Breaking down my College Football Hall of Fame ballot

Derrick Thomas, who is on the ballot for the fourth straight year, had 52 career sacks at Alabama, including 27 as a senior.

The new downtown Atlanta home of the College Football Hall of Fame — a place unmistakable in its purpose, with an abstract football-shaped entry way — is nearing completion.

It’s expected to open its doors before the season opens Aug. 30, though it won’t be until 2015, when the latest crop of inductees are enshrined. The question is, who will voters put into that class?

This year’s HOF ballot is (as expected) star-studded, but especially among the first-timers, which include Heisman Trophy winner Rashaan Salaam and Ricky Williams, along with Tim Couch, Troy Davis, Keyshawn Johnson and Ray Lewis. Then there are the holdovers — each year, just 15 on the 75-player ballot are automatic holdovers — among them Brian Bosworth, Eric Crouch and Eric Dickerson.

With just 11 spots for Football Bowl Subdivision players, and two coaches, here’s what the ballot this voter is submitting looks like.

*Keep in mind that while pro careers, positive or negative, have no impact here. This is all about the player’s impact on the college landscape. Also, while ESPN.com’s Ivan Maisel previously disclosed "the Hall has a rule against taking players from the same school in consecutive years," It’s never been something spelled out to voters and subsequently has no bearing on my ballot.

Dre Bly, CB North Carolina

USC’s Mark Carrier was considered here too, but Bly was arguably the best cover corner in college since Deion Sanders. He was All-American as a redshirt freshman in 1996 and would earn that honor two more times and left Chapel Hill with an ACC-record 20 interceptions, 11 of which came his first season (he added two more that year in the Gator Bowl, but at the time, postseason stats didn’t count).

Brian Bosworth, LB Oklahoma

That this is The Boz’s sixth year on the ballot tells you everything you need to know about his legacy at Oklahoma: his greatness is undeniable, but so too is the stigma surrounding him. Yes, he was famously suspended for the 1987 Orange Bowl after testing positive for steroids and was seen on the sideline wearing a T-shirt that took a shot at the NCAA, reading "National Communists Against Athletes." But he’s appeared on my ballot every year as the only two-time Butkus Award winner and two-time consensus first-team All-American.

Tim Couch ended his Kentucky career with seven NCAA, 14 SEC and 26 school records.

Tim Couch, QB Kentucky

Couch’s era of quarterback is well represented on this ballot, with Crouch, Georgia Tech’s Joe Hamilton and Indiana’s Antwaan Randle El among them, but what made Couch stick out — beyond the sheer numbers, which included seven NCAA, 14 SEC and 26 school records — was the impact his success in the Air Raid offense had on the game. His coach, Hal Mumme, has a coaching tree that includes Mike Leach, Dana Holgorsen, Art Briles, Kliff Kingsbury, and on, and on — and it was helped along by Couch, the 1998 SEC Player of the Year, who still has five of the conference’s six best games in completions and the top two seasons.

Eric Crouch, QB Nebraska

He gets knocked for being among the weakest Heisman winners in the last 20 years, but in this voter’s opinion, every winner of college football’s highest honor should be in the HOF. Crouch set a NCAA record for career rushing TDs by a quarterback with 59, is one of only three FBS players to throw for 4,000 yards and rush for 3,000 in their career and went 42-9 as a starter.

Troy Davis, RB Iowa State

One of only two players to win back-to-back rushing titles — Ricky Williams is the other — Davis was the first player to eclipse 2,000 yards twice. A two-time first-team All-American and Heisman finalist (he was second to Danny Wuerffel in 1996), Davis stands out in a strong group of non-Heisman-winning RBs like Eric Bieniemy and Eric Dickerson.

Raghib Ismail, WR Notre Dame

An absolute rockstar, "Rocket" was a two-time first-team All-American, the 1990 Walter Camp Player of the Year and the Heisman runner-up that year behind Ty Detmer. Ismail also set an NCAA record by twice returning two kickoffs for TDs (in 1988 vs. Rice and in ’89 against Michigan). The Fighting Irish already have 44 Hall of Famers, the most of any school, and if they’re to add another, Ismail is the best bet.

Rashaan Salaam, RB Colorado

His first time on the ballot should be his only time. The 1994 Heisman winner’s 2,055 yards as the 12th-highest single season in history. He would lead the nation in scoring and all-purpose yards as well that year, claiming the Walter Camp and Doak Walker awards. The knock against him is he had just one good season (he ran for 158 yards as a freshman and 844 as a sophomore), but it’s a year that should be enough to get him inducted.

Warren Sapp, DT Miami

He was the winner of the Nagurski, Lombardi and Big East Defensive Player of the Year in 1994, a season in which he had 84 tackles, 10 1/2 sacks, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. He was also sixth in the Heisman race that year, which stands as the third-highest finish for any defensive lineman since 1980.

Derrick Thomas, LB Alabama

On the ballot for the fourth straight year, there’s been a growing sentiment that Thomas should have been in long before this (see here and here). He’s had my nod after totaling 52 sacks, including 27 as a senior (and was a first-team All-American and Butkus winner.

LaDainian Tomlinson, RB TCU

The Doak Walker winner in 2000 didn’t make it his first year, but he still holds the FBS record for yards in a game (406 vs. UTEP in 1999) and is 10th on the all-time rushing list with 5,263 yards. That he dominated outside the sport’s power structure in the now-defunct WAC made his national presence that much more impressive.

Ricky Williams, RB Texas

His pro career could be best called "enigmatic," but what he did as a Longhorn puts Williams among the best to ever play the position. He is currently No. 2 on the all-time rushing list with 6,279 yards, won the Heisman in 1998, was a two-time unanimous first-team All-American and left Texas having set 46 school records.

Mike Bellotti, Chico State/Oregon

The man who set the stage for Oregon’s rise as a major power, Bellotti holds the Ducks record with 116 wins — which included the first four 10-win seasons — in 14 seasons and won back-to-back Pac-10 titles.

Danny Ford, Clemson/Arkansas

His five ACC titles include the 1981 national title at Clemson and the .760 winning percentage he compiled from 1978-89 remain the best for any Tigers coach with a minimum of five years. Ford also led Clemson to six bowl wins, five of which came against legends Joe Paterno, Barry Switzer, Tom Osborne, Don Nehlen and Woody Hayes.