Fiu, Cirminiello, Mitchell on TV - Campus Insiders | Buy College Football Tickets

Quarterback U - The Top All-Around QB Schools
Posted Apr 29, 2009

What schools are the best when it comes to cranking out great quarterbacks based on a combination of college production and pro talent? Richard Cirminiello gives his take on the top 15 Quarterback Universities over the last 40 years.

Quarterback U. - Combined Version

The Quarterback Factories
(Part College , Part Pro)

By Richard Cirminiello | Pete Fiutak version of QB U. (college production only)

Quarterback U. 

The oft-used term conjures up images of a long lineage of deft passers, all of whom proudly wore the same school colors, sang the same school songs and accepted the torch when their time arrived. Over the years, they’ve collectively formed a mini-farm system for the National Football League—a quarterback factory, if you will.

Give some programs two reliable signal-callers in a five-year period and they’re ready to stake claim to the mythical moniker.  On the contrary, Quarterback U. is not about
brief spurts of excellence; it’s about sustained consistency to go along with those brief spurts of excellence. Earn the name and your school has participated in a marathon, not a sprint. Quality and quantity are prerequisites, and it can certainly help if your big men on campus went on to command big paychecks in the pros.

For this highly subjective exercise, only college players who played, roughly, since 1970 have been considered.  Keep that in mind while you’re feverishly searching for Johnny Unitas or John Brodie. The timeframe could have easily been, oh, 50 or 80 years, but either way, the objective was to draw a distinct line of demarcation between the modern era of college football and a time when the game, the players and the schools were dramatically different than they are today. 

Something about apples and oranges comes to mind.  Go deep enough into the annals and you might be compelled to champion schools, which are no longer relevant to this conversation.  Raise your hand if you’re ready to debate the virtues of quarterbacks such as Sid Luckman, Stan Heath or Adrian Burk, former first half of the century first round draft choices from Columbia, Nevada and Baylor, respectively.
The emphasis here is on a combination of college and pro results. Send players to the big league, and you're a factory. Joe Montana’s career didn’t end in South Bend.  For that matter, neither did Rick Mirer’s.  Both must be judged accordingly.

Like most opinion-based responses, there is no right answer to the question of who truly deserves to be dubbed Quarterback U.  Just plenty of different answers, which makes the subject so deliciously appealing.   

1. USC

The Flag-Bearer
Matt Leinart
The Ensemble Carson Palmer, Mark Sanchez, Rodney Peete, Rob Johnson, Pat Haden, Vince Evans, Paul McDonald, Todd Marinovich, John David Booty, Brad Otton, Matt Cassell and Sean Salisbury

If it’s June of 2002, USC is struggling just to make the list. That’s an indication of how ridiculously good Palmer and Leinart were, winning two Heismans and two national championship, collectively, while tossing a combined 104 touchdowns to just 25 interceptions, and it shows just how amazing the pipeline of talent has been under Pete Carroll. It doesn't matter who's been the offensive coordinator; the production keeps on rolling. How good as the program been at hoarding talent over the last decade? Two words: Matt Cassell.

In a program built on Student Body Left and Student Body Right for so many years, the quarterback wasn’t always the focal point of the Trojan offense. Still, it's easy to forget that McDonald and Peete were All-Americans and Johnson was near flawless his final two years in Los Angeles.  Evans, Peete, Johnson, McDonald and Haden all played at least five seasons in the NFL, and there's a lot more pros coming down the road.

2. Miami

The Flag-Bearer
– Jim Kelly
The Ensemble – Bernie Kosar, Vinny Testaverde, Gino Torretta, Craig Erickson, Ken Dorsey and Steve Walsh

While there's been a big drop-off over the last few years, Miami was a who's who of superstar quarterback talent that produced at a big-time level in college and sent some solid players into the pros. How has it happened? Frequent flier miles amassed by the coaching staff getting Kelly from Pennsylvania, Kosar from Ohio, Testaverde from New York, Walsh from Minnesota, and Dorsey, Torretta and Kyle Wright from California. 

It all began with Kelly, one of the sport’s all-time greatest passers, who helped ignite the school’s football resurgence in the early 1980s. Testaverde and Torretta copped the program’s only two Heisman Trophies, while Dorsey completely rewrote the team’s record book during his four-year stint as the starter and was an unparalleled winner. Four Hurricanes have been named All-American since 1986, and all but two from the above list have been fitted for national championship rings. (Interestingly enough, they were the two best pros: Kelly and Testaverde).

Like none other, the quarterback position has defined Miami’s excellence since the program awoke from its deep slumber of the 1970s, but it loses the top spot to USC by the slimmest of margins.

3. BYU

The Flag-Bearer
– Steve Young
The Ensemble
Jim McMahon, Ty Detmer, Marc Wilson, Robbie Bosco, Gifford Nielsen, John Beck, Steve Sarkisian, Gary Sheide, John Walsh, Brandon Doman, Max Hall and Kevin Feterik 

No university was more synonymous with prolific passing attacks in the 1970s and 1980s than BYU. Under the innovative eyes of LaVell Edwards and Norm Chow, the Cougars rose to national prominence and cranked out All-American quarterbacks like a Pez dispenser. Nielsen, Wilson, Young, McMahon, Bosco and Detmer all ascended to the height of the sport, bagging a heap of records along the way. Cougar quarterbacks finished in the top 10 of the Heisman vote an unthinkable 11 times between 1974 and 1991.

While the drop-off at the position has been steep since Detmer became the NCAA’s all-time leading passer in 1991, BYU was still home to Walsh, Sarkisian, Feterik, Beck, Hall and Doman, each of whom threw for more than 3,500 yards at least once over the past decade.

4. Washington

The Flag-Bearer – Warren Moon 
The Ensemble – Mark Brunell, Chris Chandler, Marques Tuiasosopo, Sonny Sixkiller, Brock Huard, Cody Pickett, Steve Pelluer, Hugh Millen, Billy Joe Hobert, Cary Conklin, Jake Locker and Damon Huard

Amid little fanfare, Seattle has been an NFL pipeline for quarterbacks the past three decades. Washington holds the distinction of having had six alums on NFL rosters during the 1999 season. 

Moon, a Hall of Famer, was a star wherever he laced up his cleats. The 1977 Pac-10 Player of the Year is the NFL’s No. 3 all-time passer and a member of the CFL Hall of Fame. Brunell and Chandler have had long and very productive pro careers, while Tuiasosopo is the best all-around quarterback the school has ever had; he’s the only man in NCAA history to pass for 300 yards and rush for 200 more in the same game. Hobert never lost a college game he played in and helped lead the school to its only national championship in 1991. Sixkiller had more than just the best surname in college football history. En route to becoming a local folk hero, he led the country in passing in 1972. 

5. Florida State

The Flag-Bearer –
Chris Weinke
The Ensemble Charlie Ward, Brad Johnson, Danny Kanell, Casey Weldon, Thad Busby, Bill Cappleman, Chris Rix, Gary Huff, Peter Tom Willis and Danny McManus

When the topic is Florida State quarterbacks, it has to begin with Ward, one of the most decorated players in school history, and the 1993 Heisman winner. The veteran NBA point also led the program to its first national championship, but Weinke duplicated Ward’s feats, when he, too, won the Heisman and a national crown, and at least had a cup of coffee in the pros. He also gets the top nod because he led FSU to another national title game (but lost to Oklahoma).

Throughout much of the 1980s and 1990s, the program had a time-tested system for their quarterbacks. Let them sit and absorb for two years, and then turn them loose in an offense loaded with talent at the skill positions. Rarely did it sputter. However, Johnson aside, former Noles have been washouts once they’ve left that system.  Not one has been plucked from the first round, and, amazingly, Huff and Cappleman, pre-Bowden products, are the highest drafted quarterbacks to play in Tallahassee.  

6. Florida

The Flag-Bearer – Tim Tebow 
The Ensemble Danny Wuerffel, Rex Grossman, Shane Matthews, John Reaves, Doug Johnson, Kerwin Bell, Wayne Peace, Chris Leak and Jesse Palmer

For all the success Gator quarterbacks enjoyed as amateurs, they’ve been collectively awful in the NFL, feeding the notion they’re products of a system; first the Fun 'N' Gun and then the spread. Rex Grossman is the best pro in the bunch. Let that sink in for a moment.

That said, it’d be foolish to diminish the impact of Florida quarterbacks on the college game, particularly after Steve Spurrier brought his offense to Gainesville in 1990. On most autumn weekends, you could count on plenty of fireworks and a great show whenever the Gators were playing. Wuerffel is the standard by which all of the program’s quarterbacks are judged. The two-time All-American led the country in touchdowns in 1996, the same year he won the Heisman Trophy and guided the school to its only national championship. He, Reaves and Bell completed their careers as the SEC’s all-time leading passer. And then there's Tebow, who has pushed his way into the debate to be claimed the greatest quarterback to ever play college football.

7. Michigan

The Flag-Bearer – Tom Brady
The Ensemble – Elvis Grbac, Jim Harbaugh, John Navarre, Brian Griese, Todd Collins, Drew Henson, Rick Leach, Steve Smith and Chad Henne

Two decades ago this would've looked like a misprint.  Michigan still favors the running game, now more than ever, but the offense has been far more balanced than the one Bo Schembechler used to employ. The result?  Every Michigan starter since Elvis Grbac in 1989 has at least made an NFL roster (but that came to a sudden halt with the start of the Rich Rodriguez era). Navarre, the school’s all-time leading passer, made it seven pro quarterbacks in the past dozen years when he first made the cut with the Arizona Cardinals.

Wolverine quarterbacks are typically big and bright and teeming with leadership, but they don’t make scouts fawn. They just win lots of games.  That’s never been more evident than with Brady, the former sixth-round draft choice. Griese, who was under center for a share of Michigan’s first national titles in 50 years, was also a solid pro once he got in the door. Grbac and Harbaugh both made the Pro Bowl and enjoyed very productive NFL careers. After finally hanging up his mitt, Henson had the tools to be a future star and was given a few long looks. Now, Wolverine fans are praying that Tate Forcier is ready to be the next star.       

8. Notre Dame

The Flag-Bearer
– Joe Montana
The Ensemble – Joe Theismann, Brady Quinn, Steve Beuerlein, Rick Mirer, Tony Rice, Terry Hanratty, Tom Clements, Jarrious Jackson, Ron Powlus

Stop snickering and take a long look at the Irish’s body of work. Montana is one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the sport. Both he and Theismann own Super Bowl rings. Beuerlein, who had a brilliant Pro Bowl campaign in 1999, was a 15-year NFL veteran. Before crapping out in the pros, Hanratty and Mirer were high draft choices, who’d gotten All-American recognition. Clements, Montana and Rice each won a national championship. And while Powlus never approached his lofty expectations, he did author many school records, including career touchdowns and passing yards. Quinn was better than he ever got credit for, evidenced by what happened as soon as he left.

9. Oregon

The Flag-Bearer –
Dan Fouts
The Ensemble – Chris Miller, Bill Musgrave, Dennis Dixon, Joey Harrington, Akili Smith, Danny O’Neil, Tony Graziani, Kellen Clemens and A.J. Feeley

Like much of the Pac-10, Oregon has never had trouble developing quality quarterbacks. It all began with Fouts, the All-Pac 8 player who went on to a Hall of Fame career with the San Diego Chargers. Miller, Harrington and Smith each had all-conference seasons prior to getting selected in the first round of the NFL draft, and Dixon likely would've won the Heisman had he not blown out his knee. Smith bombed, but Miller threw 123 touchdown passes in an injury-plagued career and Harrington, while a disappointment, hung around the league.

Musgrave may be the most underrated of the prominent Oregon quarterbacks. He was a four-year starter and three-year captain of the Ducks. He closed his career as the program’s all-time leading passer, while setting 15 school records. At the time of his graduation, Musgrave’s 60 touchdown passes ranked him No. 2 in Pac-10 history behind John Elway.   

10. Nebraska

The Flag-Bearer – Tommie Frazier
The Ensemble
– Eric Crouch, Joe Ganz, Turner Gill, Vince Ferragamo, Scott Frost, Jerry Tagge, David Humm, Steve Taylor and Jammal Lord

No program was tougher to size up than Nebraska, a school that’s produced many terrific quarterbacks, but only a few capable of transitioning from an option-oriented offense to the pros. Tagge was a first-round draft choice of the Packers, Humm was a 10-year journeyman, mostly with the Raiders, and Ferragamo was best known for leading the Rams to the 1979 Super Bowl.

The Huskers’ candidacy is built on some of the best dual-threats college football has ever seen, beginning with Frazier.  Beyond all the school records, he’s better known for being just one of two 20th century quarterbacks to win back-to-back national championships.  Frost replaced Frazier admirably, becoming the first Nebraska player to rush and pass for 1,000 yards in a season and leading the school to a 1997 co-national championship. Gill finished fourth in the 1983 Heisman vote and then coached Crouch to the award in 2001.

Honorable U.


The Flag-Bearer
– Drew Brees
The Ensemble – Jim Everett, Mike Phipps, Gary Danielson, Mark Herrmann, Scott Campbell and Kyle Orton

Boilers get burned by the time cut-off. Include Bob Griese into the mix and Purdue might have slipped into the Top 10.


The Flag-Bearer –
John Elway
The Ensemble – Jim Plunkett, Trent Edwards, Steve Stenstrom, Guy Benjamin, Todd Husak, John Paye and Turk Schonert

The Cardinal starts well with Elway and Plunkett, but the drop-off is pretty steep.


The Flag-Bearer –
Steve Bartkowski
The Ensemble – Kyle Boller, Joe Roth, Aaron Rodgers, Rich Campbell, Gale Gilbert, Troy Taylor, Mike Pawlawski, Dave Barr and Pat Barnes

Seven Bear quarterbacks have been drafted since 1975. Had Roth not tragically succumbed to cancer in 1977, that number would have been eight.

Washington State

The Flag-Bearer
– Drew Bledsoe
The Ensemble – Ryan Leaf, Mark Rypien, Jason Gesser, Jack Thompson and Timm Rosenbach

Some very talented quarterbacks have come out of the Palouse, but the Cougars suffer from Leaf, Thompson and Rosenbach all being first-round flops.   


The Flag-Bearer –
Sam Bradford
The Ensemble
Jason White, Jamelle Holieway, Josh Heupel, J.C. Watts, Jack Mildren, Charles Thompson, Thomas Lott, Cale Gundy and Nate Hybl

No offense was more fun to watch than the ‘bone, but when was the last time a Sooner graduate threw a touchdown pass in he pros? Better yet, has a Sooner graduate ever thrown a touchdown pass in the pros (Troy Aikman didn't graduate from OU)? Mr. Bradford, your table is ready.