Life as a college quarterback can be a lot for one athlete to carry. Before they reach the NFL, these young men are asked to be the faces of their college programs. Some take the responsibility and run with it, creating magical careers. We’ll never forget when Vince Young went pass-to-pass with Matt Leinart to win a National Championship. Or the time Tebowmania swept across the state of Florida, giving a hint at the national phenomenon that was about to come. These are the greatest college quarterbacks of all-time, and they left it all on the field.
Vince Young Did It All
In three years at Texas A&M, Vince Young really did do it all. He threw for 6,000 yards and ran for another 3,127. He combined for 81 total touchdowns and led the Longhorns to back-to-back Rose Bowl games, including the 2006 National Championship Game against USC.
In that destiny-fulfilling game, Young went head-to-head with Matt Leinart, who was in the process of being crowned one of the best quarterbacks in the NCAA. Then Young rallied his troops late in the game for the win, and to usurp the throne in the process.
Steve Young Broke Records
Steve Young is best known for his Hall-of-Fame NFL career that saw him follow in the footsteps of Joe Montana in San Francisco. Did you know Montana wasn’t the only groundbreaking quarterback he followed, though? Playing his college ball at BYU, Young took over under center after school legend Jim McMahon entered the NFL.
Young led BYU for two years and broke the mold of what a quarterback could be. Not only was his arm a force to be reckoned with, so were his legs. At the end of his BYU career, Young had thrown for 7,002 yards and rushed for another 851.
Danny Wuerffel Refused To Lose
The Florida Gators have a rich history of great quarterbacks, but Danny Wuerffel might be the best to ever put on the helmet. Put simply, Wuerffel refused to lose. He won four straight SEC championships and was the first player in NCAA history to have two consecutive seasons with a 170+ passer rating.
On top of his braun, Wuerffel also had brains and is one of two college football players to win the Heisman Trophy and the Draddy Trophy. The Heisman recognizes the best player every season, while the Draddy (now the William V. Campbell Trophy) is given to the top scholar in the game.
Chris Weinke Proved Age Was Only A Number
Chris Weinke was not your typical college quarterback. He was a 25-year-old freshman when he took over under center for the Florida Seminoles. Over the next three seasons, he was nothing short of dominant, leading the school to three straight national championship games, winning it all in 1999.
Weinke won the Heisman Trophy that same year. He ended his college career with a 32-3 record. Unfortunately, his NFL career wasn’t as storied as his college career. He was drafted by the Panthers and spent six seasons there as a back up before playing in San Francisco for a year and retiring.
Deshaun Watson Brought Clemson Back To Glory
Deshaun Watson was the starting quarterback at Clemson University for three seasons. In total, he threw for 10,168 yards and rushed for another 1,934, all while scoring a combined 116 touchdowns. Watson could do it all, including dethrone Alabama as the best team in the country.
No drive defines Watson’s college career more than his final drive against ‘Bama with time running out in the National Championship. The game-winning touchdown brought Clemson its first national title in 40 years and turned Watson into a college football legend.
Micheal Vick Was Magical
Michael Vick was a force to be reckoned with at Virginia Tech. Starting for two years at the school, the explosive athlete went 22-2, leading the Hokies to one National Championship game – a loss to Florida State. More of a runner than a passer, Vick was a raw generational talent.
When Vick declared for the draft, he was seen as a high risk, high reward player. The Falcons took a chance on him, and he paid them back by leading the team to the NFC Championship game in 2004, although later found himself in prison for running a dog-fighting ring.
Tim Tebow Had Faith
In 2010, after Tim Tebow left college football for the NFL, the NCAA passed the “Tebow Rule,” banning athletes from putting messages on their eye black. As a Gator, the dual-threat QB often wrote Bible verses on the glare protectant.
Tebow, who played college football with unwavering faith, was one of the toughest competitors the sport has ever seen. Under the tutelage of Urban Meyer, Tebow won two National Championships while finishing as a Heisman Trophy finalist twice.
Steve Spurrier Even Won When He Lost
These days, Steve Spurrier is known more for his coaching career than his college football career. That’s about to change. Lining up under center for Florida, Spurrier threw for 4,848 yards with 36 touchdowns. And if those numbers seem low, it’s important to remember that when he played football, it wasn’t a passing league.
Still questioning our decision to put him on this list? Here’s one statistic that sets Spurrier apart – he is the only player in NCAA history to lose the Sugar Bowl (one of the four big bowls), and still be named the MVP of the game.
Philip Rivers Never Missed A Game
In college, Philip Rivers was a four-year starter for the NC State Wolfpack and played in 51 consecutive games. He threw for 13,484 yards with 95 touchdown passes. Every year he played, NC State went to a bowl game, and in each of those games, Rivers was named the MVP.
When it came time to enter the NFL, Philip Rivers was a consensus first-round choice. The Chargers had the first overall pick, which they used on Eli Manning. Before being selected, Manning made it clear he would refuse to play for San Diego. The strange situation led the Chargers to trade Manning to the Giants for Rivers, who New York took with the fourth overall pick.
Jim Plunkett Set The Passing Standard
Jim Plunkett played college football at Stanford, where he became one of the first QBs to embrace a pass-heavy offensive attack. In three years, he threw for 7,809 yards with 63 total touchdowns. He won the Heisman Trophy in 1970.
The New England Patriots took Plunkett with the first overall pick in the 1971 NFL Draft. Eventually, he ended up on the Raiders, where he became the starting quarterback in 1980 and won two Super Bowls before retiring.
Cam Newton Was A One-Year Wonder
While it might be controversial to include a player who only started at college for one year, we think Cam Newton deserves his spot. He started at Auburn in 2010, throwing 30 touchdown passes and running for 20 more. The Tigers won the national championship, and Newton won the Heisman Trophy.
The following year Newton was taken by the Carolina Panthers with the first overall pick in the NFL Draft. Since then he has been named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player once and has pushed the Panthers to one Super Bowl appearance.
Kellen Moore Loved Throwing Touchdowns
Another college quarterback who never blossomed in the NFL, Kellen Moore started for four years at Boise State and compiled a 50-3 record. His college career ended with 14,667 passing yards and an astonishing 142 touchdowns. The fact that his NFL career never materialized is shocking when you see those numbers.
Moore went undrafted and signed with the Detroit Lions, where he sat on the bench for two years. After an unsuccessful start to his career, Moore signed with the Cowboys, where he started two games in place of an injured Tony Romo. In 2018, Moore retired and now serves as the offensive coordinator in Dallas.
Jim McMahon Held 70 School Records
Steve Young might be the talk of the town at BYU now, but let’s not forget about who came first – Jim McMahon. The iconic Cougar’s quarterback oddly enough began his college career as a punter before lining up under center his junior year.
McMahon’s greatest college highlight came in the Holiday Bowl against SMU. He led one of the greatest comebacks in college football history and etched his place in BYU lore. It doesn’t hurt that he left the school holding 70 records!
Colt McCoy Was A Gun Slinger
After Vince Young, Colt McCoy might be the greatest college quarterback in Texas Longhorn history. He was a four-year starter at the school and threw for 13,253 yards with 112 touchdowns. He also ran for 1,571 yards while adding another 20 touchdowns to his total.
Like Kellen Moore, though, McCoy’s skill set didn’t translate to the NFL. He was drafted by the Cleveland Brows and became the team’s starter in his second year. In 13 games he threw nearly as many interceptions as touchdowns.
AJ McCarron Won Three Titles
On the surface, you might not think there is anything special about AJ McCarron. He was never flashy in an offensive system known more for the running game. Still, as the Alabama starting QB for two years, he went 36-4 and won two national championships.
That feat alone gets McCarron on this list. It helps that he threw 77 touchdowns against a paltry 15 interceptions. In 2013, he placed second in Heisman Trophy voting. Today, he’s the backup quarterback for the Texans but has flashed starter potential in the past.
Baker Mayfield Is A Big Player In A Small Package
Baker Mayfield isn’t the prototypical build for a quarterback. He’s “small” and relies on his feet and sharpshooter-like accuracy to make a living. In college, those skills helped him amass 14,600 passing yards and 131 touchdowns. In his second to last season, Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.
Entering the NFL Draft, Mayfield should have been the consensus number one pick, but critics continued to doubt his size. The Browns, who had the top pick, took the risk, which so far has proven to be more than worth it.
Johnny Manziel Was A Wonder Freshman
Johnny Manziel only played two years of college football, and still managed to set the world on fire while he was there. In those spectacular years, the NCAA wunderkind threw for 7,800 yards and rushed for another 2,169 while scoring a combined 93 touchdowns.
As a freshman, Manziel won the Heisman Trophy, becoming the first of his class to ever do so. That year he ran for 1,410 yards and 21 touchdowns. Full of potential, off-the-field issues have sadly sidelined his NFL career.
Eli Manning Was A Can’t-Miss Prospect
In the history of the NCAA, there have been three “can’t miss” NFL prospects. The first one to make this list is Peyton Manning. At Tennessee, Manning went 39-6 as a starter with 11,200 yards and 89 touchdowns.
In the NFL, Manning won two Super Bowls, was named league MVP five times and was elected to 14 Pro Bowls. For all the hype he had when coming out of college, Manning delivered. His successor, however, will be looked at in a more controversial light.
Andrew Luck Had Big Shoes To Fill
Andrew Luck played his college ball at Stanford, where he was twice named the runner-up in Heisman Trophy voting. He finished his three-year college career with 9,400 yards, 82 touchdowns, and the “can’t miss” label. When he entered the draft, the Colts broke up with Peyton Manning to select its new star.
Unlike Manning, Luck spent his pro career fighting injuries. When he was healthy, he was spectacular. When he was hurt, the Colts struggled to win games. In 2019, at just 29-years-old, Luck announced his retirement, citing lingering pain from injuries as the reason.
John Elway Was The First “Can’t Miss” QB
Another Stanford product, John Elway came out of college full of arrogance backed up by his record-setting career. In 1982, he finished second in Heisman Trophy voting, and despite a 20-23 record, he was the consensus top player entering the draft.
The only problem was the Baltimore Colts (yes, Baltimore) held the pick, and Elway refused to play for them. As an elite baseball player, he threatened to switch careers if the team drafted him, which they did. Elway stuck to his word and forced the Colts to trade him to the Denver Broncos.