selection in the list’s top 50, and he was one of the highest-ranked receivers at No. 46. The only pass-catchers ahead of him were Jerry Rice at No. 32 and Johnny Rodgers at No. 39. While Rice is a figure who may always overshadow Fitzgerald ⁠— and all receivers for that matter ⁠— at the college and pro levels, Rodgers was ranked so highly in part because of his prowess as a return man. Fitzgerald outranked Randy Moss and Fred Biletnikoff, among others.

Marino had the fourth-highest ranking among Pitt alums, as he came in at No. 67. However, like Dorsett, he ranked outside of the top 10 at his position, as he was notably beaten out by Roger Staubach, Peyton Manning, Doug Flutie, Sammy Baugh, John Elway and Andrew Luck, among others. That left Marino at 12th all-time at his position, and like Dorsett, he was left off the All-Time All-America team.

Ditka was placed several spots behind Marino at No. 78, but he was also the top-ranked tight end in college football’s 150-year history. In fact, he was one of just three tight ends included on the list, with the others being Pittsburgh native Leon Hart, who was ranked No. 88, and Keith Jackson, who was ranked No. 107. As a rare talent at tight end, Ditka earned a spot on the ESPN All-Time All-America team alongside Fitzgerald, Fralic and Green.

Fralic rounded out Pitt’s presence on the list at No. 92, and his overall ranking placed him third among offensive tackles on the list as well as sixth among non-tight-end offensive linemen, with only Bronko Nagurski and Orlando Pace faring better than Fralic at the tackle position.

Partially on the strength of its individual talent, Pitt was ranked as the No. 33 college football program of all time during ESPN’s review of the sport’s first 150 years. It also placed four players on the All-Time All-America team, leading all programs in college football.