Want a sure way to make your son the mayor and possibly governor and president? Raise him to be a running quarterback who can pass with remarkable accuracy.
As the NFL has become a passing and receiving club, the draw of college football remains its exciting ground game. The excitement of seeing a wishbone quarterback run a long touchdown is one of the most romantic in college football lore.
In college, a handful of major college programs have excelled at running and passing the ball from the wishbone. Oklahoma did it the best.
Their wishbone magicians were Jack Mildren, Steve Davis, Thomas Lott, Julius Caesar “J.C.” Watts and Jamelle Holieway.
Nebraska also had some of the most outstanding combination quarterbacks. Jerry Tagge, Turner Gill, Scott Frost, Tommy Frazier, Eric Crouch, Jamal Lord and now Taylor Martinez were excellent Huskers quarterbacks.
Tagge scored the game-winning touchdown in the 1971 Orange Bowl over LSU. He won the MVP and the Huskers their first national championship. In his senior season in ‘71, he quarterbacked the Huskers win over Oklahoma in the "Game of the Century."
For Oklahoma in 1971, Mildren set the single-season record for yards rushing by a quarterback (1,140). With him taking the snaps, the Sooners set the all-time NCAA rushing average (472.4 yards per game). He had the great Gregg Pruitt to pitch the ball to.
Out of six national championships from 1970-75, Nebraska and Oklahoma won four. USC and Notre Dame won in the interim. Steve Davis went 32-1-1 from 1974-75 for the Sooners, and he won two national championships.
Lott ran the bone from 1976-78 and posted a 23-5-1 record. OU won the Big Eight under his leadership from 1977-78. J.C. Watts was 22-3 at Oklahoma, and mentioned as the fastest runner of all the Sooners quarterbacks ever.
Turner Gill was 28-2, including 20-0 in the Big Eight. Nebraska won three conference titles during his playing days (1981-83). A three-time All-Big Eight quarterback and a second-team All-American as a senior, he finished fourth for the 1983 Heisman. Mike Rozier, his teammate, won it after posting one of the best seasons ever by a college back.
Gill’s 1983 team finished 12-1 and second in the national championship race. They missed a controversial two-point conversion against Miami to end the game. Kicking the extra point to end the game, instead, could have sealed Nebraska the national title.
He was known more for his passing, but he could run it. In his career, he rushed for 1,317 yards and 18 touchdowns.
In 1985 in Norman, Oklahoma, a superstar named Jamelle Holieway was unleashed. He had Spencer Tillman, Lydell Carr and Anthony Stafford—another true freshman—in the lightning-fast backfield with him.
Holieway is still the only true freshman quarterback to lead his team to the national championship, according to my research.
While Jack Mildren is known as “Godfather of the Wishbone,” Oklahoma’s best runners have generally been tailbacks.
OU has five national championship quarterbacks—Claude Arnold, Jimmy Harris, Steve Davis, Holieway and Josh Heupel. Harris and Davis both won two as the starters. None of them won the Heisman Trophy. Three Oklahoma tailbacks, meanwhile, have won the Heisman.
Tommy Frazier didn’t win the Heisman Trophy, but he is possibly the best Nebraska quarterback to date. A four-year starter, he led the Huskers to back-to-back national titles in 1994 and 1995.
Frazier finished his career with a Big Eight record, 33-3, as a starter. He holds the NU school record with 43 passing touchdowns. He’s second with 5,476 total offense yards and 79 touchdowns in a fine career.
A consensus All-American in 1995, Frazier finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting.
Nebraska has a Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback, Eric Crouch, who was known more for his legs than his arm. Crouch is the last Cornhusker to win the Heisman (2001).
Taylor Martinez is the latest in the line of Cornhuskers quarterbacks fitting the model. He’s automatically setting several records. He is the first NU freshman to start a season opener at quarterback.
Martinez rushed for 127 yards and three touchdowns on seven carries, including a 46-yarder on his first. His set the record for most yards ever by a Husker freshman quarterback. The Huskers previous best was 108 by Eric Crouch in 1998.
The list of national championship-winning Huskers quarterbacks is elite—Tagge (2), Frazier (2), and Scott Frost.
The impact of winning national championships probably last almost forever. Many fans have remarkable recall memory. They can recall events, dates, wins and losses as well as any national championship quarterbacks.
I believe Nebraska is the winner in the comparison between the Sooners and Huskers running-ready quarterbacks. One of Nebraska’s won the Heisman but none of Oklahoma’s has.
The Cornhuskers still have faith in quarterbacks running the ball. Oklahoma has become the home of pocket passers like Sam Bradford and Landry Jones.
Oklahoma won the Big 12 Championship this year, so they must be doing something right.
Which school, in your opinion, has the right to be known as the program with the best combination quarterbacks?