A great college quarterback has a mythical quality to them. Their exploits are retold as larger than life stories rife with superhuman feats and heroic achievement. There is perhaps no fan base that holds its players more dear than Texas Longhorns fans. To be a superior player in the most football-crazy state in the nation is to be something beyond definition.
However, stats alone cannot attain such a lofty position. If they did then Chris Simms would be one of the most well-thought QBs to ever play for the Longhorns, but his propensity to underwhelm in big games has left him out of the discussion.
And while beating Oklahoma would seem to be the one sure-fire way to the top, Peter Gardere, who is still the only Horns signal-caller to beat the Sooners four times, is not amongst the first names thought of by Texas fans.
So where does current quarterback Colt McCoy fall in this discussion?
That McCoy is one of the greatest quarterbacks in the long history of Texas football is indisputable, but can he be THE greatest quarterback to ever sport the burnt orange? Certainly there are more than a few players worthy of that mantle. Foremost among them is the man that preceded him, Vince Young.
Young was a football player of lore long before he ever stepped onto the field at DKR. The Houston product is considered one of the most high profile recruits in college football history, his high school career and subsequent school choice made for high drama in the Lone Star state.
After redshirting his freshman year, Young split time with Chance Mock his first year before becoming the full time starter his sophomore year. Young made the most of his opportunity leading the Horns to an 11-1 record and a victory in the 2005 Rose Bowl.
A year later Young championed what is considered by many to be the Longhorns greatest season ever: a 13-0 record and victory over previously undefeated USC in the 2006 Rose Bowl/National Championship game.
Though Young put up impressive stats, his greatest quality was never his arm or even his unparalleled running ability, instead Vince carved out his legacy by his clutch performances. The two Rose Bowl victories are amongst the most impressive individual performances in college football history and certainly the most high profile. Young also had a high profile win over Ohio State at the Horseshoe in 2005.
Young had consecutive comebacks against Oklahoma state in 2004 and 2005. In the 2004 game, the Horns were down 35-7 in the second quarter before rattling off 49 unanswered points to win 56-35, and in 2005 the Cowboys looked poised to ruin the Horns dream season when they led 28-12 at half, but Young's 80 yard TD run to kick off the second half sparked the Horns to a 47-28 victory.
Last but not least is Young's comeback win over Kansas in 2004 which prompted a infamous rant from rotund KU coach Mark Mangino.
Before Young though, there was James Street. Street was never the most imposing player on the field, standing at 5-11, but his will to win was unrivaled. Street left Austin with an incredible 20-0 record as a starting quarterback including wins in the "Game of the Century" matchup with Arkansas in 1969, and a fourth quarter comeback over Notre Dame in the 1970 Cotton Bowl to cement the national championship.
Street holds a special spot in the hearts of many hardcore Horns fans for his never-say-die attitude and his remarkable success.
Bobby Layne never won a national championship, but that didn't prevent him from making four consecutive All-Southwest Conference teams. Layne had marquee wins over Missouri in the 1946 Cotton Bowl and Alabama in the 1948 Sugar Bowl. In the former, Layne accounted for each of UT's 47 points.
Though Layne was not the most athletic player on the field, and infact was as well known for his partying as his football play, any list that talks about great Longhorns QBs has to have Layne amongst them.
A player in the mold of Bobby Layne in terms of leadership overcoming a lack of elite athletic ability is Major Applewhite. Applewhite was caught in the middle of the Chris Simms era, and thus was often forced to the bench in favor of the elite recruit and son of former NFL great Phil Simms.
However, when given the opportunity, Applewhite excelled. The defining moments of Applewhite's career came at the tail end of it. After Simms became injured in a game where he turned the ball over four times to Colorado in the 2001 Big 12 championship game, Applewhite led a Texas comeback though would ultimately fall short by two points.
That performance was enough to earn him the starting job in his final college appearance, against Washington in the 2001 Holiday Bowl. The Horns overcame a 16 point fourth quarter deficit and won the game 47-43.
Applewhite's legacy in Austin has been furthered by his decision to turn down more high profile coaching positions to return to UT and join the Longhorns coaching staff.
So where does McCoy fall in this discussion. He has already set almost every major passing record in Texas history, and has more career wins than Vince Young.
He was one Michael Crabtree reception away from a Heisman trophy win and BCS Championship appearance. Not to mention that he is perhaps the most accurate quarterback in college football history, having broken the single season completion percentage record in 2008.
McCoy has big time wins, most notably comeback wins over Oklahoma and Ohio State last season. His small town upbringing makes him one of the more unlikely stars in Texas history. Plus, his determination and knack for winning along with his "aw shucks" attitude has made him one of the most well-liked players to ever play for UT.
However, his career will likely be decided by what he and the Horns do in the 2009 season. McCoy, along with Florida's Tim Tebow and Oklahoma's Sam Bradford, makeup perhaps the best returning group of quarterbacks in college history, and the Horns road the national championship certainly goes through Bradford and likely ends with a Pasadena clash with Tim Tebow.
While last year's Texas team was able to fly below the radar for the first part of the season, this year's team will not be afforded such a luxury. The Horns are likely to start the season as the nation's number-two ranked team, and that Red River Rivalry game between McCoy and Bradford is already anticipated as one of the fiercest in an incredibly fierce rivalry.
However, while Colt McCoy may not now be considered the best in Longhorns history, a national chamionship win next year would likely cement that legacy for McCoy, and many Horns fans would be more than happy to bestow that title in return for the championship.