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.
Having dissected every season of every major conference from the BCS Era, I think I can safely say that the Big 12 had the best quarterbacks. Four Heisman Trophy winners, seven BCS National Championship Game appearances from six different signal-callers and two national titles say as much — and that’s just the top 10 in this league. The Big 12 also boasts who I believe is the best player regardless of position in college football over the last 16 seasons.
Note: Must have played at least one season between 1998-13 in the conference.
1. Vince Young, Texas (2003-05)
Stats: 6,040 yds, 44 TDs, 28 INTs, 61.8%, 3,127 yds, 37 TDs
The Texas quarterback was the most unstoppable single force of the BCS Era. Just ask Kansas. Or Colorado. Or USC even. He earned Rose Bowl MVP honors following his ridiculous performance against Michigan to finish his sophomore season. It was a sign of things to come as he was named Big 12 Player of the Year in 2005. The Longhorns' offense averaged more than 50 points per game, he was a consensus All-American, led the Big 12 in passing efficiency, won the Davey O'Brien, Manning and Maxwell Awards while finishing second on the Heisman ballot. His smooth running skills led to an all-time Big 12 career record 6.8 yards per carry. And no one will ever forget his second Rose Bowl MVP performance against USC in the greatest game of the BCS Era, returning the national championship to Austin.
2. Robert Griffin III, Baylor (2008-11)
Stats: 10,366 yds, 78 TDs, 17 INTs, 67.1%, 2,254 yds, 33 TDs
Right alongside Andrew Luck will always be RG3, as the duo will forever be linked in football history. Griffin III beat out the Cardinal signal-caller to win the 2011 Heisman Trophy while leading Baylor to back-to-back bowl games. He led the NCAA in passing efficiency (189.5) — a Big 12 single-season record — and posted the fourth-best season in terms of total offense in conference history (4,992 yards, the most by any non-Texas Tech quarterback). He was a consensus All-American and won the Davey O'Brien and Manning Awards to go with his stiff-armed trophy. In fact, few players at any position in any league have meant more to their school than Griffin III. His impact on Baylor Bears football is immeasurable and could continue for decades. Had he been healthy for his entire career — he missed nine games in 2009 — his numbers might have been the best the BCS Era has ever seen.
3. Sam Bradford, Oklahoma (2007-09)
Stats: 8,403 yds, 88 TDs, 16 INTs, 67.6%, 5 rush TDs
It didn't take long for the three-star recruit to establish himself as one of Oklahoma's best of all-time. He set a school record for yards in a half in the first half of his career and broke another school record for consecutive completions the next game (22) — still a Big 12 record and two shy of the NCAA mark (Tee Martin). By season's end, Bradford owned the NCAA's all-time freshman passing touchdowns record (since broken) with 36. He also won the Big 12 championship. The following season, Bradford led the Sooners to the BCS title game against Florida and beat out Tim Tebow and Colt McCoy for the Heisman Trophy. He won Sammy Baugh and Davey O'Brien honors as well. Bradford owns the NCAA record for career quarterback efficiency at 175.6 making him the most efficient quarterback in the history of the game. He also owns the NCAA mark for yards per play (8.7) and 86 of his 88 career touchdown passes came in just two seasons.
4. Colt McCoy, Texas (2006-09)
Stats: 13,253 yds, 112 TDs, 45 INTs, 70.3%, 1,571 yds, 20 TDs
Few players got more out of their abilities than McCoy. He was a two-time consensus All-American as a junior and senior, finishing second in the Heisman as a junior and third as a senior. McCoy was the 2009 Big 12 Player of the Year and claimed the Walter Camp, Maxwell, Manning, Unitas and Davey O'Brien Awards over his last two seasons. En route to the 2009 BCS National Championship Game, he produced 30 touchdowns and over 3,900 yards of total offense on the unbeaten Big 12 champs. He left school with more wins than any quarterback in NCAA history (since broken), owns the NCAA single-season record for completion percentage (76.7) and is the most efficient passer in Big 12 history (70.3 percent).
5. Josh Heupel, Oklahoma (1999-2000)
Stats: 7,242 yds, 53 TDs, 30 INTs, 63.8%, 43 yds, 12 TDs
He wasn't the most talented quarterback to play in Norman but he might have the best understanding of the position. He won AP Player of the Year and Big 12 Player of the Year honors, was a consensus All-American, earned the Walter Camp Trophy, finished second in the Heisman and led the NCAA in completion percentage (64.7) in 2000. More importantly, he led Oklahoma to arguably the biggest win in program history over Florida State in the BCS championship game in 2000. He posted back-to-back seasons of at least 3,400 yards passing and 27 total touchdowns.
6. Brad Smith, Missouri (2002-05)
Stats: 8,799 yds, 56 TDs, 33 INTs, 56.3%, 4,289 yds, 45 TDs
Smith is one of only five players in the 6,000-4,000 club after becoming the first player to accomplish the feat back in 2005. He is arguably the most dynamic playmaker in the history of the program and was nearly unstoppable in the backfield. His 799 rushing attempts are fifth all-time in Big 12 history and his 4,289 yards rushing are fourth while his 45 touchdowns rank ninth all-time. All of this on the ground from a guy who also ranks ninth all-time in passing yards, sixth in attempts (1,484) and seventh in completions (835).
7. Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State (2008-11)
Stats: 9,260 yds, 75 TDs, 27 INTs, 69.5%, 1 rush TD
The Pokes quarterback set all the important school passing records in 2011 and then returned to Stillwater in '12 and surpassed his previous benchmarks. His 4,742 yards passing in 2011 is the best single-season by a Big 12 quarterback not from Texas Tech. He led Oklahoma State to its first-ever Big 12 title and first-ever BCS bowl win. His 69.5 percent completion rate is third all-time in Big 12 history and he ranks eighth in league history in passing yards and ninth in touchdowns in just two seasons as a starter. Weeden went on to be a first-round draft pick of the Browns in the 2012 NFL Draft.
8. Eric Crouch, Nebraska (1998-2001)
Stats: 4,481 yds, 29 TDs, 25 INTs, 51.5%, 3,434 yds, 59 TDs
The Nebraska signal-caller continued the long run of elite running quarterbacks in Lincoln with a Heisman Trophy season that ended with a trip to the BCS title game against Miami. The two-time Big 12 Player of the Year also claimed Davey O'Brien and Walter Camp honors and led the Big 12 in rushing touchdowns three consecutive seasons. The four-year starter won three straight Big 12 North titles as well as the most recent conference title of any kind for Nebraska (’99). His 59 rushing touchdowns are a record for any QB in NCAA history and are third all-time in the Big 12 record books.
9. Jason White, Oklahoma (1999-2004)
Stats: 7,922 yds, 81 TDs, 24 INTs, 63.3%, 2 rush TDs
The list of awards and accomplishments is long for White. He was AP National Player of the Year, a two-time Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, the Unitas, Davey O’Brien and Maxwell winner and claimed the 2003 Heisman Trophy. He led his team to two BCS National Championship Games and a perfect 13-0 Big 12 title in 2004 (before getting hammered by USC). He finished third in the Heisman voting in his senior season. White had over 7,000 yards passing and 75 touchdown passes in two seasons as the starter.
10. Graham Harrell, Texas Tech (2005-08)
Stats: 15,611 yds, 134 TDs, 34 INTs, 69.8%, 12 rush TDs
No player in Big 12 history has thrown for more touchdowns than Harrell and only two players in NCAA history (Case Keenum, Kellen Moore) can top his 134 scoring strikes. The Red Raiders QB has two of the top three passing seasons in Big 12 history and three of the top nine. His career completion percentage of 69.8 is second all-time in league history behind only McCoy and no one has completed more passes in NCAA history than his 1,403 connections. Before ending his career, Harrell was awarded the Sammy Baugh Trophy in 2007 and the Unitas Golden Arm Award in '08 when he nearly led Tech to what would have been its only Big 12 title game appearance to date.
Just missed the cut:
11. Chase Daniel, Missouri (2005-08)
Stats: 12,515 yds, 101 TDs, 41 INTs, 68.0%, 971 yds, 10 TDs
Like many names on this list, Daniel was more than just big stats and awards. He elevated his program to a new level of competition. Missouri won a school-record 12 games (since tied) during Daniel’s Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year and Heisman finalist (4th) season of 2007. He then won 10 games in ’08, posting two of the three double-digit win seasons in school history at the time. He also led Mizzou to its only two Big 12 title game appearances while setting every major school passing record along the way. Daniel is fourth all-time in passing yards and one of only four players with 100-plus TD passes in Big 12 history.
12. Todd Reesing, Kansas (2006-09)
Stats: 11,194 yds, 90 TDs, 33 INTs, 63.8%, 646 yds, 15 TDs
Exactly like Daniel, Reesing carried his program to levels never before seen in Lawrence. Before Reesing arrived, Kansas had won 10 games just twice in more than a century of football (1905, '95). In just his first season, the Kansas signal-caller threw for 3,486 yards, 33 TDs and only seven interceptions en route to a school-record 12 wins. The Orange Bowl victory that year was the only appearance the Jayhawks made in any BCS bowl during its 16-year run. Reesing had three straight seasons with at least 3,400 yards passing and is sixth all-time in league history in both yards and touchdown passes.
13. Collin Klein, Kansas State (2009-2012)
Stats: 4,724 yds, 30 TDs, 15 INTs, 61.3%, 2,485 yds, 56 TDs
He certainly isn’t a conventional quarterback but he was equally effective and just as successful as any of the pro-style pocket passers on this list. Klein tied a Big 12 record with 27 rushing touchdowns in 2011 and is fourth all-time in Big 12 history with a total of 56 — just three shy of the NCAA record. He literally carried Kansas State to a Big 12 championship, was named Big 12 Player of the Year, won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm award and finished third in the Heisman voting in his final season on campus.
14. Michael Bishop, Kansas State (1997-98)
Stats: 4,401 yds, 36 TDs, 13 INTs, 1,314 yds, 23 TDs
Any place that Klein is mentioned in Kansas State or Big 12 lore, Bishop needs to be right alongside. Both were dual-threat talents who carried their Wildcats to the Big 12 championship game during an award-winning senior season. Bishop was a consensus All-American, Davey O’Brien Award winner and finished second in the Heisman voting when he posted this season: 2,844 yards, 23 TDs, 5 INTs, 748 yards rushing, 14 TDs.
15. Zac Robinson, Oklahoma State (2006-09)
Stats: 8,317 yds, 66 TDs, 31 INTs, 1,858 yds, 22 TDs
One of the more underrated players in league history, Robinson took a four-win team the year before he arrived and led the Pokes to four winning seasons. He started the last three of those seasons and capped his career with back-to-back nine-win campaigns. His ability to make plays with his legs is often forgotten as his 10,175 yards of total offense rank ninth all-time (ahead of Vince Young).
16. Landry Jones, Oklahoma (2009-12)
Stats: 16,646 yds, 123 TDs, 52 INTs, 63.6%, 3 rush TDs
Very few players in history have four 3,000-yard seasons on their resume but Jones is one of them. Jones is No. 3 in NCAA history in passing yards and No. 5 in touchdown passes, but also threw more interceptions than any player in Big 12 history (52). He won 40 games in his career, including one outright conference championship in 2010, but never took Oklahoma to the national title level.
17. Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech (1999-02)
Stats: 12,423 yds, 95 TDs, 40 INTs, 5 rush TDs
Kingsbury led the nation in completions for three consecutive seasons and owns the Big 12 record for completions in a game (49). He capped his career by leading the nation in passing yards and touchdowns with 5,017 yards and 45 in 2002. His is one of just three players in Big 12 history to top 5,000 yards and is one of just 10 players in NCAA history to reach 5K passing. And let’s face it, the ladies love them some Kingsbury.
18. Major Applewhite, Texas (1998-01)
Stats: 8,353 yds, 60 TDs, 28 INTs, 57.4%, 3 rush TDs
A cult hero in Austin, Applewhite battled blue-chip, NFL offspring Chris Simms for playing time most of his career. Starting as a sophomore, Applewhite threw for 3,357 yards and 21 scores en route to being named Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year. He left school as the record holder for passing yards in a career and season (since broken) as well as consecutive games with a TD pass (19).
19. Bryce Petty, Baylor (2011-present)
Stats: 4,340 yds, 33 TDs, 3 INTs, 62.4%, 237 yds, 15 TDs
This is really just a starting point for a player who could quickly rise in the Big 12 QB ranks with another huge season in 2014. In just one year, however, Petty led Baylor to its only Big 12 championship, its only BCS bowl bid and he won Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year honors. He was responsible for 46 total touchdowns, rolled up 4,409 yards of offense and threw only three interceptions in ’13.
20. Geno Smith, West Virginia (2009-12)
Stats: 11,662 yds, 98 TDs, 21 INTs, 342 yds, 4 TDs
He only played one season in the Big 12 but it was a monster season. He threw for 4,205 yards and an NCAA-best 42 touchdowns. His overall career numbers stack up with most of the Big 12’s best and he led WVU to an Orange Bowl romp over Clemson. He owns the Big 12 record for consecutive completions without an interception (273), the Big 12 single-game TD record (8) and the Big 12 single-game total offense record (687). Smith was a second-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Best of the rest:
21. B.J. Symons, Texas Tech (2000-03): 6,378 yds, 59 TDs, 25 INTs, 64.4%, 208 yds, 6 TDs
22. Blaine Gabbert, Missouri (2008-10): 6,822 yds, 40 TDs, 18 INTs, 60.9%, 458 yds, 8 TDs
23. Bret Meyer, Iowa State (2004-07): 9,499 yds, 50 TDs, 41 INTs, 58.0%, 923 yds, 12 TDs
24. Nick Florence, Baylor (2009-12): 6,301 yds, 41 TDs, 22 INTs, 61.8%, 651 yds, 14 TDs
25. Zac Taylor, Nebraska (2005-06): 5,853 yds, 45 TDs, 20 INTs, 57.3%, 2 rush TDs
26. Seth Doege, Texas Tech (2009-12): 8,636 yds, 69 TDs, 26 INTs, 69.0%, 54 yds, 6 TDs
27. Ell Roberson, Kansas State (2000-03): 5,099 yds, 37 TDs, 26 INTs, 48.9%, 2,818 yds, 40 TDs
28. Seneca Wallace, Iowa State (2001-02): 5,289 yds, 26 TDs, 27 INTs, 57.7%, 912 yds, 15 TDs
29. Josh Freeman, Kansas State (2006-08): 8,078 yds, 44 TDs, 34 INTs, 59.1%, 343 yds, 20 TDs
30. Reggie McNeal, Texas A&M (2002-05): 6,992 yds, 44 TDs, 23 INTs, 54.6%, 1,889 yds, 15 TDs