USC Football: Top 10 Trojan Quarterbacks in School History

Will ToberAnalyst IJuly 26, 2011

USC Football: Top 10 Trojan Quarterbacks in School History

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    Some of the best college football players ever have played quarterback for the USC Trojans.

    There have been Heisman Trophy winners, national championship winners, All-Americans, and bowl game MVP's all at the quarterback position.

    USC's history at quarterback is as rich as they come and to limit a list to only 10 players is a tough task.

    To make it a little easier, I will only be looking at how these quarterbacks performed while they were at USC and judging them by four key areas: statistics, success, talent and historical significance. 

    With that being said, here are the 10 best USC quarterbacks ever.

Honorable Mentions

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    Close Calls:

    Matt Barkley—not there yet, but could be with one great season.

    Craig Fertig—held eight school records at one point.

    Jimmy Jones—One of the pioneers for African-American quarterbacks; helped USC defeat the all white Alabama team in 1970.

    Vince Evans—MVP of 1977 Rose Bowl.

    Steve Sogge—Led Trojans to National Title in 1967.

10. Pete Beathard (1962-63)

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    Pete Beathard can not only be considered one of the best quarterbacks of his era, but one of the best USC quarterbacks of all time.

    Beathard played in an era when passing was the secondary option and the quarterback's primary responsibility was to hand the ball off to his running back. Beathard wasn't bound to that mold, though, and he proved it in the 1963 Rose Bowl.

    The game, which pinned the No. 1 and No. 2 teams against one another for the first time in a bowl game, was one of the best "national championship" games ever.

    Beathard passed for four touchdowns in the game—a Rose Bowl record at the time—and was named co-Rose Bowl MVP.  

9. Rob Johnson (1992-94)

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    Rob Johnson was a great quarterback for the USC Trojans despite playing during the 1990's.

    Johnson was a bright light in a dark time for the Trojans and his efforts at the quarterback position kept the team competitive. 

    In his three years as a starter Johnson totaled 8,247 yards for 56 touchdowns and only 26 interceptions, completing 65 percent of his passes.

    In 1993, Johnson put together one of the best statistical seasons ever by a USC quarterback when he threw for 3,630 yards, 29 touchdowns, six interceptions and completed 69 percent of his passes. That year, Johnson was given All Pac-10 honors and the Trojans earned a share of the conference title.

    Had Johnson played in a different era, who knows where he'd rank.

8. Mike Rae (1972)

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    Mike Rae was the quarterback of the 1972 USC Trojans, possibly the greatest college football team ever, which is enough to put him on this list. 

    His numbers weren't impressive, in fact they were actually below average, with a touchdown to interception ratio of 12 to 16.

    However Rae's ability to lead one of the most talented teams in the country to not only live up to expectations, but exceed them was unprecedented.

    Many people think of Pat Haden—another USC great—as the quarterback of the early '70's, but he sat behind Mike Rae in 1972 during the team's national championship run, which is saying a lot.

7. Mark Sanchez (2008)

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    Mark Sanchez, in only one season as the starting quarterback, established himself as one of the best ever in his position for the USC Trojans.

    In his lone full season as the starter, Sanchez racked up 3,207 yards, 34 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions. Not only did Sanchez put up huge numbers, he did it efficiently, completing 66 percent of his passes. 

    Sanchez's performance during the 2008 season made it difficult for USC fans to watch him leave the following year for the NFL Draft—marking the beginning of the end of the Pete Carroll era. 

    Who knows where Sanchez would have landed on this list had he returned for his senior year—we could be talking about a national championship and or a Heisman Trophy—but even with his lone great season, he is one of the best Trojan quarterbacks ever.

6. John David Booty (2006-07)

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    John David Booty came into USC with some of the highest expectations a Trojan quarterback ever had—second only to maybe Todd Marinovich—yet was able to live up to them.

    When Booty finally got his opportunity to start after Matt Leinart graduated, the Trojans didn't miss a step. In the following two years, he led USC to a 20-3 record including two Rose Bowl victories.

    His 5,708 yards, 52 touchdowns and just 19 interceptions are some of the best numbers from a USC quarterback given the fact that he only started 23 games in his collegiate career.

    Had Booty avoided injury problems, 2007 could have ended with a national championship, which may have bumped him up a few spots on this list. As it stands now, though, Booty is one of the best QB's in Trojans history.

5. Rodney Peete (1985-88)

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    Rodney Peete never won a Heisman (though coming close in 1988) or a national championship, or even a bowl game, yet I have him as the fifth-ranked USC Trojans quarterback of all time.

    Although Peete may not have led his Trojans to postseason success, his performance as the starting quarterback at USC was topped by few.

    Peete started an incredible 40 games for the Trojans—a mark that stood until Carson Palmer topped it by starting 45 games—but that wasn't the only USC first that is credited to Peete.

    In 1987, he was the second player ever and the first Trojan to be awarded the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award—an honor given to the most outstanding senior quarterback in the country.

    Peete was even good enough to to take the starting spot as a freshman from another Trojan great, Sean Salisbury. From there, he helped the Trojans to three consecutive winning seasons including a 10-2 senior year that gave him All-American and Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year honors.

4. Paul McDonald (1978-79)

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    One of the many great quarterbacks in the golden age of USC Trojan football was Paul McDonald, who was at the helm for the Cardinal and Gold from 1978 to '79.

    While McDonald may not have put up the type of stats that some of the other Trojan greats did, he was a winner—and win he did.

    McDonald only lost one game in his two years as the starter, going 22-1-1, winning two Rose Bowls and a share of the 1978 National Championship (the last title until 2004).

    The 1979 Trojans can make a real case that they also deserved at least a share of the national title after going undefeated and beating the No. 1 team in the nation (Ohio State) in the Rose Bowl.

    Along with being one of the most underrated USC quarterbacks, McDonald is also easily one of the best.

3. Pat Haden (1973-74)

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    Aside from possibly going down in history as one of USC's greatest athletic directors, Pat Haden will also forever be known as one of the great USC Trojan quarterbacks.

    Haden, in addition to being a part of the 1972 National Championship team— a team regarded as one of the greatest ever—was also the quarterback of the 1974 National Championship squad.  

    Along the way, he racked up 3,288 yards passing, 33 touchdowns and 25 interceptions on a completion percentage of 51.4.

    Haden performed especially well in big games like against big-time rival Notre Dame in 1974 when he orchestrated one of the greatest comebacks ever, leading the Trojans to a 55-24 victory after a 24-6 halftime deficit.

    His clutch performing didn't stop with the Notre Dame game though. Haden had three of his best performances in his three Rose Bowls and was later inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame. 

2. Carson Palmer (2000-02)

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    Had Carson Palmer played for another school, he would likely be regarded as the consensus choice as the best quarterback in team history, but because he played for the USC Trojans, he finds himself at the No. 2 spot. 

    Palmer didn't get to enjoy playing under Pete Carroll until his junior and senior seasons, which hurt his record as a starter—27-18.

    However, in his final season with the Trojans, Palmer led his team to an 11-2 record on his way to a Heisman Trophy season that ended with an Orange Bowl victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes— a game in which Palmer passed for 303 yards and a touchdown.

    Aside from Leinart, Palmer was the most statistically impressive quarterback during his time at USC, throwing for a school record 11,818 yards and added 72 touchdowns on 59.1 percent completions.

    There is some argument over whether Palmer should be No. 1 on this list, but while Leinart had the luxury of playing under coach Carroll for his whole career and alongside better talent, he performed slightly better on the field than Palmer during his time at USC.

    Still, Palmer was the first in a line of elite quarterbacks that would play for USC in the 2000's and his play on the field set the standard for Leinart, Booty, Sanchez, Barkley and any future Trojan quarterbacks. 

1. Matt Leinart (2003-05)

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    Matt Leinart is not only the best quarterback to play for the USC Trojans, but he might be the best quarterback to have ever played college football.

    His 37-2 record as the starting quarterback of the Trojans makes him the winningest player in school history.

    If sanctions weren't in the picture two of those 37 wins would have been national championship victories and had Vince Young not put on one of the best performances in Rose Bowl history, he could have added a third title.

    Leinart was awarded nearly every accolade possible at the college level: three times All Pac-10 first team; two time Pac-10 offensive player of the year; two-time bowl game MVP (Rose and Orange); three-time All-American; Manning, Walter Camp and Unitas award winner; AP Player of the year and Heisman Trophy winner.

    Statistically, there may have never have been a quarterback as proficient. Leinart totaled 10,693 yards for 99 touchdowns and only 23 interceptions with a 64.8 percent completion percentage. 

    Leinart was arguably the best player for the Trojans during the best era in USC football, making him the greatest quarterback in team history. 


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