In the last year of the 20th century, quarterback play in college football seemed to be making a quantum leap. Virginia Tech‘s Michael Vick was showing us a combination of rushing and passing prowess that we didn’t realize was possible, while Georgia Tech‘s Joe Hamilton was combining 3,000-yard passing with 700-yard rushing. Mike Leach was, through Oklahoma’s Josh Heupel, introducing the Air Raid offense to its eventual home, the Big 12. Purdue‘s Drew Brees was, through Joe Tiller’s Basketball-on-Grass spread, throwing 70-plus times in Big Ten games.
Everything we thought was evolving at the turn of the century did so, and then some. Quarterback play in the 2000s has evolved to include numbers we never thought imaginable: 3,500/1,000 seasons, 200 passer ratings, completion rates nearing 80%. Where might things go next?
As we wait to find the answer to that question, let’s step back and take stock of what we’ve seen so far by ranking the best quarterbacks of the century to date. We’ve updated and added to our previous rankings from 2021, going from 60 QBs to 75. That means room for NFL stars like Matt Ryan and Dak Prescott, plus newcomers Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud and Stetson Bennett. No Caleb Williams, though, since we’re only counting players who finished their college careers.
This was, to be honest, an even more difficult task than I imagined. We’ve seen single-season explosions from the Cam Newtons of the world, and we’ve seen controlled, four- or five-year fires from Case Keenums and Baker Mayfields that produced seemingly untouchable career totals. How do you compare a Keenum or Kellen Moore to a Newton or Joe Burrow? Very carefully! I’m sure you will not disagree with a single one of the picks below!
Let’s get started.
75. Matt Ryan, Boston College
Stats: 9,313 passing yards, 60% completion rate, 56 TD, 37 INT, 11 rushing TD
The ultimate late-career breakout star: Ryan threw for 4,507 yards and 31 touchdowns as a senior, leading BC to 11 wins and a brief No. 2 ranking and finishing seventh in the Heisman voting.
74. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
Stats: 9,817 passing yards, 68% completion rate, 72 TD, 24 INT, 6 rushing TD
He was almost immediately Charlie Strong’s best player at Louisville, and his last two seasons — 7,688 yards, 58 touchdowns and a 23-3 record — made him a legend.
73. Timmy Chang, Hawai’i
Stats: 17,072 passing yards, 57% completion rate, 117 TD, 80 INT, 6 rushing TD
June Jones’ early-2000s Hawai’i teams were late-night must-watches for college football degenerates, and Chang was at the helm for many of them. Only Keenum threw for more yards at the FBS level.
72. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
Stats: 9,376 passing yards, 63% completion rate, 70 TD, 23 INT, 2,521 rushing yards, 41 rushing TD
A perfect QB prototype for the Dan Mullen offense, he went from tantalizing dual threat as a sophomore (1,940 passing yards, 829 rushing yards) to all-around star as a senior.
71. Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State
Stats: 9,260 passing yards, 70% completion rate, 75 TD, 27 INT, 1 rushing TD
He was drafted by the New York Yankees in 2003, showed up in Stillwater at age 23 and waited three years to win the starting job. But when he did, he made up for lost time, eventually leading the Cowboys to the brink of the national title game.
70. Geno Smith, West Virginia
Stats: 11,662 passing yards, 67% completion rate, 98 TD, 21 INT, 4 rushing TD
A perfect template for Dana Holgorsen’s air-it-out attack in the early 2010s, Smith led WVU to an Orange Bowl title in 2011 and briefly into the top 10 in 2012, producing seven 400-yard games along the way.
69. David Greene, Georgia
Stats: 11,528 passing yards, 59% completion rate, 72 TD, 32 INT, 5 rushing TD
The starter for Mark Richt’s first four years in Athens, Greene produced consistent numbers and finished his career with a then-record 42 wins, topping Peyton Manning’s record.
68. Brad Smith, Missouri
Stats: 8,644 passing yards, 56% completion rate, 56 TD, 32 INT, 4,193 rushing yards, 44 rushing TD
In 2000, Clemson’s Woody Dantzler became the first QB to produce 2,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards in the same season. Then Smith came along and averaged that for his career.
67. AJ McCarron, Alabama
Stats: 9,019 passing yards, 67% completion rate, 77 TD, 15 INT, 3 rushing TD
We think of early-2010s Bama QBs as game managers, but McCarron showed serious upside when asked. His last four games of 2012’s title run: 54-for-76 for 775 yards, 10 touchdowns and 1 interception. He could have produced even bigger numbers if asked.
66. J.T. Barrett, Ohio State
Stats: 9,434 passing yards, 64% completion rate, 104 TD, 30 INT, 3,263 rushing yards, 43 rushing TD
He broke the Big Ten record for most passing TDs and total TDs, won 38 games in 3.5 seasons as a starter, and, perhaps most importantly, went 4-0 against Michigan.
65. Kevin Kolb, Houston
Stats: 12,964 passing yards, 62% completion rate, 85 TD, 31 INT, 21 rushing TD
Art Briles’ first muse at the college level, Kolb improved steadily through his four years, and as a senior led the Coogs to their first 10-win season in 16 years.
64. Andy Dalton, TCU
Stats: 10,314 passing yards, 62% completion rate, 71 TD, 30 INT, 1,611 rushing yards, 22 rushing TD
Both Dalton and the Horned Frogs improved incrementally throughout his career, going 11-2, then 12-1 then 13-0, with the program’s lone Rose Bowl win, in his last three seasons.
63. Zach Wilson, BYU
Stats: 7,652 passing yards, 68% completion rate, 56 TD, 15 INT, 15 rushing TDs
The best BYU QB since Steve Sarkisian. He first made waves by going 18-for-18 for 317 yards in a bowl romp as a freshman, then he finished his career as a top-10 draft prospect after posting 3,692 yards and a 196.4 passer rating in 2020.
62. Max Duggan, TCU
Stats: 9,618 passing yards, 60% completion rate, 73 TD, 28 INT, 1,856 rushing yards, 28 rushing TD
He almost didn’t even end up starting as a senior, but he made the most of his last chance, throwing for 3,698 yards, finishing second in the Heisman voting and leading TCU to the national title game.
61. Matt Barkley, USC
Stats: 12,327 passing yards, 64% completion rate, 116 TD, 48 INT, 6 rushing TD
The Trojans’ slow downfall had begun when Barkley entered the lineup, but he did his best to stem the tide and led a 10-win resurgence as a junior in 2011.
60. Kenny Pickett, Pitt
Stats: 12,303 passing yards, 62% completion rate, 81 TD, 32 INT, 20 rushing TD
He began his career with an upset of No. 2 Miami and ended it finishing third in the Heisman voting. Everything came together in an epic senior season (4,319 yards, 42 touchdowns).
59. Aaron Rodgers, Cal
Stats: 5,469 passing yards, 64% completion rate, 43 TD, 13 INT, 8 rushing TD
Unrecruited as a high schooler, the future Green Bay great spent a year at Butte Community College before catching Jeff Tedford’s eye and leading the Golden Bears to a thrilling 2004 season.
58. Todd Reesing, Kansas
Stats: 11,194 passing yards, 64% completion rate, 90 TD, 33 INT, 15 rushing TD
“Led Kansas to an Orange Bowl title” is a pretty good lead line for a résumé, yeah? The undersized Reesing led KU to 25 wins over three years as a starter. In the 11 seasons since he left, the Jayhawks have won … 27 games.
57. Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech
Stats: 11,252 passing yards, 64% completion rate, 93 TD, 29 INT, 22 rushing TD
Even by the standards of the typical air-raid quarterback, Mahomes was asked to do a lot. He threw 44 passes per game as a sophomore in 2015, then 49 per game as a junior, and despite his being, you know, Patrick Dang Mahomes, Tech went only 12-13 in that span.
56. Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State
Stats: 13,618 passing yards, 63% completion rate, 92 TD, 26 INT, 17 rushing TDs
Few quarterbacks have ever thrown a prettier deep ball. The Cowboys won 10 games and finished in the AP top 20 in all three of Rudolph’s seasons as a starter. They’ve averaged eight wins since he left.
55. Joey Harrington, Oregon
Stats: 6,911 passing yards, 55% completion rate, 59 TD, 23 INT, 18 rushing TD
After averaging about eight wins per year, Mike Bellotti’s Oregon program leaped forward when Harrington entered the starting lineup. They went 21-3 in two years and finished 2001 No. 2 in the polls after Harrington’s 350-yard Fiesta Bowl performance.
54. Keenan Reynolds, Navy
Stats: 4,001 passing yards, 52% completion rate, 31 TD, 8 INT, 4,559 rushing yards, 88 rushing TD
One of the greatest option QBs of all-time, Reynolds entered the starting lineup midway through his freshman year and immediately transformed the Navy program. The Midshipmen won 11 games with a top-20 finish in his senior season.
53. Brad Banks, Iowa
Stats: 3,155 passing yards, 58% completion rate, 30 TD, 7 INT, 7 rushing TD
A one-year wonder? Sure, but what a year it was. After winning 11 total games in Kirk Ferentz’s first three years as Iowa head coach, the Hawkeyes won 11 in 2002 and Banks went from relative unknown to Heisman runner-up to Carson Palmer.
52. David Carr, Fresno State
Stats: 7,458 passing yards, 63% completion rate, 65 TD, 22 INT, 9 rushing TD
The 2001 Fresno State team captured the imagination like few mid-majors can, rolling to a 6-0 start with wins over Colorado, Oregon State and Wisconsin. They finished with 11 wins, and Carr was impressive enough to go No. 1 in the 2002 NFL draft.
51. Dan LeFevour, Central Michigan
Stats: 12,905 passing yards, 66% completion rate, 102 TD, 36 INT, 2,948 rushing yards, 47 rushing TD
The three-time MAC champion averaged more than 3,000 passing yards and 700 rushing yards per season and helped both Brian Kelly and Butch Jones earn promotions. CMU hasn’t won a conference title since he left.
50. Denard Robinson, Michigan
Stats: 6,250 passing yards, 57% completion rate, 49 TD, 39 INT, 4,495 rushing yards, 42 TD
Maybe the single-best moment of the Rich Rod era at Michigan was signing Robinson, who captured fans’ imaginations and averaged more than 2,000 passing yards and 1,300 rushing yards over his last three seasons. We’re used to stats like that now. We weren’t a decade ago.
49. Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois
Stats: 6,209 passing yards, 62% completion rate, 51 TD, 14 INT, 4,343 rushing yards, 48 TD
It’s one thing that he produced the above stats; it’s another that he basically did it in two years, averaging 3,000 passing yards and nearly 1,900 rushing yards in 2012-13 while leading NIU to 24 wins and an Orange Bowl bid. The perfect QB for the MACtion era.
48. Kyle Trask, Florida
Stats: 7,386 passing yards, 68% completion rate, 69 TD, 15 INT, 8 rushing TD
A recruiting afterthought, Trask was already a junior when he got an audition following an injury to starter Feleipe Franks … and he threw for more than 7,000 yards in the next 22 games. Quite the audition.
47. Eli Manning, Ole Miss
Stats: 10,119 passing yards, 61% completion rate, 81 TD, 35 INT, 5 rushing TD
Before winning two Super Bowl titles, Manning nearly accomplished something even more rare and impressive in college: He came within basically one completion or so of beating Nick Saban and earning Ole Miss an SEC West title in 2003.
46. Brady Quinn, Notre Dame
Stats: 11,762 passing yards, 58% completion rate, 95 TD, 39 INT, 6 rushing TD
We all thought Charlie Weis was a genius when he showed up in South Bend and Notre Dame immediately charged to its first top-10 finish in 12 years. Weis’ reputation fell apart pretty quickly, however, when Quinn ran out of eligibility.
45. Eric Crouch, Nebraska
Stats: 4,481 passing yards, 52% completion rate, 29 TD, 25 INT, 3,434 rushing yards, 59 rushing TD
The last great Nebraska option QB, Crouch didn’t produce the stats we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from Heisman winners. But he was a scary, scary man with the ball in his hands. Just ask Missouri.
44. Byron Leftwich, Marshall
Stats: 11,903 passing yards, 65% completion rate, 89 TD, 28 INT, 6 rushing TD
An old-school gunslinger, Leftwich led the Thundering Herd to two conference titles and produced two enduring memories: leading a 30-point comeback over East Carolina in the 2001 GMAC Bowl and, the next year, nearly leading one against Akron with a broken leg.
43. Aaron Murray, Georgia
Stats: 13,166 passing yards, 62% completion rate, 121 TD, 41 INT, 16 rushing TD
Murray resurrected the Mark Richt era in Athens, leading the Dawgs to within seconds of the BCS Championship game in 2012 and not only finishing with the most passing yards in the history of the SEC, but finishing nearly 1,000 yards ahead of second-place Drew Lock and nearly 2,000 yards ahead of third-place David Greene.
42. Colt Brennan, Hawaii
Stats: 14,193 passing yards, 70% completion rate, 131 TD, 42 INT, 15 rushing TD
Few QB-coach combos have been as perfect as that of Brennan and run-and-shoot commander June Jones. Hawaii scored 40+ points 24 times over Brennan’s three years and rode a 12-0 start to a Sugar Bowl bid and third-place Heisman finish in 2007.
41. Collin Klein, Kansas State
Stats: 4,724 passing yards, 61% completion rate, 30 TD, 15 INT, 2,485 rushing yards, 56 rushing TD
If Dominique Wilkins was the Human Highlight Reel, Klein was the Human Third-and-Manageable Conversion. He piloted an infuriatingly hard-to-stop K-State attack and, in 2011 and 2012, led the Wildcats to 21 wins and Bill Snyder’s second Big 12 title.
40. Alex Smith, Utah
Stats: 5,203 passing yards, 66% completion rate, 47 TD, 8 INT, 1,072 rushing yards, 15 rushing TD
Smith was a steady, safe option for a defense-heavy Utah team in 2003, but in 2004 he became the perfect vessel for the Urban Meyer offense, leading the Utes to an unbeaten season, finishing fourth in the Heisman voting and flashing enough potential to go No. 1 in the 2005 draft.
39. Landry Jones, Oklahoma
Stats: 16,646 passing yards, 64% completion rate, 123 TD, 52 INT, 3 rushing TD
Here’s a complete list of power-conference QBs who have thrown for more yards than Jones:
It was hard to appreciate Jones’ steady excellence in real time, but by the time he had graduated he had put together a four-year statistical résumé that, even in the near-decade that has followed, no one has surpassed.
38. Mac Jones, Alabama
Stats: 6,126 passing yards, 74% completion rate, 56 TD, 7 INT, 2 rushing TD
Like Trask, Jones patiently bided his time and didn’t really see the field until an injury. But after taking the baton from Tua Tagovailoa late in 2019, he led maybe the best Bama team of all-time to a 13-0 record, with a 41-to-4 TD-to-INT ratio, in 2020.
37. Stetson Bennett, Georgia
Stats: 8,429 passing yards, 65% completion rate, 66 TD, 21 INT, 14 rushing TD
He won the starting job in 2020 and 2021 only because others got injured, but damned if he didn’t make the most of his opportunities. In 2021-22, he produced the second-best Total QBR, completed 67% of his passes and, oh yeah, won a pair of national titles. In four career CFP games, he threw for 1,239 yards and 12 TDs. Not bad for a former walk-on.
36. Ken Dorsey, Miami
Stats: 9,565 passing yards, 58% completion rate, 86 TD, 28 INT, 2 rushing TD
An early-2000s Mac Jones: He inherited an all-time great supporting cast and piloted it beautifully enough to earn a pair of top-5 Heisman finishes. The U went 35-2 in his three seasons as a starter and has won double-digit games only twice since his departure.
35. Chase Daniel, Missouri
Stats: 12,515 passing yards, 68% completion rate, 101 TD, 41 INT, 10 rushing TD
One of the most accurate spread quarterbacks of his era, Daniel drove Mizzou to a brief No. 1-ranking for just the second time ever, finished fourth in the 2007 Heisman voting and delivered a top-five finish and two division titles for a program starving for such success.
34. Graham Harrell, Texas Tech
Stats: 15,793 passing yards, 70% completion rate, 134 TD, 34 INT, 12 rushing TD
What Daniel was to Mizzou, Harrell was to Tech, teaming with all-world WR Michael Crabtree to win 20 games in 2007-08 and briefly moving the Red Raiders to No. 2 in the polls. He averaged 55 passes and 439 yards per game in 2007, one of the great volume-shooter performances ever.
33. Troy Smith, Ohio State
Stats: 5,720 passing yards, 63% completion rate, 54 TD, 13 INT, 1,168 rushing yards, 14 rushing TD
Ohio State went wire-to-wire in the 2006 regular season, and while Smith wasn’t asked to do much in blowouts, he came through big-time when required and won the Heisman by more than 1,600 points.
Of course, this would have all mattered more had Smith and the Buckeyes not gotten absolutely humiliated by Florida in the national title game. That’ll knock down your ranking a bit.
32. Jason White, Oklahoma
Stats: 7,922 passing yards, 63% completion rate, 81 TD, 24 INT, 2 rushing TD
BCS title game losses dampened White’s legacy a bit, but his evolution from athletic dual-threat to statuesque ball-distributor following knee injuries was awe-inspiring. He didn’t win one Heisman vote and finish third in another by accident.
31. Colin Kaepernick, Nevada
Stats: 10,098 passing yards, 58% completion rate, 82 TD, 24 INT, 4,112 passing yards, 59 rushing TD
It takes the perfect quarterback to fully understand the potential of a given offensive system, and Kaepernick was the perfect muse for Chris Ault’s revolutionary Pistol. As a senior, he threw for 3,022 yards, rushed for 1,206 and led the Pack to 13 wins and No. 11 in the AP poll.
30. Rex Grossman, Florida
Stats: 9,164 passing yards, 61% completion rate, 77 TD, 36 INT, 6 rushing TD
His résumé was almost a lot better: He lost the 2001 Heisman vote to Crouch by just 62 points, and his Gators came up two points short of a BCS title game bid the same year. Still, he left a legacy as the last great Steve Spurrier QB.
29. Justin Fields, Georgia/Ohio State
Stats: 5,701 passing yards, 68% completion rate, 67 TD, 9 INT, 1,133 rushing yards, 19 TD
Thanks to the abbreviated 2020 season, Fields was a collegiate starter for basically 1.5 years. But in that time he proved startlingly accurate and dynamic, leading Ohio State to two CFP bids, one national title game and only two losses.
28. Ben Roethlisberger, Miami (Ohio)
Stats: 10,829 passing yards, 66% completion rate, 84 TD, 34 INT, 7 rushing TD
After two sturdy seasons, Big Ben put together an all-timer in 2003. His Redhawks beat Northwestern by 30, averaged 47 points per game in MAC play, then walloped Louisville in the GMAC Bowl to finish 10th in the AP poll.
27. Pat White, West Virginia
Stats: 6,049 passing yards, 65% completion rate, 56 TD, 23 INT, 4,480 rushing yards, 47 rushing TD
Few tandems have left more of a mark than Pat White and Steve Slaton did. From 2005-07, the duo combined for 7,429 rushing yards, 89 rushing TDs, a 33-5 record and two BCS bowl wins. Only injuries could slow White in Rich Rodriguez’s system.
26. Russell Wilson, NC State/Wisconsin
Stats: 11,720 passing yards, 61% completion rate, 109 TD, 30 INT, 1,421 rushing yards, 23 TD
Wilson was so good in three years at NC State that he had his number honored; he then moved to Wisconsin as a grad transfer and led the Badgers to a Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl bid. How many guys can claim to be an all-time great at two different schools?
25. Jalen Hurts, Alabama/Oklahoma
Stats: 9,477 passing yards, 65% completion rate, 80 TD, 20 INT, 3,274 rushing yards, 43 rushing TD
Hurts was a starter for three years, averaged 2,900 passing yards and 1,036 rushing yards per season and led three CFP bids; as a backup to Tua Tagovailoa in 2018, he helped to save a CFP bid as well. He was the SEC’s offensive player of the year as a freshman and Heisman runner-up as a senior. What a career.
24. Case Keenum, Houston
Stats: 19,217 passing yards, 69% completion rate, 155 TD, 46 INT, 23 rushing TD
The perfect QB for everything both Art Briles and Kevin Sumlin wanted to accomplish at UH, he topped 5,000 yards and 40 TDs in three different seasons, and his 19,217 passing yards are over 2,000 more than anyone else in history has managed.
23. Carson Palmer, USC
Stats: 11,818 passing yards, 59% completion rate, 72 TD, 49 INT, 9 rushing TD
The former all-world recruit was labeled as a disappointment for much of his career, but he wiped out all complaints with a perfect senior season. He kickstarted the Trojans’ run of dominance with a 3,942-yard, Heisman-winning run in 2002.
22. Philip Rivers, NC State
Stats: 13,484 passing yards, 64% completion rate, 95 TD, 34 INT, 17 rushing TD
Rivers led State to its first 11-win season and third top-15 finish in 2002, his third as Pack starter, then followed that by throwing for 4,491 yards with a 170.5 passer rating, the 13th-best ever at the time, in 2003.
21. Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
Stats: 7,442 passing yards, 69% completion rate, 87 TD, 11 INT, 9 rushing TD
The first time we saw the five-star recruit taking meaningful snaps as a freshman, he was saving the Crimson Tide in the national title game. He then posted the best passer rating ever in 2018 (199.4) and was on pace to top it (206.9) when he was lost to injury the next year. His résumé was incomplete but remarkable.
20. C.J. Stroud, Ohio State
Stats: 8,123 passing yards, 69% completion rate, 85 TD, 12 INT, 1 rushing TD
He didn’t have the longest career, but in 25 career games he topped 300 yards 15 times, topped 400 yards five times, completed at least 70% of his passes 10 times and threw multiple INTs just twice. And he was the best player on the field in his final game, a CFP near upset of Georgia.
19. Bryce Young, Alabama
Stats: 8,356 passing yards, 66% completion rate, 80 TD, 12 INT, 7 rushing TD
He entered college as the top QB prospect in the country and managed to live up to the hype and the pressure of being Bama’s QB1. He threw for 47 touchdowns and won the Heisman as a first-year starter and beat 10 ranked opponents in two years, and only a pair of last-second road losses prevented him from making back-to-back CFP appearances.
18. Andrew Luck, Stanford
Stats: 9,430 passing yards, 67% completion rate, 82 TD, 22 INT, 7 rushing TD
In the seven seasons before Luck took over in the starting lineup, Stanford won a total of 25 games. In his three years behind center, the Cardinal won 31, peaking at 12-1 with an Orange Bowl title in 2010. His arrival in Palo Alto completely altered the trajectory of the program.
17. Matt Leinart, USC
Stats: 10,693 passing yards, 65% completion rate, 99 TD, 23 INT, 9 rushing TD
Oh no, Carson Palmer is gone! How will Pete Carroll keep things rolling for USC?
By installing Leinart as QB, going 37-2 over the next three seasons, winning shares of two national titles and very nearly snaring a third. Pretty good succession plan.
16. Jameis Winston, Florida State
Stats: 7,964 passing yards, 66% completion rate, 65 TD, 28 INT, 7 rushing TD
Winston was around for only two seasons, but his impact was absurd: FSU rolled to its first national title in 14 years when he was a redshirt freshman — he won the Heisman by more than 1,500 points — and went on to win the first 27 games of his career.
15. Sam Bradford, Oklahoma
Stats: 8,403 passing yards, 68% completion rate, 88 TD, 16 INT, 5 rushing TD
The 2008 OU offense was, at the time, the best spread attack in history. Bradford threw for 4,720 yards and 50 TDs, and the Sooners scored at least 58 points in six consecutive Big 12 games that year. Only a 2009 injury (and a couple of goal-line failures in the 2008 national title game) kept him out of a potential top-10 spot here.
14. Kellen Moore, Boise State
Stats: 14,667 passing yards, 70% completion rate, 142 TD, 28 INT, 3 rushing TD
50-3. Fifty and three! That was Boise State’s record with Moore behind center. The Broncos went 6-0 against power conference teams, and two of their three losses were to teams with QBs on this list (Kaepernick’s Nevada, Dalton’s TCU). Ruthlessly efficient for four straight years.
13. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
Stats: 7,820 passing yards, 69% completion rate, 63 TD, 22 INT, 2,169 rushing yards, 30 rushing TD
Texas A&M won 20 games in the Johnny Football era, beat Alabama (and nearly did so twice) and immediately put to rest any silly “Yeah, but can that Big 12 offense work in the SEC?” qualms as the Aggies joined the league. But that alone doesn’t describe just how much one player could dominate the sport’s consciousness over multiple seasons. You couldn’t take your eyes off of him because you really, really needed to see what he might do next.
12. Colt McCoy, Texas
Stats: 13,253 passing yards, 70% completion rate, 112 TD, 45 INT, 1,571 rushing yards, 20 rushing TD
McCoy’s 76.7% completion rate in 2008 stood as FBS’ highest ever for 12 years until Mac Jones narrowly topped it last year. He finished in the Heisman top three twice (2008, 2009), and his legacy was on the verge of perfect completion until he left 2009’s BCS Championship with injury on the Horns’ first possession. Forty-five career wins and one giant what-if.
11. Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
Stats: 10,098 passing yards, 67% completion rate, 90 TD, 17 INT, 18 rushing TD
It was going to be almost impossible for Lawrence to meet the expectations set for him as an all-world recruit at Clemson. He surpassed them. The Tigers lost only twice in three years with him behind center, winning the 2018 national title and reaching two more CFPs. And he became one of the faces of a rising player advocacy movement as a junior as well.
10. Robert Griffin III, Baylor
Stats: 10,366 passing yards, 67% completion rate, 78 TD, 17 INT, 2,254 rushing yards, 33 rushing TD
Baylor hadn’t enjoyed a single winning season in 13 years before Griffin came to town. His senior season, the Bears won 10 games with Griffin throwing and rushing for 4,992 yards and 47 combined TDs and winning the Heisman. He was Baylor’s Andrew Luck.
9. Marcus Mariota, Oregon
Stats: 10,796 passing yards, 67% completion rate, 105 TD, 14 INT, 2,237 rushing yards, 29 TD
By 2014, Oregon’s defense had fallen off pretty significantly, allowing 27+ points in seven games. And it didn’t matter in the slightest because the Ducks had Mariota. It’s hard to call someone underappreciated when he won the Heisman and went second in the NFL draft the next year … but even in an age of gaudy stats, his 2014 totals — 5,224 combined passing and rushing yards and 57 combined TDs — stand out.
8. Lamar Jackson, Louisville
Stats: 9,043 passing yards, 57% completion rate, 69 TD, 27 INT, 4,132 rushing yards, 50 rushing TD
At the start of the century, Clemson’s Woody Dantzler pulled off the first 2,000/1,000 season. Less than two decades later, Jackson was posting back-to-back 3,500/1,500s. He was a solid passer and the most terrifying runner at the QB position since Michael Vick. And that hurdle. Oh, that hurdle.
7. Kyler Murray, Texas A&M/Oklahoma
Stats: 5,406 passing yards, 67% completion rate, 50 TD, 14 INT, 1,478 rushing yards, 13 rushing TD
Murray was a first-round draft pick in baseball but decided to play college football one last season in 2018. We were all better off for it. As Baker Mayfield’s OU successor, he threw for 4,361, rushed for 1,478 more and posted 54 combined TDs. IN ONE YEAR. And then he became a first-rounder in another draft.
6. Deshaun Watson, Clemson
Stats: 10,168 passing yards, 67% completion rate, 90 TD, 32 INT, 1,934 rushing yards, 26 TD
Remember when “Clemsoning” meant “failing spectacularly on the big stage?” No? That’s because Watson came to town and flipped Dabo Swinney’s program from good to elite. He averaged 4,351 passing yards and 867 rushing yards in 2015-16, first leading the Tigers to the CFP title game, then winning it the next year. “Clemsoning” now simply means “winning big.”
5. Joe Burrow, Ohio State/LSU
Stats: 8,852 passing yards, 69% completion rate, 78 TD, 11 INT, 13 rushing TD
After a decent first season as LSU’s starter, Burrow simply unleashed the best passing season we’ve ever seen in college football. He threw for 5,671 yards and 60 touchdowns, produced almost as many rushing touchdowns (five) as interceptions (six) and led the Tigers — who had gone eight years without a top-five finish — to a 15-0 record and national title. His 2019 was good enough to stand up next to Cam Newton’s 2010. There is no greater compliment than that.
4. Tim Tebow, Florida
Stats: 9,285 passing yards, 66% completion rate, 88 TD, 16 INT, 2,947 rushing yards, 57 rushing TD
In 2006, Tebow served as short-yardage back and scary red zone passing option as Florida won the national title.
In 2007, he posted 4,181 combined rushing and passing yards and won the Heisman.
In 2008, he gave an immortal speech and led the Gators to a 13-1 record and second title.
In 2009, he led the Gators to another 13-1 record, posted 3,805 rushing and passing yards and finished in the Heisman top five for a third straight year.
It’s almost impossible to put together a career more complete than that.
3. Vince Young, Texas
Stats: 6,040 passing yards, 62% completion rate, 44 TD, 28 INT, 3,127 rushing yards, 37 rushing TD
Maybe the single most amazing thing about Young’s career: Halfway through, it was a disappointment. He was a terrifying runner from the get-go, but his passing wasn’t coming along, and he was briefly benched midway through 2004.
Then he flipped the switch. UT averaged 38 points per game and rolled to a Rose Bowl win to finish 2004, then fielded one of the best teams of our lifetime in 2005, going 13-0 while Young threw for 3,036 yards and rushed for 1,050. The last eight of those rushing yards gave the Horns a last-second win over Matt Leinart and USC in the greatest national title game ever played.
2. Cam Newton, Auburn
Years: 2007-10 (really, though, just 2010)
Stats: 2,908 passing yards, 65% completion rate, 30 TD, 7 INT, 1,586 rushing yards, 24 rushing TD
Ladies and gentlemen, the greatest single-season supernova the sport has seen. After two years of backing up Tebow at Florida, Newton won a juco national title at Blinn College, then landed at Auburn and almost single-handedly carried the Tigers to their first AP national title since 1957. His supporting cast was good but not nearly the caliber of Young’s, Tebow’s, etc., but that was fine — he was simultaneously the best running back and quarterback in the sport.
Then he was gone, off to an NFL career that has included an MVP award, more than 31,000 passing yards and a Super Bowl appearance.
1. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
Stats: 14,607 passing yards, 69% completion rate, 131 TD, 30 INT, 1,083 rushing yards, 21 rushing TD
Newton, Young and Burrow had the best seasons. Mayfield had the best career.
It began with him walking on at Texas Tech, quickly winning the starting job and throwing for 413 yards in his debut. He lost his job to injury, then traded up, landing at OU. The Sooners hadn’t won an outright conference title since 2010, but he led them to three in a row, with three top-five finishes and two CFP bids. His storybook career ended with him throwing and rushing for 4,938 yards and 48 TDs, winning the Heisman and bringing OU to within an eyelash of the national title game. He was so good that, despite non-prototypical size, the Cleveland Browns couldn’t resist making him the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft.