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Quarterback U. - The Best College QB Schools
OU's Jason White, Jamelle Holieway, & Jack Mildren
OU's Jason White, Jamelle Holieway, & Jack Mildren
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Apr 29, 2009


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. - College Version

The Quarterback Factories

By Pete Fiutak | Richard Cirminiello version of QB U. (college & pro talent)

Unlike Richard 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 quarterbacks? 

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.


1. Oklahoma

There's 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 seasons.
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 mankind.
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 second.
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.


2. Miami


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, no 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 status.
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.

3. USC

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 

1.
Matt Leinart - 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. .
2.
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.
3. 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 Heisman race.
5. Paul McDonald - 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.


4. Florida

This 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.


5. BYU

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 were always 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 decades.

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.

6. Nebraska

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 around 1970.


7. Texas


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 

1. Vince 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.
2. 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 differently. 
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.
4. Major 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 ten more.

8. Florida State

Overshadowed 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 else. 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.

Florida 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 titles.
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.

9. Purdue

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 1990s.

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.


10. Michigan

Considering 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 passes.
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 passes.

And one more I had to add to the list as a sort of No. 10A ...


11. Tennessee

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 and 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.

Honorable U. ...

 The next ten greatest quarterback schools since 1970 (remember, based on college production)...
12.
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

17. Fresno State - the main man: David Carr 
18. Houston - the main man: Andre Ware
19. Syracuse - the main man: Donovan McNabb
20. Washington State - the main man: Ryan Leaf