A Look Back: The Top 10 Pac-10 QB to WR Combinations Since 1990
The Pac-10 conference has long been known for their innovative offensive philosophies, playground style quarterbacks, and speedy athletes that overwhelmed the herculean defenses from east of the Rocky Mountains.
The stars have come and gone from the Pac-10. NFL Hall of Fame members walked the campuses from the great northwest, down to the hot deserts of Arizona, strolled the prestigious academic universities in the Bay Area, and took on the bright lights of Los Angeles.
The Pac-10 has had their fair share of coaches leading these offensive juggernauts year after year.
Bob Toledo and highly touted Cade Mcknown produced a "Hollywood action packed thrill ride" at UCLA in the late 90's.
Mike Bellotti propelled the Oregon program to a new level with Joey Harrington under center, and just down the road, Dennis Erickson and Mike Riley revitalized the Oregon State program in Corvallis.
The offenses in Tempe under Bruce Snyder and Dirk Koetter were nearly as hot as the temperature during sweltering Arizona summers.
Mike Price garnering much success in Pullman with Bledsoe, Leaf, and Gesser.
Jeff Tedford changed the whole mindset of the Golden Bears program, which peaked in 2004 when Tedford and Aaron Rodgers teamed up to win 10 games and nearly make the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1958.
However one coach knew how to stop the high powered passing attacks of the Pac-10, while relinquishing control of the offense to one Norm Chow.
The Pacific Ten record books have never been the same since USC's Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart took the stage at the historical L.A. Coliseum.
Take a look at a "Bleacher Report" tribute to the best passing attacks in the Pac-10 since 1990.
In 2005, Drew Olson Brings UCLA Football Back to Life With a Tight End
Although this pair is not the typical quarterback—wide receiver combination that was promised, however, they revived a program that had to watch their crosstown rivals win, and win a lot, since the Bruins glory days in the late 90s.
Drew Olson and Marcedes Lewis might not have had the numbers that other wideouts and signal callers on this list might have, but when these two were on the same page, and in 2005, there was no question that was indeed the case in Westwood.
The Karl Dorrell era began in 2003 with a near triumph in Boulder, Colorado on the opening weekend. As the story would play out, that was a first sign of how things would shape up for the Bruins and Dorrell.
UCLA rolled into Palo Alto for their 2003 contest with Stanford riding a five-game winning streak. Although the Bruins would pick up their last win of the season in October versus Arizona State.
Dorrell had a quarterback shuffle on his hands with Drew Olson and Matt Moore. The two battled it out and, in turn Moore later enrolled at Oregon State and Drew Olson began his life after his former competitor in Westwood.
As the starter for all 12 games in 2004, Olson exploded on offense and took hold of the leadership role for Karl Dorrell and UCLA during his junior season.
Early on during his career at UCLA, Olson's No. 1 receiver was Craig Bragg. The four-year starter ended with 2,845 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns in his career.
In 2005, Marcedes Lewis put to rest the question of who was going to step up for the aforementioned Bragg.
San Diego State could not stop the 6'6" Lewis. The Long Beach Polytechnic product hauled in seven passes for 131 yards. The scoring at Qualcomm Stadium was taken care of by the ground attack, and star in the making Maurice Jones-Drew.
Drew Olson teamed up with Marcedes Lewis and speedy running back Jones-Drew, put a streak of eight straight wins together, including two overtime wins.
However, the dream season that many in Los Angeles envisioned began to burn in the Sonoran Desert heat in Tucson.
A young Willie Tuitama and a gutsy Arizona Wildcat performance knocked Drew Olson and UCLA off the ranks of unbeaten on the first weekend in November.
Although the blame could not be placed on Olson who tossed two touchdowns and passed for over 230 yards in the blowout loss.
Lewis also lent a hand while catching both of Olson's TD passes and totaled over 130 yards on 11 catches.
The following week, the Bruins responded to beat a tough Sun Devil team at the Rose Bowl, 45-35.
Drew Olson threw five touchdowns. Lewis caught seven passes for over 100 yards and two touchdowns. Nothing new for these two.
With running back Maurice Jones-Drew adding enough balance to the UCLA offense on the ground and threw screen passes, the Bruins and offensive coordinator Tom Cable were poised to knock off USC, and finally end the streak of six straight losses at that time.
However, at the Coliseum in 2005, it was the Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush show. The Bruins were sent back to their Westwood campus with a 66-19 defeat in which the game never seemed to be close.
The Trojans overpowered the Bruins big hogs up front. When the clock hit zero, Olson was sacked a season high five times, and was pressured even more that afternoon.
This story does however end on a high note. Karl Dorrell took UCLA to a respectable bowl for the first time in five seasons. The Sun Bowl versus Northwestern gave UCLA, Olson, and Lewis another opportunity to show off their talent and teamwork.
Although this quarterback-tight end performance in 2005 did not end well following a rough loss to USC, the Bruins brought their same sluggish play to El Paso, TX in the first quarter.
Olson threw three interceptions in the contest but responded late in the game, throwing three touchdown passes. However, it was not Lewis who stepped up to rally the Bruins, it was Brandon Breazell who returned two kickoff returns to beat the Northwestern Wildcats.
To wrap up the 2005 season, Olson threw 34 touchdowns and only six interceptions. He threw for nearly 3,200 yards and finished with a quarterback rating of 161.59. Olson led the Bruins to their first 10-win season since 1998.
The only name above Olson on the passing list at UCLA is Cade McNown. McNown's spectacular 1998 season in which he passed for over 3,470 yards.
For Marcedes Lewis, the big tight end ended his career at UCLA as the Mackey Award winner in 2005, as the best tight end in the country.
Although these two Bruins might not get as much recognition as McNown and Farmer or Maddox and LaChapelle, these two student athletes played their hearts out for the UCLA Bruin fans.
Husak to Walters Helps Return the Cardinal to the Rose Bowl
Although this quarterback-wide receiver combination might not be the most memorable for conference fans in Palo Alto, Todd Husak and Troy Walters helped return Stanford to their first Rose Bowl game since 1971.
Todd Husak followed Chad Hutchinson at Stanford, and in virtually every category, there was no drop off at all. Hutchinson did have a better completion percentage, however, Husak became the first quarterback at Stanford to throw for over 3,000 yards since John Elway in 1982.
Although Elway had the better career in the NFL, Stanford fans appreciate the work that Husak and Walters put together during their 1999 Rose Bowl season.
Husak passed for 2,688 yards on 176 completions. Troy Walters hauled in 74 of Husak's 176 completions. Walters averaged 19.7 yards a catch for nearly 1,500 yards receiving.
However, in the end Tyrone Willingham and Stanford's journey came to an end against Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl.
Stanford lost 9-17 and the Badgers dominated on both sides of the ball in a physical Big Ten style game.
Husak tallied nearly 6,000 yards in his two seasons as starter, while Troy Walters led the Cardinal in receiving twice in 1997 (86 catches 1,206 yards) and 1999 (74 catches 1,456 yards).
Derek Hagan Quietly Re-Wrote the Pac-10 Receiving Records in Tempe
Although Shaun McDonald had the better single season performance in 2002, Andrew Walter and Derek Hagan were mainstays in the Pac-10's weekly air shows on Saturdays.
In 2002 Sun Devil quarterback Andrew Walter and wideout Shaun McDonald picked apart secondaries, McDonald caught a school record 87 passes for 1,405 yards and ended with 24 touchdowns.
However, the real story involves Derek Hagan. The current NFL receiver placed his name among the best ever in the conference when it comes to catching the football.
Although, the win-loss records in Tempe were not always good, Hagan led the Sun Devils and Dirk Koetter's high flying offense in receiving three straight seasons.
From 2002 to 2005 Hagan caught 258 passes, totaled nearly 4,000 yards, and caught 27 touchdowns.
The quarterback for Dirk Koetter and Arizona State wasn't half bad either.
Walter tossed 85 touchdowns passes in his Sun Devil career, leaving him at the top of the ASU leader board in front of Rudy Carpenter and Jake Plummer.
Walter also owns the top spot at ASU for passing yards in a career, standing at 10,617 yards.
Now during the Sun Devils two successful seasons with Walter throwing to McDonald in 2002, and Hagan in 2004. The Sun Devils reached the Holiday and Sun Bowl respectively.
Although Andrew Walter had a lot to say about their success virtually putting the Sun Devil team on his back during a 2002 contest in Eugene, Oregon when Walter passed for 536 yards.
In 2004 vs. UCLA, Walter threw six touchdown passes to beat UCLA at the Rose Bowl.
In 2004, the Walter to Hagan connection ended earlier than anticipated. Andrew Walter was knocked out of "The Big Game" vs Arizona, and Dirk Koetter handed over the reigns to Sam Keller.
Andrew Walter won 21 games as Arizona State's quarterback from 2002-2004. The Sun Devils reached the Holiday Bowl in 2002 and earned a Sun Bowl victory over Purdue.
Both of these Sun Devil performers have etched their name into the Pac-10 record books on the individual level. However, continued struggles in against the California programs led to the demise of offensive guru Dirk Koetter.
Aaron Rodgers to Geoff McArthur Catapulted the Golden Bears to Their First Bowl in Eight Years
Aaron Rodgers might have achieved success quicker than most other gunslingers in the Pac-10 in 2003. As a junior college transfer from Butte Community College in Oroville, California, Jeff Tedford tabbed the dual threat quarterback as the Bears starter in Week 5 against Illinois.
Interestingly enough, the Fighting Illini were the only school to offer Rodgers an opportunity to play straight out of high school.
The story about Rodgers does not heat up until the following game in Berkeley.
The Bear quarterback scored three times, twice through the air, and once on the ground. However, Reggie Robertson relieved Rodgers due to the starter injuring his index finger the previous week, while gifting the Trojans three turnovers in the span of four drives.
The triple overtime win however did not spark the Golden Bears to rack up a win streak.
Jeff Tedford's squad lost their next two contests to Oregon State in Berkeley and UCLA at the Rose Bowl.
Although the team did not hit the national media stage like the 2004 version of the Rodgers-led Bears, the stats for the quarterback and receiving tandem were better in '03.
Aaron Rodgers completed 215 of 349 passes for 2,903 yards.
Rodger's number one target Geoff McArthur turned into one of the nation's premier receivers entering the 2004 campaign. McArthur was already climbing up the ladder of best receivers in California history.
In 2004, the Golden Bears were out to knock off the mighty Southern California Trojans, and it took a nearly perfect quarterback and wide receiver combination to do so.
USC entered the contest with a 13-game winning streak, but Rodgers wanted to quickly silence the overflow crowd at the Coliseum.
After completed his first 23 passes, Rodgers was on pace to do the unthinkable—knock off the Trojans.
Although, turnovers were the reason why Cal lost to USC on that October evening. Rodgers certainly was not the reason, completing 29 of 34 passes for 267 yards and a touchdown to Geoff McArthur in the second quarter to cut the USC lead to three.
In the end Matt Leinart and Dwayne Jarrett connected on a 16-yard pass to seal the deal in Los Angeles and beat the Bears 23-17.
Rodgers and McArthur would then help lead the Golden Bears to seven straight victories, including a late season rescheduled game versus Southern Miss that brought back memories of UCLA vs. Miami from 1998.
The Bears prevailed in the contest in Hattiesburg, however, the night would not end well for Cal fans, when all time receptions leader in Berkeley, Geoff McArthur suffered a broken leg.
During the press conference following the win, Jeff Tedford was asked about receiving a BCS Bid, and Tedford replied, "I would hope so".
The BCS bowl was not awarded, and the Golden Bears traveled down Interstate 5 to San Diego to take on Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl.
Texas Tech brought their high powered offense to show off, and the Bears had no answer.
This wide receiver-quarterback tandem might have ended differently if McArthur could have reeled in the "last-gasp-effort" against USC in 2004 to catapult the Golden Bears to a Rose Bowl birth.
The pair rewrote the Cal record books. McArthur totaled over 3,188 yards on 202 receptions in his four years in Berkeley. Although Pat Barnes had more passing yards than Rodgers in the mid 90s, Rodgers teamed up with Tedford to bring the Bears' program to another level.
While the duo were on campus for the Bears, they displayed one of the most prolific passing attacks in the Pac-10, however, fans in Berkeley will have to wait a little longer for their first Rose Bowl birth in 50 years.
Is it Bledsoe, Leaf, Gesser, or Brink as the Top QB for the Cougars?
There have been many quarterbacks in Washington State history to put up some spectacular numbers. Names such as Jack Thompson, Timm Rosenbach, and Mark Rypien come to mind.
However, since 1990 the Cougars have had an abundance of successful quarterbacks.
In the early 90s Bledsoe and Phllip Bobo had a great combination leading their respective categories in 1990 and 1991. However, it was in 1992 when Bledsoe completed 241 passes for 3,246 yards but his receiver of choice was C.J. Davis.
Davis hauled in over 1,000 yards on 63 receptions. In Bobo's two best seasons he nearly matched his statistics in each season. Catching 51 and 54 passes while gaining 758 yards and 759 yards during the '90 and '91 seasons.
Another Cougar signal caller that comes to mind is Ryan Leaf. Although, many fans in Pullman lost their taste for Ryan following his debacle in San Diego, his career statistics in Pullman still bring smiles to many Cougars.
With Ryan Leaf leading Washington State, the Cougars would have had the dream season if not for a heartbreaking loss to Michigan in the 1998 Rose Bowl game.
The 1997 season had only two setbacks, on the road to Arizona State, and the Wolverines in Pasadena.
Ryan Leaf and Kevin McKenzie led the cougars in Passing and Receiving statistics in '97. Leaf threw for almost 4,000 yards and McKenzie caught nearly a quarter of the passes Leaf completed that season.
The duo was fantastic, but the nod for the best Washington State QB since 1990 has to go to Jason Gesser.
Although Gesser did not have the same receiver to play catch with in all three seasons as a starter, the best tandem since 1990 must go to Gesser to McElrath in 2001.
The season would have been even more magical had the Cougars not slipped up against Oregon and in the Apple Cup versus Washington. The result was a Sun Bowl invitation to play the Purdue Boilermakers, and the duo ended the season putting on a show and earning the elusive 10th win of the season.
Gesser tallied over 3,000 yards on 199 completions and tossed 26 touchdowns.
Gesser's sidekick, McElrath hauled in 72 passes for 1,163 yards
However, McElrath did graduate following the 2001 Sun Bowl victory, the job for Gesser was not finished.
Gesser returned to Pullman, for his Senior season, and his goal was a Pac-10 championship. Gesser passed the Cougars to the Rose Bowl by nearly passing for 3,500 yards on 236 completions.
This time around, his receiver was Jerome Riley who filled in nicely with 929 yards receiving on 57 catches. But, the playmaker continued to be Gesser.
Gesser however, to some cougar fans is not loved as much as Bledsoe or Rosenbach due to his lack of success against Washington, however, during that period of time (2000-2003), the University of Washington was pretty dominant on the national stage.
Which Husky QB/WR Tandem Ranks as the Best?
Although Cody Pickett and Reggie Williams had a far better statistical tandem than Billy Joe Hobert and Mario Bailey, the nod has to go to Hobert and Bailey in 1991.
Cody Pickett and Reggie Williams both had sensational careers at Washington, however, the reason for not being ranked higher than Hobert and Bailey is for one simple reason. The 1991 undefeated National Championship.
Pickett totaled over 10,220 yards passing, while his receiver, Williams hauled in 3,598 yards.
Cody Pickett has the Washington Huskies record for most passing yards in a career, touchdown passes, pass completions, and pass attempts.
However, the one aspect that Pickett failed to reach was winning a Pac-10 Championship.
In 2001, Pickett did beat Michigan in the season opener, but failed to finish out the season with a blowout loss to Miami and a Holiday Bowl defeat at the hands of Texas.
In 2002, Pickett and Williams has their most successful seasons statistically, however, under Rick Nueheisel, the Huskies only achieved a 7-6 record and a loss to Purdue in the Sun Bowl.
The 2003 season was the first under Keith Gilbertson, and since then, the Huskies have been treading water.
During the Pickett and Williams era in Seattle, while leading their team in their individual statistical categories, the duo also managed to beat instate rival Washington State in 2001-2003.
As I mentioned, Hobert and Bailey achieved much greater success in terms of wins and a more nationally recognized performance in 1991.
This duo took their show on the road earning big wins over Nebraska, No. 7 California, and Southern California to earn their Rose Bowl birth against Michigan.
Mario Bailey was a tremendous receiver for Don James and the Husky faithful for his career, however, other than in 1991, his quarterback was Mark Brunell.
In '91, Billy Joe Hobert racked up 2,463 yards and completed 60 percent of his passes. Mario Bailey caught 68 passes for 1,163 yards. His averaged reception was 17 yards.
The tandem completed their season with a 34-14 Rose Bowl triumph over Michigan.
Keyshawn Johnson Paved the Way for His Fellow USC Receivers
Keyshawn Johnson's numbers at USC were tremendous. Johnson led the team in receiving twice in 1994 with Rob Johnson as his quarterback and in 1995 with Brad Otton under center.
No matter who was throwing the football, Johnson would go up and get it. Once the ball was in Keyshawn Johnson's hands, that is when the job got even tougher for defenders. Johnson's speed and size was a mountain that no defense would desire to climb.
Although Rob Johnson and Keyshawn Johnson never won a Rose Bowl together, their final game together was memorable. A 55-14 blowout victory over Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl, which set the tone for Keyshawn Johnson and the 1995 Trojans to dominate the Pac-10 slate.
However, with Brad Otton taking over at quarterback the Johnson to Johnson tandem was no more. Otton could not beat UCLA or Notre Dame that season and only drew even with Washington.
The season was a success in the end for USC, and the perfect way for Keyshawn to go out.
A Rose Bowl MVP.
With 12 receptions for 216 yards and a touchdown, he was named MVP.
Although Keyshawn Johnson might have even won a National Championship, if Rob Johnson had one more year of eligibility left in 1995, there is no question that Keyshawn Johnson earned his name as one of the best receivers in Pac-10 history.
Harrington to Howry: What All Duck Fans Loved to Hear in 2000 and 2001
Joey Harrington was the face of the Oregon Ducks program following A.J. Feeley. Harrington led the Ducks to back to back 10-plus win seasons in 2000 and 2001.
Joey Harrington and Keenan Howry became a combination that was feared from Seattle in the north, and down to Tucson in the south. Every school that faced this duo lost sleep leading up to the game on Saturday.
From 2000 to 2001 the Ducks lost to Wisconsin on the road, the Civil War to Dennis Erickson and the Oregon State Beavers, and a slip up at home against Stanford, which ultimately kept the Ducks from reaching the National Championship in 2001.
Nonetheless, Joey Harrington and Oregon probably deserved to play Miami in the National Championship game in the Rose Bowl, but the Ducks settled for a 38-16 drubbing of the Colorado Buffaloes.
Keenan Howry caught 52 passes in both 2000 and 2001, although his better year in terms of receiving yards was 2000, his kick returning skills came in handy in 2001 against Oregon State. A return that sent the Ducks into a melee of teams vying for the No. 1 spot.
Harrington, the leader of the Ducks offense under Mike Bellotti, and Heisman Trophy candidate, led Oregon with 2,967 yards in 2000 and 2,764 yards in 2001.
Harrington finished his Oregon Duck career with 59 touchdowns and a record of 25-3 as the Ducks starting quarterback.
If Only McNown and UCLA had Won a National Championship, How Los Angeles Might Be Different
Quite possibly one of the most heartbreaking ways to end a season, was witnessed first hand by the UCLA Bruins vs. Miami in 1998.
Cade McNown, Bob Toledo, and wide receiver Danny Farmer were hitting on all cylinders when it came to executing, play calling, and receiving. The Bruins won every single game on their schedule. No one could stop UCLA. Not the Texas Longhorns, not a late season trip to Corvallis or Husky Stadium, or not even cross town rival USC.
The only thing standing in the way of UCLA reaching the first ever BCS National Championship game, was a rescheduled game against the University of Miami.
A school record 20-game win streak was on the line as McNown led the 10-0 Bruins into Miami, only to be sent back to Los Angeles empty handed, and to settle for a Rose Bowl birth against Wisconsin.
Although Danny Farmer was the recipient of many McNown touchdown passes, it was the quarterback who owned the spotlight in this duo.
Farmer did end his career with 159 catches for over 3,000 yards and 19 touchdowns.
The near Heisman Trophy Winner, McNown posted even more impressive numbers for the Westwood faithful during his Senior season. In '98 Cade's best season by far, he threw for over 3,470 yards and 25 touchdowns. McNown finished his UCLA career ranked No. 1 in total offense, passing yards, touchdown passes, completions, and attempts.
This dream career in college came to an abrupt end when McNown took his game to the NFL. Unfortunately for his supporters, his NFL career was not as successful as his career under head coach Bob Toledo.
In his four seasons playing at the Rose Bowl for UCLA, McNown totaled 10,708 yards and 68 touchdowns.
However, the one cloud over Cade McNown's career that separates him and our No. 1 duo are National Championships.
The No. 1 Pac-10 Quarterback to Wide Receiver Combination Since 1990 is...
Many will debate whether Carson Palmer should be on the list, however, Palmer never truly broke out until Mike Williams stepped on campus. Although, Norm Chow calling the plays for Pete Carroll and USC did not hurt either.
However, in 2003 Matt Leinart and Mike Williams tore up the Pac-10 conference. The only blemish on the road to a National Championship, a Rose Bowl Victory, and a Pac-10 Championship was a triple overtime loss to California.
2003 was the year that started USC's well oiled machine with their first National Championship under Pete Carroll. Carson Palmer and Carroll got the Trojans on the big stage versus Iowa in the Orange Bowl, but Leinart and Carroll earned the National Championship a year later.
Even better, Leinart won a second National Championship in 2004.
Matt Leinart is one of the most decorated quarterbacks in NCAA history, let alone Pac-10 history. The only question is which receiver was better, Mike Williams or Dwayne Jarrett?
I went with Mike Williams who was virtually unstoppable for USC in 2002 and 2003. His stats tell the story: 95 catches for 1,314 yards and 16 touchdowns in his last season in L.A.
That same season Leinart passed for 3,556 yards and 38 touchdowns.
He capped off his debut season as USC's starter with an impressive showing in the Rose Bowl. Leinart was named the Rose Bowl MVP after he completed 23 passes for 327 yards and three touchdowns. Leinart also made sure people knew he could catch too.
Matt Leinart also caught a touchdown pass in that game from Mike Williams: a perfect tribute to the best Pac-10 wide receiver-quarterback duo since 1990.