You have probably heard the names Linebacker U or Tailback U associated with college football programs with perhaps more than one school proclaiming to be a position U. Which schools truly deserve that distinction?
I used the following criteria to determine which school is truly a position U:
- One can certainly debate how good a player was in college. However, when it comes to being named an All-American, there is no debate. If a player was named an All-American, he had to be very good. Rather than add to a school’s claim of being “position U” with players who weren’t All-Americans, and debate how good they were, such as the University of Miami’s quarterbacks Jim Kelly and Bernie Kosar or Auburn’s running backs William Andrews, Joe Cribbs, James Brooks, Lionel James, and Ronnie Brown, only 1st, 2nd and 3rd-team All-Americans factored into the selection and evaluation process.
- Only a player’s collegiate performance was taken into account and considered, and not what they accomplished as a professional. If a Heisman Trophy winner or an All-American was a bust in the NFL, that doesn’t diminish what they accomplished at the collegiate level. Their performance as a pro does not factor in or influence this selection process.
Also, occasionally a position change occurs for a player from his college to professional career so which position does the school get credit for? For example, should Terrelle Pryor count as a wide receiver for Ohio State? That’s absurd. That’s why only their college career should count towards a being a position U.
In comparing each school’s All-Americans from the past 50 years, obviously some were greater than others. Past and recent greatness as well as consistency through the years are what constitute a school being chosen as a position U.
This is my look at the quarterbacks in my series on which school should be known as Quarterback U.
The position of quarterback perhaps more than any other in college football has fans differing in their opinions on which school would earn the title of Quarterback U.
In the past 50 years, Quarterback U has been various schools at certain periods of time. Back in the ‘60s one probably would have thought Quarterback U was Purdue or Notre Dame. In the early to mid ‘70s, Notre Dame, Nebraska, and Stanford quarterbacks were at the forefront of All-American rosters. From the mid ‘70s to the mid ‘80s, that title clearly belonged to Brigham Young University as no university could compare with the Cougars’ five All-American quarterbacks.
From the mid ‘80s to the early ‘90s, Miami’s surge to prominence was largely due to their quarterbacks play and the Hurricanes became Quarterback U. In the early to mid ‘90s, Florida State had three All-American quarterbacks.
Which school can rightly claim to be Quarterback U? Let us examine the evidence but first we’ll cover those schools that merit honorable mention and work our way to Quarterback U.
UCLA had five All-American quarterbacks in the past 50 seasons with the most famous no doubt being Troy Aikman. A good trivia question would be to name the other four: John Sciarra, Jeff Dankworth, Tom Ramsey and Cade McNown. For those that knew that one, I’m impressed. Of note is that the Bruins have not had an All-American quarterback since McNown in 1998.
Like UCLA, Stanford had five All-American quarterbacks in the past 50 seasons as well, however, they rate above UCLA by having a Heisman trophy winning quarterback in Jim Plunkett in 1970. The Cardinal followed up with two more All-American quarterbacks in the ‘70s in Mike Boryla and Guy Benjamin. Then along came the most famous football player in Stanford history, two-time All-American John Elway. It was nearly 30 years before Stanford would have another All-American quarterback, that being Andrew Luck.
From 1986-1992, this school produced three All-American quarterbacks and two Heisman trophy winning quarterbacks. For that time span, the Miami Hurricanes were unquestionably Quarterback U. Starting with Vinnie Testaverde then Steve Walsh to Gino Toretta, the U was the school for quarterbacks. It took an entire decade for the next quarterback to be named All-American at Miami and that was Ken Dorsey in 2002. Miami has not had an All-American quarterback since. Miami rates ahead of UCLA and Stanford by having two Heisman trophy winning quarterbacks.
Some may find this next school a surprise. Nebraska. That’s right, Nebraska. The Cornhuskers had six All-American quarterbacks (one more than UCLA and Stanford, two more than Miami) and can also boast a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback in Eric Crouch in 2001.
However, Crouch is the last All-American quarterback the Cornhuskers had. In the ‘70s, Nebraska had three All-American quarterbacks: Jerry Tagge, David Humm and Vince Ferragamo. In the ‘80s came along Steve Taylor and in 1995, perhaps the greatest option quarterback in Tommie Frazier.
Now working our way past the schools that earn honorable mention and counting down towards Quarterback U, at number six is Notre Dame.
What once was the glamour position in all of college football, a quarterback at Notre Dame had an advantage to win the Heisman trophy and that goes back to Notre Dame’s four Heisman trophy winning quarterbacks: Angelo Bertelli ’43, Johnny Lujack ’47, Paul Hornung ’56 and John Huarte ‘64. The drought for a Notre Dame quarterback to win the Heisman trophy is 54 years and counting. The previous longest drought between a Notre Dame quarterback winning the Heisman trophy was nine years.
Notre Dame had an All-American quarterback in seven of the last eight decades and seven since 1968 tying for the most of any school, Terry Hanratty ‘68, Joe Theismann ’70, Tom Clements ‘74, Tony Rice ‘89, Rick Mirer ’92, Brady Quinn in 2005 and 2006 and Jimmy Clausen in 2009.
Despite only one other school having as many All-American quarterbacks in the last 50 years, not having a Heisman Trophy winner or a Davey O’Brien Award winner keeps Notre Dame from being ranked higher.
At number five for Quarterback U, it’s the University of Florida. Florida has as many All-America quarterbacks (five) as UCLA, Stanford and Ohio State, but what elevates the Gators is that two of them were Heisman Trophy winners in Danny Wuerffel and Tim Tebow. Both Wuerffel and Tebow were All-Americans more than once.
The Gators other All-America quarterbacks were: John Reaves in 1971, Shane Matthews in 1991 & 1992 and Rex Grossman in 2001.
From 1976 to 2006, Brigham Young had seven All-American quarterbacks, which equates to a Brigham Young quarterback being named All-American nearly every four years. Brigham Young’s All-American quarterbacks were: Gifford Nielsen ’76, Marc Wilson ’79, Jim McMahon ’80-’81, Steve Young ’83, Robbie Bosco ’84, Ty Detmer ’90-’91 and John Beck in 2006.
In a nine-year span of time from 1976 to 1984, a BYU quarterback was named All-American six of those nine years. In addition to being named All-American, Detmer won the Heisman Trophy in 1990 and the Davey O’ Brien Award in 1990 and 1991 and McMahon and Young won the Davey O’Brien Award in 1981 and 1983 respectively.
Why isn’t Brigham Young ranked higher than fourth for Quarterback U? The top three schools on this list all have more than one Heisman Trophy winning quarterback and BYU has produced only one All-American quarterback in the past 25 seasons.
Quite comparable to Florida, USC is #3 on our list for Quarterback U. Like the Gators, USC also had five All-American quarterbacks and two Heisman trophy winning quarterbacks. USC’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks most college football fans know in Carson Palmer in 2002 and Matt Leinart in 2004. USC’s other All-American quarterbacks the past 50 seasons were: Paul McDonald in 1979, Rodney Peete in 1988 and Matt Barkley in 2011.
Runner-up as Quarterback U are the Florida State Seminoles. Florida State ranks ahead of USC by having three Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks to USC’s two and the Seminoles also had more All-American quarterbacks, six to USC’s five.
The Heisman trophy winners for Florida State were Charlie Ward in 1993, Chris Weinke in 2000 and Jameis Winston in 2013. Florida State’s All-America quarterbacks were: Gary Huff was All-American in 1972, Casey Weldon in 1991, and Danny Kanell in 1995.
That brings us to Quarterback U, the Oklahoma Sooners. Jack Mildren was All-American for Oklahoma back in 1971, and then an All-American quarterback drought for the Sooners occurred. It wasn’t till the year 2000 however that another Sooners quarterback was named All-American and that was Josh Heupel when head coach Bob Stoops reinvented Oklahoma’s offense and produced great passing quarterbacks.
Since Heupel, four more Oklahoma quarterbacks have been named All-American and they each won the Heisman trophy: Jason White in 2003, Sam Bradford in 2008, and Baker Mayfield in 2017 and Kyler Murray in 2018. Bradford was a two-time All-American in ’07 & ’08, Mayfield a three-time All-American in ’15, ’16 and 2017.
No school had more Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks in the past 50 seasons as Oklahoma’s four.
There you have it broken down by the number of All-Americans and Heisman trophy winners over the past 50 seasons, and the evidence shows that Oklahoma is Quarterback U.
Interesting Fact: Arguably the two greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, Tom Brady and Joe Montana, neither were college All-Americans, nor was Jim Kelly.
John Baranowski is a sports historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites. This and other articles written by him can be found on his blog: https://johnbaranowski.wordpress.com/.