Greatest Quarterback From Every Power Five School
In the history of college football dynasties, there is a common thread — great quarterbacks. In the history of also-rans in college football, there's also another thread — average quarterbacks.
See the pattern here? Great quarterbacks define the best college football teams of all time. Get one, and life is golden hallelujahs from adoring fans for time immemorial. Keep missing out on them, and life isn't quite as grand.
These are the greatest quarterbacks in the history of all 65 Power Five football programs.
Big Ten Conference
Current schools: Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Rutgers, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue, Wisconsin
National championships: 22 (Ohio State 6, Nebraska 5, Minnesota 4, Michigan 2, Michigan State 2, Penn State 2, Maryland 1)
Indiana: Antwaan Randle El
College highlights: Big Ten Most Valuable Player (2001), Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year (2001), AP All-American (2001), three-time All-Big Ten (1999-2000), Big Ten Freshman of the Year (1998)
Bottom line: Antwaan Randle El had to decide between professional baseball and college football coming out of Thornton Township High in Illinois after the Chicago Cubs selected him in the 14th round of the 1997 MLB draft.
Randle El went with football and lit up Big Ten defenses for four years and became the first player in NCAA history with 40 career passing touchdowns and 40 career rushing touchdowns as Indiana's quarterback.
Weird fact: Randle El also played two seasons of basketball at Indiana for legendary head coach Bob Knight as a reserve guard.
Maryland: Boomer Esiason
College highlights: Two-time AP All-American (1982, 1983), two-time All-ACC (1982, 1983)
Bottom line: Maryland was the only FBS school to offer Boomer Esiason a scholarship out of East Islip High in Islip Terrace, New York, and he made the most of it.
Esiason first played under head coach Jerry Claiborne and then Bobby Ross, who went on to win a national championship at Georgia Tech. The lefty gunslinger also had offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen, who later became Maryland's head coach.
In a time when Maryland still played in the ACC, Esiason set 17 school records in his time with the Terrapins, was a two-time All-American, and saved his best moment for his final home game, throwing two touchdowns in the third quarter to lead a comeback win over No. 3 North Carolina and win the ACC championship.
Michigan: Tom Brady
College highlights: National champion (1997)
Bottom line: This is the most obvious case of believing what our eyes tell us and not going with the stats as much as we usually would.
Brady was a backup to quarterback Brian Griese on Michigan's national championship team in 1997 and led the school to a Big Ten title as the full-time starter in 1998. You might make the argument that if head coach Lloyd Carr had gone with Brady full time in 1999 instead of platooning him with Drew Henson, he might have won a second national title. We think.
Some conspiracy theorists out there believe Brady was actually on track to be the starter in 1997 until a visit to Ann Arbor from a certain Super Bowl-winning quarterback named Bob Griese.
Michigan State: Connor Cook
College highlights: Big Ten Quarterback of the Year (2015), Unitas Golden Arm Award (2015), three-time All-Big Ten (2013-15), two-time Big Ten Championship Game MVP (2013, 2015), Cotton Bowl champion (2015), Rose Bowl champion (2014), Rose Bowl Offensive MVP (2014)
Bottom line: Connor Cook was phenomenal in three years as Michigan State's starter. He won two Big Ten Championship Game MVP awards and led the Spartans to wins in the Rose Bowl and Cotton Bowl in back-to-back years.
Cook saved his best for last, leading Michigan State to a College Football Playoffs berth and begging the question as to whether or not the school will ever make it back to the CFP again — massive playoff expansion not withstanding.
Here's the rub on Cook. He was a massive jerk and super disrespectful to Archie Griffin, one of the greatest college football players of all time.
Ohio State: Troy Smith
College highlights: Heisman Trophy (2006), AP All-American (2006), Sporting News College Football Player of the Year (2006), Fiesta Bowl MVP (2006), Walter Camp Award (2006), Davey O'Brien Award (2006), AP Player of the Year (2006), Chicago Tribune Silver Football (2006), BCS national champion (2002)
Bottom line: Ohio State is a great program, but picking an all-time great quarterback is more difficult than you think. Troy Smith gets the nod.
While Smith won the Heisman Trophy in 2006 with a record vote of 91.6 percent — a record that stood for 13 years — he arguably had a better season in 2005, when he had 611 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns to go with similar passing stats.
Smith's legacy took a hit in his final game, when the Buckeyes lost to Florida in the BCS Championship Game, 41-14, and he went 4-of-14 passing for 35 yards to go with one interception, one fumble and was sacked five times.
Penn State: Kerry Collins
College highlights: Maxwell Award (1994), Davey O'Brien Award (1994), Sammy Baugh Trophy (1994), Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year (1994), AP All-American (1994)
Bottom line: Kerry Collins was as good as any college quarterback probably ever was as a senior in 1994, when he set Penn State records in almost every passing category and for total offense and came just a few points short of setting the NCAA record for passing efficiency.
Modern-day college football fans (i.e., anyone under about 30 years old) probably need to be reminded that Penn State went undefeated in 1994 and won the Rose Bowl but finished at No. 2 in both the final Coaches and AP Polls behind Nebraska.
Rutgers: Mike Teel
College highlights: Big East Player of the Year (2008)
Bottom line: Mike Tell was only a two-star recruit coming out of powerhouse Don Bosco (N.J.) Prep, where he went 23-0 as a starter and led his school to a state championship.
Teel was a part-time starter as a freshman at Rutgers and full-time starter for three seasons. He was under center for the greatest season in school history as a sophomore in 2006, when the Scarlet Knights went 11-2 and Teel was surrounded with a ton of future NFL talent, including wide receiver Kenny Britt and running back Ray Rice.
Illinois: Tony Eason
College highlights: Two-time All-Big Ten (1981, 1982)
Bottom line: Sacramento native Tony Eason only played two seasons at Illinois after spending his freshman and sophomore years at a junior college. His stats show a quarterback that was probably about 20 or 30 years ahead of his time.
Eason threw for over 3,300 yards in each of his two seasons at Illinois and set NCAA career records for most passing yards per game, most completions per game and most total yards in his first two seasons.
Illinois went 7-4 in Eason's first season but couldn't go to a bowl game because of NCAA penalties. In 1982, he led them to their first bowl appearance since 1964.
Iowa: Chuck Long
College highlights: Big Ten MVP (1985), Davey O'Brien Award (1985), Maxwell Award (1985), AP All-American (1985), Big Ten Player of the Year (1985), three-time All-Big Ten (1983-85)
Bottom line: Few college football players have been as celebrated by their fanbase as Iowa quarterback Chuck Long. While playing for Iowa in the early 1980s, he achieved folk-hero status by the time his career was over.
As Iowa's quarterback, Long led Iowa to No. 1 in the AP Poll for the first time in 24 years as a senior in 1985, including a chill-inducing, 12-9 win at home against No. 2 Michigan in which Long led No. 1 Iowa on a 66-yard drive to set up Rob Houghtlin's game-winning field goal as time expired.
Long finished as the Heisman Trophy runner-up to Auburn's Bo Jackson in one of the closest votes in history.
Minnesota: Sandy Stephens
College highlights: Rose Bowl champion (1961), Rose Bowl MVP (1961), Chicago Tribune Silver Football (1961), AP All-American (1961)
Bottom line: Sandy Stephens was the first Black quarterback to play at Minnesota and remains the only quarterback in school history to take the Gophers to the Rose Bowl, which he did twice, and led the Gophers to a national championship in 1960.
Stephens was inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame in 1997 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 2011. Stephens died of a heart attack in 2000, at 59 years old.
Nebraska: Tommie Frazier
College highlights: Two-time national champion (1994, 1995), Heisman Trophy runner-up (1995), Orange Bowl MVP (1994), two-time Fiesta Bowl MVP (1995, 1996), AP All-American (1995)
Bottom line: Few players in college football history won on the level Tommie Frazier did during his time at Nebraska in the early 1990s under legendary head coach Tom Osborne.
As a three-year starter for Nebraska, Frazier led the Huskers to a national runner-up finish his first season and back-to-back titles in his last two years. His 75-yard touchdown run against Florida in his final game is still considered one of the greatest plays in college football history.
Northwestern: Otto Graham
College highlights: AP All-American (1943), three-time All-Big Ten (1941-43), Big Ten Player of the Year (1943)
Bottom line: Northwestern's Otto Graham was as likely to throw and run for a touchdown as he was to burn you for one on special teams, like he did when he returned a punt 90 yards for a score against Kansas State in his first collegiate game.
Graham, a three-time All-Big Ten pick, was setting records from the moment he was born on Dec. 6, 1921. He was the heaviest baby ever born on record in Illinois at 14 pounds, 12 ounces.
Graham wasn't even at Northwestern on a football scholarship. He was an All-American basketball player and won a National Basketball League championship with the Rochester Royals. The NBL became the NBA just a few years later.
Graham died in 2003, at 82 years old.
Purdue: Drew Brees
College highlights: Two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year (1998, 2000), Maxwell Award (2000), Chicago Tribune Silver Football (2000)
Bottom line: Drew Brees had only a few college suitors out of Austin Westlake High in Texas, despite leading his team to a 16-0 record and Class 5A Texas state championship as a senior in 1996.
Brees picked Purdue over Kentucky — his only two FBS offers — and the rest is history. Brees was a two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year for the Boilermakers and led Purdue to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1967.
Wisconsin: Russell Wilson
College highlights (pre-2011 at North Carolina State): Big Ten Quarterback of the Year (2011), All-Big Ten (2011), ACC Rookie of the Year (2008), two-time All-Big Ten (2008, 2010)
Bottom line: No disrespect to the other quarterbacks who played in a lot more games for Wisconsin than Russell Wilson, who was in Madison for one season as a graduate transfer after three seasons at North Carolina State.
What Wilson did in his one year with the Badgers was enough to earn him this spot. He set school single-season records for passing yards (3,175), touchdown passes (33), and set the single-season FBS record with a 191.8 passer efficiency rating.
Current schools: Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, Ole Miss, Texas A&M
Future schools: Oklahoma, Texas
National championships: 27 (Alabama 13, LSU 4, Florida 3, Auburn 2, Georgia 2, Tennessee 2, Texas A&M 1)
Florida: Tim Tebow
College highlights: Two-time BCS national champion (2006, 2008), Heisman Trophy (2007), two-time SEC Player of the Year (2008, 2009), Davey O'Brien Award (2007), AP Player of the Year (2007), three-time AP All-American (2007, 2008)
Bottom line: There has never been a college football quarterback like Tim Tebow — the perfect player for the team, coach, time and place he played. Tebow won two national championships at Florida and became the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy in 2007, which wasn't even one of the national title years.
It's worth pointing out that few college athletes, in any sport, have captured the public's imagination like Tebow did in his time at Florida. You'd be hard-pressed to find an American sports fan, much less a college football fan, who didn't know his career chapter and verse.
Georgia: Fran Tarkenton
College highlights: Two-time All-SEC (1959, 1960), Orange Bowl champion (1960)
Bottom line: We'll go ahead and say it. We seriously considered putting current Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett into this spot. While Bennett could still earn the top spot, Fran Tarkenton has been there for a long time.
Statheads will say Aaron Murray is the best quarterback of all time at Georgia. We'd say Tarkenton's Orange Bowl win in 1960 sets him apart. It's crazy to think Georgia head coach Wallace Butts had one of the all-time great running quarterbacks of all time on his roster but barely let him run.
In three seasons at Georgia, Tarkenton had 219 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. In his rookie season with the Minnesota Vikings, he had 309 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns.
Kentucky: Tim Couch
College highlights: AP All-American (1998), two-time All-SEC (1997, 1998), SEC Player of the Year (1998)
Bottom line: Tim Couch was a prep phenom at Leslie County High in Hyden, Kentucky, where he set national high school records for most pass completions, passing yardage, touchdown passes and passing percentage before thrilling fans by deciding to stay in his home state and play for then-SEC doormat, the University of Kentucky.
When Hal Mumme was hired as the Wildcats' coach before Couch's sophomore season, he handed over the keys to the offense to his young signal-caller. Couch responded by setting NCAA and SEC records for single-game completion percentage, completions per game, most completions in a single season, most completions in a two-year period and career completion record.
His SEC record of 4,141 yards of total offense set in 1998 stood until it was broken by Florida quarterback Tim Tebow in 2007, and Couch's SEC record of 4,275 passing yards in 1998 stood until it was broken by LSU quarterback Joe Burrow in 2019.
Missouri: Chase Daniel
College highlights: AP All-American (2007), two-time All-Big 12 (2006, 2007), Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year (2007)
Bottom line: Modern football fans know Chase Daniel as one of the most reliable NFL backup quarterbacks in recent memory, but those of us just a little longer in the tooth remember when he was absolute magic in the late 2000s at the University of Missouri.
Daniel was a two-time All-Big 12 pick for the Tigers in their heyday under head coach Gary Pinkel, throwing for over 12,000 yards and 100 touchdowns in his career and leading Missouri to within one win of a BCS national championship game berth in 2007.
You can make a good argument it was Daniel's stellar play that helped propel Missouri from the Big 12 into the SEC.
South Carolina: Steve Taneyhill
College highlights: Two-time All-SEC (1994, 1995)
Bottom line: Few things define the early 1990s in the SEC more than South Carolina quarterback Steve Taneyhill's wild-man antics — from his super-sized mullet to his disrespect of the Clemson Tiger Paw.
What's lost in all of that is the fact Taneyhill was very, very good. He still holds the school record for career touchdown passes and is second on the career list for passing yardage.
All that being said, there's not much of a history when it comes to South Carolina quarterbacks.
Tennessee: Peyton Manning
College highlights: AP All-American (1997), Maxwell Award (1997), Davey O'Brien Award (1997), Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award (1997), Campbell Trophy (1997), SEC Player of the Year (1997), two-time All-SEC (1996, 1997)
Bottom line: Peyton Manning's college career at Tennessee was somewhat defined by two things — his failure to beat Florida in four years and his stunning loss to Charles Woodson at the 1997 Heisman Trophy ceremony.
That's not fair to Manning, who became a five-time NFL MVP and two-time Super bowl champion. Manning was a marvel for the Vols, throwing for 11,201 yards and 89 touchdowns in just three seasons as a full-time starter.
The Manning family legacy of quarterbacks in the SEC is strong. Peyton's father, Archie, was an All-American at Ole Miss, where his younger brother Eli also starred, and nephew Arch Manning, the top recruit in the Class of 2023, is headed to future SEC program Texas.
Vanderbilt: Jay Cutler
College highlights: SEC Offensive Player of the Year (2005), All-SEC (2005), The Sporting News Freshman All-American (2002)
Bottom line: Whatever you think of Jay Cutler now, he was dynamite during his college days at Vanderbilt and one of the few bright spots for the moribund program in the last few decades.
Cutler set Vanderbilt records for total offense (9,953 yards) and combined touchdowns (76) and was a finalist for every major college quarterbacking award as a senior in 2005.
Alabama: Bryce Young
College highlights: CFP national champion (2020), Heisman Trophy (2021), Maxwell Award (2021), Davey O'Brien Award (2021), Manning Award (2021), AP College Football Player of the Year (2021), Sporting News College Football Player of the Year (2021), AP All-American (2021), SEC Offensive Player of the Year (2021), All-SEC (2021)
Bottom line: Out of the 65 schools fielding Power Five Conference programs, we selected just one current quarterback as the school's all-time greatest. That's Alabama junior Bryce Young.
Young, a high school star at California powerhouse Mater Dei, won a CFP national championship as the backup to Mac Jones in 2020 and followed that by throwing for 4,872 yards, 47 touchdowns and 7 interceptions in 2021 on the way to winning the Heisman Trophy and a national runner-up finish.
Young is projected as a possible No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL draft.
Arkansas: Ryan Mallett
College highlights: Two-time All-SEC (2009, 2010), Liberty Bowl Offensive MVP (2010),
Bottom line: Texas native Ryan Mallett started his college career at Michigan, where he was a part-time starter as a freshman in 2007 before he transferred to Arkansas, where he became a star.
In two seasons as the starter for the Razorbacks, Mallett threw for 7,495 yards and 62 touchdowns and left school one year early for the NFL draft.
Auburn: Cam Newton
College highlights: Two-time BCS national champion (2008, 2010), NJCAA national champion (2009), Heisman Trophy (2010), Maxwell Award (2010), Walter Camp Award (2010), Manning Award (2010), Davey O'Brien Award (2010), AP College Football Player of the Year (2010), Sporting News College Football Player of the Year (2010), AP All-American (2010), SEC Offensive Player of the Year (2010), All-SEC (2010)
Bottom line: In three seasons of college football at three different schools, Cam Newton won three national championships — first as a backup at the University of Florida in 2008, on the juco level at Blinn (Texas) College in 2009, and finally at Auburn in 2010.
At Auburn, Newton fully realized his capabilities, sweeping every major national player of the year award, winning the Heisman Trophy and leading the Tigers to an undefeated record and national title. In his one season at Auburn, the 6-foot-6, 250-pound Newton was downright unstoppable, throwing for almost 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns while rushing for 1,473 yards and 20 touchdowns.
LSU: Joe Burrow
College highlights: CFP national champion (2019), Heisman Trophy (2019), AP Player of the Year (2019), Davey O'Brien Award (2019), AP All-American (2019), All-SEC (2019), Peach Bowl MVP (2019), Fiesta Bowl MVP (2019)
Bottom line: Joe Burrow transferred to LSU as a graduate transfer after three years as a backup at Ohio State and proceeded to rewrite the college football record books in two seasons in Baton Rouge playing for head coach Ed Orgeron.
In his second season as a starter in 2019, Burrow led LSU to an undefeated record and national title, setting national single-season records for passing yardage (5,671 yards), passing touchdowns (60) and single-season quarterback rating (202.0).
Burrow also brought home LSU's first Heisman Trophy in 60 years and was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft by the Cincinnati Bengals.
Mississippi State: Dak Prescott
College highlights: Two-time All-SEC (2014, 2015), Belk Bowl MVP (2015), LIberty Bowl MVP (2013), Senior Bowl Most Outstanding Player (2016)
Bottom line: Mississippi State doesn't have a long line of great quarterbacks to pick from but they've had a nice run in the decade plus, highlighted by two-time All-SEC pick Dak Prescott.
Prescott became a part-time starter as a sophomore and took the reins fully his last two seasons, when he was one of the best quarterbacks in the country. Prescott led the Bulldogs to two bowl game wins in 2013 and 2015 and to the Orange Bowl another year.
Ole Miss: Archie Manning
College highlights: AP All-American (1969), SEC Player of the Year (1969), All-SEC (1969), Walter Camp Memorial Trophy (1969),
Bottom line: Few quarterbacks are as closely associated with the college they played at as much as Ole Miss All-American Archie Manning.
Manning became a household name as a junior in 1969, when he led Ole Miss against Alabama in the first nationally televised prime-time college football game, throwing for 436 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for 104 yards in a 33-32 loss.
Manning was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and two of his three sons, Peyton and Eli, along with grandson Arch, have all followed him as quarterbacks in the SEC.
Texas A&M: Johnny Manziel
College highlights: Heisman Trophy (2012), Davey O'Brien Award (2012), AP Player of the Year (2012), SEC Offensive Player of the Year (2012), AP All-American (2012), two-time All-SEC (2012, 2013)
Bottom line: Fame came fast for Johnny Manziel when he became the first freshman in college football history to win the Heisman Trophy in 2012, just two years removed from playing quarterback for tiny Ivy High in Texas.
The Texas A&M star wowed America with an upset of No. 1 Alabama on the road and continued to shine in the spotlight despite a bevy of off-field problems that made him college football's No. 1 problem child — maybe of all time.
After redshirting his first season at A&M, Manziel bolted for the pros with two years of college eligibility remaining.
Big 12 Conference
Current schools: Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas, Texas Tech, West Virginia, BYU, Central Florida, Cincinnati, Houston
National championships: 13 (Oklahoma 7, Texas 4, Oklahoma State 1, TCU 1)
Baylor: Robert Griffin III
College highlights: Heisman Trophy (2011), Davey O'Brien Award (2011), AP Player of the Year (2011), AP All-American (2011), Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year (2011), Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year (2008)
Bottom line: You don't know electric on a football field until you watch the highlights of Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III during his Heisman Trophy-winning year in 2011.
RG3 and Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck had one of the more enduring Heisman battles of all time that year, but the Baylor standout and All-American hurdler's 4,952 yards of total offense and 47 touchdowns took the day.
BYU: Jim McMahon
College highlights: Davey O'Brien Award (1981), Sammy Baugh Trophy (1981), two-time AP All-American (1980, 1981), two-time WAC Player of the Year (1980, 1981), two-time All-WAC (1980, 1981)
Bottom line: Before Jim McMahon led the 1985 Chicago Bears to a Super Bowl victory he was a superstar at BYU, where he was a two-time All-American.
In his first year as a full-time starter in 1980, McMahon set 32 NCAA single-season passing records and authored arguably the greatest bowl comeback in NCAA history. Trailing SMU 45-25 with four minutes left in the Holiday Bowl, McMahon led BYU to three touchdowns, including a 41-yard Hail Mary touchdown as time expired to win the game. McMahon still threw for over 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns despite missing two games with injuries.
McMahon finished his BYU career with 71 NCAA records and was 23-3 as a starter. He played 15 seasons in the NFL, winning two Super Bowls and was named NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 1991.
Cincinnati: Desmond Ridder
College highlights: Two-time AAC Offensive Player of the Year (2020, 2021), AAC Rookie of the Year (2018), two-time All-AAC (2020, 2021), Birmingham Bowl MVP (2020)
Bottom line: If Cincinnati wants to thank anyone for helping it make the leap from the AAC to the Power Five, start with former quarterback Desmond Ridder.
The Bearcats made history in 2021 with Ridder leading the way, becoming the first team outside of the Power Five to earn a spot in the College Football Playoff. Ridder was a two-time AAC Offensive Player of the Year in 2020 and 2021, with Cincinnati setting a program record by going 13-1 in 2021 while Ridder racked up almost 4,000 yards of total offense and 36 total touchdowns.
Houston: Andre Ware
College highlights: Heisman Trophy (1989), Davey O'Brien Award (1989), UPI Player of the Year (1989), AP All-American (1989), All-SWC (1989)
Bottom line: Andre Ware grew up wanting to play quarterback for the University of Texas — if they had only been so lucky. The Longhorns recruited Ware to play defense and he instead took his talents to Houston, where he became the first Black quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy in 1989.
Ware's Heisman season was one for the ages — he was also the first Heisman winner off of a team on NCAA probation. Ware set 27 NCAA single-season records in 1989 as he threw for 4,699 yards and 46 touchdowns while Houston went 9-2 and finished No. 14 in the nation.
Ware left school early for the NFL and was selected No. 7 overall by the Detroit Lions in the 1990 NFL Draft. Ware played four seasons in the NFL, one season in NFL Europe and three seasons in the CFL, winning a Grey Cup as Doug Flutie's backup on the Toronto Argonauts in 1997.
Iowa State: George Amundson
College highlights: Big Eight Player of the Year (1972), Iowa State Hall of Fame, South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame
Bottom line: George Amundson came from Aberdeen, South Dakota, to Iowa State to play two sports and earned seven varsity letters over his career in track and field and football.
Amundson played quarterback as a sophomore but was moved to tailback as a junior in 1971 and set school records with 1,260 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns. As a senior in 1972, Amundson switched back to quarterback and set the Big Eight record with 2,387 yards of total offense on the way to beating out tailback Johnny Rodgers for Big Eight Player of the Year.
Rodgers went on to win the Heisman Trophy that year.
Kansas: Todd Reesing
College highlights: Two-time All-Big 12 (2007, 2008), two-time Davey O'Brien Award semifinalist (2007, 2008), Orange Bowl champion (2008)
Bottom line: The University of Kansas may have listed Todd Reesing at 5-foot-11, but that's probably spotting him an inch or two.
Fortunately for Reesing, talent overcomes height on most occasions, and fans got a glimpse of that as a freshman in 2006, when he burned his redshirt nine games into the season to rally the Jayhawks with three touchdowns in a 20-15 win over Colorado.
Reesing's masterpiece was the 2007 season, as he led the Jayhawks to the best season in school history — a 12-1 record and an Orange Bowl win. However, his career took a weird turn in his final season when Kansas started the season 5-0 and rose to No. 17 in the AP Top 25 before losing seven consecutive games to finish the season 5-7.
Kansas State: Michael Bishop
College highlights: AP All-American (1998), two-time All-Big 12 (1997, 1998) Davey O'Brien Award (1998), Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year (1997), Fiesta Bowl champion (1997), two-time NJCAA national champion (1995, 1996)
Bottom line: Michael Bishop was drafted by the Cleveland Indians as a catcher out of Willis High in Texas, but decided to pursue a football career instead.
Bishop went 24-0 in two years at a juco, Blinn (Texas) College, where he won back-to-back NJCAA national championships before signing with Kansas State and head coach Bill Snyder. In two years as the starter, Bishop turned Kansas State into a national title contender and won the Davey O'Brien Award as the nation's top quarterback as a senior in 1998.
Unfortunately for Bishop, his career is still defined by the most heartbreaking loss in school history. Leading Texas A&M by eight points with just minutes left in the 1998 Big 12 championship game, with a win guaranteeing them a spot in the BCS national championship game, Bishop fumbled the ball away, and the Aggies rallied for the overtime win.
Oklahoma: Baker Mayfield
College highlights: Heisman Trophy (2017), Davey O'Brien Award (2017), AP Player of the Year (2017), two-time Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year (2015, 2017), two-time AP All-American (2015, 2017), three-time All-Big 12 (2015-17), Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year (2013)
Bottom line: Baker Mayfield actually started his college career as a walk-on at Texas Tech, where he was the Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year in 2013.
Former Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury didn't think that was enough to warrant offering Mayfield a scholarship, so the former Lake Travis High star bolted to Oklahoma.
There, he once again walked on the team and became one of the most exciting, dynamic quarterbacks in college football history, winning a Heisman Trophy in 2017.
Oklahoma State: Mason Rudolph
College highlights: AP All-American (2017), All-Big 12 (2017), Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award (2017), Sammy Baugh Trophy (2017), Camping World Bowl MVP (2017)
Bottom line: Mason Rudolph put up some wild numbers in three seasons as the starter for Oklahoma State, throwing for 13,267 yards and 90 touchdowns, including back-to-back seasons throwing for over 4,000 yards in 2016 and 2017.
While not an effective runner in the open field, Rudolph was stunningly effective in using his 6-foot-5, 235-pound frame around the goal line, rushing for 17 career touchdowns, including 10 as a senior in 2017.
TCU: Sammy Baugh
College highlights: Two-time AP All-American (1935, 1936), Cotton Bowl MVP (1937), Cotton Bowl champion (1937), Sugar Bowl champion (1935)
Bottom line: Sammy Baugh was a dynamic athlete at TCU in the 1930s, where he played football, basketball and baseball.
Baugh's passing numbers were unlike anything the football world had ever seen, throwing for over 1,200 yards in back-to-back seasons. More than that, Baugh was a proven winner while in college, leading TCU to a Sugar Bowl win as a junior and a win in the first annual Cotton Bowl as a senior.
Baugh's legacy lives on to this day. The Sammy Baugh Award is given annually to the nation's top senior quarterback in college football.
Texas: Vince Young
College highlights: BCS national champion (2005), Davey O'Brien Award (2005), AP All-American (2005), Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year (2005), Heisman Trophy runner-up (2005), Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year (2003)
Bottom line: Vince Young became a schoolboy legend at Houston Madison High, where he was named Parade Magazine National Player of the Year as a senior.
Young stayed in his home state to play for the University of Texas, where he was a three-year starter and became the first NCAA player to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in the same season.
In his final season, as a junior in 2005, Young led Texas to its first national championship since 1970, turning in one of the greatest performances of all time in an upset win over two-time defending national champion USC in the BCS national championship game.
Texas Tech: Graham Harrell
College highlights: Sporting News Player of the Year (2008), Gator Bowl MVP (2008), Insight Bowl MVP (2006), Johnny Unitas Award (2008), AP All-American (2008), Sammy Baugh Trophy (2007)
Bottom line:It's no surprise that one of the greatest high school quarterbacks in Texas history became one of the greatest quarterbacks in college football history.
Graham Harrell ended his career at Texas Tech with eight NCAA records. Harrell was never better than when he played against Texas, when he averaged 486.6 passing yards in three starts and led the Red Raiders to a win over the No. 1 Longhorns in Lubbock in one of the most memorable wins in school history.
UCF: Daunte Culpepper
College highlights: Sammy Baugh Trophy (1998), Sports Network National Player of the Year (1998), UCF Athletics Hall of Fame
Bottom line: Daunte Culpepper saw the major college football programs recruiting him out of high school scared away by his low SAT scores, but Central Florida stayed with him until he finally achieved a passing grade.
At UCF, Culpepper's star shined bright enough that the 6-foot-4, 260-pound quarterback who ran a 4.6-second 40-yard dash lifted the program from Division I-AA (now FCS) to Division I-A (FBS) in his time. As a junior in 1998, Culpepper set the NCAA single-season record for completion percentage (.736) and became just the third player in NCAA history to top 10,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards in a career.
Culpepper left school after three seasons with 12,459 yards of total offense and 108 touchdowns (84 passing, 24 rushing) and was selected No. 11 overall by the Minnesota Vikings in the 1999 NFL Draft.
West Virginia: Pat White
College highlights: Two-time Big East Offensive Player of the Year (2006, 2007), three-time All-Big East (2006-08), Senior Bowl MVP (2009)
Bottom line: West Virginia's Pat White was one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in college football history and was named Big East Offensive Player of the Year twice. He's also a player who should be in the College Football Hall of Fame if not for an archaic rule that only All-Americans are eligible.
White ended his career with 10,531 yards of total offense and 103 touchdowns, including an NCAA record for quarterback 4,480 yards and 47 touchdowns.
Atlantic Coast Conference
Current schools: Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Miami, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Virginia, Virginia Tech
National championships: 15 (Miami 5, Florida State 3, Clemson 3, Pittsburgh 2, Georgia Tech 1, Syracuse 1)
Note: Notre Dame is not a member of the ACC in football
Boston College: Doug Flutie
College highlights: Heisman Trophy (1984), Maxwell Award (1984), Davey O'Brien Award (1984), AP All-American (1984)
Bottom line:He's the shortest player on this list, but Doug Flutie's size had little to do with his success on the football field other than giving his opponents a reason to underestimate him.
Flutie won the Heisman Trophy in 1984 and is the author of arguably the greatest college football play of all time, when Boston College upset defending national champion Miami in the Orange Bowl on a Hail Mary pass from Flutie to Gerard Phelan as time expired.
Clemson: Deshaun Watson
College highlights: CFP national champion (2016), two-time Davey O'Brien Award winner (2015, 2016), two-time Heisman Trophy finalist (2015, 2016), ACC Player of the Year (2015), AP All-American (2015), two-time All-ACC (2015, 2016)
Bottom line: Few college quarterbacks were better in big games than Deshaun Watson.
During his time at Clemson, he led his school to a national runner-up finish in 2015, then to a national championship in 2016, when he threw a last-second touchdown pass to Hunter Renfrow in the CFP championship game.
Duke: Ben Bennett
College highlights: ACC Rookie of the Year (1980), two-time ACC Player of the Year (1982, 1983), two-time All-ACC (1982, 1983), AP All-American (1983)
Bottom line: Ben Bennett came all the way from Sunnyvale, California, to Duke. He was named ACC Rookie of the Year as a freshman, including a game against Wake Forest where he set NCAA single-game records.
Bennett was named ACC Player of the Year as a junior and senior and finished his career with NCAA Division I-A records for passing yards (9,614), pass attempts (1,375) and pass completions (820).
Bennett spent three seasons as an NFL backup before playing 11 seasons in the Arena Football League, where he was named AFL MVP in 1988 and eventually inducted into the AFL Hall of Fame.
Florida State: Charlie Ward
College highlights: National champion (1993), Heisman Trophy (1993), AP All-American (1993), Davey O'Brien Award (1993), two-time ACC Player of the Year (1992, 1993), two-time ACC Athlete of the Year (1993, 1994)
Bottom line: Charlie Ward was a soft-spoken, two-sport athlete who led Florida State to its first national title in football and also starred on the basketball court.
Ward swept every major college football award in 1993, including the Heisman Trophy, but chose to play professional basketball and carved out an 11-year career in the NBA.
Georgia Tech: Joe Hamilton
College highlights: AP All-American (1999), Davey O'Brien Award (1999), ACC Player of the Year (1999), ACC Offensive Player of the Year (1999), two-time Gator Bowl MVP (1999, 2000), Carquest Bowl MVP (1997)
Bottom line: Joe Hamilton set ACC records for total offense, touchdown passes and total touchdowns during his career at Georgia Tech.
Hamilton had his best season as a senior in 1999, when he threw for 3,060 yards and 29 touchdowns while also rushing for 734 yards and 6 touchdowns.
Louisville: Lamar Jackson
College highlights: Heisman Trophy (2016), AP Player of the Year (2016), AP Player of the Year (2016), AP All-American (2016), two-time ACC Player of the Year (2016, 2017), ACC Athlete of the Year (2018)
Bottom line: Lamar Jackson became the first Heisman Trophy winner in Louisville history in 2016 and the youngest winner of the award at 19 years and 337 days old.
In three seasons at Louisville and only two as a full-time starter, Jackson racked up a staggering 13,175 yards of total offense and 119 touchdowns, including 4,132 rushing yards.
Miami: Bernie Kosar
College highlights: National champion (1983), Orange Bowl MVP (1983), AP All-American (1984)
Bottom line: Of all the quarterbacks who played for Miami during its dynasty eras, Jim Kelly ended up being the best in the pros, but no one was better than Bernie Kosar when he played for The U. Kosar led the Hurricanes to the first national championship in school history as a redshirt freshman in 1983 — the first of four titles Miami won over the next eight years.
Kosar actually left Miami with two years of eligibility remaining by finding a loophole in the NFL rules for draft-eligible players in a time when either college graduation or the completion of college eligibility was required to enter the draft. Kosar, who redshirted in 1982, graduated early from college and entered the NFL supplemental draft in 1985.
North Carolina: Sam Howell
College highlights: Two-time All-ACC (2019, 2020), ACC Rookie of the Year (2019), Military Bowl MVP (2019)
Bottom line: Sam Howell was pegged as a potential No. 1 overall NFL draft pick through his first two years as a starter at North Carolina, when he was named ACC Rookie of the Year in 2019 and was a two-time All-ACC pick in 2019 and 2020.
Howell's draft stock plummeted in 2021 despite throwing for over 3,000 yards and 24 touchdowns while rushing for 828 yards and 11 touchdowns. He was selected by the Washington Commanders in the fifth round of the 2022 NFL draft.
North Carolina State: Philip Rivers
College highlights: ACC Offensive Player of the Year (2003), two-time All-ACC (2002, 2003), ACC Rookie of the Year (2000)
Bottom line: Philip Rivers graduated early from Athens High in Alabama to enroll at North Carolina State in the spring of 2000 and won the Wolfpack's starting quarterback job — a spot he wouldn't relinquish for an NCAA-record 51 consecutive starts.
Rivers was named ACC Offensive Player of the Year as a senior in 2003 after he threw for 4,491 yards, 34 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. Rivers led North Carolina State to bowl games each of his four years as a starter, going 3-1.
Pittsburgh: Dan Marino
College highlights: AP All-American (1981)
Bottom line: It doesn't take a genius to pick Dan Marino as the greatest quarterback in Pittsburgh history, but it's worth pointing out he had three future NFL offensive linemen playing on his offensive line at different times with Jimbo Covert, Russ Grimm and Mark May.
Marino was the ultimate gunslinger quarterback in college. He had 79 career touchdowns and 69 career interceptions — but also went 42-6 as the Panthers' starter, including three consecutive 11-1 seasons from 1979 to 1981 with wins in the Fiesta Bowl, Sugar Bowl and Gator Bowl.
Syracuse: Donovan McNabb
College highlights: Big East Offensive Player of the Decade (1990s), three-time Big East Offensive Player of the Year (1996-98), four-time All-Big East (1995-98), Big East Offensive Rookie of the Year (1995), Syracuse Football All-Century Team
Bottom line: Donovan McNabb started 49 consecutive games for Syracuse over four seasons and was named Big East Offensive Player of the Year three consecutive years and named Big East Offensive Player of the Decade for the 1990s.
McNabb was a devastating, dual-threat quarterback who racked up 9,950 yards of total offense and 96 total touchdowns and had Syracuse in the final AP Top 25 national poll each of his last three seasons.
Virginia: Shawn Moore
College highlights: ACC Player of the Year (1990), ACC champion (1989)
Bottom line: Shawn Moore was a dynamic passer and runner for Virginia, where he led the Cavaliers to an ACC championship as a junior in 1989 and was named ACC Player of the Year in 1990.
Just how good was Moore? You'll probably be surprised to find out that as a senior in 1990, he led Virginia to the a 7-0 record and No. 1 spot in the AP Poll for three weeks before a close loss to eventual national champion Georgia tech.
Virginia Tech: Michael Vick
College highlights: Big East Offensive Player of the Year (1999), Big East Rookie of the Year (1999), Heisman Trophy finalist (1999)
Bottom line: Michael Vick only played two seasons for Virginia Tech, but set college football ablaze in those two years, including almost single-handedly defeating Florida State in the 2000 BCS championship game.
Vick left college with two years of eligibility remaining and was the No. 1 overall pick by the Atlanta Falcons in the 2001 NFL draft.
Wake Forest: Riley Skinner
College highlights: All-ACC (2006), ACC Rookie of the Year (2006)
Bottom line: It goes without saying there were slim pickings for the greatest all-time quarterback at Wake Forest. But we'll go with Riley Skinner, who became just the second quarterback in ACC history to throw for over 2,000 yards in four seasons.
Notre Dame: Johnny Lujack
Years: 1943, 1946-47
College highlights: Three-time national champion (1943, 1946, 1947), Heisman Trophy (1947), AP Athlete of the Year (1947), two-time AP All-American (1946, 1947)
Bottom line: Johnny Lujack was a football prodigy out of a coal-mining town in Pennsylvania, and he picked Notre Dame over Army.
Lujack, despite being undersized at six feet and 186 pounds, led the Irish to three national championships and capped his career with a Heisman Trophy in 1947. It was a stretch that included a two-year break after the first title in 1943 to go fight in World War II.
They don't make 'em quite like they used to, do they?
Current schools: Arizona, Arizona State, California, UCLA, Colorado, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, USC, Stanford, Utah, Washington, Washington State
National championships: 10 (USC 7, Colorado 1, UCLA 1, Washington 1)
Arizona: Nick Foles
College highlights: None
Bottom line: Of the nine players who have had their jersey numbers retired in Arizona history, none are quarterbacks, and only one played on offense.
In 123 years of football dating back to 1899, Arizona has never had a quarterback selected to an All-American team. In the history of the Pac-12, only Nick Foles ranks in the top 20 in career passing yards at No. 18 with 10,068 yards.
Foles didn't even start his career at Arizona. He transferred there from Michigan State after finding himself buried on the depth chart behind a pair of fellow future NFL quarterbacks in Brian Hoyer and Kirk Cousins.
Arizona State: Jake Plummer
College highlights: Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year (1996), AP All-American (1996), two-time All-Pac-10 (1995, 1996), Pac-10 champion (1996)
Bottom line: If you know anything about college football and its history, you understand how amazing it is that Jake Plummer was able to quarterback Arizona State to within just minutes of winning a national championship.
Plummer and the Sun Devils went 11-0 in 1996, rising to No. 2 in the national polls before the Rose Bowl against No. 4 Ohio State. Arizona State led 17-14 with 1:40 left in the fourth quarter after an 11-yard touchdown run by Plummer, but Ohio State scored a touchdown on its final possession for a 20-17 win.
Had Arizona State won, they would've been the only undefeated team left in the nation, almost completely guaranteeing them at least a share of the national title. Imagine that.
California: Aaron Rodgers
College highlights: Insight Bowl MVP (2003)
Bottom line: For a school that's produced multiple No. 1 NFL draft picks at quarterback with Steve Bartkowski (1974) and Jared Goff (2016), there's not much meat on the bone when it comes to the history of football at Cal.
The Golden Bears haven't played in a major bowl game since losing to Iowa in the 1958 Rose Bowl. The closest they've ever come was going 10-2 in 2004 behind junior quarterback and future five-time NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers.
UCLA: Troy Aikman
College highlights: Davey O'Brien Award (1988), Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year (1987), Cotton Bowl MVP (1989), AP All-American (1988), two-time All-Pac-12 (1987, 1988)
Bottom line: It's a hard choice to pick someone over a Heisman Trophy winner. In this case, 1967 Heisman winner Gary Beban gets the shaft.
Troy Aikman played his first two seasons at the University of Oklahoma and was the starter for the Sooners' 1985 national championship team before he broke his ankle midway through the season, then transferred to UCLA after the season.
Aikman was the Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year in his first season at UCLA in 1987 and an All-American in his second season. UCLA had back-to-back 10-2 seasons with Aikman as the starting quarterback and won consecutive bowl games as well.
Colorado: Darian Hagan
College highlights: National champion (1990), two-time Big Eight champion (1989, 1990)
Bottom line: Of all the things in college football that have gone the way of the woolly mammoth over the last few decades, perhaps the one we miss the most is the reign of the option quarterback. Almost no one played that role better than Colorado quarterback Darian Hagan, who led the Buffs to the 1990 national championship and came a hair's breadth from winning back-to-back titles.
Hagan was the sixth player in NCAA history to rush for over 1,000 yards and pass for over 1,000 yards in a single season in 1989 and went 28-5-2 as the Buffs' starter over three seasons, including a 20-0-1 record in Big Eight play.
This was a "head or the heart" type of pick. You'll find plenty of people who could probably make a good case for Kordell Stewart as Colorado's greatest quarterback of all time.
Oregon: Marcus Mariota
College highlights: Heisman Trophy (2014), Davey O'Brien Award (2014), AP Player of the Year (2014), Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year (2014), AP All-American (2014), three-time All-Pac-12 (2012-14), Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year (2012)
Bottom line: Hawaii has a great legacy of football talent. None have ever been better than Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota on the college level.
Mariota became the first Oregon player and first Hawaii native to win the Heisman Trophy in 2014 after he racked up an astonishing 5,224 yards of total offense and 57 touchdowns while leading the Ducks to the CFP championship game.
Oregon State: Terry Baker
College highlights: Heisman Trophy (1962), Maxwell Award (1962), UPI Player of the Year (1962), Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year (1962), AP All-American (1962)
Bottom line: Terry Baker won a mythical national championship at Jefferson High in Portland, Oregon, in 1958 alongside future Pro Football Hall of Famer Mel Renfro in the backfield, with Renfro going to play for the University of Oregon and Baker heading to rival Oregon State.
Baker became the first player from west of Texas to win the Heisman Trophy in 1962, capping his career with an NCAA record 99-yard touchdown run in a 6-0 win over Villanova in the Liberty Bowl. Just a few months after winning the Heisman, Baker was the second-leading scorer for the Oregon State basketball team on the way to the 1963 Final Four.
USC: Matt Leinart
College highlights: Heisman Trophy (2004), two-time national champion (2003, 2004), two-time AP All-American (2004, 2005), two-time Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year (2004, 2005)
Bottom line: Matt Leinart's place among the greatest college football quarterbacks of all time is unquestioned. He won two national championships at USC and came one bravura performance by Texas quarterback Vince Young from winning a third consecutive national title.
Leinart was the second consecutive USC starting quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy, and Leinart was the backup to the previous winner, Carson Palmer.
Stanford: Jim Plunkett
College highlights: Heisman Trophy (1970), Maxwell Award (1970), Sporting News Player of the Year (1970), AP All-American (1970)
Bottom line: The story of Jim Plunkett's life should be a movie. The son of blind parents growing up in abject poverty, he became a star quarterback at Stanford and then in the NFL.
Plunkett made history as a senior in 1970, when he threw for almost 3,000 yards and led Stanford to a shocking upset of Ohio State in the Rose Bowl. Plunkett also became the first Latino to win the Heisman Trophy by beating out Notre Dame's Joe Theisman and Ole Miss' Archie Manning.
Utah: Alex Smith
College highlights: AP All-American (2004), MWC Offensive Player of the Year (2004), Fiesta Bowl MVP (2005)
Bottom line: Alex Smith went 25-1 in two years as the starter at San Diego's Helix High, then 21-1 in two seasons as a starter at the University of Utah under head coach Urban Meyer.
At Utah, he led an undefeated, 12-0 team in 2004 that capped the year with a blowout win over Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl — the first school from outside one of the automatic-qualifying conferences to play in a BCS game.
San Francisco 49ers head coach Mike Nolan owned the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 NFL draft and decided on Smith over Cal quarterback and future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers.
Washington: Warren Moon
College highlights: Pac-8 Co-Player of the Year (1977), Rose Bowl MVP (1978)
Bottom line: Warren Moon played one season at a juco, West Los Angeles College, before being recruited to play for Washington and legendary head coach Don James.
This is another case of just using common sense when the stats from the era don't match up with what players put up today. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Moon capped off his career by leading Washington to an upset win over Michigan in the 1978 Rose Bowl, with Moon bringing home Rose Bowl MVP honors.
Washington State: Ryan Leaf
College highlights: AP All-American (1997), Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year (1997), AP All-American (1997), two-time All-Pac-10 (1996, 1997)
Bottom line: Ryan Leaf became a household name over the course of his junior season at Washington State, when he threw for 3,968 yards, 34 touchdowns and 11 interceptions while leading the Cougars to the first Pac-10 title and first Rose Bowl appearance since 1930.
Leaf eventually became better known as one of the biggest draft busts of all time but was well thought of enough headed into the 1998 NFL draft that there was a real debate about whether the Indianapolis Colts should take him or Peyton Manning at No. 1.