Power Ranking the Most Clutch Quarterbacks in College Football

Greg Wallace@gc_wallaceFeatured ColumnistMay 14, 2014

With 75 seconds left in the BCS National Championship, Florida State needed a big drive. And quickly.

Auburn had just landed the latest punch of a wild fourth quarter: Tre Mason’s 37-yard touchdown run gave the Tigers a 31-27 lead, drawing them ever closer to their second national championship in four seasons.

In Florida State’s huddle, redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston gathered his offense around him. “We didn’t come here for no reason,” he later told ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi. “We got this.”

He was right.

Winston led a remarkable 80-yard drive that concluded with the game-winning touchdown pass to a leaping Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds left, sealing the Seminoles’ 34-31 national title victory.

The concept of a “clutch” quarterback has been tossed about repeatedly over the past few seasons, a talking point beaten to death on talk radio shout-fests and TV debate shows.

The shouting can be tiresome, but applying numbers to the tumult adds substance.

Fortunately, we can do just that. The advent of specialized and advanced stats makes it easy to categorize which quarterbacks are truly “clutch".

Using CFBStats.com, we were able to break down quarterbacks’ performance by quarter, with a number of statistics (most notably quarterback rating) measured.

Who had the highest fourth-quarter quarterback rating? None other than Winston, who boasted a rating of 210.7. It was nearly 36 points higher than his full-season rating of 184.8.

Winston finished 10th overall in quarterback rating and was also third in third-quarter quarterback rating, rolling up a 193.5.

It is an interesting stat, given Florida State’s astounding dominance last fall. The Seminoles won 12 of 14 games by at least 30 points, six games by 40 points or more and five games by 50-plus points.

For Winston, the fourth quarter didn’t matter much. Before the BCS title game, Florida State won only one game by less than 20 points, a 48-34 comeback win over Boston College. That day, FSU outscored BC 10-7 in the fourth quarter. For the day, Winston completed 17 of 27 passes for 330 yards, four touchdowns and an interception. Even then, FSU entered the fourth quarter with a 38-27 lead.

But when Florida State needed him most against Auburn, Winston delivered, leading a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown drives and finishing a comeback from a 21-3 first-half deficit.

Who was No. 2 in fourth-quarter quarterback rating behind Winston? Another leader of a BCS contender: Oregon’s Marcus Mariota. Last fall, Mariota boasted a 207.7 fourth-quarter rating, with eight touchdowns, one interception and 455 yards while completing 74.5 percent of his passes.

Like Florida State, Oregon was largely dominant last fall. The Ducks won 10 of their 11 games by more than 20 points and won four games by 40-plus points. But when Oregon was challenged, Mariota was at the top of his game.

Oregon couldn’t have played more poorly in the first three quarters of its top-10 showdown against Stanford, entering the fourth quarter down 23-0. But Mariota led a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown drives bookending a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown, making a 26-20 loss look respectable.

In the regular season finale against arch-rival Oregon State, Oregon got the ball down 35-30 with 1:38 left. Mariota directed a touchdown drive capped by a 12-yard touchdown toss to Josh Huff with 29 seconds left, sealing a wild 36-35 win.

That came a week after a disappointing 42-16 loss at Arizona which ended the Ducks’ BCS hopes, thus enabling Oregon to end the regular season with some pride.

Are fourth-quarter stats a be-all, end-all way to determine clutchness? No.

Top 10 Returning Fourth Quarter Passers
QuarterbackProgramYear2013 Rating
Jameis WinstonFlorida StateSophomore210.7
Marcus MariotaOregonJunior207.7
Grant HedrickBoise StateSenior186.6
Bryce PettyBaylorSenior185.4
Shane CardenEast CarolinaSenior166.8
Keenan ReynoldsNavyJunior163.9
Ben McLaneGeorgia StateJunior163.4
Joe LicataBuffaloJunior162.9
Brooks HaackLouisiana-LafayetteSophomore162.4
Chandler WhitmerUConnSenior159.1

New Clemson starter Cole Stoudt finished No. 28 last season in fourth-quarter rating with a mark of 152.89, tied with Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater. But he threw only 31 passes in relief of senior Tajh Boyd, exclusively in games that Clemson had well in hand.

Winston threw only 36 fourth-quarter passes all season, spread over eight games.

Georgia State’s Ben McLane was 13th in fourth-quarter passer rating despite playing in only four games. Louisiana-Lafayette’s Brooks Haack was 15th, playing in only four games, and UConn’s Chandler Whitmer was 17th, playing in only three fourth quarters.

But the top 11 fourth-quarter passers all led postseason qualifiers, and they included some of the biggest names in college football and the recent NFL draft.

Behind Mariota, Alabama’s A.J. McCarron was third, with Boise State’s Grant Hedrick fourth, Baylor’s Bryce Petty fifth, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel sixth, LSU’s Zach Mettenberger seventh, Central Florida’s Blake Bortles eighth, Oklahoma State’s Clint Chelf ninth, Vanderbilt’s Austyn Carta-Samuels tenth and East Carolina’s Shane Carden eleventh.

Add in Winston and Mariota, and you have the last three BCS national championships, the last two Heisman Trophy winners, four of 2013’s BCS quarterbacks and two 2014 NFL first-round draft picks.

No wonder being “clutch” is so important.

And if the stats bear themselves out this season, you can count on Florida State, Oregon, Boise State, Baylor and East Carolina when the chips are down and the outcome really matters.


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