Richard Cirminiello |
Pete Fiutak version of
QB U. (college production only)
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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:
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.
– 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
Kelly from Pennsylvania,
Kosar from Ohio,
Testaverde from New York, Walsh from Minnesota, and Dorsey, Torretta and Kyle Wright
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
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.
– Steve Young
The Ensemble –
Jim McMahon, Ty Detmer, Marc Wilson, Robbie Bosco, Gifford Nielsen,
John Beck, Steve Sarkisian, Gary Sheide, John Walsh, Brandon Doman,
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.
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.
– 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
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
The Flag-Bearer –
Brad Johnson, Danny Kanell, Casey Weldon, Thad Busby, Bill Cappleman,
Chris Rix, Gary Huff, Peter Tom Willis and Danny McManus
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.
– Tim Tebow
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
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.
The Ensemble –
Elvis Grbac, Jim Harbaugh, John Navarre, Brian Griese, Todd Collins,
Drew Henson, Rick Leach, Steve Smith and Chad Henne
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
– Joe Montana
– Joe Theismann,
Quinn, Steve Beuerlein, Rick Mirer, Tony Rice,
Terry Hanratty, Tom Clements,
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,
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.
The Flag-Bearer –
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.
The Flag-Bearer –
– Eric Crouch, Joe Ganz, Turner Gill, Vince Ferragamo, Scott Frost,
Jerry Tagge, David Humm, Steve Taylor and Jammal Lord
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
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.
– Drew Brees
The Ensemble – Jim Everett, Mike Phipps, Gary Danielson,
Mark Herrmann, Scott Campbell and Kyle Orton
burned by the time cut-off. Include
Bob Griese into the mix and Purdue might have slipped into the Top 10.
The Flag-Bearer –
– 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 –
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.
– Drew Bledsoe
– Ryan Leaf, Mark Rypien, Jason Gesser, Jack Thompson and Timm
Some very talented quarterbacks have come out of
the Palouse, but the Cougars suffer from Leaf, Thompson and
Rosenbach all being first-round flops.
Flag-Bearer – Sam
The Ensemble –
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.