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USC Football: 10 Best Quarterbacks in School History

Ross DautelContributor IIIApril 2, 2012

USC Football: 10 Best Quarterbacks in School History

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    It's no secret that very few schools boast a more impressive quarterback fraternity than USC.

    The quarterback has been an instrumental position in the success of the Trojans over the years, but the question remains: Who is the best quarterback ever to wear the Cardinal and Gold throughout the storied history of the program?

    Without further ado, let's take a look at the 10 greatest signal-callers in USC football history, starting with No. 10.

10. Vince Evans (1975-1976)

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    There are a number of deserving candidates for the 10th place on this list, but Evans, the MVP of the 1977 Rose Bowl, did just enough during his USC career to edge them out.

    During his 1976 campaign, Evans threw for 1,440 yards while guiding USC to a top five national ranking and a Rose Bowl.

    While his career passing numbers pale in comparison to a player like Rob Johnson (who is not on this list), Evans knew how to win the big game.

    He defeated No. 2 UCLA, No. 13 Notre Dame and No. 2 Michigan (in the Rose Bowl) in three consecutive contests, whereas Johnson was never able to taste victory against USC's biggest rivals.

    Many consider USC's 1976 team to be the Trojans' best team never to win a national title. Under Evans' leadership, the Men of Troy cruised to victory in 11 straight games after falling to No. 8 Missouri in the season opener.

    Evans wasn't the most prolific passer to ever wear a USC jersey, but he is still credited with leading one of the Trojans' best teams, which is reason enough to put him on the list.

9. Mike Rae (1972)

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    Rae was the starting quarterback for just one year while at USC, but the team he led is still considered to be one of the best in college football history.

    The 1972 Trojans went a perfect 12-0 and wrapped up the season with a convincing Rose Bowl victory over No. 3 Ohio State that resulted in a national championship.

    The Trojans implemented a strong rushing attack led by Anthony Davis and Sam Cunningham that took a bit of pressure off Rae. Despite only throwing five touchdowns all year long, it was Rae's ability to lead his team that has him ranked on this list.

    A year before in 1971, USC finished with a modest 6-4-1 record, and entering the 1972 season, USC was not at the forefront of the national championship picture.

    However, behind Rae's leadership, the Trojans plowed through their schedule, only letting one team get within double digits of them all year long.

    Rae may not be as statistically sound as some other Trojan gunslingers, but the fact that he led his team to a national championship against all odds speaks wonders to his leadership ability and certainly earns him a spot on the list.

8. Mark Sanchez (2008)

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    Sanchez only played one season at USC, but what a season it was.

    The current quarterback of the New York Jets totaled 3,965 yards during his 2008 campaign, the eighth-highest total put up by a USC quarterback in school history.

    Perhaps more impressively, Sanchez's 3,965 career passing yards rank 12th all time among Trojan quarterbacks despite the fact that Sanchez was only the starter for one full season.

    USC won the Rose Bowl during Sanchez's lone season on campus and the Trojans were able to beat both UCLA and Notre Dame during that year.

    There's no telling how high Sanchez could have flown up this list had he stayed for his senior season at USC, but even though he only suited up for one year, the former first-round pick still did enough to place himself among the best of all time at his position.

7. John David Booty (2006-2007)

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    Say what you will about Booty, but the fact of the matter is that he knows how to win and that's essentially all he did during his time in Troy.

    In 23 starts over his two-year career, Booty went 20-3 for USC, winning back-to-back Rose Bowls for the Trojans in 2007 and 2008.

    His 6,135 yards rank sixth all time at USC and his 55 touchdowns are good enough for fifth in school history.

    Booty had the unappealing task of following in the footsteps of Matt Leinart, which resulted in a tremendous amount of pressure being placed on his shoulders.

    However, Booty handled it well, and while his tenure at USC may be marred by costly upset losses to UCLA in 2006 and Stanford in 2007, there is no denying his entire body of work certainly warrants a spot on this list.

6. Rodney Peete (1985-1988)

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    To this day, Peete ranks as USC's fourth-most prolific passer, tossing for 8,225 yards during his four-year Trojan career in which he started 40 games.

    During his senior season, Peete threw for 2,812 yards, led USC to a 10-2 record on the season that ended with a Rose Bowl appearance and finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting only to future Hall of Famer, Barry Sanders.

    That year Peete also won the Johnny Unitas Award, given to the nation's top senior quarterback. He was named the Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year and achieved All-American status.

    At the end of the day, Peete never won a bowl game, let alone a national championship, which is the main reason he finds himself just sixth on this list. If the hierarchy were based plainly on statistics, Peete would easily rank among the top five.

5. Matt Barkley (2009-Present)

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    The best part about Matt Barkley is that he still has another chapter to write in his USC career ,and when it's all said and done, the rising senior quarterback could find himself alone atop this list.

    Due in large part to sanctions, Barkley hasn't enjoyed the team success that other quarterbacks on this list have, but that doesn't mean his statistics are in any way inferior.

    Barkley's 9,054 yards are third all time behind only Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart. His 80 touchdowns are second only to Leinart, who threw for 99 during his illustrious Trojan career.

    With the 2012 season still to come, it's almost a foregone conclusion that Barkley will take over the top spots on both of those lists when his career comes to a close.

    Barkley came away with a victory in his only postseason contest against Boston College in the Emerald Bowl, but it's his 5-0 record against UCLA and Notre Dame that resonates in the hearts of the Trojan faithful.

    While all these accolades are noteworthy, it's Barkley's action off the field that has him ranked this highly without ever winning a Rose Bowl, Heisman Trophy or national championship.

    Barkley was dealt a tremendously challenging hand with the sanctions being handed down to USC right in the middle of his collegiate career. However, the rising senior handled it admirably by keeping his team together and willing them to an 18-7 record during the two-year bowl ban.

    If Barkley can continue to shine in 2012, expect his name to shoot way up on this list, especially if he can tack on a Rose Bowl or national championship.

4. Pat Haden (1973-1974)

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    Haden was the ringleader during one of the most storied eras in program history, which included a national championship in 1974 and a miraculous comeback against Notre Dame the same year.

    Statistically speaking, Haden isn't as impressive as others on this list as he only totaled 3,228 yards and 33 touchdowns in his USC career. However, when memorable moments are taken into consideration, Haden has as strong of a case as anyone.

    First off, Haden was apart of the 1972 Trojan team that won the national championship and is still regarded to this day as one of the greatest teams in college football history.

    The Trojans also played in three Rose Bowls during Haden's tenure, winning two of them.

    Haden's 3-1 record against rivals UCLA and Notre Dame is impressive and it includes the 1974 victory over the Irish in which USC trailed 24-6 at halftime, only to storm back to win in resounding fashion, 55-24.

    Haden was the leader of USC during its glory days and few players will be able to match what he accomplished during just two seasons as a starter.

3. Paul McDonald (1978-1979)

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    McDonald barely edges out Haden for the third spot on this list due in large part to his superior overall record and passing numbers.

    While both quarterbacks won a national championship as a starter (Haden in 1972, McDonald in 1978), McDonald put up better numbers through the air (4,138 to Haden's 3,228) and his record of 21-1-1 is slightly more impressive than Haden's of 19-3-2.

    It's tough to ignore McDonald's two Rose Bowl victories as well as his spotless 4-0 record against the Trojans' biggest rivals, UCLA and Notre Dame.

    While he may not receive the same notoriety as some of USC's more recent quarterbacks, McDonald, an All-American in 1979, should still be in the conversation when it comes to discussing the best quarterback in Trojan history.

2. Carson Palmer (2000-2002)

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    Few USC quarterbacks will ever match Palmer's statistical production while at Troy.

    During his three-year stint as starting quarterback, Palmer amassed a school-best 11,818 yards to go with 72 touchdowns, the third-highest total ever for a Trojan.

    Palmer also threw for a single-season school record of 3,942 yards in 2002, a total that has withstood the likes of Mark Sanchez, Matt Leinart, John David Booty and Matt Barkley during their careers at USC.

    While Palmer still holds multiple school records, perhaps his greatest accomplishment at USC was guiding his team to an 11-2 record in 2002 that culminated with an Orange Bowl victory over Iowa.

    Palmer took home the Heisman Trophy in 2003, a year before it was awarded the man who holds the top spot on this list.

    While Palmer's individual statistics are certainly on par with his successors', his team accomplishments don't quite stack up with Leinart's, which is the main reason Palmer finds himself just shy of the top overall spot on this list.

1. Matt Leinart (2003-2005)

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    All things considered, Matt Leinart is without question the top signal-caller ever to don the Cardinal and Gold.

    Leinart's record at USC was 37-2, making him the winningest player in the history of the program.

    Leinart led USC during one of the program's greatest eras. He took the Trojans to an AP national title in 2003, a BCS championship in 2004 and an appearance in the national championship in 2005.

    Yes, Leinart may have had more talent around him than some of the other quarterbacks on this list, but he certainly made the most of it.

    The 2004 Heisman Trophy winner ranks second on the school's all-time passing list with 10,963 yards and tops the all-time touchdown lists with 99.

    In 2005, Leinart had the most productive offensive season of any USC player in school history when he threw for 3,851 yards and accounted for 38 total touchdowns.

    While a portion of Leinart's USC career has been tainted by sanctions, no one can take away from his list of accomplishments, which include being named to the Pac-10 first team three times and winning the Walter Camp Award (best player), Johnny Unitas Award (top senior quarterback) and Heisman Trophy.

    His professional career may not have panned out as well as he would have liked, but based on his individual and team achievements, there is no mistaking Matt Leinart as the best quarterback ever to play for the Trojans.

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