Connor Shaw has won more games than any quarterback in South Carolina history.
COLUMBIA, S.C.—At the risk of rushing to judgement, the events of the last three years almost demand that Connor Shaw be labeled as the South Carolina Gamecocks' greatest quarterback.
At least one person has already said it.
"Connor Shaw, best quarterback in school history," declared South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier moments after the Gamecocks ran their record to 10-2 with a 31-17 victory over Clemson.
Even when taken within the context and passion of the moment, Spurrier is spot-on accurate.
There's really not much need to pause and reflect. Shaw is the best.
With one game remaining in his college career, Shaw has the most victories of any starting quarterback in school history (26), is unbeaten at home (17-0) and will wind up with the best career completion percentage and the most rushing yards by a quarterback.
He'll also be ranked highly in most other statistical categories despite fewer career starts than the others near the top of the list.
Yet Shaw's unquestioned presence at No. 1 is not a matter of mere statistics.
Shaw wins. Simple as that. He does it with his arm, with his legs, with his heart, his head and his very soul.
Exhibit A: His performance against fifth-ranked and unbeaten Missouri. Shaw was supposed to be out for two weeks with a knee sprain, but with the Gamecocks trailing 17-0, he came off the bench and completed 20 of 29 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns in South Carolina's 27-24 victory in double overtime.
It was a career-defining performance.
Who then, if not Shaw, is the greatest Gamecock quarterback ever?
To be honest, South Carolina's football history is not exactly littered with great quarterbacks, if only using the NFL as a barometer.
Only two Gamecock quarterbacks have ever been drafted. Jeff Grantz was selected in the 17th round by the Miami Dolphins in 1976 and Todd Ellis was a ninth-round pick of the Denver Broncos in 1990.
Only three quarterbacks have wound up on NFL rosters.
Bill Troup played for the Baltimore Colts from 1974-78 and the Green Bay Packers in 1980. Anthony Wright, the ultimate journeyman quarterback, played for five different teams over an eight-year NFL career from 1999 to 2007. Phil Petty was on the Tennessee Titans' roster in 2002.
Grantz and Ellis are definitely in the conversation when it comes to the discussion of the greatest South Carolina quarterbacks ever.
The others are but a footnote.
Wright had exceptional talent but had the misfortune of playing on mediocre Gamecock teams, and he was also injured his senior year. Among the pantheon of South Carolina quarterbacks, he is definitely No. 1 on the "what might have been" scale.
Petty was a fan favorite who played over and beyond his talent level and guided the Gamecocks to back-to-back bowl victories for the first time in school history. He deserves "honorable mention" status when it comes to best quarterback.
Troup barely played at South Carolina but was a classic pro-style quarterback good enough to make an NFL roster as a a backup.
In truth, South Carolina's quarterback legacy is more defined by players with guts, grit and guile, who made the most out of the talent that surrounded them. Good leaders, warriors who found a way to win.
Tommy Suggs passed for nearly 5,000 yards during an era when few teams threw the ball, and he led South Carolina to three consecutive victories over Clemson and the school's only conference championship (ACC, 1969).
Grantz was an option quarterback in the days when the Gamecocks ran the veer offense and had two 1,000-yard rushers in the backfield in fullback Kevin Long and tailback Clarence Williams.
Arguably the best athlete to play quarterback for the Gamecocks, Grantz ran for 1,577 yards and 26 touchdowns during his career, and his slight of hand running that option offense was the slickest shell game in college football.
Grantz's rushing touchdowns remain the most in school history for a quarterback, and his rushing yardage is second among quarterbacks only to Shaw.
Ellis was the most highly regarded quarterback recruit in South Carolina history. Every school in the nation, including the likes of Stanford, wanted to sign him.
Despite having to play for four different offensive coordinators over his career, Ellis still holds a number of school records, including career passing yards (9,953).
Steve Taneyhill belongs in the conversation. If flash counted equally with substance, Taneyhill would top the list, thanks to a mullet hairdo with a ponytail hanging out the back of his helmet, pantomimed home run swings after touchdown passes, and the exaggerated "signing of the Tiger paw" at midfield after beating Clemson on the road in 1992.
He completed 60.5 percent of his passes for 8,782 yards and a school-record 62 touchdowns.
Nevertheless, all things considered, Shaw belongs at the top of the heap.
He has the numbers. He has the guts. He has the heart of a champion.
Most of all, he's a winner, the greatest winner the Gamecocks have ever seen.
Until further notice, he's No. 1.
All quotes obtained first hand, unless otherwise noted.