Brett Favre at Southern Miss
While the rosters of NFL teams are filled with players from non-major conference schools, the quarterback position is still dominated by former major-conference standouts.
There are notable exceptions (Ben Roethlisberger, Tony Romo, Joe Flacco, etc.), but quarterbacks from schools like USC and Michigan still dominate the starting ranks.
Eleven quarterbacks from major programs have won the Heisman since a quarterback from a mid-major last won the award—back when Andre Ware (Houston) and Ty Detmer (BYU) won the trophy in 1989 and 1990, respectively.
Despite the focus on the major conferences, the 12 teams in Conference USA have established an impressive legacy of great quarterbacks.
Here are the best quarterbacks in the history of each school in Conference USA.
UAB is the Conference USA baby, having only established its football program in 1991.
Eight quarterbacks played for the Blazers before Darrell Hackney began starting as a redshirt freshman in 2002.
In just his first season, Hackey had two games in which he threw for over 300 yards, and ended the season just shy of 2,000 yards.
By the time his career ended at UAB, Hackney had racked up 9,886 career passing yards and 71 touchdowns (both school records) and led UAB to its first (and only) bowl appearance, a loss to Hawai’i in the 2004 Hawai’i Bowl.
Culpepper was a top recruit coming out of high school in Florida, but due to low SAT scores, the bigger programs were hesitant to offer him a scholarship, allowing UCF to sneak in on the premier talent.
Culpepper rewarded the school by throwing for 11,412 yards and 84 touchdowns during his four-year career, while rushing for an additional 1,020 yards and 24 touchdowns.
In his senior year, he broke Steve Young’s NCAA single-season completion percentage, a record that stood for a decade until Texas's Colt McCoy topped it.
His career total offensive yards were good for sixth best in NCAA history. Culpepper helped legitimize UCF as a Division I-A team, quarterbacking the team through its first three seasons in the top division.
The East Carolina Pirates have one of the more storied histories of Conference USA, boasting 20 All-Americans and 8 bowl games.
Jeff Blake did not play much his freshman or sophomore years, and was solid if unspectacular in his junior year.
By his senior campaign, however, he morphed into one of the elite quarterbacks in the NCAA, throwing for 28 touchdowns to only eight interceptions, and topped the 3,000 yard mark.
The Pirates won the Peach Bowl over North Carolina State, and finished ranked No. 9 in the country, while Blake finished seventh in the voting for the Heisman Trophy.
Marshall produced back-to-back standouts in Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich, and the two had nearly identical careers.
Each led their team to three bowl appearances, each were top-10 Heisman vote getters (Pennington 5th, Leftwich 6th), and each threw for over 11,000 yards during his career.
Pennington’s 111 career touchdowns to Leftwich’s 96 touchdowns gives him the slight edge, though it’s a virtual tie. It didn’t hurt that Pennington had Randy Moss to throw to, either.
Though Danny Wimprine holds the Conference USA record for most career interceptions (good for 12th most in NCAA history), he was also dominant as a four-year starter, throwing for over 10,000 yards and 81 touchdowns, while rushing for an additional 11 touchdowns and even punting 58 times for an average of 38.3 yards per kick.
Wimprine led Memphis to bowl appearances in his final two seasons, their first in 32 years. His lack of accuracy kept him from being an elite quarterback, but he dominated the QB position in a way that no Tiger had before.
Was this one ever in doubt?
Though Favre’s career numbers weren’t terribly impressive (6,772 yards, 39 touchdowns), he led the Golden Eagles to a 23-12 record during his time at the school, and their record of 10-2 in his first starting season was the best in the school’s history.
He also had some of the most iconic moments in Golden Eagles history, including an upset of sixth-ranked Florida State, and a come from behind victory over Alabama six weeks after a near-death car crash and major surgery.
By the end of his junior season, Ware had already established himself as one of the most dominant quarterbacks in Houston’s history. His senior year established him as one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of college football.
In 1989, Ware threw for 4,699 yards and 46 touchdowns, completing 63.1% of his passes.
He took home the Heisman Trophy, Davey O’Brien Award, and was a consensus First Team All-American.
He left Houston early to enter the NFL Draft, but no one has come close to approaching his legacy, though Case Keenum has tried his darndest in six years.
Clement put up ridiculous numbers at Rice, throwing 99 touchdowns and amassing 9,785 yards through the air, along with rushing for 25 touchdowns and 1,741 yards.
He is the all-time Conference USA leader in touchdowns, and is tied for eighth in NCAA history in passing touchdowns.
He led Rice to two bowl games, defeating Western Michigan in the Texas Bowl as a senior.
Chuck Hixson led the Southwest Conference in passing and total yards in three consecutive seasons between 1966 and 1968, leading the nation in passing in his final season with 3,103 yards—the first Mustang to accomplish this feat.
He put up these numbers against such schools as Ohio State, Auburn, Texas, Arkansas, and Texas Tech.
Don Meredith is often considered the best quarterback in SMU history, but his season-best of 1,266 yards pales in comparison to Hixson’s massive numbers.
When Jordan Palmer came to UTEP, the Miners had appeared in just two bowl games in 35 years, and were coming off back-to-back two-win seasons.
In his second season under center, Palmer led the Miners to an 8-4 record and a Houston Bowl appearance.
He built on his success the following year with another 8-4 record, good enough for a GMAC Bowl berth.
Palmer threw for over 11,000 career yards and 88 touchdowns. Though the Miners struggled to a 5-7 record in his senior season, Palmer completed 65.7% of his passes with 3,595 yards and 26 touchdowns.
Shaun King only started two seasons at Tulane, and while he posted a respectable 24 touchdowns and 2,567 yards in his first year on the job, it was his senior season that sets him apart from other quarterbacks for the Green Wave.
He threw for 3,508 yards and 38 touchdowns with only six interceptions, leading Tulane to an undefeated season and a victory in the Liberty Bowl, all while setting the single-season Division I-A record for passing efficiency.
Aside from his cannon of an arm, he also a rushing threat, amassing 16 touchdowns and 1,152 yards during his career.
He finished 10th in the final voting for the 1998 Heisman Trophy, and left Tulane with a career quarterback rating of 153.6.
Rhome struggled his first few years at Tulsa after transferring from Southern Methodist, throwing more interceptions than touchdowns in each of his first two seasons. In 1964, the pieces fell into place, due in large part to the breakout of future College Football Hall of Famer Howard Twilley, and Rhome threw for 2,870 yards with 32 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions, completing 68.7% of his passes, over 10% higher than the previous season. Rhome finished second in the Heisman voting to John Huarte in an extremely close vote, but beat out Huarte to win numerous other awards, including the Walter Camp Award. Rhome joined Twilley in the College Football Hall of Fame in 1998.