Minnesota's Mount Rushmore

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Minnesota's Rushmore truly tested my research skills, as almost all the viable candidates played or coached at the school long before I was born. It's both a testament to the Gophers' success as a national powerhouse in the 1930s and 1940s, and a reminder of the program's extended run of mediocrity ever since.

There are several slam-dunk selections here, but also I'm bracing for your e-mails. I'll post some Rushmore reaction from the first six teams on Friday's blog.

  • Bronko Nagurski -- One of the greatest players in Big Ten history, Nagurski won All-America honors at both tackle and fullback and starred for the Gophers in the late 1920s. A Hall of Famer at both the college and pro levels, Nagurski played on Minnesota teams that went 18-4-2. College football's national defensive player of the year award bears his name, and Minnesota football is headquartered at the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex.

  • Bruce Smith -- A dynamic halfback who did his best work in the clutch, Smith easily won the 1941 Heisman Trophy and led Minnesota to back-to-back national championships. Minnesota's only Heisman winner didn't lose a game in his final two seasons as the Gophers went 16-0.

  • Paul Giel -- Giel didn't play during Minnesota's glory years, but he won two Big Ten MVP awards as a standout halfback. The runner-up for the 1953 Heisman Trophy, Giel racked up 2,188 rushing yards and 1,922 passing yards after starting his career as a quarterback. He's a College Football Hall of Famer and one of only four Minnesota players who have their numbers retired.

  • Bernie Bierman -- The architect of Minnesota's dominant run compiled a 93-35-6 record during 16 seasons as coach. Bierman's teams owned six Big Ten championships, five national championships and five undefeated seasons. The mild-mannered Bierman coached 14 All-Americans and six College Football Hall of Famers.

Others considered for the Gophers' Rushmore included: Sandy Stephens, Bobby Bell, Tom Brown, Francis Lund and Tyrone Carter.