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Stan Becton | | February 27, 2023

Jerry Rice vs. Cooper Kupp: Comparing the college careers of FCS legends

Cooper Kupp’s top FCS playoff highlights at Eastern Washington

The FCS (or I-AA) has had legendary football players coming in and out of the subdivision since its origins in 1978. Most notably at the wide receiver position, two all-time legends come to mind thanks to their accomplishments: Mississippi Valley State’s Jerry Rice and Eastern Washington’s Cooper Kupp.

Legendary FCS athletes. Both all-time greats. But who’s the better FCS legend between Jerry Rice and Cooper Kupp? 

To answer that question, we’ll be taking a look at a side-by-side breakdown of the collegiate careers of Rice and Kupp, from the statistics to the accolades.

Keep in mind, this is a comparison of FCS careers ONLY, so NFL and professional accomplishments do not factor in.

That said, let’s get into the comparison.


Jerry Rice Vitals cooper kupp
Mississippi Valley State School Eastern Washington
6'2'' Height 6'2''
200 pounds Weight 208 pounds
1981-84 Years Active 2013-16

Rice and Kupp stand almost identical in height and weight. Each played for four years in college.

Wins and Losses

Jerry Rice Stats Cooper Kupp
41 Games Played 52 games
27 Wins 41
0-1 Postseason Record 5-3

Jerry Rice played in 11 fewer games than Cooper Kupp in college. Kupp advanced to the postseason in three of his years at Eastern Washington. Rice advanced to the postseason once.

FCS CHAMPIONSHIP: How the FCS playoffs work | Schools with most titles | Full championship history

Career Stats

Jerry Rice

Here are Jerry Rice’s career stats in college.

1981 10 30 3.0 428 42.8 14.3 2
1982 10 66 6.6 1,133 113.3 17.1 7
1983 10 102 10.2 1,450 145.0 14.2 14
1984 10 103 10.3 1,682 168.2 16.3 27
Career 40 301 7.53 4,693 117.3 15.6 50

Cooper Kupp

Here are Cooper Kupp’s career stats in college.

2013 15 93 6.2 1,691 112.7 18.2 21
2014 13 104 8.0 1,431 110.1 13.8 16
2015 11 114 10.4 1,642 149.3 14.4 19
2016 13 117 9.0 1,700 130.8 14.5 17
Career 52 428 8.2 6,464 124.3 15.1 73

When evaluating career stats, it's important to remember that Jerry Rice played college football during the 1980s and Cooper Kupp played college football during the 2010s. That's two different eras with two different styles and paces of play. That said, Kupp leads Rice in overall counting stats by a wide margin. But Rice leads Kupp in yards per catch.

Best Season

Jerry Rice

Jerry Rice's best season came in 1984. He helped Mississippi Valley State finish with a 9-2 record while catching 103 passes for 1,682 yards and 27 touchdowns — huge numbers that helped him finish ninth in the Heisman voting. Rice's receptions and receiving yards set FCS records, while his 27 receiving touchdowns in a season set an all-divisions record.

Rice and the Delta Devils didn't win the SWAC title that year, but they did advance to the first round of the FCS Playoffs. Despite Rice's nine catches for 155 yards, Mississippi Valley State fell to Louisiana Tech 66-19.

Cooper Kupp

Cooper Kupp's best season came in 2016. This season gets the nod over his 2015 Walter Payton Award-winning season, thanks to Kupp and Eastern Washington's team success, winning the Big Sky title in his senior season. 2016 also gets the nod over Kupp's record-setting freshmen season as Kupp became a better player with more experience.

In 2016, Kupp helped Eastern Washington finish with a 12-2 record while catching 114 passes for 1,700 yards and 17 touchdowns. Kupp's season placed atop every major career FCS receiving record. Kupp and the Eagles won the Big Sky title in 2016, advancing to the FCS Playoffs. Kupp's collegiate career would ultimately end in the FCS semifinals.

👀: The greatest individual seasons in HBCU football history

Best game

Jerry Rice

Jerry Rice had plenty of elite games. Many might point to his 1983 performance against Southern as his best game, wen he finished with 279 yards from a DI record 24 catches. However, Mississippi Valley State lost that game 31-28.

Using a win for Rice's best game, it would be none other than 1984's outing against rival Jackson State. Rice caught 15 passes for 284 yards and four touchdowns in a 49-32 win.

Cooper Kupp

A game from any of Cooper Kupp's four years could be picked as his best game; he caught five passes for 119 yards and two touchdowns in his first-ever college game — a 49-46 ranked FCS-over-FBS upset against then-No. 25 Oregon State — to burst onto the scene.

However, Kupp's best game is his 2015 performance in a 45-28 win over Idaho State. Kupp displayed his versatility in this game, catching 14 passes for 161 yards and two touchdowns, returning a punt for a score and throwing a 24-yard touchdown.

MORE: See all of Cooper Kupp's career stats, highlights and records

Records set

If you want records, then Rice and Kupp are your place to look. The duo's name can be found atop almost every FCS receiving record. Here's a look at records currently held by both as Rice and Kupp have lost a few records since each moved on from the FCS.

Jerry Rice

DI football records

  • 1st in Division I single-game receptions: 24 receptions
  • 1st in Division I touchdowns caught in a season per game: 2.7 touchdowns
  • Tied for 1st in Division I touchdowns caught in a season: 27 touchdowns
  • 1st in Division I touchdown passes between the same passer and receiver: 27 touchdowns (QB Willie Totten)

FCS records

  • 1st in FCS receiving yards in a season per game: 168.2 yards
  • 1st in FCS points scored in a season per game: 16.2 points
  • 1st in FCS touchdowns scored in a season per game: 2.70 touchdowns

Cooper Kupp

College football records

  • 1st in college football all-division career receiving yards: 6,464 yards

FCS records

  • 1st in FCS career receiving touchdowns: 73 touchdowns
  • 1st in FCS career receptions: 428 receptions
  • 1st in FCS career receiving yards per game: 124.3 yards
  • 1st in FCS average TDs per game: 1.40 touchdowns
  • 1st in FCS games with at least 100 receiving yards: 31 games
  • 1st in FCS career points: 395 points
  • 1st in FCS consecutive games with a reception: 52 games

FCS freshman records

  • 1st in FCS freshman receptions: 93 receptions
  • 1st in FCS freshman receiving yards: 1,691 yards
  • 1st in FCS freshman receiving touchdowns: 21 touchdowns

FCS HISTORY: The 9 all-time winningest FCS programs | 7 of the most unbreakable FCS records

Awards won

Here are the awards won by Jerry Rice and Cooper Kupp during their college careers. Of the many awards won, Kupp took home the Jerry Rice Award in 2013. Of course, Rice couldn't win an award that was named after himself.

Jerry Rice

Here are the awards and honors Rice won in college:

  • First-Team AP All-American (1983)
  • Consensus (AP, NEA, FWAA) All-American (1984)
  • SWAC Player of the Year (1984)
  • Mississippi Offensive Player of the Year (1984)
  • 3x All-SWAC conference Wide Receiver (1982-84)
  • 9th in Heisman Trophy voting (1984)
  • SWAC Athletic Hall of Fame (2005)
  • College Football Hall of Fame (2006)
  • Black College Football Hall of Fame (2010)
  • SBN Sports Network Black College Football All-Time team

Cooper Kupp

Here are the awards and honors Kupp won in college:

  • 2013 Jerry Rice Award (2013)
  • Big Sky Conference Freshman of the Year (2013)
  • Phil Steel first-team freshman All-American (2013)
  • WCFF first-team FCS All-American (2013, 2015-16)
  • 2x Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Year (2015-16)
  • 4x First-team All-Big Sky Conference Wide Receiver (2013-16)
  • Second-team All-Big Sky Conference Punt Returner (2016)
  • Third-team All-Big Sky Conference Punt Returner (2014)
  • 4x Consensus (AFCA, AP, STATS) FCS All-American (2013-16)
  • 2x First-team Division I Academic All-American (2015-16)
  • Second-team Division I Academic All-American (2014)
  • Walter Payton Award (2015)
  • FCS Athletic Director’s Association Offensive Player of the Year (2016)

🐐: We picked the top-5 players all-time for Eastern Washington football

Championships won

Kupp won three Big Sky titles during his time at Eastern Washington, while Rice did not win a conference title.

Neither Rice nor Kupp won a national title.

MORE: Here are 6 can't-miss HBCU football game-day atmospheres

Who's better: Jerry Rice or Cooper Kupp?

Now you’ve seen how all-time FCS great wide receivers Jerry Rice and Cooper Kupp stack up and compare. The stats, the facts and the data has been presented and each has a strong case for being better than the other.

So, who’s better all-time between Jerry Rice and Cooper Kupp?

That’s for you to decide.

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