Oklahoma Football: 10 Best Quarterbacks in School History
Whenever you're making a top-10 list of anything, there's bound to be some controversy. These lists are normally based on subjective opinion, rather than fact.
When it comes to making a list of the 10 greatest quarterbacks to ever play at the University of Oklahoma, subjective opinion gets in the way more than ever.
Due to the style of which college football has changed, the quarterback position has continued to evolve. This is especially true when it comes to Oklahoma football. The Sooners, who now run a spread attack offense that throws the ball the majority of every game, once ran a Wishbone offense that produced run-heavy offensive attacks.
How do you compare a player like current Sooner quarterback Landry Jones to a Wishbone quarterback who threw the ball less times in his career than Jones does in a season?
Subjective opinion. Let the controversy begin.
10: Paul Thompson
Career Stats: 3,084 passing yards, 26 touchdowns, 14 interceptions; 335 rushing yards, six touchdowns
PT! I might be a bigger fan of Paul Thompson than most, but I love what Thompson did during his stint at Oklahoma.
Thompson was first recruited as a quarterback. However, after Thompson got barely any playing time at quarterback during his first three seasons, the coaching staff thought it would be a good idea to convert him to wide receiver in order for the Sooners to use his athleticism.
As a junior, Thompson caught 11 passes for 106 yards and showed flashes of promise at the wide receiver position. However, for his senior year in 2006, Thompson was once again asked to switch positions—this time back to quarterback.
Thompson played great that season, completing 204 passes for 2,667 yards, 22 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He also ran for 151 yards and three touchdowns. Thompson's surprising play led the Sooners to an 11-3 record and a conference championship over the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
In his only bowl appearance as a starting quarterback, Thompson drew the unfortunate task of going up against the (then) unheralded and hungry Boise State Broncos. I think we all remember how that ended...
For being a starting quarterback for only one season, Thompson is still No. 8 on Oklahoma's career passing yards list.
9: Nate Hybl
Career Stats: 4,916 passing yards, 40 touchdowns, 23 interceptions; four rushing touchdowns
I feel like Nate Hybl sometimes doesn't get the recognition he deserves and maybe that includes his No. 9 ranking on this list. I wanted to put him higher on this list; I just couldn't bring myself to do it.
If you can remember back to 2001, it was Nate Hybl who started the season at quarterback, not Jason White. Hybl actually got hurt against Texas, and that allowed White to come in, play well and take over the starting gig.
However, White's first ACL injury came later in the season against Nebraska, and Hybl once again got his chance to shine. The Sooners ended up losing that game to Nebraska, but Hybl led his team to an 11-2 overall record, including a Cotton Bowl victory over the Arkansas Razorbacks.
The next season, it was White who beat Hybl out for the starting job, but after another ACL tear in the second game of the season, White was rendered useless for the rest of the season. Hybl, again, took the reigns of the team, led the Sooners to a 12-2 record, a conference championship and a Rose Bowl shellacking of Washington State.
That was Hybl's senior year, and his on-field ability didn't go unnoticed, as he went on to play in the NFL for both the Cleveland Browns and Jacksonville Jaguars. Unfortunately, he was just a backup on both teams.
Hybl was never an All-American or a Heisman Trophy winner like some other names on this list, but he was tough, had a great arm and went undefeated in bowl games.
Not too shabby.
8: Cale Gundy
Career Stats: 6,142 passing yards, 35 touchdowns, 31 interceptions; 247 rushing yards, 16 touchdowns
Cale Gundy, who is now the running backs coach for the Oklahoma Sooners, spent the mid-1990's battling with Steve Collins for quarterback supremacy.
Collins was awarded the starting position as a redshirt sophomore in 1990, but Gundy took over quarterbacking duties six games into the season and never looked back. Though the competition was still there, Gundy was named the starting quarterback for the next three years.
Gundy never finished with a record better than 9-3 (1991, 1993), and he was never awarded with All-American contention, but Gundy finished his career with over 6,000 passing yards which remains good enough for fifth all-time among OU quarterbacks.
Gundy also finished undefeated in bowl games. In 1991, he led the Sooners to a 48-14 beatdown over Virginia in the Gator Bowl, and in 1993, the Sooners took down conference foe Texas Tech in the Sun Bowl.
Unlike some of the other quarterbacks on this list, Gundy may have done the most with the least around him. That puts him just ahead of Paul Thompson and Nate Hybl, who both had great athletes around them.
7: J.C. Watts
Career Stats: 1,953 passing yards, eight touchdowns, 19 interceptions; 1,449 rushing yards, 35 touchdowns
Let's not kid ourselves. In terms of passing, J.C. Watts was not one of the top-10 quarterbacks in Oklahoma history. His eight touchdowns to 19 interceptions ratio for his career is not something you want out of a starting quarterback.
However, can we really classify Watts as a "real" quarterback? There have been more Oklahoma "quarterbacks" who have been known for their rushing ability rather than their throwing arm due to the Wishbone package the Sooners used to run.
Regardless, whatever you want to classify Watts as, there's no arguing he was solid at his job. In his first year as a starting quarterback (1979), Watts (and Billy Sims) led the Sooners to an 11-1 record, suffering their only loss to the Texas Longhorns.
Watts and Sims carried the load against No. 4 Florida State in the Orange Bowl that year, completing the upset in a commanding fashion, 24-7.
The 1980 season played out almost the exact same—Watts leads the Sooners to a 10-2 record, including another Orange Bowl victory over a higher ranked Florida State team.
After graduating from Oklahoma, Watts went on to play five seasons in the CFL before retiring in 1986 to pursue a career in politics.
6: Steve Davis
Career Stats: 1,973 passing yards, 21 touchdowns, 17 interceptions; 2,069 rushing yards
Steve Davis comes in at No. 6 on this list, following fellow Wishbone quarterback J.C. Watts at No. 7. While Davis and Watts posted similar statistics, Davis definitely has two things that Watts didn't ever bring to the table: efficiency and national championships.
Davis manned the quarterback position for the Sooners during the 1973-1975 seasons. Davis was never a great passing quarterback, as his highest completion rating during his stint as a starter came in at 41.8 percent, but he was great on the ground, totaling over 2,000 rushing yards in his three-year career.
Statistically, his best season came in 1973 when he led the Sooners to a 10-0-1 record. With no national championship game to be played, the Sooners finished No. 2 in the polls that season behind undefeated Notre Dame.
Davis went on to lead the Sooners to a national championship in both 1974 and 1975. In 1974, the Sooners went undefeated, absolutely steamrolling all their competition (except for a 16-13 victory over Texas). Then in 1975, the Sooners went 11-1, losing only in an upset to Kansas late in the season.
Still, that loss wasn't enough to keep the Sooners out of the Orange Bowl, where they beat Michigan 14-6 and were awarded the national championship.
5: Jamelle Holieway
Career Stats: 2,339 passing yards, 22 touchdowns, 15 interceptions; 2,713 rushing yards, 32 touchdowns
Injuries both helped and plagued Jamelle Holieway's career at the University of Oklahoma. In 1985, Troy Aikman was actually the starting quarterback for the Sooners, but an injury kept Aikman out for the rest of the season, and Holieway took over.
Holieway couldn't have played better, as he led the Sooners to an 11-1 record and their first national championship since 1975.
Aikman eventually transferred to UCLA where he had an illustrious career, but it's hard to argue what Holieway did for Oklahoma football. He fit the Sooners' offense perfectly and is likely the best option-quarterback in Oklahoma history.
While he did rush for 2,713 yards and 32 touchdowns, Holieway wasn't just all legs—he could actually throw the ball, too. Granted, the most pass attempts Holieway ever recorded in a season was 68, but he still finished his career with better than average passing statistics and a 141.53 passer efficiency rating.
Holieway tore his ACL against the Oklahoma State Cowboys late in the 1987 season, and even though he rehabbed in the offseason, he wasn't at all the same option-quarterback in the 1988 season. After re-injuring his knee against Texas in 1988, Holieway lost his starting job to Charles Thompson.
To this day, Holieway remains the top rushing quarterback in Oklahoma football history, and with the spread offense taking charge, he will likely remain the top rushing quarterback for quite some time.
4: Landry Jones
Career Stats: 12,379 passing yards, 93 touchdowns, 41 interceptions; three rushing touchdowns
Some may believe that current Sooner quarterback Landry Jones should be higher on this list due to the fact that he is already Oklahoma's record holder for passing yards and touchdowns, but don't let the records fool you: Jones isn't the best.
I'm not being a Jones hater when I say that, either. There are three quarterbacks who have outperformed Jones while at Oklahoma, because performances go farther than just stats.
Jones was fortunate enough to take the quarterbacking reins from Sam Bradford during his freshman season—this gave him time to mature as a quarterback and compile his grotesque amount of passing yards and touchdowns. Jones has also been fortunate enough to play in a pass-first, spread offense.
In 2010, arguably Jones' best season as a Sooner, he threw 617 passes. That's 117 more pass attempts than Josh Heupel's most (500), 134 more pass attempts than Sam Bradford's most (483) and 166 more pass attempts than Jason White's most (451).
There's no wonder his stats are off the charts, but for anybody who has seen Jones play, it's evident that he still has room to improve. Coming back for his senior season was a wise decision, and he'll need to work on his mobility and pocket presence before he ventures into the NFL.
Despite what it may sound like, I do believe that Landry Jones can move up on this list with a great senior season. Landry Jones has never lost in a bowl game, so hopefully he'll end his career 3-0 with a national championship.
3: Josh Heupel
Career Stats: 6,852 passing yards, 50 touchdowns, 29 interceptions; 46 rushing yards, 12 touchdowns
Current Oklahoma Sooners offensive coordinator Josh Heupel will forever be remembered as the quarterback that helped bring Oklahoma football back to the top.
Of course, head coach Bob Stoops' arrival in 1999 probably helped a little, too. As a junior (in 1999), Heupel led the Sooners to a 7-5 record—the Sooners' first winning season in five years. Then as a senior in 2000, Heupel led an overachieving Sooners' squad to an undefeated season and a national championship.
The Sooners were a 10.5 point underdog in the national championship game to Florida State, but a scary defensive performance and Heupel's refusal to lose made the 2000 Sooners team go down in history.
Heupel's two-year stint as the Oklahoma starting quarterback will be most remembered for his national championship win, but he also finished that season as a consensus All-American and a Heisman Trophy finalist.
Unfortunately, Heupel placed second in the Heisman Trophy voting to Florida State quarterback Chris Weinke, but I think it's safe to say that Heupel got his revenge.
2: Jason White
Career Stats: 7,922 passing yards, 81 touchdowns, 24 interceptions; two rushing touchdowns
Do you ever stop to think what might have been when it comes to Jason White's career and his unforgiving knee problems?
Despite redshirting, beginning two seasons as a backup and tearing both of his ACLs, White still finished his career with nearly 8,000 passing yards and 81 touchdowns to only 24 interceptions. His 153.47 passer efficiency rating ranks as the third highest in Oklahoma history.
After coming off his final reconstructive knee surgery, White was virtually immobile. The Sooners ran the majority of their plays out of shotgun to give White more time in the pocket. While it would seem like playing an immobile quarterback would be a terrible decision, White's 2003 season became decorated with awards and honors.
White was a consensus All-American, AP Player of the Year, Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, the Davey O'Brien Award recipient, the Jim Thorpe Courage Award recipient, and, most importantly, the Heisman Trophy recipient.
White also led the Sooners to both the Big 12 championship and the national championship that season. However, the Sooners came up short in both games. Still, White had a terrific career at Oklahoma, and we will forever wonder what he could have been without the knee injuries.
1: Sam Bradford
Career Stats: 8,403 passing yards, 88 touchdowns, 16 interceptions; 36 rushing yards, five touchdowns
No surprises here. Did you expect anyone else?
After a great freshman season, Bradford led the Sooners to the national championship game in 2008 against Florida while being the catalyst to the nation's best offense. Unfortunately, the Sooners came up short against Florida's stifling defense.
This scenario played out the exact opposite of what happened in 2000. Bradford won the Heisman over Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, the two went on to meet in the national championship and Tebow's gutsy playing and Florida's defensive performance gave them the victory.
Bradford could have been the No. 1 selection in the NFL draft following his 2008 season, but he elected to come back to school with the hopes of competing for a national championship again—and there was no doubt the Sooners would once again be one of the best in the country.
However, the injury bug hit hard that season, and it started with Sam Bradford in the season opener against BYU. Bradford suffered a third-degree AC joint sprain that sidelined him for three weeks. Bradford was able to return to lead the Sooners to a win over Baylor, but the next week he re-injured his shoulder and had to undergo season-ending shoulder surgery.
Bradford entered the 2010 NFL draft, was drafted No. 1 overall by the St. Louis Rams and is their current starting quarterback.
Bradford's two-year career as the starting quarterback at Oklahoma was impressive in every regard—stats, awards, leadership, etc. He is the most efficient quarterback in Oklahoma history with a 175.62 passer efficiency rating.
It was rare to see Bradford make mistakes while in an Oklahoma uniform, and it will likely be awhile before Sooner fans see a quarterback perform at that level again.