The Top 10 Greatest College Football Quarterbacks of the Modern Era

David ArreolaSenior Analyst IFebruary 5, 2010

College football has no rival in the United States when it comes to fan passion. The college campuses are simply unbeatable on game day. If you are wearing the team colors, you are family. Everyone speaks the same language and everyone is having a great time.  

And among all these people tailgating, whether it is a casual fan or a die-hard, everybody knows the name of the quarterback. He is the embodiment of the spirit of your campus. He is the very representative of your program. Everybody pulls for him and the expectations are through the roof.


Over the last thirty years we have seen many great quarterbacks come and go. Some have had huge mind blowing stats, but not a whole lot of hardware. Others have led some of the greatest teams in college football history, with less emphasis on statistics.


This is my list of who I consider to be the ten greatest college football quarterbacks of the modern era. The modern era being the last 30 or so years. College football has such a history of transforming and changing that an all-time list simply isn’t logical; just as Sammy Baugh’s role as quarterback just isn’t the same as Peyton Manning’s role.




10. Doug Flutie, Boston College (1981-1984)


Flutie finds himself on this list mainly because of his incredible senior year. Which saw him win: The Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award, Davey O’Brien Award, Walter Camp Award, and the UPI Player of the Year Award.


It is arguably one of the greatest seasons ever put together by a college quarterback. It was also the season of Flutie’s legendary game winning Hail Mary against Miami. However, Flutie never won a championship nor had any distinguishable moments outside of his senior year.




9. Colt Brennan, Hawai’i (2005-2007)


After a shameful stint at Colorado which saw Brennan get kicked off the team, the big arm quarterback joined Hawai’i with hopes of salvaging an athletic career. What followed was one of the most memorable and prolific careers in college football history.


Brennan left school holding the NCAA FBS record for touchdown passes in a single season (58) and in a career (131). His career touchdown mark was later broken by Graham Harrell.


Brennan could be higher on this list but his performance in his biggest game was dismal. Throwing three interceptions against Georgia in the Sugar Bowl cast doubt on just how good Brennan and his Hawai’i team was.




8. Graham Harrell, Texas Tech (2006-2008)


Under Mike Leach, The Red Raiders of Texas Tech have a history of producing big time quarterbacks who produce big time stats. None was greater than Graham Harrell, the most prolific passer in FBS history. In his first year as a starter, Harrell’s offense staged the largest comeback in FBS bowl history. A 24-point come-from-behind victory that ended with a touchdown pass from Harrell.


His senior season saw him solidify himself as one of the best passers of all-time. He finished the season with 5,111 yards, becoming the first player in FBS history to pass for over 5,000 yards twice in a career.


Harrell finished his career second in all-time passing yards, and first in career touchdown passes (134). Harrell also equaled Colt Brennan’s record of total touchdowns in a career, 147.




7. Vince Young, Texas (2003-2005)


Vince Young is probably the most dangerous quarterback on this list, but leaving early for the NFL keeps him out of the top five.


Since taking over as a redshirt sophomore in 2004, Vince Young has terrorized Big 12 defenses with his freakish athleticism. Young posted an 11-1 record his first season as a starter, while posting mediocre statistics.


His Longhorns were ranked no. two going into his junior year where they posted an undefeated regular season.


Young’s performance against the two-time defending champion USC Trojans was one of the greatest in football history. In which he posted 467 yards of total offense by himself. Young finished his career as a national champion as he opted to forgo his senior season and join the NFL draft, which opened the door for….




6. Colt McCoy, Texas (2006-2009)


The winning-est quarterback in college football history. His career started off immediately with a bang. Tying the NCAA record for touchdown passes by a freshman as well as setting the Texas school record for touchdown passes with 29.


McCoy’s sophomore season was a bit of a letdown as he showed signs of the sophomore slump. But his junior year was one of the best in Texas history. McCoy had a Heisman Trophy-worthy season were it not for Sam Bradford of Oklahoma. McCoy again fell short of the national title game due to their loss to Texas Tech.


McCoy’s senior season was the stuff of dreams. He became the all-time leader in wins in FBS history with 45. However, his career ended in heartbreak as an early injury in the National Championship game knocked McCoy out of the game and dashed any hopes he had of becoming a champion.


McCoy graduated with every major Texas passing record.


5. Ken Dorsey, Miami (2000-2002)


Simply put: the greatest quarterback in Miami Hurricanes history. He was the head man for what was one of the greatest runs in college football history, and he did it with complete efficiency.


Here are just a few of the records Dorsey holds at Miami: Most 200 yard passing performances (31), consecutive passes without an interception (193), consecutive games with a touchdown pass (31). And the most important one: most wins (38). His winning percentage of .974 is one of the best in college football history.


He won the Maxwell Trophy en route to winning the national championship in 2001, leading arguably one of the best teams in college football history. He nearly won back-to-back national championships were it not for the monumental upset by the Ohio State Buckeyes and “The Call”.


Dorsey finished as a Heisman finalist in both 2001 and 2002.


4. Danny Wuerffel, Florida (1993-1996)


Danny Wuerffel’s Heisman Trophy victory in 1996 was the culmination of his entire career of personal achievement. And the national championship that ensued was the culmination of the entire Florida Gators football program.


Wuerffel brought Gainesville its first football championship in the best way possible, a beat down of arch-rival Florida State in the Sugar Bowl.


During his four years as starter, Wuerffel led the Gators to four consecutive SEC titles as well as two national championship games. He is considered by many to be the most efficient college football quarterback of all-time. His career rating of 163.56 is an NCAA record. In 1995 he also set the record for highest rating in a single season (178.4).


He finished his career at Florida with 114 passing touchdowns, still a school record





3. Tommie Frazier, Nebraska (1992-1995)


In terms of statistics, Frazier is hands down the most lacking on this list. But what he lacked in stats, he made up for in wins.


Frazier’s operation of the Nebraska option offense was the Huskers' missing piece in a legendary run. In his first season as a starter, Frazier led the Huskers to the national championship game against Florida State. A missed 45-yard field goal cost Frazier his first championship.


The very next year a blood clot in his leg forced Frazier to sit almost half of the season, almost cutting short his junior year. Nebraska returned to the national championship that year and Frazier started the game. He was pulled early before head coach Tom Osborne went back to Frazier. He led two touchdown drives and delivered Nebraska their first national title since 1971.


His senior season was capped off with a trouncing of Danny Wuerffel’s Florida Gators in the Fiesta Bowl. It was Tommie Frazier’s second consecutive national championship and his third straight MVP award. The only college player to do so.


No player in the history of college football played better in crunch time than Tommie Frazier.




2. Tim Tebow, Florida (2006-2009)


Superman was a legend from the moment he signed his letter of intent. His role in the 2006 National Championship team was so crucial that many football experts believe it was the Tebow X-Factor that gave the Gators the extra boost they needed to come out on top in the SEC to reach the national championship game. A game in which Tebow scored two touchdowns.


His sophomore season he accounted for a total of 55 touchdowns (32 passing, 23 rushing), and became the first sophomore ever to win the Heisman Trophy. He finished the season on a down note with a loss to Michigan in the Capital One Bowl.


Coming into his junior year the expectations for Tebow were enormous. He led the Gators to a 12-1 regular season record, the single loss coming to Ole Miss where in the post-game press conference he gave a speech that is currently on a plaque at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.


In the SEC Championship Game Tebow almost singlehandedly carried the Gators to the victory in the fourth quarter, leading two touchdown drives in the come-from-behind victory.


Weeks later the Gators faced one of the most prolific teams in college football history in the Oklahoma Sooners. Once again, with his team in desperate need of a leader, Tebow had the fourth quarter of his life en route to winning his second national championship with the Gators and first as a starter.


His senior year was a down year statistically, but Tebow helped the Gators to a 12-0 regular season before losing to eventual national champions, Alabama.


In his final game as a Gator, Tebow accumulated 533 yards of total offense in the Gators Sugar Bowl victory over Cincinnati.


He was a Heisman finalist all three years he started, and won countless honors.


1) Matt Leinart, USC (2003-2005)


In Matt Leinart’s first year as starter he posted a record of 11-1 and finished with 38 touchdowns to only nine interceptions, as well as an AP National Championship after being snubbed by the BCS.


In Leinart’s junior year he became the sixth USC player to win the Heisman Trophy, in a season where he finished 11-0. This time around the BCS let the Trojans into the championship game where they pummeled the Sooners. Leinart threw five touchdown passes in the 55-19 blowout.


His senior season was setting up to complete one of the greatest careers a quarterback has ever had. Leinart’s Trojans again posted an undefeated record going into the national championship game against the also undefeated Texas Longhorns. Behind Vince Young’s heroics Texas defeated USC, denying them their third consecutive national championship and snapping their 35-game winning streak.


Leinart’s record at USC was 37-2, and averaged one interception every 54 attempts. His career touchdown mark of 108 is a USC record.