Top 10 Pac-12 Quarterbacks of the BCS Era

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Athlon Sports ranks the best Pac-12 quarterbacks of the BCS Era.

Top 10 Pac-12 Quarterbacks of the BCS Era

The Bowl Championship Series is dead. But even the harshest of BCS detractors must acknowledge that the 16-year run was arguably the best era of college football in the history of the sport.

The era was highlighted by the advent of the BCS Championship Game, conference realignment and mega-dollar contracts for conferences, programs and coaches. But the elite athletes had a huge, if not the biggest, hand in the unprecedented growth of college football over the last two decades.

So Athlon Sports is looking back on the players that made the BCS Era great — conference-by-conference, position-by-position.

The Pac-12 is the conference of offense. The systems, the athletes and the coaching have all led to a long, distinguished list of elite college quarterbacks out West. The records, the championships and the pure athletic ability have given the Pac-12 some of the greatest quarterback names of the BCS Era. And one of the most decorated signal-callers in college football history sits atop the rankings.

Note: Must have played at least one season between 1998-13 in the conference.


1. Matt Leinart, USC (2003-05)
Stats: 10,693 yds, 99 TDs, 23 INTs, 64.8%, 9 rush TDs

Leinart won two national titles and played for a third in three years starting at powerhouse USC under Pete Carroll. He finished in the top six of Heisman voting in all three seasons, winning the award in 2004, finishing sixth in '03 and third in '05. He also earned AP Player of the Year, Manning, Walter Camp, Unitas and consensus All-American honors during his remarkable Heisman campaign. He capped the season with arguably the second-best performance by a quarterback in a national title game by dissecting Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. He threw for 332 yards and a championship game-record five touchdowns in the most lopsided win in series history. Leinart owns the career conference record with 36 consecutive games with a touchdown pass and his 99 TD passes were a league record until Matt Barkley came along. He also is just one of three players in league history to throw for 3,000 yards in three seasons (Derek Anderson, Andrew Walter).

2. Andrew Luck, Stanford (2009-11)
Stats: 9,430 yds, 82 TDs, 22 INTs, 67.0%, 957 yds, 7 TDs

The best quarterback prospect in over two decades broke all kinds of rookie NFL records in his first trip through the professional ranks. This merely lends credence to his remarkable college career. Few players have meant more to their school in history than Luck at Stanford. He led his program to its first BCS bowl win and set every school passing record en route. The two-time Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year finished second in the Heisman twice (2010, '11) and won the Unitas, Walter Camp and Maxwell awards in 2011. He is the Pac-12's all-time leader in completion percentage, yards per play (8.5) and passing efficiency (162.8). He was 27-4 in his last 31 starts, earned a degree in architecture from Stanford, and is one of just nine players in league history to throw for at least 2,500 yards in three different seasons.

3. Carson Palmer, USC (1998-02)
Stats: 11,668 yds, 72 TDs, 49 INTs, 9 rush TDs

Pete Carroll has always said that if he could design a quarterback from scratch that it would have the physical tools of Palmer. After two middle-of-the-pack seasons as the starter in L.A., Palmer won the Heisman Trophy, Unitas Award and Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year honors as a senior in 2002. That year, Palmer threw for 3,942 yards and 33 touchdowns while leading USC to a conference championship and Orange Bowl win over Iowa. He is No. 2 all-time in league history in total offense (11,621) and yards passing (11,818). His 72 touchdown passes rank 10th all-time in Pac-12 history and he is one of nine players to throw for at least 2,500 yards in three seasons. Palmer was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft.

4. Aaron Rodgers, Cal (2003-04)
Stats: 5,469 yds, 43 TDs, 13 INTs, 63.8%, 336 yds, 8 TDs

Clearly one of the greatest players to ever come through the league, Rodgers led Cal back to relevance, finishing 18-8 in two years as the starter and posting 10 wins in a season for the first time since 1991. He scored 51 times in just 25 games with only 13 interceptions, finished ninth in the Heisman voting in 2004, led the NCAA in completion percentage (66.1) and yards-per-attempt in his final season (8.1). Rodgers was a first-round pick of the Packers in the 2005 NFL Draft and is widely considered the best active quarterback on the planet today.

5. Joey Harrington, Oregon (1998-01)
Stats: 6,911 yds, 59 TDs, 23 INTs, 55.2%, 210 yds, 18 TDs

He will always be remembered as the guy on the Times Square billboard and as the third overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft. However, during his three-year run at Oregon, few players were ever as productive and successful as Harrington. He went 25-3 as a starter, including an 11-win Pac-10 championship and the program's first-ever BCS bowl appearance and win. He was named the league's Offensive Player of the Year and finished fourth in the Heisman voting. He accounted for 63 total touchdowns in his final two seasons in Eugene.

6. Cade McNown, UCLA (1995-99)
Stats: 10,708 yds, 68 TDs, 41 INTs, 55.2%, 577 yds, 16 TDs

Although small in stature, McNown was one of the league's biggest stars early in the BCS Era. He nearly led his team to the inaugural BCS title game in '98 and helped UCLA claim its last outright conference championship. He earned Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm honors and was a consensus All-American. He is third all-time with 11,285 total yards of offense and was the 12th overall pick in the 1999 NFL Draft.

7. Matt Barkley, USC (2009-12)
Stats: 12,327 yds, 116 TDs, 48 INTs, 64.1%, 6 rush TDs

When it comes to records, no one stands above Barkley. He is the all-time leader by a wide margin in Pac-12 history as the only player with 12,000 yards as well as 100 touchdown passes. He also is the only player in league history with four seasons of at least 2,500 yards passing and set the Pac-12 single-season record with 39 touchdown strikes in 2011. Amidst heavy NCAA sanctions, Barkley started 47 games, winning 34 of them. He also opened and closed his collegiate career with bowl appearances in the only two bowl-eligible seasons while he was a Trojan. His 10-win, record-breaking junior season is arguably the best season by a Pac-12 quarterback in history.

8. Marcus Mariota, Oregon (2012-present)
Stats: 6,342 yds, 63 TDs, 10 INTs, 65.8%, 1,467 yds, 14 TDs

It's only been two seasons but Mariota has already established himself as one of the league's greats. He set a freshman NCAA record by completing 68.5 percent of his passes and set a Pac-12 freshman record with 32 touchdown passes. Mariota set the league record for most consecutive passes without an interception (353) and should own every major Oregon statistical record by the end of his junior season. He is 23-3 as a starter and has accounted for 77 total touchdowns and nearly 8,000 yards of total offense — and he isn't even an upperclassman yet.

9. Marques Tuiasosopo, Washington (1997-00)
Stats: 5,501 yds, 31 TDs, 28 INTs, 54.9%, 1,374 yds, 20 TDs

He was the Huskies' first true freshman to ever start at quarterback when he took the reins from injured Brock Huard in 1997. By his junior year under a new coaching staff, Tuiasosopo earned the starting nod at QB in Seattle. He eventually led Washington back to the Rose Bowl as Pac-10 champions in 2000. He was named Offensive Player of the Year, finished eighth in the Heisman voting and Rose Bowl MVP in his final season. Tui was taken in the second round of the 2001 NFL Draft.

10. Darron Thomas, Oregon (2008-11)
Stats:  5,910 yds, 66 TDs, 17 INTs, 719 yds, 9 TDs

A slightly less talented version of Mariota, Thomas helped lead Oregon to its only BCS National Championship Game and undefeated regular season in 2010. He posted back-to-back seasons with at least 2,700 yards passing and 30 touchdowns in the only two seasons he started. Thomas won two Pac-12 titles and went 24-3 in his two seasons under center. He did everything he could in his the title game, throwing for 363 yards in the three-point loss to Auburn. Had Oregon won, he would undoubtedly be the most important Duck of the BCS Era.

Just missed the cut:

11. Dennis Dixon, Oregon (2004-07)
Stats: 5,129 yds, 38 TDs, 21 INTs, 63.9%, 1,208 yds, 12 TDs

After a stellar first season running Mike Bellotti's offense as a junior, Dixon began his final season with high hopes. And after eight wins in nine games, the Heisman frontrunner's knee buckled just two weeks after initially injuring his knee against Arizona State. Dixon earned All-Pac-10 recognition twice and was a finalist for many national awards but couldn't finish his final season. In just over nine games, he had accumulated 2,136 yards passing and 20 TDs on 67.7 percent passing and just four interceptions along with 583 yards rushing and nine touchdowns on the ground. He was named Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year despite the injury.

12. Andrew Walter, Arizona State (2001-04)
Stats: 10,617 yds, 85 TDs, 36 INTs, 54.9%

When he left school, the case could be made that Walter was the most productive signal-caller in the Pac-12's long and storied history. His 85 touchdowns were an all-time record and he had thrown for more yards in a game than anyone in history (536). He is one of only three players in history to have three 3,000-yard passing seasons and threw for at least 24 touchdowns in each of those seasons. In the conference record books, he is currently eighth all-time in passing yards and tied for third all-time in touchdown passes. He played in 48 games and as a senior (2004) helped lead ASU to nine wins for the first time since 1997.

13. Brett Hundley, UCLA (2012-present)
Stats: 6,811 yds, 53 TDs, 20 INTs, 66.7%, 1,103 yds, 20 TDs

With the possible exception of Mariota, few players have stepped onto the national scene with more gusto than Hundley. He has nearly 8,000 yards of total offense in his first two seasons on the field. He enters his junior year with a shot to break nearly every UCLA record should he continue his torrid pace. He's already led the Bruins to 19 wins, two bowl berths and a South Division title.

14. Akili Smith, Oregon (1997-98)
Stats: 5,148 yds, 45 TDs, 15 INTs, 56.6%, 367 yds, 6 TDs

He only played two seasons in big-time college football but his '98 campaign was one of the Pac-12's best. He won Offensive Player of the Year by throwing for 3,763 yards and 32 touchdowns against only eight interceptions while scoring four times on the ground. He was the third overall pick in the 1999 NFL Draft.

15. Jason Gesser, Washington State (1999-02)
Stats: 8,830 yds, 70 TDs, 39 INTs, 54.7%, 177 yds, 4 TDs

Earning his way into the lineup as a sophomore, Gesser posted back-to-back seasons with at least 3,000 yards passing and exactly 28 total touchdowns for the Cougars. He won 10 games in both of those seasons, leading Wazzu to its last Rose Bowl appearance and winning Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year honors as a senior. 

Best of the rest:

16. Jake Locker, Washington (2007-10)
Stats: 7,639 yds, 53 TDs, 35 INTs, 54.0%, 1,939 yds, 29 TDs

17. Taylor Kelly, Arizona State (2011-present)
Stats: 6,705 yds, 57 TDs, 21 INTs, 64.6%, 1,148 yds, 10 TDs

18. Mark Sanchez, USC (2006-08)
Stats: 3,965 yds, 41 TDs, 16 INTs, 64.3%, 33 yds, 4 TDs

19. Cody Pickett, Washington (1999-03)
Stats: 9,916 yds, 53 TDs, 42 INTs, 57.7%, 11 rush TDs

20. Drew Olson, UCLA (2002-05)
Stats: 8,532 yds, 67 TDs, 32 INTs, 57.8%, 2 rush TD

21. Jonathan Smith, Oregon State (1998-01)
Stats: 9,375 yds, 52 TDs, 29 INTs, 50.3%, 4 rush TDs

22. Nick Foles, Arizona (2009-11)
Stats: 9,986 yds, 67 TDs, 33 INTs, 4 rush TDs

23. Rudy Carpenter, Arizona State (2005-08)
Stats: 10,491 yds, 85 TDs, 35 INTs, 61.0%, 2 rush TDs

24. Derek Anderson, Oregon State (2001-04)
Stats: 11,249 yds, 79 TDs, 57 INTs, 50.7%, 8 rush TDs

25. Sean Mannion, Oregon State (2011-present)
Stats: 10,436 yds, 68 TDs, 46 INTs, 65.3%, Rush TD

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