Power Ranking the 10 Greatest College Football QBs of All-Time

By (Featured Columnist) on January 27, 2014

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No position in football is more important than the quarterback. Teams with bad quarterbacks generally don't win, while team's with great ones often reach new heights. 

In the 78 years the Heisman Trophy has been awarded, 32 of the winners have been signal-callers, including 12 of the last 13. 

That means ranking the top 10 quarterbacks of all time is a huge task. In fact, there have been so many great quarterbacks that only four of the top 10 QBs actually won the Heisman Trophy during their career.

However, four come from non-BCS AQ schools and only one school is represented twice on the list. 

With that, find out who made the cut on B/R's top 10 CFB quarterbacks of all time. 

 

The Formula

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Rob Carr/Associated Press

The process for finding out the top 10 quarterbacks in college football history was a mathematical one. 

After research, 16 candidates were chosen. Of those 16, each player had their career stats analyzed and organized into five separate categories, with each category being worth up to 10 points. The lowest score in each category was one, the highest was 10, and every other score was scaled accordingly. 

The categories were:

  • Passing Yards per Game
  • Percent of Their Team's Total Offense in Their Best Season
  • Total Touchdowns per Year
  • Winning Percentage
  • How Well They Played in Big Games

With a max score of 50 possible, the winner on the list scored only 37. The lowest score of the 16 candidates registered a 16 (he also won a Heisman). 

There were three tiebreakers that needed to be settled, including a tie for who was named No. 1 on the list. In all three cases, the Heisman Trophy winner was given the advantage. 

The concept for the categories was designed to equally reward players who put up big numbers in spread offenses, those who didn't put up massive numbers but were a big part of their team's offense, and those who won the most games without necessarily having the best stats. 

 

 

Honorable Mention

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

While only 10 quarterbacks were selected for the final list, here are the other five candidates that failed to make the final cut, including their final scores. 

Aaron Murray, Georgia: 24

Timmy Chang, Hawaii: 22

Eric Crouch, Nebraska: 16

Landry Jones, Oklahoma: 26

A.J. McCarron, Alabama: 20

Andre Ware, Houston: 27

 

10. Tim Tebow, Florida

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Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

TOTAL SCORE: 28 points

Passing Yards per Game: 2 points (168.8) 

Percent of Team's Total Offense in Best Season: 6 points (70 percent, 2007)

Total Touchdowns per Year: 6 points (36.25)

Winning Percentage: 8 points (87 percent) 

How They Played in Big Games: 6 points

There's no doubt that Tebow deserves to be on this list. 

Undoubtedly the best quarterback in Florida history and arguably the best in SEC history, Tebow won a Heisman Trophy and a national title during his stint with the Gators.

While his time in the NFL hasn't panned out as well as he hoped, he is now well on his way to a great career as an analyst with ESPN. 

 

 

9. Vince Young, Texas

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Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

TOTAL SCORE: 29 points

Passing Yards per Game: 3 points (163.2) 

Percent of Team's Total Offense in Best Season: 4 points (61 percent, 2005) 

Total Touchdowns per Year: 3 points (27) 

Winning Percentage: 9 points (94 percent)

How They Played in Big Games: 10 points

Vince Young single-handedly won Texas the national championship against USC in the Rose Bowl. His magical performance was capped off with a fourth down touchdown run to give the Longhorns the win, and his showing in that game is a huge reason he's on this list.

Young lost just two games as a starter in Austin before heading to the NFL. Like Tebow, his NFL career was a dud. But nevertheless, Young is certainly among the greatest signal-callers in CFB history.  

 

8. Kellen Moore, Boise State

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Ethan Miller/Getty Images

TOTAL SCORE: 31 points

Passing Yards per Game: 7 points (276.7) 

Percent of Team's Total Offense in Best Season: 2 points (56 percent, 2007)

Total Touchdowns per Year: 6 points (36.5) 

Winning Percentage: 9 points (94) 

How They Played in Big Games: 7 points

Kellen Moore left Boise State as one of the winningest quarterbacks in college football and also brought a ton of respect to non-BCS AQ schools. 

His Saturdays on the blue turf were spent lighting up opposing defenses with that unforgettable left-handed motion that is one of the most memorable in history. Now with the Detroit Lions, Moore rightfully earned his place at No. 8 on this list. 

7. Matt Leinart, USC

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Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

TOTAL SCORE: 31 points

Passing Yards per Game: 6 points (274.2) 

Percent of Team's Total Offense in Best Season: 2 points (56 percent, 2004)

Total Touchdowns per Year: 6 points (36.3)

Winning Percentage: 10 points (96 percent) 

How They Played in Big Games: 7 points

Whether Matt Leinart or Reggie Bush meant more to USC during the two's time together with the Trojans, is a debate that will rage on forever.

But one thing is for certain: the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback who only lost two games at USC is definitely one of the best to ever set foot on the gridiron on Saturdays.

Leinart fizzled out of the NFL after struggling with the Arizona Cardinals. But he's still a national champion from his 2004 year (although that title was wiped out by the Reggie Bush sanctions) and also won the 2004 Manning and Johnny Unitas Awards.  

6. Colt McCoy, Texas

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Brian Bahr/Getty Images

TOTAL SCORE: 32 points

Passing Yards per Game: 6 points (250.0) 

Percent of Team's Total Offense in Best Season: 7 points (71 percent, 2008)

Total Touchdowns per Year: 5 points (33.0) 

Winning Percentage: 7 points (85 percent) 

How They Played in Big Games: 7 points

Had Colt McCoy never gotten hurt against Alabama in the BCS National Championship, many speculate that the Longhorns would've beaten Alabama in that game. 

Nevertheless, McCoy is still one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game and is also one of two Longhorns on this list. 

A four-year starter, McCoy has a Big 12 title and nearly every passing record at Texas under his belt. 

His success also hasn't been replicated in Austin since his departure, as David Ash's and McCoy's younger brother, Case, have struggled to find consistent success. It's the struggles at quarterback that are widely believed to be a big reason for Mack Brown's downfall. 

 

5. Case Keenum, Houston

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Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

TOTAL SCORE: 33 points

Passing Yards per Game: 9 points (337.1) 

Percent of Team's Total Offense in Best Season: 8 points (74 percent, 2009)

Total Touchdowns per Year: 8 points (43.25)

Winning Percentage: 5 points (72 percent) 

How They Played in Big Games: 3 points

Under the tutelage of Kevin Sumlin and Kliff Kingsbury, Case Keenum broke numerous NCAA passing records during his tenure at Houston. 

Playing in the new-age spread offense, Keenum routinely threw for over 400 yards and lit up C-USA on a weekly basis. 

In 2011, Keenum nearly led the Cougars to an undefeated record and an at-large berth into the BCS. But a loss to Southern Miss in the C-USA title game dashed Houston's hopes of obtaining a bid.

Still, Keenum is a huge reason Houston football is relevant and has rightfully earned his spot as the fifth best quarterback in CFB history. 

 

 

4. Ty Detmer, Brigham Young

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Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

TOTAL SCORE: 33 points

Passing Yards per Game: 8 points (313.1) 

Percent of Team's Total Offense in Best Season: 8 points (74 percent, 1990)

Total Touchdowns per Year: 5 points (33.75) 

Winning Percentage: 5 points (73 percent) 

How They Played in Big Games: 7 points

A Heisman winner out of BYU, Ty Detmer is the oldest quarterback that made this list.

Detmer shined in the late '80s and early '90s with the Cougars, with his best season coming in his junior year of 1990 when he won the Heisman. That year, BYU lost in the Holiday Bowl to Texas A&M, where Detmer was seriously hurt and required surgery on his shoulder after the game. 

That didn't stop Detmer though, as he finished third in the Heisman voting the very next season and won the Davey O'Brien Award his senior year. 

Detmer also won the tiebreaker over Keenum due to his Heisman Trophy, making him the No. 4 quarterback on this list. 

 

3. Colt Brennan, Hawaii

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RONEN ZILBERMAN/Associated Press

TOTAL SCORE: 36 points

Passing Yards per Game: 10 points (373.5) 

Percent of Team's Total Offense in Best Season: 8 points (76 percent, 2006)

Total Touchdowns per Year: 10 points (48.6) 

Winning Percentage: 5 points (71 percent) 

How They Played in Big Games: 3 points

After Timmy Chang started the trend of big quarterbacks coming out of the Aloha State, Colt Brennan continued it by putting up gaudy numbers with the Rainbow Warriors. 

His most notable year with Hawaii was in 2007, when he was a Heisman Trophy finalist and finished third in the voting behind Tim Tebow and Darren McFadden. The Warriors also went 13-0 in the regular season that year and earned a bid to the Sugar Bowl, where they got beat by Georgia. 

Brennan made the Warriors relevant for a time, and his numbers are some of the best there ever were. That's what makes him the third-best quarterback of all time. 

 

2. Graham Harrell, Texas Tech

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Matt Slocum/Associated Press

TOTAL SCORE: 37 points

Passing Yards per Game: 10 points (367.3) 

Percent of Team's Total Offense in Best Season: 10 points (83 percent, 2007)

Total Touchdowns per Year: 6 points (36.5)

Winning Percentage: 5 points (72 percent) 

How They Played in Big Games: 6 points

Who can forget that game-winning touchdown pass from Graham Harrell to Michael Crabtree that sent the Red Raiders to an upset over the then-No. 1 Texas Longhorns in 2008? 

That game was just a microcosm of how great the Red Raiders offense was that season, and Harrell's performance under the guidance of Mike Leach was a huge part of that. The Red Raiders finished 2008 ranked No. 12 in the AP Poll and earned a bid to the Cotton Bowl. 

Many consider the 2008 squad Texas Tech's best ever, and Harrell was the gunslinger behind it all. He won the 2008 Johnny Unitas Award and also set numerous NCAA passing records. 

He's one of four quarterbacks from colleges in the state of Texas to make this list, and he's also the No. 2 quarterback of all time. 

 

 

1. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M

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Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports

TOTAL SCORE: 37 points

Passing Yards per Game: 8 points (300.7) 

Percent of Team's Total Offense in Best Season: 6 points (69 percent, 2012)

Total Touchdowns per Year: 9 points (46.5) 

Winning Percentage: 6 points (77 percent) 

How They Played in Big Games: 8 points

The best quarterback in college football history is none other than Johnny Football, the electrifying Heisman Trophy winner from Texas A&M who just finished his second and final season in College Station. 

Manziel's playmaking ability is second to none, and he's projected to be a top draft pick this spring. 

His best season was his freshman one, when he became the first freshman in NCAA history to win the Heisman Trophy and led the Aggies to a Cotton Bowl victory over Oklahoma. 

In his follow-up year, the lighting rod of controversy dazzled on the field but went just 8-4 in the regular season. However, a huge comeback win against ACC runner-up Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl capped off an incredible career for Manziel. 

Because he won the Heisman Trophy, he holds the tiebreaker over Graham Harrell and has claim to the No. 1 spot on B/R's top college football quarterbacks of all time. 

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