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Quarterback U. - The Best College QB Schools
OU's Jason White, Jamelle Holieway, & Jack Mildren
What schools are the best when it comes to cranking out great quarterbacks? Based only on college production and not looking at pro prospects, talent, and anything that happened in the NFL, Pete Fiutak gives his take on the top 20 Quarterback Universities over the last 40 years.
Quarterback U. -
The Quarterback Factories
version of QB U. (college & pro talent)
Cirminiello, I don't care a lick about pro production when it comes
to producing great quarterbacks
in the Position U. debate. Is Miami University
suddenly a great quarterback school because Ben Roethlisberger went there? All I care
about is college production and college careers.
Also forget about NFL-type talent and go by what actually happened on the field. Go back to,
roughly, 1970 (around the time when college football became fully
integrated, with a few notable exceptions, and bowl games started to
become the measure of championships) and knowing
what you know now, which schools had the most productive
John Elway might be the
greatest quarterback of all-time, but he never led Stanford to a
bowl game. Johnny Unitas is one of the all-time legends, but was
average at best at Louisville. On the flip side, Eric Crouch won a
Heisman and led Nebraska to a national title game.
Remember a few things here. 1. Quarterback is the NFL's glamor
position; historically, running back is college football's glamor
position. The superstar college quarterback, helped by the spread,
is a relatively new thing. 2. Don't just equate passing with being a
quarterback. The option and the spread means there's more to the
position than just throwing the ball.
So without further ado,
here are the 20 schools that produced the best college quarterbacks
since around 1970, along with the five greatest quarterbacks for each
team. Once again, this is based on production and honors and not just talent.
no greater gap in styles than there is when it comes to the Oklahoma quarterbacks. It's that versatility, along with a consistent excellence and production at the position, that narrowly gives OU the paper-thin edge for the No. 1 spot.
There are some of the greatest option runners of all-time mixed in
with high-octane, record-setting Heisman passers. OU made a radical shift in styles, yet still has amassed some of the best college quarterbacks ever. The list could've been much more interesting had, arguably, the two most talented prospects to ever come to Norman, Troy Aikman and Rhett Bomar (remember, he was ranked ahead of Adrian Peterson by some services) played their whole careers for OU.
Jamelle Holieway might be the great option
quarterback ever, while it could be argued that Sam Bradford is the
greatest spread passer of all-time. If nothing else, OU has enjoyed some of the most
fun-to-watch quarterbacks ever whether it's J.C. Watts
flinging a pitch to a streaking Billy Sims, Holieway juking
and cutting up the field, or Jason White letting it fly deep. Outside
of a dead spot before the Bob Stoops era, few schools have had more
college production over the last four decades, and while it hasn't
translated to the pros in any way, shape or form, the NFL doesn't
exist in this debate.
Yes, I know ... there's a certain
Heisman winner missing from the list of five. Yes, I know ... Sam
Bradford is possibly the most talented OU quarterback ever (and will
certainly be the best OU pro ever). However, while he won the Heisman
and two straight Big 12 titles, the two bowl losses and last year's
loss to Texas nudges him just off the list considering Holieway and
Heupel won national titles, Watts won two Orange Bowls, and White
won a Heisman and was in two national title games. The late Jack
Mildren barely makes the cut, but he'll be edged out by Bradford
(who might be No. 1. on next year's list.
Oklahoma's fab five
1. Jamelle Holieway - He never made an All-America team and
was never in the Heisman mix, but he's generally considered to be the
greatest option quarterback of all-time and led the Sooners to the
1985 national title. Always a top runner, leading
the team in rushing in his sophomore and junior seasons, he became an improved
passer by his senior year with a 161.73 efficiency rating.
2. Josh Heupel - The quarterback who led the resurgence of Sooner
football, he was the steady leader who brought OU the 2000
national title and was the runner-up in the Heisman race with a 33
touchdown, 3,850-yard season. He threw for 7,456 yards in two
3. J.C. Watts - The best option quarterback ever until Holieway came
along, Watts led the Sooners to two Big 8 championships and two
Orange Bowl wins. He also had the best hair-do in the history of
4. Jason White - While he never captured the love
and affection of the college football world, he was in two national
championships, won the 2003 Heisman, and came close to winning a
5. Jack Mildren - A three-year starter, Mildren suffered from being
the quarterback of some monster OU teams at the same time Nebraska
was at the height of its power. He had a passer efficiency rating of
199.52 in 1971.
But this is about to change very, very soon unless Jacory Harris
can turn around the recent trend of underwhelming starters (Kyle
Wright, Brock Berlin, Kirby Freeman, etc.) Before Ken Dorsey left,
school had more big-time performers play better in the biggest games
and produce at
a higher level. Year after year after year, the Canes fielded the
quarterbacks that led the way to one of the most impressive two
decade runs in college football history. Interestingly enough, the
two Heisman winners, Vinny Testaverde and Gino Torretta, had some of
the most painful performances in national title games.
Miami's fab five
1. Ken Dorsey - Miami has had more talented quarterbacks, but none
of them won like Dorsey did and few had his flair for the dramatic.
He was the quarterback for the return of Miami football to elite
2. Steve Walsh - Don't forget that Miami was seen as a bit of a
choker program under Jimmy Johnson until Walsh led the Canes to a
title. He was a mysterious Cleveland Gary fumble against Notre Dame
away from going 24-0 and winning two straight national
titles. He was the most clutch of all the Cane QBs.
3. Vinny Testaverde - He might have been the greatest Cane QB had he
won a national title and not struggled in two stunning bowl losses.
4. Bernie Kosar - Watch the first half of the 1984 Orange Bowl
classic against Nebraska and try and find a quarterback that showed
more pinpoint accuracy in a big game.
5. Jim Kelly - It's hard to keep Craig Erickson and Heisman-winner
Gino Torretta off the list, but Kelly was the one that started the unbelievable
run of great players.
Known for being Tailback U., USC has been almost as impressive with its
quarterbacks. Heisman winner Carson Palmer helped boost the overall
stock of USC as a quarterback school, and Matt Leinart kept it there
leading the Trojans to a national title and within a hair of another. The sheer number of great
quarterbacks has helped with stars like Rodney Peete, Pat Haden and
Paul McDonald the leaders of some of the best teams over the last 40
years. Very soon, Matt Barkley could end up being the best of the
bunch (and will likely be the No. 1 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft). How
good is the list of the top five USC quarterbacks? Mark Sanchez, who
was fine in his one year as the starter with 34 touchdown passes and
a Rose Bowl win, wasn't even close.
Rob Johnson doesn't make the list, and
his three-year numbers were outstanding throwing 56
touchdown passes from 1992 to 1994 while completing 65% of his throws.
USC's fab five
- With a national title, a heartbeat away from winning another, a
Heisman, and a close runner-up for another, to go along with a Rose
Bowl win over Michigan, Leinart was one of the greatest quarterbacks
in the history of college football. .
Carson Palmer - Palmer came to USC as the golden boy,
can't-miss recruit. He fell short of expectations for three years,
and then put it all together under the tutelage of Norm Chow winning
the Heisman with a 3,942-yard, 33 touchdown season bringing USC
football back to prominence.
Pat Haden -
The Rhodes Scholar led USC to three Rose Bowls and two national
titles in the mid-1970s.
4. Rodney Peete - A great three-year starter, he was slightly
overshadowed by playing in the same town as UCLA's Troy Aikman. He
won the Johnny Unitas Award and was second to Barry Sanders in 1988
- Overshadowed by the great Charles White, McDonald
still put up great stats and led the Trojans to the 1978 national
title. Remembering that White put up over 3,909 rushing yards in
1978 and 1979, McDonald threw for 3,913 yards during those two years
with 37 touchdowns. He completed 62% of his throws in 1979.
might seem too low considering all the high-octane performers under
Steve Spurrier, and what Tim Tebow has done, but take Danny Wuerffel
out of the mix and too many of the stars came up short in the
biggest of the big games. Because of Tebow, who now enters the
discussion of the greatest college football players of all-time, and
not just the greatest college quarterbacks, the Gators could make a
push for No. 1 next year. How good have Florida quarterbacks been?
Chris Leak won a national title, and Kerwin Bell threw 56 touchdown
passes, an SEC record at the time, and was a fan favorite. This study goes back to roughly
1970, but I'm still including Spurrier
since he's still such a relevant figure.
Florida's fab five
1. Tim Tebow - He won a Heisman, should've won
another (and would've won it had the voting been done after the 2008
season), was a key factor in one national title and was the star who
led the way to another. Throw in the Paul Bunyan-like legend he has
become, the way he carried the team in the fourth quarter against
Alabama for the 2008 SEC title, and the win over Oklahoma, and he
has become the star at a school full of quarterback stars.
2. Danny Wuerffel - Arguably one of the five greatest college
quarterbacks ever, Wuerffel was the one who ran Spurrier's offense
better than anyone else with two national title appearances and the
Ball Coach's lone championship.
3. Steve Spurrier - Yeah, he played before 1970,
but the future Ball Coach won the Heisman and is still a beloved
figure despite leaving for the NFL and taking over at South Carolina.
4. Rex Grossman - Can we do a recount and give him the 2001 Heisman?
He threw for 77 career touchdowns and 9,164 yards, but his legacy is
a bit tainted by the loss to Tennessee in 2001 that would have
propelled the Gators to the SEC title game and a likely
showdown against Miami for the national title.
5. Shane Matthews - The first great Spurrier quarterback led the SEC
in passing for three straight years and threw 74 touchdown passes
and 9,287 passing yards.
The roll call of great quarterbacks is mesmerizing. Everyone
knows about legends like Ty Detmer and Jim McMahon, but lesser known
playmakers like Brandon Doman and Jon Walsh put up impressive
seasons that kept the tradition rolling. BYU didn't face the killer
schedules that other great teams played, and there's a thought that
the system rolled up mega-numbers game-in-and-game-out against
average teams. Who cares? These guys were really, really good and
in the Heisman mix from the mid-1970s until 1991. Throw in John
Beck, who had an incredibly productive and clutch career, and the
decent career of Max Hall, and BYU has been special for a few
BYU's fab five
1. Ty Detmer - He set the bar high for future
college quarterbacks to
shoot for with all his passing records. He left as the NCAA's all-time
passing leader and won the Heisman with a magical 1990 season highlighted
by his nationally televised 28-21 win over Miami.
2. Jim McMahon - There were other great BYU quarterbacks before him,
but he was the one who gave the docile program a cocky attitude
when it came to the passing attack while setting a ton of records. His
Hail Mary and comeback win over SMU in the 1980 Holiday Bowl is
still one of the greatest performances of all-time.
3. Robbie Bosco - While many college football fans still have issues
with BYU's 1984 national title season, you have to give credit where
credit is due; Robbie Bosco won a national title. His stats weren't
too shabby throwing 63 touchdown passes and 8,148 yards
in two years.
4. Steve Young - One of the best all-around quarterbacks
of all-time, Young threw 51 touchdown passes and 7,002 yards in two
years to go along with his running ability.
5. Gifford Nielson - Gary Sheide had some big years before Nielson,
but Nielson was the one who put the BYU passing game on the map
making it nationally known.
It's hard for some to
get past the thought that a quarterback is only a quarterback if he
throws the ball. Leadership, winning, effectiveness and decision
making are every bit as important. Bottom line for a quarterback: Did
he win? Nebraska quarterbacks were some of the most
devastating offensive weapons in college football history as the
leaders of some of the greatest teams. Tommie
Frazier was the greatest quarterback to never win a Heisman, Scott
Frost was one of the most unappreciated quarterbacks ever, and
Eric Crouch won the Heisman and got Nebraska to a national title
game. Others like Steve Taylor, Turner Gill,
David Humm and Jerry Tagge were among the best quarterbacks in the
game during their time.
Nebraska's fab five
1. Tommie Frazier - Arguably the greatest college quarterback of
all-time, he was a missed field goal away from winning three
national championships and was the leader of the 1995 team which
was, arguably, the best of all-time.
2. Eric Crouch - The three-year starter fought off an early
quarterback controversy to win the Heisman and lead the Huskers to
the BCS championship game. In the 2001 Heisman-winning year, he ran
for 1,115 rushing yards to go along with his 1,510 passing yards.
3. Jerry Tagge - From 1969 to 1971 he cranked out 5,283 total yards
of offense leading the Huskers to two national titles.
4. Scott Frost - One of the most productive
quarterbacks in Husker history, Frost led the Huskers to a piece of a national
championship with a tremendous 1997 season rushing for 1,095 yards
and throwing for 1,237. He was the first Husker to run and throw for
1,000 yards in a season.
5. Turner Gill - Possibly the most talented all-around Husker
quarterback, Gill was the ultimate field general to go along with
his passing efficiency.
A late-bloomer in the quarterback
discussion, Vince Young and Colt McCoy by themselves help put the
program in the top ten. Chris Simms was an underappreciated talent
who suffered from Oklahoma syndrome, while James Street and Major
Applewhite were folk hero legends. James Brown, based on his
guarantee that the Longhorns would beat a juggernaut Nebraska team
in the 1998 Big 12 Championship. Yes, I know. Bobby Layne belongs on
this list, at least at No. 2, but remember, we're only going back to
A late-bloomer in the
quarterback discussion, Vince Young and Colt McCoy by themselves
help put the program in the top ten. Chris Simms was an
underappreciated talent who suffered from Oklahoma syndrome, while
James Street and Major Applewhite were folk hero legends. James
Brown, based on his guarantee that the Longhorns would beat a
juggernaut Nebraska team in the 1998 Big 12 Championship. Yes, I
know. Bobby Layne belongs on this list, at least at No. 2, but
remember, we're only going back to around 1970.
Texas' fab five
Young - It's a bit of a stretch to say Young put the
Longhorns on his back and carried them to the 2005 national title
... he put the Longhorns on his back and carried them to the 2005
national title. The 2006 Rose Bowl performance against USC ranks as
one of the greatest games in college football history.
Colt McCoy - Ultra-accurate and a great runner, McCoy
likely would've led Texas to the 2006 Big 12 title game had he not
gotten hurt against Kansas State and definitely would've been the
star of a 2008 Big 12 champion if the BCSers had seen things
3. James Street - 20-0.
Street didn't lose as the wishbone quarterback of the epic late
1960s Texas teams under Darrell Royal. He was the star in the "Game
of the Century" win over Arkansas (with President Richard Nixon
awarding the Horns the national title afterward), and he came up
with one of the biggest plays in Texas history to beat Notre Dame in
the 1970 Cotton Bowl to cement the championship.
Applewhite - The Major was the All-American hero with the
baby face, the Opie Taylor, clean-cut image, and the production when
he got to play. He never had the raw tools, but he came up with some
huge wins, including the 2001 Holiday Bowl over Washington and a win
at Nebraska. He almost pulled out the 2001 Big 12 title against
Colorado after an early mess made by ...
5. Chris Simms
- Alright, he threw three ugly picks in the 2001 Big 12 Championship
game, and there were the issues against Oklahoma, but he had a nice
career throwing for 7,094 yards and 58 touchdowns and rushing for
by Miami's quarterback success, Florida State hasn't quite gotten
the credit it deserves as a quarterback factory. The Noles have
cranked out two Heisman winners and several great field generals,
but suffered from some bad luck and bad coaching over the last few
years. Chris Rix and Drew Weatherford never panned out, Adrian
McPherson was a superstar prospect who turned out to be a disaster,
Xavier Lee was a stunning dud, and Joe Mauer, arguably the best FSU
quarterback recruit ever, went on to be pretty good doing something
Quick, name the great NFL receivers from Florida State before Peter
Warrick, Laveraneues Coles, Anquan Boldin, Javon Walker and the
relatively recent flurry of
great stars. The quarterbacks, for the most part, got the job done in the
biggest games with a bull's-eye squarely on their backs.
State's fab five
1. Charlie Ward - The perfect college quarterback, he was a
great player on and off the field winning the Heisman and getting
Bobby Bowden his elusive national title.
2. Chris Weinke - Had he not gotten hurt in 1998, he would have been
been the starter in three national title games. He never got his
just due as one of the all-time greats because of his age.
3. Thad Busby - Completely forgotten about by most
college football fans, Busby threw for 3,317 yards and 25
touchdowns. He was two losses to Florida away from being unbeaten
with two national
4. Danny McManus - He was the leader at the beginning of the epic
FSU run of top four finishes. If the Noles hadn't screwed up on
special teams against Miami, McManus would have been the quarterback
of the 1987 national champion.
5. Danny Kanell - His 57 career touchdown passes weren't bad. He'll
always be remembered as the quarterback in the classic 1995 loss to
Virginia and the one who engineered the comeback in the 31-31 tie
against Florida in 1996.
Purdue has cranked out a
stunning array of great passing quarterbacks. While this exercise
only looks at the last 40 years or so, an exception is being made
here for Bob Griese, who played from 1964 to 1966. If I'm going to
include Steve Spurrier for Florida, I have to put the
still-prominent Griese on the list. Few schools were as consistent
with its great players with a succession of
top players starting with Len Dawson in the 1950s to Griese and Mike
Phipps in the 1960s to Gary Danielson and Mark Hermann in the 1970s
to Scott Campbell and Jim Everett in the 1980s to Drew Bress in the
Purdue's fab five
1. Drew Brees - Bob Griese was great, but Brees put up such
astronomical numbers with 11,792 career yards and 90 touchdowns that
it's too hard not to make him number one. That he took the
Boilermakers to the Rose Bowl in 2000 seals it.
2. Bob Griese - He threw more career interceptions than touchdowns,
but he was a two-time All-American who led Purdue to a Rose Bowl win
in 1968. He was a Heisman runner-up.
3. Mark Herrmann - A four-year starter, Herrmann was the first
high-octane passer in Boilermaker history throwing for 9,946 yards
and 71 touchdowns.
4. Scott Campbell - Good enough to keep Jim Everett on the bench for
two years, Campbell took over for Mark Herrmann and kept the passing
attack flying throwing for 7,636 yards and 45 touchdowns starting
for three seasons.
5. Jim Everett - He had a phenomenal final two years of a great
career throwing for 6,907 yards with 41 touchdown passes.
it's always thought of as a tough, grind-it-out Big Ten running
team, Michigan has put up an impressive array of great passers over
the years. There hasn't been too many Heisman-caliber,
everyone's-All-America superstars, but there have been plenty
fantastic passers that won big games, championships, and in the case
of Brian Griese, a national title. There are few more demanding
places to play with the starter not only needing to deal with 100,000+
fans, he has to deal with playing against defenses that crank their gameplans up an extra notch during Michigan-week.
No, there's no Tom Brady. This is college production only.
Michigan's fab five
1. Rick Leach - The most decorated of all the recent Wolverine
quarterbacks, Leach was a three-time All-Big Ten selection who
finished third in the Heisman in 1978, was in the running in 1976,
and got some votes in the Big Ten title winning 1977 season. He set
the NCAA record for the most touchdowns accounted for (82) and broke
the Big Ten records for total offense, total plays and touchdown
2. Jim Harbaugh - He finished third in the 1985 Heisman voting and
set many of the school's passing records. He went 23-3-1 in his
final two seasons finishing with a 1986 Big Ten title.
3. Elvis Grbac - A four-year starter, Grbac took Michigan to three
Rose Bowls while setting the record for most touchdown passes in a
season with 25 in 1991. He finished his career with 71 touchdown
passes and 6,460 yards.
4. John Navarre - He never, ever got the respect he deserved. His
numbers are kinder to him than the fans ever were. He finished his
career as Michigan's all-time leading passer throwing for 9,254
yards and 72 touchdowns culminating with a Big Ten title in 2003.
5. Brian Griese - It's all about the championships, and Griese
finally got the program over the national title hump in 1997. He was
coldly efficient, always coming up with the key third down pass
needed to keep drives, and the season, alive completing 63% of his
And one more I had to add to the list as a sort of No. 10A ...
Tennessee has had a
fantastic mix of superstars and steady role players over the years.
Obviously Peyton Manning is the superstar of the bunch, but there
were other great quarterbacks that somehow have been forgotten about
by most college football fans. Tee Martin won a national title,
Casey Clausen was a great four-year rock of a starter, and Heath
Shuler was one of the school's most dynamic players.
Tennessee's fab five
1. Peyton Manning - The standard for all SEC quarterbacks,
Manning finished his career with 11,201 yards and 89 touchdowns with
a second-place finish in the 1997 Heisman. However, he'll always be remembered for not beating Florida and only winning one
SEC title despite leading some of the most talented teams in college football.
Tennessee won the national title the year after he left.
2. Tee Martin - It was his steady leadership and clutch play that
led the Vols to the 1998 national title. His stats weren't bad
finishing his career with 4,592 yards and 32 touchdowns.
3. Casey Clausen - The Iceman had one of the better unheralded
careers in recent college football history starting for four years
finishing with 9,707 yards and 75 touchdown passes.
4. Andy Kelly - He was a strong passer for three years setting most
of the Tennessee passing records until Manning came in and blew them
all away. He led the Vols to a tremendous 11-1 season in 1989.
5. Heath Shuler - The Tennessee golden boy before Peyton Manning
arrived, Shuler put up two fantastic years in 1992 and 1993 before
making the mistake of jumping early for the NFL.
next ten greatest quarterback schools since 1970
(remember, based on college production)...
Boston College - the main man: Doug Flutie
13. Penn State - the main man: Todd Blackledge
14. Notre Dame - the main man: Joe Montana
15. Washington - the main man: Warren Moon
16. Stanford - the main man: Jim Plunkett
Fresno State - the main man:
18. Houston - the main man: Andre Ware
19. Syracuse - the main man: Donovan McNabb
Washington State - the main man: Ryan Leaf