Which College is Quarterback U?
February 24, 2005 by Adam Russell • Print Story •
Some college football teams have nicknames that are unmistakably unique. But I'm not talking about Wolverines, Nittany Lions, or Cornhuskers. I mean names like "Tailback U," "Linebacker U," or "Receiver U." Any serious college football fan knows them also, as USC, Penn State, and Miami. But have you ever heard anyone refer to a school as "Quarterback U?"
I can't recall ever hearing a school given that moniker — maybe for a short period, but not as an absolute. I began wondering about that after I learned last year that another quarterback from my alma mater had made an active roster in the NFL. Jason Gesser making the cut with the Tennessee Titans seemed to me like about the 10th Washington State QB to make the NFL in about 15 years. I had to find out what the numbers were.
So, in my curiosity, I started to look at the NFL draft and teams' all-time rosters to see just who had made the pros, or at least almost made the pros, from Wazzu. Then I started to wonder where they stood among all the other schools, and the project was underway.
I decided to limit the scope of my study to 1960 to the present. The reason for this is because quarterbacks became more of a premium with the creation of the American Football League in that year. The AFL relied more on downfield passing than its run-oriented NFL cousin. That's not to say that there weren't a bunch of talented passers in the NFL prior to 1960, but I had to draw the line somewhere.
In determining which school would be designated "Quarterback U," it was decided that any quarterback either drafted by the NFL (or AFL) or who made the active roster — drafted or undrafted — would be eligible for the list. The reasoning behind this is that if a quarterback was good enough in college for a pro team to use a draft pick on them, or if they were good enough to advance their skills to the next level, then they must have been a pretty decent college QB.
Fortunately, for me at least, there ended up being exactly 25 colleges who produced more than 10 pro-caliber quarterbacks between 1960 and 2004. So, according to the numbers, here are the Top 25 Quarterback Colleges with the No. 1 school being crowned as "Quarterback U." Do you think you might know who it is?
25. Michigan State
There were actually three schools that tied with 11 quarterbacks either drafted or on pro rosters since 1960; but, for ranking purposes, this spot goes to Michigan State. Many former Spartans went on to have pretty decent pro careers, including Jim Ninowski with Detroit and Cleveland, Al Dorow with the Jets and Bills, and Earl Morrall with the Jets and Colts. But none of the others really made an impact in the NFL.
The Bruins had several excellent quarterbacks who had big careers in the pros, including Troy Aikman and Billy Kilmer, both of whom played in Super Bowls. UCLA also boasts a Heisman Trophy winner in the person of Gary Beban, who edged out O.J. Simpson to win in 1967. Other notable Bruin signal callers include Rick Neuheisel, Steve Bono, Jay Schroeder, Tommy Maddox, and Tom Ramsey.
The Crimson Tide won the three-way tie-breaker by boasting three alumni playing in (and winning) Super Bowls. Names don't get much bigger than Bart Starr, Joe Namath, and Ken Stabler. Other terrific 'Bama QBs include Jay Barker, Steve Sloan, Richard Todd, and Scott Hunter.
Many people are probably mildly surprised that the Razorbacks would make this list, but they (along with five other schools) have had a dozen quarterbacks either drafted or play in the pros. But, if you were to ask a casual fan to name one of these players, they might be able to come up with one: Joe Ferguson. Only one other former Razorback enjoyed any degree of success in the NFL; Lamar McHan was a notable backup to such stars as Bart Starr, Johnny Unitas, and John Brodie. Other QBs who had successful college careers but not much else include Ronny Lee South, Scott Bull and Kevin Scanlon.
Yes, the Hawkeyes have had 12 quarterbacks be determined pro material, and a couple of them were dynamite college players. The two Chucks (Long and Hartlieb) still hold many of the top five records at Iowa, and Long had a decent NFL career with Detroit and the Rams. Mark Vlasic and Jerry Reichow both also had long pro careers. Other notable Hawkeyes include Randy Duncan, Wilburn Hollis, and Larry Lawrence.
Another school with a dozen pro-caliber quarterbacks. As history would have it, most Bear QBs who go to the NFL enjoy illustrious careers, but lack a championship. Names like Joe Kapp, Craig Morton, and Steve Bartkowski are testimony to that fact. Kapp and Morton both led their teams to Super Bowls, but lost. Bartkowski was instrumental in helping the Atlanta Falcons to their first-ever winning and playoff seasons, but never made it to the Super Bowl. Other great Cal Bear quarterbacks who weren't quite as notable as the others include Rich Campbell, Pat Barnes, Dave Barr, and Gale Gilbert.
What? Duke? Yep. The Blue Devils have had 12 QBs drafted or play in the pros, the most notable of the group being Sonny Jurgensen. He and he aforementioned Kilmer helped the Washington Redskins to the Super Bowl in 1972. But not many other Dukies have had much success in the NFL despite having stellar college careers. Probably the most recognizable of them are Ben Bennett, Anthony Dilweg, and Dave Brown. Others include Al Woodall, Lew Hart, and Bob Brodhead.
Ironically enough, of the dozen Wolverine QBs to be drafted or go on to play in the NFL, only one has ever been to a Super Bowl: Tom Brady. Other great Michigan signal callers like Todd Collins, Jim Harbaugh, Elvis Grbac, and Brian Griese have had good pro careers, but haven't see the same degree of success they enjoyed in college. Other notable Wolverines under center include Rick Leach, Drew Henson, and Bob Timberlake.
17. Washington State
I placed my alma mater at the top of this six-way tie not because they're "my" school, but because they've produced two quarterbacks who have played in the Super Bowl; none of the other teams tied with them had that many play on pro football's ultimate stage. While the dozen Cougar quarterbacks to make the pros have all been since the late-'60s, it hasn't been until the mid-'70s that they began having success at that level. The two Super Bowl Cougs are Drew Bledsoe and MVP Mark Rypien, and more recent players who have been good pro quarterbacks include Jack Thompson, Timm Rosenbach, and Dave Mathieson. Other good WSU QBs who didn't fare as well in the pros include Ryan Leaf, Clete Casper, and Ty Paine.
16. Arizona State
Amid another multi-team tie (five-way), the Sun Devils have had 13 quarterbacks drafted or play in the NFL, but none have had much success as far as getting their team to the big game. They've had several players be quality starters, like Danny White in Dallas, Mark Malone with Pittsburgh, and Mike Pagel in Cleveland, and others be good backups like Paul Justin. Other notable ASU QBs are Jake Plummer, Fred
Mortensen, and Todd Hons.
Also with 13 pro prospects, the Terps have had several top-quality quarterbacks in the pros, led by Boomer Esiason, who led Cincinnati to a Super Bowl. Maryland has also had several pro journeymen, including Dick Shiner, Stan Gelbaugh, Frank Reich, and Neil O'Donnell. Bob Avellini, Scott Zolak, and King Corcoran are among the other Terp greats.
The Ducks also have had 13 quarterbacks head to the pros, Joey Harrington the most recent. But what separated Oregon from the two teams below them is an NFL title. Norm Van Brocklin led the Philadelphia Eagles to the 1960 NFL championship, the only Duck to have such a distinction. Probably the most famous Oregon QB never made it to a championship: Dan Fouts. Other great Webfooters include Chris Miller, Bob Berry, Bill Musgrave, and George Shaw.
The Hurricanes have produced some fantastic quarterbacks over the years, most notably Jim Kelly who led the Buffalo Bills to four straight Super Bowls. The 'Canes also boast two Heisman winners in Gino Torretta and Vinny Testaverde, and national honors being bestowed upon Steve Walsh, Craig Erickson, and Ken Dorsey. Other notable Miami QBs include George Mira, Bernie Kosar, and Scot Covington.
The Boilermakers were a hands-down selection to top this five-way tie as two Super Bowl MVPs distanced them from the four others below them. Super Bowl legends Len Dawson and Bob Greise head the list of several successful Purdue QBs. Others include Mike Phipps, Gary Danielson, Mark Herrmann, and Jim Everett. Those who didn't fare so well in the pros, but who were stellar college quarterbacks include Mark Vitali, Craig Nagel, and Scott Campbell.
11. Ohio State
While the Buckeyes have never had a quarterback win a national honor, they have had 14 QBs get drafted or play in the NFL. In fact, a few players who excelled under center at Ohio State didn't even play quarterback in the pros, including Rex Kern, Tom Matte, and Tom Tupa. Quarterbacks who did play their position and did well include Mike Tomczak, Kent Graham, and Art Schlichter.
10. Boston College
The most famous of the 14 Eagle quarterbacks to make or be drafted by the pros is, of course, Doug Flutie. He won nearly every award known to man in 1984, then became a legend in Canada before coming to the NFL. But other effective pro quarterbacks to come out of BC include Jack Concannon, Butch Songin, and Matt Hasselbeck. Other notable Eagles include Don Allard, Mike Kruczek, and Gary Marangi.
9. Penn State
Although mostly recognized as "Linebacker U," the Nittany Lions have had their share of great college quarterbacks. Fourteen have gone on to be drafted to or play pro ball, and three of them stand above the rest. Todd Blackledge, Kerry Collins, and Chuck Fusina all won national awards while at Penn State, and other successful pros include Milt Plum and Richie Lucas.
There are those who may have had nearly the same reaction when finding out that Duke was one of the better quarterback schools in country as they do learning that the Cornhuskers are among the top 10. Yes, it's true; Nebraska has had some of the better college quarterbacks in the nation over the years. But, because they primarily ran an option offense for so many years, not many of them were suited to the pro game. However, some were, like Vince Ferragamo, David Humm, and Bruce Mathison. Still others were extremely effective QBs in college, such as Turner Gill, Steve Taylor, and Dennis Claridge. As an aside, Tommy Frazier won the 1995 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm award, but was not drafted by nor played in the NFL.
The Rebels have also had 15 players either drafted or play in the pros, but have experienced much success at that level, save Charley Conerly who had some productive years with the Giants. But legendary names like Archie Manning, John Fourcade, and Norris Weese all played on pretty bad teams during their pro careers. Other notable Rebel QBs include Glynn Griffing, Ray Brown and, of course, Eli Manning.
Like so many other teams, the Huskies have had a plethora of great college quarterbacks who went on to the pros, but lack a world championship. Outstanding Husky quarterbacks include Chris Chandler, Tom Flick, Steve Pelluer, Don Heinrich, and Warren Moon. Other great Dawgs are Billy Joe Hobert, Hugh Millen, Bob Schloredt, and Cary Conklin. One that didn't make the list of draftees/players, but needs mentioning is Sonny Sixkiller.
5. Florida State
Another school loaded with talented quarterbacks, the Seminoles have produced one signal-caller who has won a Super Bowl, Brad Johnson. But that's not the focus; it's on their college careers, and Florida State has produced two Heisman winners (Chris Weinke and Charlie Ward) and another winner of the Johnny Unitas Award (Casey Weldon). I had to fudge a little on this, though; Ward spurned the NFL for the NBA and wasn't drafted nor did he play pro football, but I couldn't leave out a player who won nearly every award imaginable in 1993. Other great Seminole QBs include Danny Kanell, Gary Huff, and Steve Tensi.
The Tigers lay claim to one of the quarterbacking legends of the NFL — Y.A. Tittle. But, surprisingly enough, he's the only one of 16 draftees/players to win a pro championship, even though there have been some great QBs come out of Baton Rouge. Bert Jones leads the way, who brought the Baltimore Colts back into prominence in the mid-'70s. Others include Warren Rabb, Tommy Hodson, David Woodley, and M.C. Reynolds.
3. Southern California
Despite being most famous for the long line of outstanding tailbacks, the Trojans have had their share of quarterbacks, too. But, as we've seen with other schools, not many have played on the pro's biggest stage. The Trojans have seen 18 QBs head to the pros or at least be drafted and many of the names are very familiar. Players like Pat Haden, Pete Beathard, Vince Evans, Rodney Peete, and Bill Nelson all had long, productive pro careers, and Carson Palmer became the first USC quarterback to win the Heisman in 2002. Other notable USC QBs include Rudy Bukich, Todd Marinovich, Sean Salisbury, and Paul McDonald. Oh, and here's another — ever heard of Mike Holmgren? And, when Matt Leinart is drafted next year, he'll vault the Trojans into a tie for No. 1.
2. Notre Dame
It may come as no surprise that the Fighting Irish have had so many great quarterbacks over the years. Even though they all didn't have great pro careers, just the names evoke memories of Notre Dame greatness: Joe Montana, Daryle Lamonica, Joe Theismann, Terry Hanratty, and John Huarte (the only Irish QB to win the Heisman since the '50s). Other great Irish quarterbacks include Steve Beuerlein, Ralph Guglielmi, Tom Clements, Blair Kiel, George Rattermann, Rusty Lisch, and Rick Mirer. Another fudge here: gotta mention Tony Rice. He picked up the Johnny Unitas Award in 1989, but was never drafted nor played in the NFL.
(Drum roll, please. The envelope, please. Get on with it, please!) And the school dubbed as "Quarterback U" is...
That's right. The Indians/Cardinal have produced more pro-quality quarterbacks since 1960 than any other school in the country. And what an impressive list it is. John Elway, Jim Plunkett, John Brodie. Need I say more? Okay, I will. Steve Dils, Turk Schonert, Steve Stenstrom, Guy Benjamin, Chad Hutchinson. Nineteen former Stanford players have been scouted by and/or played pro football.
As a concluding disclaimer to this list, there may be player or two I have missed and, of course, this covers only a portion of football history. But at least is gives college football fans something to think about and debate. Enjoy the offseason!