In the course of college football history, numerous programs have been referred to as “Quarterback U” and therefore celebrated as a breeding ground for illustrious passers.
But what criteria are used to classify a school as a top caliber QB factory?
Is it the number of QBs drafted into the NFL? Is it total Heisman Trophy winners? Is it Super Bowl starts? Or instead is it total years played in the pros and a gross prolific statistical resume?
What about considerations regarding timing?
Yes, should there be a firm “start date” that doesn’t reach back too far in time (i.e. the all important “modern era” of football), and how do you approach programs that haven’t produced a prolific passer in the last decade?
The following slideshow attempts to use all the above ingredients, and then splashes in a generous dose of subjectivity to rank the top 25 college football QB manufacturing plants in our great nation.
Notable QBs: David Klinger, Andre Ware and Case Keenum
The Cougars are enjoying their second passing renaissance, and even though they’ve only sent five QBs to the NFL, Andre Ware’s 1989 Heisman secures their spot on this list.
Case Keenum’s current record-setting run certainly doesn’t help either.
Notable QBs: Sammy Baugh, Davey O’Brien, Kent Nix and Andy Dalton
It’s difficult to put slingin’ Sammy Baugh and Davey O’Brien’s pro careers into perspective as they played prior to the NFL-AFL merger and therefore before the Super Bowl era.
Regardless, Baugh and O’Brien (1938 Heisman winner) combined with eight NFL QBs anchored recently by Andy Dalton is enough to at least consider TCU for Quarterback College honors.
Notable QBs: Pat Sullivan, Cam Newton and Jason Campbell
Placing Auburn in the “Quarterback U” rankings on the shoulders of two Heisman winners who played college ball 40 years apart seems questionable at best.
But, add in Jason Campbell’s NFL resume to Sullivan’s and then the hope showed by the young Newton from a professional standpoint, and perhaps you could make an argument for a spotty yet excellent QB track record.
Regardless, it’s almost impossible to leave a school with two QB Heisman winners off the list.
Notable QBs: Bobby Layne, Colt McCoy and Vince Young
The Longhorns have produced a long line of NFL-caliber athletes and have drafted nine QBs into the NFL in their storied history.
Texas gains points for the recent contributions of McCoy and Young and this pooled with Bobby Layne who led the Detroit Lions to back-to-back NFL titles (1952-53) puts them at No. 22 in the U.
Notable QBs: Tony Banks, Earl Morrall, Al Dorow, Jim Miller and Jim Ninowski
State has sent a whopping 14 QBs to the NFL, and though it certainly hasn’t turned out a recent batch of pro tossers, it’s hard to argue the numbers.
Earl Morrall was the No. 2 overall pick in the 1956 NFL draft and eventually led the Baltimore Colts in two Super Bowl appearances in relief of an injured Johnny Unitas. The first came in the 1968 Super Bowl III loss to the New York Jets (he actually led the Colts to a 13-1 record that season) and then in the 1970 Super Bowl V win over Dallas.
Morrall was named the 1968 NFL MVP and thus far he is arguably the most decorated Spartan QB in history.
Notable QBs: Todd Blackledge, Kerry Collins and Milt Plum
Penn State has sent 16 QBs to the NFL over time, and Kerry Collins led the NY Giants in their loss to Baltimore in Super Bowl XXXV.
In case you’re wondering who Milt Plum is, he played QB at the Cleveland Browns from 1957-61, his 89.9 passer rating is tops among Browns' QBs and his 1960 single-season rating of 110.4 is the best of any tosser before 1989.
Penn State is hardly a top 10 QB U, but it certainly has had its share of success stories.
Notable QBs: June Jones, Chris Miller, George Shaw, Norm Van Brocklin, Kellen Clemens, AJ Freeley and Dan Fouts
Though you won’t find any Heisman award winners or Super Bowl QBs among the Ducks' passer alumni, you will find 15 total Oregon QBs who found their way into the pro ranks.
The Ducks' list is impressive, and they earn extra credit for having the type of current program that has all the right stuff to churn out some additional high quality talent to keep the tradition alive.
Notable QBs: Troy Aikman (shared with UCLA), Sam Bradford, Jason White, Josh Heupel and Landry Jones
The Sooners are definitely more of a present-day QB factory, and they lose points in these rankings due to the fact that prolific Oklahoma passers don’t always progress successfully to the next level (i.e. the NFL).
The Sooners already have two Heisman QBs (Bradford in 2008 and White in 2003) and have the type of current program that has more success and additional awards written all over it.
Notable QBs: Eric Crouch, Tommie Frazier, Turner Gill, Vince Ferragamo (shared with Cal) and David Humm
Though you might normally think of Nebraska more along the lines of “Lineman U,” the Cornhuskers have had their fair share of QBs come through their storied program.
Eric Crouch captured the 2001 Heisman, and Vince Ferragamo (who transferred to Nebraska from Cal) led the Los Angeles Rams in a narrow loss to the Steelers in Super Bowl XIV.
Notable QBs: Doug Flutie, Matt Hasselback and Matt Ryan
Perhaps underrated in “Quarterback U” worthiness, Boston College has provided the NFL with 15 QBs over the years.
The highlights are obvious, the ageless and thrilling Doug Flutie (winner of the 1984 Heisman) and Matt Hasselback who led the Seattle Seahawks in their loss to the Steelers in Super Bowl XL.
The current part of the equation is bolstered by the Atlanta Falcons' starting QB Matt Ryan, who is still doing his thing and doing it well.
Notable QBs: Boomer Esiason, Neil O’Donnell, Frank Reich and Scott Zolak
The Terrapins have pumped out 14 pro QBs in history and among those two passers led their respective teams all the way to the Super Bowl.
Esiason went first by virtue of leading the Cincinnati Bengals in a narrow loss to the 49ers in Super Bowl XXIII followed by O’Donnell who led the Steelers in their loss to the Cowboys in Super Bowl XXX.
Notable QBs: Drew Bledsoe, Don Horn, Ryan Leaf and Mark Rypien
Though the Cougars have sent only 10 QBs to the pro game, they have three Super Bowl rings and one Super Bowl MVP award shared between just two of its passing alumni.
Drew Bledsoe led the New England Patriots to a loss to Green Bay in Super Bowl XXXI, and then won a diamond encrusted ring with the Pats in Super Bowl XXXVI (he was injured and replaced under center by Tom Brady).
Mark Rypien hit pay dirt with the Washington Redskins in 1991 when he led the Skins to a Super Bowl XXVI win over Buffalo on his way to earning Super Bowl MVP honors.
Notable QBs: Troy Aikman (shared with Oklahoma), Steve Bono, Billy Kilmer, Tommy Maddox, Jay Schroeder, Bob Waterfield, Rick Neuheisel and Gary Beban
The Bruins have cranked out 21 NFL-caliber QBs and among their numerous ranks are a Heisman winner and two Super Bowl passers.
The Heisman came back in 1967 when Gary Beban captured the bronze statue, and the Super Bowl participants were Troy Aikman (three rings, XXVII, XXVIII and XXX and one MVP XXVII) and Billy Kilmer (led the Redskins in their loss to Miami in Super Bowl VII).
Notable QBs: Mark Brunell, Chris Chandler, Don Heinrich, Warren Moon, Bill Joe Hobert and Jake Locker
No QB from Washington has ever captured a Heisman. and though alumnus Chris Chandler led the 1998 Atlanta Falcons to a Super Bowl appearance, the Huskies don’t claim any QB rings or MVP honors.
But, regardless of a relative lack of lofty awards and titles, Washington has a rock solid QB manufacturing resume (they’ve launched 14 into pros) that’s impressive in both its length and quality.
Notable QBs: John Beck, Ty Detmer, Jim McMahon, Giff Nielsen and Steve Young
BYU has pumped out one Heisman winner (Detmer in 1991) and two Super Bowl champion QBs (McMahon won with the Bears in 1986 and Young won with the 49ers in 1995).
You could easily argue that BYU deserves to be further up the Quarterback U rankings, but two key elements are missing from the resume: recent production and total contributions.
The Cougars haven’t cranked out a bunch of high caliber tossers in recent years (John Beck and Max Hall are currently in the NFL but that’s it), and overall BYU has manufactured only eight pro QBs.
Notable QBs: Brad Johnson, Danny Kanell, Chris Weinke, Christian Ponder and Charlie Ward
FSU is a little like Oklahoma in that they’ve produced sublime collegiate QB talent (two Heisman’s, Weinke in 2000 and Ward in 1993) that hasn’t necessarily translated into success in the NFL.
The big exception to this relative likeness with Boomer Sooner is Brad Johnson who led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a Super Bowl XXXVII win over the Raiders in 2003.
Notable QBs: John Brodie, Steve Dils, John Elway, Babe Laufenberg, Jim Plunkett and Andrew Luck
How many pro QBs do you think Stanford has churned out over the years?
Well, how does 21 total sound?
Yes, that’s right Stanford has produced 21 pro QBs, and among them is the only guy on our list to capture both a Heisman and start and win a Super Bowl (and capture the MVP honors)…Jim Plunkett.
Plunkett won the Heisman in 1970 and then went on to lead the 1981 Raiders to a Super Bowl win over the Eagles.
Add in the QB stylings of legendary John Elway and the promise of Andrew Luck, and you’ve got a top 10 QB U program.
Notable QBs: Tom Brady, Todd Collins, Elvis Grbac, Brian Griese, Jim Harbaugh and Chad Henne
You could make a sound argument that Tom Brady could boost a program to “U” status all on his own, but when you add in the rest of Michigan’s passer portfolio, you’ve got an elite group.
They have only one Super Bowl dude and zero Heisman trophy winners, but that simply can’t overshadow the fact that the Wolverines' school of Quarterbacking has graduated an impressive list.
Notable QBs: Rex Grossman, Jesse Palmer, Steve Spurrier, Tim Tebow and Danny Wuerffel
Among the Gators QB alumni are three Heisman winners (Spurrier in 1966, Wuerffel in 1996 and Tebow in 2007) and have a Super Bowl starter in Rex Grossman who led the Bears in their 2007 loss to the Colts.
What’s impressive about Florida is their consistent contributions over time from a talent standpoint, an outflow that’s bound to continue into the long-term future.
Notable QBs: Craig Erickson, Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar, George Mira, Vinny Testaverde, Gino Torretta and Steve Walsh
The “U” has been a grade AA football talent factory over its history, and throwing a “Quarterback” label in front of the “U” is an easy task.
Two Heisman’s (Testaverde in 1986 and Torretta in 1992), a four-time Super Bowl QB (Kelly) and a stack of talented NFL guys (12 in all) puts Miami in our top 10 QB schools.
Notable QBs: Joe Namath, Steve Sloan, Ken Stabler, Bart Starr and Greg McElroy
The Tide lay claim to three Super Bowl MVPs (Starr twice and Namath once), four QB sized Super Bowl rings and a boatload of awards and honors (though no QB Heisman).
The big detraction from bestowing Alabama with top Quarterback U honors is that their big guns are all products of the bygone Bear Bryant era.
Greg McElroy was a lowly seventh-round pick in this year’s NFL draft, but the Tide have just the kind of program that could really start pumping out some prolific QBs if Saban doesn’t go wandering from Tuscaloosa.
Notable QBs: Steve Beurlein, Terry Hanratty, Daryle Lamonica, Joe Montana, Brady Quinn, Joe Theismann, Angelo Bertelli, Johnny Lujack, Paul Hornug and John Huarte
In terms of sheer numbers, Notre Dame takes the cake in the Quarterback U sweepstakes, but as we all know, quantity doesn’t always equal quality.
Though the Joe Montana and Joe Theismann are elite caliber NFL quarterbacks and though the Irish lay claim to four Heisman trophies, Notre Dame hasn’t exactly manufactured a bunch of recent NFL dominant material.
No Irish QB has captured the Heisman since John Huarte won in 1964, and Quinn and Jimmy Clausen are the only Irish tossers currently in the NFL.
Regardless of all the logic, Notre Dame has pumped out 32 NFL QBs in history, and they deserve to be a top five program in terms of QB production.
Notable QBs: Pete Beathard, Matt Cassel, Vince Evans, Pat Haden, Rob Johnson, Matt Leinart, Paul McDonald, Bill Nelsen, Carson Palmer, Rodney Peete, Sean Salisbury, Mark Sanchez and Matt Barkley
USC has pumped out prolific QBs with the consistency expected from an institution that continues to field championship-caliber teams.
Sure, it’s been only two QB Heisman’s for the Trojans (Palmer in 2002 and Leinart in 2004), but it’s hard to produce a more impressive application for Quarterback U than USC has done.
Notable QBs: Steve Bartkowski, Vince Ferragamo (shared with Nebraska), Craig Morton, Aaron Rodgers and Joe Kapp
The thing that’s most impressive about Cal’s list of QB alumni is the fact that this is not a school that is going to be pumping out Heisman winners or first round draft picks every year … this is not USC or Notre Dame and subsequently, they don’t get the same kind of love.
But despite the lack of glamorous coverage, Cal has cranked out four Super Bowl QBs which is the best among this entire list.
The best among this entire list.
Vince Ferragamo led the Rams in a narrow loss to Pittsburgh in 1980’s Super Bowl XIV, Craig Morton led the Broncos in losses in 1971 to the Colts (V) and in 1978 to the Cowboys (XII), Joe Kapp led the Vikings in a losing effort against the Chiefs in 1970 (IV), and finally Aaron Rodgers led the Packers to a victory in last season’s Super Bowl XLV also capturing MVP honors.
Notable QBs: Drew Brees, Scott Campbell, Len Dawson, Jim Everett, Jeff George, Bob Griese, Mark Hermann, Kyle Orton, Gary Danielson and Mike Phipps
And now we’ve arrive at our destination…Quarterback U.
It’s no surprise that the Boilermakers aren’t the House of Heisman (they have zero), but it may be a shock that Purdue has provided the NFL with 16 QBs and three of these guys have won Super Bowl rings (Brees, Griese and Dawson) and two have been awarded the game’s MVP (Brees and Dawson).
Remember, this is Purdue, from the Big Ten.
Purdue has cranked out QBs for a long time, and it continues to provide an unlikely, underrated launch pad to great NFL careers.