Tuesday Question - All-Time Greatest QBs

Posted Aug 28, 2006

CFN's Tuesday Question - The All-Time Greatest Quarterbacks

- 10 Greatest Defensive Players of All-Time | 10 Worst Heisman Winners
- 10 Greatest Regular Season Games of All-Time | 10 Greatest Playmakers of All-Time
- All-Time Offensive Team | All-Time Defensive Team

Pete Fiutak     
Q: The ten greatest quarterbacks of all-time are ...

A: With the proliferation of the NFL over the last 30 years into the world's greatest sports league, the football spotlight has been the brightest on the quarterbacks. Montana, Elway, Bradshaw, Aikman, Marino, Manning, Brady, Favre; these are just some of the magical names made into superheroes by the sports world. It's different for college football. Running back has historically been the glamour position in the college game with high-octane passing attacks and star quarterbacks a relatively recent phenomenon. Finding great college quarterbacks over the past century-plus of college football is far harder a task than it might appear to be.

Here's my criteria for putting together a top ten quarterback list. 1) Production. I don't care about what these guys did or didn't do in the NFL. All that matters is what they accomplished in college. 2) Championships. John Elway and Peyton Manning were among the greatest pro prospects of all-time, and you'd take either of them in a heartbeat to play on your college team, but they each won a fat load of jack squat. I know, I know, Manning won one, one SEC title and technically played in a national title game in the 1998 Orange Bowl, but going 0-4 against Florida and not playing in a true title game like we have now knocks him out compared to the others on my list. Elway never played in a bowl. 3) Legendary status. I'll overlook the national title thing if a player is a true legend. You'll see what I mean. A Heisman helps. Georgia's David Greene might be the biggest winner and Hawaii's Timmy Chang might have the best numbers, but they don't exactly get the heart racing.

The players that just missed my cut and why (in order of how close they came) ...
- Ty Detmer - I won't argue if you want to put him on the list. Outside of the classic win over Miami, the record-setting passing numbers came against horrendous defenses. Could he have cranked out the same production in the SEC or Big 10?
- Archie Manning - I'm not happy about not having him on there. The lack of titles keeps him off.
- Steve Walsh - One of the game's ultimate winners, he's missing that legendary quality compared to my top ten. Many young fans have no idea who he is.
- Jamelle Holieway - He has a national title and was, arguably, the greatest option quarterback of all-time, but the total lack of passing stats affected him here.
- Doug Flutie - While there might not be a bigger legend in recent college football history, and there certainly wasn't anyone more magical, the lack of national title experience is the hair-thin difference between making the list and not.
- Peyton Manning - That Tennessee won the national title with Tee Martin the year after the Manning era can't be overlooked.

The top ten ...
10. Michael Vick, Virginia Tech
In hindsight, and with Vince Young's career a recent memory, it's easy to forget what an impact Vick had on the game. He was a revolutionary playmaker who helped carry the Hokies to the 1999 championship game losing to Florida State in a classic. He lost two games in his career with the second at Miami in 2000.
9. Charlie Ward, Florida State
I'm not nearly as high on him as others are even though he went 23-2 as a starter. While he was one of the game's ultimate all-around quarterbacks and the signature offensive star of the great Bobby Bowden era at Florida State, he was average in the national title win over Nebraska and lost to Notre Dame in the biggest game of the 1993 season.
8. Roger Staubach, Navy
Staubach carried an average Navy team to a 9-1 record and number two ranking in 1963 before losing to undefeated Texas in the Cotton Bowl. One of the games greatest all-around quarterbacks, he completed 292 of 463 career passes and piled up 4,253 yards of total offense.
7. Ken Dorsey, Miami
Even with a 38-2 record, 31 straight games with a touchdown pass, one national title, and a questionable pass interference call and a Willis McGahee injury from another, the two-time Heisman finalist still doesn't get his just due. He was just a product of a great system with a boatload of talent around him, right? How did Vinny Testaverde do in his national title appearance with that great 1986 Hurricane team? How has Miami done since Dorsey? When you're the most successful Miami quarterback of all-time, you belong on the list of greats.
6. Davey O'Brien, TCU
There's a reason the award for the nation's top quarterback is named after him. The 1938 Heisman winner led the nation in passing in 1936 and 1937, and finished his career with 24 TD passes, 2,659 yards (remember the era we're talking about), 928 rushing yards and ten touchdown runs along with being a star kick returner and defensive back. Even at only 5-7 and 150 pounds, he was tough as nails and was a consummate leader.
5. Danny Wuerffel, Florida
Wuerffel put up mind boggling stats against some of the nation's best teams completing 708 of 1,170 passes for 10,875 yards and 114 touchdowns. During his career, the Gators played 22 ranked teams finishing with one national title and another national title appearance. How many national championship games has Steve Spurrier been to without No. 7? Zero. Wuerffel's career passer rating of 163.56 was the best in major college football history including a 178.4 rating in 1995. He was the only college passer to ever have back-to-back seasons with over a 170 passer rating.
4. Vince Young, Texas
With the Rose Bowl still fresh in everyone's minds, Young might be the number one choice of many. It came down to overall accomplishments which kept VY out of the top three despite being a transcendent star who came up with one of the greatest performances ever in the win over USC. Had he come back for his senior year and led Texas to another title, he'd have been number one on this list.
3. Sammy Baugh, TCU
This isn't the pretentious nod to history that you might think. Back in 1934, the passing game in college football wasn't just in it's infancy, it was almost non-existent. Remembering what time period he did this in, Baugh was amazing completing 285 of 597 career passes for 3,471 yards and 39 touchdowns. He led the 1935 Horned Frogs to the national title.
2. Matt Leinart, USC
Everyone came out of the 2006 Rose Bowl talking about Vince Young, and rightly so, while Leinart's brilliant performance was swept aside. Talk about your money players, the guy went 39-2 as a starter, completed 70 of 109 passes for 1,024 yards, nine touchdowns and one interception in his three bowl games. He won a Heisman, was in the mix for another, won a BCS national title, two AP national titles, and was the leader of one of the great runs in the history of college football. The career stats are amazing: 807-1,245 (65%), 10,693 yards, 99 touchdowns, 23 interceptions, nine rushing touchdowns, one touchdown catch.
1. Tommie Frazier, Nebraska
Before Frazier came to Nebraska, the Huskers had only beaten one top 20 team in four years. That all changed as he became the heart and soul of one of the most dominant teams college football ever saw leading the Huskers to a 13-2 record (when he started) over AP ranked teams only losing to Florida State in two Orange Bowls. Even though he missed several games with a blood clot in his leg, Frazier still won 33 and took the Huskers to three straight national championship games, winning two, and coming within a late field goal of winning a third. Fine, so he only completed 49% of his throws, but he threw 43 touchdown passes with only 11 interceptions. By the time he left Lincoln, he was the career leader in total offense with 5,476 yards, touchdown passes, rushing touchdowns by a QB with 36, and total offensive touchdowns for a career with 79. Those stats don't even take into account his bowl performances led by the 199-yard rushing day in the win over Florida.

Richard Cirminiello      
Q: The ten greatest quarterbacks of all-time are ...

1. Matt Leinart, USC (2003-05) – Cackle if you must, but I defy you to find a more accomplished quarterback in the history of college football.  Quarterbacks are judged by their record and individual numbers and awards, and Leinart is peerless in all three categories.  In three seasons, his Trojans went 37-2 and never finished lower than No. 2 in the polls.  Leinart accounted for 108 touchdowns to just 23 interceptions and finished in the top six of the Heisman voting three times, winning the award in 2004.  Short of beating Texas in his Trojan finale and winning a second Heisman, he had a near-perfect career, making this a clear choice.

2. Tommie Frazier, Nebraska (1992-1995) – Great quarterbacks aren’t always the greatest throwers.  Sometimes they run real well and never lose.  Frazier was the consummate winner, going 33-3 as a starter and leading the ‘Huskers to back-to-back national championships in 1994 and 1995.  He was an inspirational leader in Lincoln and for four years, ran the Nebraska option like a virtuoso.

3. Danny Wuerffel, Florida (1993-96) – System shmystem.  Yeah, I know, you could put up big numbers with Steve Spurrier calling plays.  The difference is that Wuerffel ran that system like no one before or after he’d arrived in Gainesville.  Plus, he has the national championship and the Heisman hardware to separate him from other quarterbacks that have piled up insane career stats.

4. Doug Flutie, Boston College (1981-84) – Who cares that Flutie originally lacked the size to play in the NFL?  He was plenty big enough to carry a program to new heights and establish himself as a true American sports icon.  He had plenty of records and awards when he left Boston College, but all that hardly defined him.  What makes Flutie an all-time great was his will to succeed and his ability to make those around him believe in his magic.

5. Peyton Manning, Tennessee (1994-97) – Had he beaten Florida and won a national championship in his career, Manning would be a right-handed Matt Leinart.  Still, he lost just six times as a four-year starter and shattered 42 NCAA, league and school marks, en route to staking his claim to being the best pure passer the SEC has ever seen.  

6. Charlie Ward, Florida State (1989-1993) – Arguably the most decorated and important player in Florida State history, Ward was sensational all-around athlete.  Because he went on to play in the NBA, rather than the NFL, he doesn’t get nearly enough credit, despite bringing the ‘Noles their first national championship and first Heisman Trophy.

7. Ty Detmer, BYU (1988-91) – Yeah, Detmer was a system guy, but he actually raised the bar at BYU with some astonishing individual numbers and by winning the 1990 Heisman Trophy.  By the time he left Provo, the two-time All-American had thrown for a hard-to-comprehend 15,031 yards and owned more records than the local Sam Goody.

8. John Elway, Stanford (1979-82) – Amazingly, Elway never played a college game beyond November, but on physical ability alone, he still has few peers.  The Cardinal won just 20 games in his four years on The Farm, but you can’t blame Elway, who unleashed 77 touchdown passes, while throwing for more than 9,000 yards.

9. Roger Staubach, Navy (1962-64) – From head to toe, Staubach was one of the most complete quarterbacks to ever put on a helmet.  A born leader and a nifty scrambler, he won the 1963 Heisman Trophy and carried the Middies to an unexpected berth in the Cotton Bowl.

10. Major Harris, West Virginia (1987-89) – Long before there was Michael Vick and Vince Young, there was Harris, an original that helped usher in the era of dual-threat quarterbacks.  He’s one of just two passers in history to throw for more than 5,000 yards and run for more than 2,000 more in a career, and came within a Fiesta Bowl win in 1988 from guiding the Mountaineers to an unlikely national title.  

John Harris  
Q: The ten greatest quarterbacks of all-time are ...

Overall Top 10
1.  Doug Flutie, Boston College – Many of the QBs on the list helped put his respective school on the college football map, but arguably there was no BC football before Flutie.  The Eagles had not played in a bowl game since 1942 before Flutie came to Chestnut Hill; they went to three in a row during Flutie’s career.  But, Boston fans identified with the underdog, the 5’9” gunslinger/play maker who did everything he could to put BC in the end zone. 
I got a chance to see his last college game against Houston in the Cotton Bowl.  My two best friends’ father was a coach for the University of Houston and we were going nuts every time Flute carved up the Houston secondary.  He looked so Lilliputian on the field, but BC’s team hung on his every move.  His overall numbers are solid.  The effect on his program is felt to this day.  I’d take him any day of the week and so he goes number one. 
2.  Matt Leinart, USC – Transcendent moment – 4th and 9, fourth quarter, less than 2 minutes left at Notre Dame – the audible to the “sluggo” route to Dwayne Jarrett, to be followed by the QB sneak for six.
3.  Tommie Frazier, Nebraska – Transcendent moment – 1996 Fiesta Bowl – breaking 85 University of Florida tackles for 75 yard touchdown run and the proverbial nail in Florida’s coffin.
4.  Charlie Ward, Florida State – Transcendent moment – 1992 Georgia Tech game – it might not have been his best performance, but the second half comeback he led cemented the Fast Break offense at FSU and his Heisman year in 1993.
5.  Jim McMahon, BYU – Transcendent moment – 1980 Holiday Bowl – the late comeback that culminated in the Hail Mary to Clay Brown to beat SMU 46 – 45.
6.  Danny Wuerffel, Florida – Transcendent moment – 1996 SEC championship game – led the Gators with a tremendous performance against Alabama to seal his Heisman campaign and a rematch with FSU (okay, so the 1993 Kentucky game – pass to Doering introduced us to
7.  Sammy Baugh, TCU – Transcendent moment – 1935 - #1 vs. #2 matchup in Fort Worth against SMU which introduced Baugh and a team with a passing game to the entire nation.
8.  Vince Young, Texas – Transcendent moment – 2006 Rose Bowl, arguably the best performance by a QB in a bowl game, ever.
9.  Roger Staubach, Navy – Transcendent moment – 1964 Cotton Bowl – CBS introduces Instant replay to the college football nation to show the great Staubach in action.
10.  Jim Plunkett, Stanford – Transcendent moment – 1971 Rose Bowl – Beating a dominant Ohio State game – completed 67% for 265 and a touchdown.

Top 10 “Option/Running” QBs
1.  Vince Young, Texas
2.  Tommie Frazier, Nebraska
3.  Brad Smith, Missouri
4.  Darian Hagan, Colorado
5.  Tony Rice, Notre Dame
6.  Jamelle Holieway, Oklahoma
7.  Donovan McNabb, Syracuse
8.  Major Harris, West Virginia
9.  Michael Vick, Virginia Tech
10.  (Tie) Woody Dantzler, Clemson, Dee Dowis, Air Force and Jack Mildren, Oklahoma

Top 10 “Dual Threat” QBs
1.  Doug Flutie, Boston College
2.  Vince Young, Texas
3.  Charlie Ward, FSU
4.  Roger Staubach, Navy
5.  Archie Manning, Ole Miss
6.  John Elway, Stanford
7.  Joe Hamilton, Georgia Tech
8.  Charlie Justice, North Carolina
9.  Major Harris, West Virginia
10.  Terry Baker, Oregon State 

Top 10 “System” QBs
1.  Ty Detmer, BYU
2.  Andre Ware, Houston
3.  Timmy Chang, Hawaii
4.  Klif Kingsbury, Texas Tech
5.  David Klingler, Houston
6.  Drew Brees, Purdue
7.  Jamelle Holieway, Oklahoma
8.  Philip Rivers, NC State
9.  Eric Zeier, Georgia
10.  Danny Wuerffel, Florida

Top 10 “Pure Passers” QB
1.  Matt Leinart, USC
2.  Jim McMahon, BYU
3.  Doug Flutie, Boston College
4.  Sammy Baugh, TCU
5.  Danny Wuerffel, Florida
6.  Peyton Manning, Tennessee
7.  Jim Plunkett, Stanford
8.  Vinny Testaverde, Miami
9.  Dan Marino, Pitt
10.  Troy Aikman, UCLA

Matthew Zemek  
Q: The ten greatest quarterbacks of all-time are ...

Quarterback is one of those positions where great statistics and talent don't always translate into great win-loss records. (John Elway would be an example.)

With that in mind, choosing the greatest college QBs of all time demands two lists: a list for the great performers, and a list for the winners. These areas could certainly overlap, but the point is that more names demand recognition for this one position, given the uniqueness of college football quarterbacking, as opposed to the NFL, where winning comes almost exclusively through raw performance. In college, greatness is just as much an ability to win as it is an ability to perform at another level.

Elway, Jim Plunkett, Sammy Baugh, Charlie Ward, Archie Manning, Tommie Frazier, Danny Wuerffel, Matt Leinart, Vince Young, Steve Young.

Jay Barker (the quintessential "winner" as a college football quarterback), James Street, JC Watts, Tom Clements, Joe Montana, Turner Gill, Roger Staubach, Bernie Kosar, Craig Krenzel, Ken Dorsey.

Best college QB ever?
Frazier. The best pure mix of blood-and-guts poise under fire and sheer athletic beauty. The leader of the great Nebraska teams of the mid-90s (with the '95 edition being the best of all time) had equal portions of toughness and excellence, enabling an observer to view Frazier as a physical specimen who also gave it the old college try. The fact that he destroyed Wuerffel--another player you could identify as both a performer and winner of the highest order--in a head-to-head matchup for a national title is the reason Frazier gets the nod.