With the recent and ongoing quarterback controversy that has been a headline for the Cornhuskers, well, since Joe Ganz graduated, I thought it would be a fun time to take a look back at some of the great Huskers who stood under center. Top 10 lists are always a fun debate, everyone has their own opinion, and their own criteria for inclusion on such a list.
First of all, what should be looked at in a quarterback to be included on the list.
1. Stats are important. The guy has to put up numbers. However, this can get a bit skewed. In Callahan's first year, Joe Dailey put up more passing yards than any Nebraska quarterback up to that time—but no one's putting him in their top 10, so we also need to include...
2. Winning. The quarterback gets the ball on most every play on offense, so even in some of the I-back driven offenses of the Devaney/Osborne eras, the quarterback was still very important—and had a lot to do with wins and losses. Postseason success also helps here.
3. Multiple years as a starter. Obviously, this helps with stats as well, but if a guy has more than one year under center, he has more time to develop his skills, and more time to get wins. It must also mean that they were pretty darn good to beat out other guys at the position.
4. Postseason honors. They don't give MVPs, All-Conference and All-American honors, and Heismans to slouches who can't play.
5. Intangibles. What was their leadership ability? Could they come through in crunch time? Did they have the proverbial "it" factor?
On the negative side, there's always the debate of "did he make the team great," or "was he the beneficiary of a great team?"
With those in mind, I believe there are six Nebraska quarterbacks who should be on everyone's list—and will be on most. They are (oldest to youngest)—Jerry Tagge, Turner Gill, Steve Taylor, Tommie Frazier, Scott Frost, and Eric Crouch. The order can certainly be debated, but in my mind, those six guys have to be there. After that, it becomes more dicey with a lot of good quarterbacks to fit into those last four spots.
So, without further adieu:
Oh, the redshirt who should have been.
Only a one-year starter, we always wondered what another year might have brought. Over 1,300 yards passing and over 900 yards rushing. Nearly beat a pretty darn good Colorado team that ended up with one loss and ranked fourth in both polls.
10-2 overall record. He was the Big Eight's Co-Offensive Player of the Year and earned First Team All-Big Eight honors. He was the Big Eight Offensive Player of the Week twice, and the Husker Player of the Week six times.
Character, perseverance, toughness. He played a pivotal role in the 1994 championship run, coming in off a collapsed lung to save the day in Manhattan, and playing probably the finest game of his career against a highly-ranked CU team—which vaulted the Huskers into title contention over Penn State. Doesn't have the honors or stats, but man, he was great when we needed him.
10. Joe Ganz
I'm sure I'm going to get some debate on this one, but I think he belongs on this list.
2008 was one of the best statistical seasons by a Nebraska QB ever—throwing for over 3,500 yards with 25 TDs and only 11 picks. He brought Nebraska back to winning after the doldrums of the Callahan years. The only postseason hardware he got was Gator Bowl MVP, but remember, the other QBs in the Big 12 that year were the likes of Chase Daniel, Todd Reesing, Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy, and Graham Harrell—pretty heady company, and he more than held his own.
9. Dave Humm
Forever compared to his predecessor, Humm was a talented QB in his own right. Some of his passing records stood for over 30 years.
He led the Big Eight in total offense his sophomore year (Devaney's last). He passed for over 5,000 yards and over 40 TDs during his career (as a three-year starter). He was All-Big Eight and All-American for two of those years. The big knock on him was that he threw as many interceptions as touchdowns in his career.
8. Vince Ferragamo
I debated putting Humm over Ferragamo, but statistically, Ferragamo was just better.
He threw for only seven less touchdowns in one fewer season at the helm, and had far fewer picks. If he had gotten the benefit of playing just one season with Rodgers, as Humm did, his numbers would have undoubtedly been better. Wins/losses were pretty comparable—and neither one beat Oklahoma. Ferragamo was also All-Big Eight and an All-American.
7. Zac Taylor
I'll even admit that this is probably too high for the lead-footed kid from Norman, but I just like him. He was tough, resilient, took a beating behind a pretty mediocre offensive line, but came through in the clutch, and in comparison with other Callahan years, he won.
In fact, he was the ONLY quarterback that Callahan could win with.
Just think how dreary those years would have been without Taylor. He threw for nearly 5,000 yards and 45 touchdowns in his two years at the helm. He led dramatic comeback wins against Texas A & M (with an assist from Maurice Purify) and Michigan in the bowl game. He garnered postseason honors as the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year as a senior.
6. Eric Crouch
WHAT???? A Heisman Trophy winner can't even crack the top five?
In my opinion, no. Crouch was great, however. His running skills were fantastic, it was like tackling water. The records he held or holds read like a laundry list—one of three NCAA QBs to rush for 3,000 and pass for 4,000 yards, Nebraska record holder for offensive touchdowns, total offense, career rushing TDs for a quarterback (also an NCAA record), most rush yards by a quarterback, and the list goes on.
All-American, All-Big 12, Offensive Player of the Year, and of course, a Heisman Trophy. Oh, and he played for a national title—and looking back on that game, he might have been the only player on the roster to really show up. The Colorado debacle certainly wasn't his fault, either.
Probably the best all-around athlete to play the position (and that's saying a LOT).
5. Scott Frost
After the 1996 Arizona State game, I would have headed the "tar and feather Scott Frost" committee. I'll admit it. That game still sticks in my craw.
However, after that game, he was dominant. Winning every other game that year save the Big 12 title game to Texas, and winning out the next year and lobbying hard for the national title—which he got.
He was a brutal runner. If tackling Crouch was like tackling water, then tackling Frost was like tackling an oak tree—that was running full speed at you.
But he was clutch (see Miracle in Missouri). Not the greatest stats (although he did both rush and pass for over 1,000 yards in 1997), and he didn't garner the postseason hardware some others on the list have, but he personified a bruising, physical team—one of the best of Osborne's career.
4. Steve Taylor
The quarterback for several of Osborne's "oh so close" seasons of the mid- and late-80s. We never quite got there, and probably put too much blame on the quarterback, and thus don't appreciate him and what he accomplished enough.
Taking over the starting helm his sophomore year, he compiled a 31-6 record from 1986-88. He was a two-time All-Big Eight selection and put up some pretty impressive career statistical numbers.
3. Jerry Tagge
Two national titles, what more needs to be said? Plenty.
Tagge was the tough leader of Devaney's finest teams. He split time with Van Brownson at the helm in 1970, and then in 1971, it was all his, and he came through. Although it has since been supplanted many times over, the stats for his 1971 campaign were about as good as it got for Nebraska QBs up to that point. He received All-Big Eight and All-American honors that year, as well.
2. Turner Gill
Smooth as a baby's butt would be the way to describe the option series during Gill's tenure at the helm. He took the race car that was Osborne's offense from 1981-1983 and put the pedal to the metal. The 1983 offense was out-of-this-world good, but the entire run during that period has had few rivals for a three-year span in college football history.
They had other talented players on offense (including a Heisman winner, the first pick of the NFL Draft, and All-Americans up and down the line), but Gill was the engine that made it go. Other QBs have had better individual stats, but his 33-5 record is pretty impressive. He was a three-time All-Big Eight selection.
1. Tommie Frazier
There was little doubt here.
As a starter, Frazier was 33-3 over his career (including bowl games) and oh yeah, two national titles. Both the 1994 and 1995 teams were bruising running teams, but the 1995 team with Frazier at the helm was truly record setting. He could also throw, as the Colorado game in '95 showed. He was clutch, bringing the team back in the fourth quarter of the '94 title game against Miami.
The individual honors—All-Big Eight, All-American, bowl game MVPs, and others came in buckets his senior year—and somewhere on Eddie George's mantle is a Heisman Trophy in search of its rightful owner.
Statistically, he was good, but not record setting. An unselfish player, he had only just over 600 yards rushing in the record-setting 1995 year—but got to unleash his talents in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl against a hapless Florida defense.
That's the list as I see it. Sure, there is room for some debate (maybe Zac Taylor is overrated, or some might not have him in there at all, and many would have Eric Crouch in the top three)—but that's what lists are all about, debate. Fire away!