Athlon Sports ranks the best Big Ten signal-callers 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 Big Ten is known for its offensive lines and running games but that doesn't mean there haven't been some amazing quarterbacks to come through these ranks. Nothing proves this more than seeing three-time Super Bowl champ Tom Brady sitting outside the Top 20.
Note: Must have played at least one season between 1998-13 in the conference.
1. Drew Brees, Purdue (1997-2000)
The two-time Big Ten Player of the Year led Purdue back to the Rose Bowl and finished among the top four in Heisman voting twice (1999, 2000). He set the NCAA record for passes attempted in a game with 83 against Wisconsin in 1998 (broken in 2013) and is the Big Ten's all-time leader in completions (1,026), passing yards, passing touchdowns, total offense (12,692) and total touchdowns (104). His 39 touchdown passes in 1998 are still a single-season Big Ten record by a wide margin. He was a second-round pick of the Chargers in 2001, has posted four of the eight 5,000-yard passing seasons in NFL history and is a Super Bowl champion.
2. Russell Wilson, NC State/Wisconsin (2008-11)
Stats: 11,720 yds, 109 TDs, 30 INTs, 60.9%, 1,421 yds, 23 TDs
Not many players own school records for two different programs but Wilson excelled in both the ACC and Big Ten. He posted the single greatest season by a Wisconsin quarterback in history en route to a league crown and near national title berth. He owns the NCAA record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass (38) and the single-season mark for passing efficiency at 191.8. His 33 touchdown passes in 2011 are second all-time in B1G history to only Brees' 39. He was elite at NC State, elite at Wisconsin and has already led Seattle to its first Super Bowl championship. Needless to say, he is one of the greatest college quarterbacks in history.
3. Troy Smith, Ohio State (2003-06)
Stats: 5,720 yds, 54 TDs, 13 INTs, 62.7%, 1,168 yds, 14 TDs
Smith won the AP Player of the Year, Davey O'Brien, Walter Camp awards and is the only Big Ten quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy since Les Horvath won the award at OSU in 1944. Only Smith and Wisconsin's Ron Dayne won a Heisman for the Big Ten during the BCS Era. Additionally, his Heisman Trophy in 2006 was en route to a perfect season, Big Ten championship and BCS Championship Game berth against Florida. The consensus All-American was the first Buckeyes quarterback to go 3-0 against Michigan since the 1930s and is one of just four players in league history to throw at least 30 touchdowns in a single season. His career QB rating of 157.1 is the best in league history. The 2006 Fiesta Bowl MVP was a part of three BCS bowl teams and was a fifth-round pick in the '07 NFL Draft.
4. Antwaan Randle El, Indiana (1998-2001)
Stats: 7,469 yds, 42 TDs, 37 INTs, 49.8%, 3,895 yds, 44 TDs
The electric athlete sparked the glory years of Indiana football. Well ahead of his time as one of the original dual-threat quarterbacks, Randle El had the top three rushing seasons in Big Ten history, including the only 1,000-yard season, by a quarterback until the likes Denard Robinson and Braxton Miller came along and topped his 1,270-yard season of 2000. The Hoosiers star is fifth all-time in Big Ten history with 11,364 total yards of offense and was named the Big Ten Player of the Year in 2001, finishing sixth in the Heisman voting. He was a second-round pick and is the only wide receiver to ever throw a touchdown pass in a Super Bowl.
5. Braxton Miller, Ohio State (2011-pres.)
Stats: 5,292 yds, 52 TDs, 17 INTs, 59.3%, 3,054 yds, 32 TDs
It may seem too early to place Miller this high after just two full seasons under center but his resume is starting to become one of the best in Big Ten history. Along with Brees, Miller is the only other player in league history to win two Player of the Year awards (2012 and '13) after he led his team to back-to-back undefeated regular seasons. He has already accounted for 84 total touchdowns and over 8,000 yards of total offense and will have a chance to catch Brees in both categories by the time his career is over in Columbus. His 3,054 yards rushing is already third all-time in B1G history among QBs and he has an outside chance to top Denard Robinson's record of 4,495 yards.
6. Brett Basanez, Northwestern (2002-05)
Stats: 10,580 yds, 44 TDs,36 INTs, 57.6%, 996 yds, 18 TDs
He didn't post the gaudy touchdown numbers of some of the others on this list, but Basanez ranks among the all-time best in productivity. After back-to-back losing seasons, Basanez helped lead the Wildcats to two bowls in three years and was awarded Big Ten Player of the Year as a senior in 2005. He completed 314-of-497 passes (both top 10 in league history) for 3,622 yards (ninth all-time) and scored 28 total touchdowns. Basanez ranks third all-time in league history with 11,576 yards of total offense and is fourth all-time in passing yards.
7. Brad Banks, Iowa (2001-02)
Stats: 3,155 yds, 30 TDs, 7 INTs, 58.3%, 574 yds, 7 TDs
He only started one year in the Big Ten but it was a monster season in 2002. Banks was named Big Ten Player of the Year, won the Davey O'Brien Award, was named the AP Player of the Year and finished second in the Heisman voting. He also led Iowa to its first ever BCS Bowl berth. He posted 2,573 yards passing, 26 touchdowns, five interceptions, 423 yards rushing and five more scores in '02.
9. Chad Henne, Michigan (2004-07)
Stats: 9,715 yds, 87 TDs, 37 INTs, 3 rush TDs
Starting in his first career game as a true freshman, Henne was a true four-year starter for Michigan — just the second true freshman to start his career opener in school history. The freshman All-American eventually finished with every major Michigan passing record in the books. He is seventh all-time in Big Ten history in passing yards and trails only Brees (90) in career touchdown passes (87). Henne started 47 games in the Maize and Blue, posting 33 wins, two Rose Bowl appearances and came just one victory shy from playing in the national championship game in 2006.
10. Denard Robinson, Michigan (2009-12)
Stats: 6,250 yds, 49 TDs, 39 INTs, 57.2%, 4,495 yds, 42 TDs
There were certainly times when Robinson drove the Michigan fans batty but there is no doubting that he is one of the most dynamic, unique and explosive players in Big Ten history. Robinson set a Big Ten record with 4,272 yards of total offense in 2010, earning Big Ten Player of the Year honors and becoming the first player in NCAA history top both 1,500 yards rushing and passing in the same year. He has the top three single-game rushing performances by a quarterback in league history (258) and topped 200 yards rushing five times. His 1,702 yards rushing are a single-season record for B1G quarterbacks and his 4,495 career yards are No. 1 all-time in NCAA history among signal-callers. Robinson's 10,745 yards of offense rank sixth all-time in league history and he is one of only five players in college football history to throw for at least 6,000 yards and rush for at least 4,000.
Just missed the cut:
11. Craig Krenzel, Ohio State (2000-03)
Stats: 4,489 yds, 28 TDs, 21 INTs, 56.8%, 600 yds, 6 TDs
He wasn't the flashiest and he certainly wasn't the most talented but Krenzel was a winner. And he is the only Big Ten quarterback to lead his team to a BCS National Championship when his Buckeyes went 14-0 in his junior season. He was a two-time Fiesta Bowl MVP, finished his career 24-3 as a starter and earned a degree in Molecular Genetics along the way.
12. Michael Robinson, Penn State (2002-05)
Stats: 3,531 yds, 23 TDs, 21 INTs, 52.1%, 1,637 yds, 20 TDs, 52 rec., 629 yds, 3 TDs
The versatile weapon capped his career in Happy Valley by leading Penn State back to a conference championship and the BCS with a Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year award-winning campaign in 2005. He threw for 2,350 yards and 17 touchdowns while rushing for 806 yards and 11 scores on the ground that season.
13. Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State (2008-10)
Stats: 6,177 yds, 57 TDs, 26 INTs, 60.9, 2,164 yds, 17 TDs
Entering the lineup early in his freshman year, Pryor proved why he was the No. 1 overall recruit in the nation coming out of high school. The Big Ten Freshman of the Year went on to win three Big Ten titles and play in three BCS Bowls in all three seasons under center. His numbers are prolific and his talent was electric, but he is also responsible for a scandal so bad that it took down the entire coaching staff as well.
14. Kurt Kittner, Illinois (1998-01)
Stats: 8,460 yds, 70 TD, 33 INTs, 54.4%, 168 yds, 7 TDs
The all-time leader in school history for passing touchdowns in a career and season, Kittner capped his excellent tenure at Illinois by leading the Illini to an outright Big Ten championship and berth in the Sugar Bowl in 2001. His 70 passing touchdowns are eighth all-time in Big Ten history.
15. Taylor Martinez, Nebraska (2010-13)
Stats: 7,258 yds, 56 TDs, 29 INTs, 59.8%, 2,975 yds, 31 TDs
Few players have ever been as explosive and fun to watch as T-Magic was for the Huskers. And had an injury not ruined his final season, there is no telling where Martinez would have wound up in the record books. He owns Nebraska's all-time record for total offense, passing yards, career stars by a quarterback and touchdown passes as well as the single-season school record for total offense and total touchdowns. He led the Huskers to a Big 12 title game appearance as a freshman and was a first-team All-Big Ten pick when he led his team to the Big Ten title game in 2012. Fans in Lincoln were left to wonder what could have been had he stayed healthy this past fall.
16. John Navarre, Michigan (2000-03)
Stats: 9,264 yds, 70 TDs, 30 INTs, 56.1%, 2 rush TDs
Henne owns all of the major Michigan passing records but it was Navarre's marks that he broke. With three full seasons as a starter, Navarre is currently still ninth all-time in Big Ten history in passing yards and fourth all-time in touchdowns. Michigan won 29 games during his three-year run as the starter and went to back-to-back Rose Bowls in 2003-04.
17. Kyle Orton, Purdue (2001-04)
Stats: 9,337 yds, 63 TDs, 28 INTs, 58.8%, 316 yds, 6 TDs
Picking up where Brees left off, Orton posted three consecutive seasons with a completion percentage above 60 and led Purdue to four bowl games. He was named first-team All-Big Ten when he threw for 3,090 yards, 31 TDs and only five picks as a senior — making him one of only four players in league history to top 30 TD passes. He is eighth all-time in passing yards and was a fourth-round pick in 2005.
18. Juice Williams, Illinois (2006-09)
Stats: 8,037 yds, 56 TDs, 44 INTs, 53.3%, 2,557 yds, 18 TDs
The four-year starter for Illinois was one of the most productive players of his era and returned the Illini to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1983 when he got his team to Pasadena in 2007. Williams is seventh all-time in Big Ten history with 10,594 yards and is one of just eight to ever top 10K.
19. Curtis Painter, Purdue (2005-08)
Stats: 11,163 yds, 67 TDs, 46 INTs, 59.9%, 348 yds, 13 TDs
Painter started 41 of his possible 46 career games over four seasons in West Lafayette. His 11,163 career yards passing are second only to fellow Boilermaker Brees in Big Ten history and Painter also is ninth all-time in touchdown passes. He owns two of the Big Ten's top four single-season passing marks, including the conference's top performance with 3,985 yards in 2006. His 569 attempts in 2007 tied Brees for the Big Ten record while his 987 completions rank second all-time to only Brees as well. His 546 yards passing against Central Michigan in the Motor City Bowl were the highest single-game total of any B1G QB during the BCS Era and the third most all-time.
20. Adam Weber, Minnesota (2007-10)
Stats: 10,917 yds, 72 TDs, 51 INTs, 57.0%, 873 yds, 10 TDs
A four-year starter, Weber posted four straight seasons with between 2,582 and 2,895 yards during his time in Minnesota. He is third all-time in the Big Ten in passing and fourth all-time in passing touchdowns. He led a 1-11 team as a freshman All-American to back-to-back bowl games as a sophomore and junior. His 11,790 yards of total offense are third all-time in league history.
Best of the rest:
21. Tom Brady, Michigan (1996-99): 4,773 yds, 30 TDs, 17 INTs, 61.9%, 3 rush TDs
22. Daryll Clark, Penn State (2006-09): 5,742 yds, 43 TDs, 16 INTs, 60.2%, 619 yds, 22 TDs
23. Dan Persa, Northwestern (2008-11): 5,181 yds, 34 TDs, 13 INTs, 72.7%, 716 yds, 10 TDs
24. Drew Stanton, Michigan State (2003-06): 6,524 yds, 42 TDs, 28 INTs, 64.2%, 1,512 yds, 15 TDs
25. John Stocco, Wisconsin (2003-06): 7,227 yds, 47 TDs, 22 INTs, 7 rush TDs