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.
There certainly have been greats that graced the SEC stage during the BCS Era. Every program in this powerhouse league, at one time or another, has had an elite signal-caller — even Kentucky (Tim Couch, Andre Woodson) and Vanderbilt (Jay Cutler). But one name stands above the rest in the SEC when it comes to quarterback play and the BCS Era.
Note: Must have played at least one season between 1998-13 in the conference.
1. Tim Tebow, Florida (2006-09)
Stats: 9,285 yds, 88 TDs, 16 INTs, 66.4%, 2,947 yds, 57 TDs
Four years of huge statistics makes him the all-time SEC leader in total yards, total touchdowns (145), rushing touchdowns and passing efficiency (170.8). He won the Heisman Trophy in 2007 as well as the Davey O'Brien and Maxwell Awards when he set an NCAA record with 55 total touchdowns and 4,181 yards of total offense (since broken). He won the SEC Player of the Year, Manning and Maxwell Awards the following year in which he led Florida to its second national championship in three years. Tebow is one of only five players in SEC history to rush for 20 TDs in a season and his 57 career rushing touchdowns are an SEC record. He fell one game shy in 2009 of playing in — and likely winning — three national titles in four years. His speech following the loss to Ole Miss in '08 has been immortalized in Gator football lore and his cult following has only grown since leaving Gainesville.
2. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M (2012-13)
Stats: 7,820 yds, 63 TDs, 22 INTs, 68.9%, 2,169 yds, 30 TDs
Manziel was one of the most unstoppable forces with the ball in his hands. He set the SEC single-season total offense record (5,116) by a large margin during his Heisman Trophy redshirt freshman campaign. His encore performance of 4,873 yards in his second season gives him the two most productive seasons in SEC history. He was a two-time, first-team All-SEC selection, won the Manning and Davey O’Brien Awards and earned two bowl MVP trophies in the Cotton and Chick-fil-A Bowls. In just two seasons, his 9,989 yards tied Eli Manning exactly for eighth all-time in league history for total offense and his 93 total touchdowns rank fifth all-time. He is the all-time SEC leader in completion percentage (68.9 percent) and is one of only two players in league history to throw for 4,000 yards in a season (Tim Couch). Six conference losses and some injuries slowed the end of his short career, but Manziel’s excitement, improvisational skills, production and big-play ability are second to none in the storied history of SEC football. Few players ever burst onto the SEC scene quite like Johnny Manziel — despite the horrendous nickname — and few enjoyed the spotlight more.
3. AJ McCarron, Alabama (2010-13)
Stats: 9,019 yds, 77 TDs, 15 INTs, 66.9%, 3 rush TDs
He gets knocked for his vanilla offensive system, extraordinary head coach and talented supporting cast but McCarron is Alabama’s greatest quarterback and is arguably the most successful player in SEC history this side of Tebow (who also had a great coach and elite supporting cast). He earned three BCS National Championships rings — two as the starting quarterback — and is the most prolific passer in school history. He earned BCS title game MVP honors as a sophomore before leading the nation in passing efficiency and winning another title as a junior (175.3). His 77-to-15 TD-to-INT ratio is one of the best in NCAA history as he finished as the No. 4-most efficient passer in SEC history (162.5). McCarron was a Heisman Trophy runner-up, the Maxwell and Unitas Award winner and finished 36-4 as a starter in his career — never missing a game in his four-year, 53-game career. Having Katherine Webb on the resume doesn’t hurt either.
4. Cam Newton, Florida/Auburn (2008, '10)
Stats: 2,908 yds, 30 TDs, 7 INTs, 65.4%, 1,586 yds, 24 TDs
Newton's career is an intriguing one that could have been one of the greatest of all-time had he played more than just one season at Auburn. He was essentially kicked out of school, intertwined with a recruiting scandal and left early for the NFL. Yet, his one season in 2010 was one of the best in history. He single-handedly carried Auburn to a BCS title, won the Heisman Trophy as well as Davey O'Brien, Archie Manning, Maxwell, Walter Camp and AP Player of the Year honors. He set (since broken) the SEC’s single-season record for total offense with 4,327 yards and is one of just five players ever to rush for 20 TDs in an SEC season. Had he played more than one season, Newton could have challenged Tebow as arguably the best player to play in the SEC during the BCS Era.
5. Aaron Murray, Georgia (2010-13)
Stats: 13,166 yds, 121 TDs, 41 INTs, 62.3%, 396 yds, 16 TDs
When it comes to statistics, no SEC player in history was more productive than Murray. He owns the SEC record for passing yards and touchdown passes. His 137 total touchdowns trail only Tebow and his 13,562 yards of total offense bested Tebow’s record by a large margin (12,232). He is one of only three Georgia quarterbacks to beat Florida in three straight seasons and he posted at least 3,000 yards passing in four consecutive seasons. He is No. 1 all-time in SEC history with 921 completions and is No. 2 all-time with 1,478 attempts. He started 52 consecutive games, missing only the final two games of his senior season. His final record was 35-17 with two SEC East titles and the lack of a conference championship is the only missing piece to Murray’s otherwise sterling resume.
6. Eli Manning, Ole Miss (2000-03)
Stats: 10,119 yds, 81 TDs, 35 INTs, 60.8%, 5 rush TDs
The third and final Manning to play quarterback in the SEC elevated Ole Miss to its highest levels of success during the BCS Era. He claimed the Unitas and Maxwell Awards, along with SEC Player of the Year honors and finished third in the Heisman Trophy balloting in 2003. He owns the Ole Miss single-season records for yards (3,600) and touchdowns (31) and is eighth all-time in SEC history with over 10,000 yards passing. He is clearly one of this generation's greatest talents and of all the other greats to play in the SEC, Manning might have had the least talented supporting cast. He was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft.
7. David Greene, Georgia (2001-04)
Stats: 11,528 yds, 72 TDs, 32 INTs, 59.0%, 5 rush TDs
Greene helped restore the winning ways in Athens and it started in his first season as the SEC Freshman of the Year in 2001. He led the Dawgs to their first SEC title in two decades as a sophomore and was named an All-SEC passer in each of his upperclass seasons. He left school as the NCAA’s all-time winningest quarterback with 42 wins in his career. He was the SEC’s all-time leading passer until Murray broke his record in 2013.
8. Tim Couch, Kentucky (1996-98)
Stats: 8,435 yds, 74 TDs, 35 INTs, 4 rush TDs
The consensus All-American and No. 1 overall pick in the 1999 NFL Draft brags two of the top four passing seasons in SEC history. He and Manziel are the only two players to top 4,000 yards passing in any season and his 4,275 yards in his junior season in the first year of the BCS system are still an SEC single-season record. His 37 touchdown passes in 1997 are tied for third all-time and his 36 scoring strikes the following year are tied for fifth.
9. Rex Grossman, Florida (2000-02)
Stats: 9,164 yds, 77 TDs, 36 INTs, 61.0%, 6 rush TDs
Grossman was a consensus All-American, SEC Player of the Year, AP Player of the Year nationally and finished second in the Heisman voting in 2001. His 3,896 yards passing in 2001 are a Florida school record and sit at No. 3 all-time in SEC history (Couch, Manziel). His 77 TD passes in just three years are ninth all-time and he was a first-round pick of the Bears in 2003. He led the Gators to two BCS bowls and his 146.8 passer rating is 10th all-time in SEC history.
10. Chris Leak, Florida (2003-06)
Stats: 11,213 yds, 88 TDs, 42 INTs, 61.4%, 137 yds, 13 TDs
Leak is third all-time in SEC history for passing yards and was the all-time leader in completions (895) until Murray came along. He started as a freshman and set SEC freshman passing records before three consecutive seasons with at least 2,600 yards and 20 TDs. As a senior he earned BCS Championship Game MVP honors after dismantling the Ohio State Buckeyes in the 2006 title game. Florida won 37 games and went to four bowl games during his time in Gainesville. Leak won’t ever be confused with the most talented to ever play the game but his resume is as complete as any in the history of the sport.
Just missed the cut:
11. Andre Woodson, Kentucky (2004-07)
Stats: 9,360 yds, 79 TDs, 25 INTs, 61.9%, 5 rush TDs
From 1985-2005, Kentucky went to three bowl games. Woodson led the Wildcats to bowl wins in 2006 and '07 while setting several SEC single-season records in the process. He is the only SEC quarterback to ever throw 40 touchdown passes in a season (40) and his 79 career TD passes rank seventh all-time in league history. Woodson is one of four SEC quarterbacks with two seasons of at least 3,500 yards (Manziel, Couch, Ryan Mallett). Woodson owns the SEC record for consecutive attempts without an interception at 325.
12. Jason Campbell, Auburn (2001-04)
Stats: 7,299 yds, 45 TDs, 24 INTs, 64.6%, 307 yds, 9 TDs
He never threw for 3,000 yards but Campbell was extremely efficient and led his team to an SEC championship and unbeaten season as a senior in 2004. He won SEC Player of the Year and SEC title game MVP honors and finished seventh in the Heisman voting after 2,700 yards passing and 23 total touchdowns.
13. Greg McElroy, Alabama (2007-10)
Stats: 5,691 yds, 39 TDs, 10 INTs, 71 yds, 2 TDs
Signing with Nick Saban’s first class, McElroy and his elite football IQ was a huge part of returning Alabama to the mountain top in 2009. He led the Tide to their first national championship since 1992 with an excellent 2,508-yard, 17-TD, 4-INT season and SEC title game MVP award as a junior. He came back and set the school record with 2,987 yards as a senior before getting drafted by the Jets.
14. Tee Martin, Tennessee (1996-99)
Stats: 4,592 yds, 32 TDs, 16 INTs, 55.4%, 614 yds, 16 TDs
Peyton Manning is the greatest Tennessee quarterback of all-time but Martin did what Manning couldn’t when he led the Vols to the first national championship of the BCS Era. Martin set the NCAA record for consecutive completions at 24 during that historic run at the SEC and BCS titles. Martin led Tennessee to another BCS bowl as a senior and finished 8-0 as a starter against Alabama, Auburn, Georgia and Kentucky.
15. Connor Shaw, South Carolina (2010-13)
Stats: 6,074 yds, 56 TDs, 16 INTs, 65.6%, 1,683 yds, 17 TDs
His passing numbers will never be confused with either of Manning boys, but Shaw presided over the greatest era of Gamecocks football. He led three straight 11-win seasons in Columbia — the only three 11-win seasons in school history — and did it with elite toughness and efficiency. His career passer rating of 155.9 is sixth all-time in SEC history and his 56-to-16 TD-to-INT ratio is among the best in SEC history. He also ran the ball at least 130 times in each of his three seasons as the starter. Simply put, he was a winner — a school-record 27 of them overall, all 17 at home and three in a row over Clemson.
16. Jay Cutler, Vanderbilt (2002-05)
Stats: 8,697 yds, 59 TDs, 36 INTs, 57.2%, 1,256 yds, 17 TDs
Cutler played on three straight two-win teams before leading Vanderbilt to five wins and earning SEC Offensive Player of the Year honors as a senior. He is the Dores' all-time leading passer in most every category and is clearly the most physically talented player to ever quarterback the program. He was a first-round pick in the 2006 NFL Draft.
17. Ryan Mallet, Michigan/Arkansas (2007, 2009-10)
Stats: 8,385 yds, 69 TDs, 24 INTs, 57.8%, 7 rush TDs
Mallett is one of only four SEC signal-callers in history with two 3,500-yard seasons on his resume. He set an Arkansas record with 3,624 yards passing in his first season in the SEC and then broke his own record with 3,869 the following year. His 32 TD passes in 2010 are a school record as well while his passer rating of 158.1 is fifth all-time in SEC history behind only Tebow, Manziel, Danny Wuerffel and McCarron. The Hogs went 18-8 during his span, earned their only BCS bowl berth of the era while posting 10 wins (2010) for only the second time since 1989.
18. Matthew Stafford, Georgia (2006-08)
Stats: 7,731 yds, 51 TDs, 33 INTs, 57.1%, 213 yds, 6 TDs
From a talent standpoint, few players in SEC history can match the raw physical ability of Stafford. He struggled as a freshman but eventually improved greatly over his three seasons, eventually throwing for 3,459 yards and 25 touchdowns as a junior. Georgia won 30 games in three years with Stafford on the team and he was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.
19. Casey Clausen, Tennessee (2000-03)
Stats: 9,707 yds, 75 TDs, 31 INTs, 61.0%, 6 rush TDs
The eldest of three Clausen brothers to play college football, Casey entered the starting lineup for Tennessee as a freshman against Alabama. He went on to start 44 of 47 games, finishing with a 34-10 record overall. He posted two seasons with at least 2,900 yards passing and trails only Peyton Manning in the Tennessee record books in this category.
20. Matt Mauck, LSU (2001-03)
Stats: 3,831 yds, 37 TDs, 18 INTs, 58.6%, 345 yds, 5 TDs
He didn’t have big stats but he came up big when it mattered the most. He entered the 2001 SEC title game against Tennessee after starter Rohan Davey got hurt and led LSU to its first SEC title since 1988. He then helped LSU claim the BCS National Championship in 2003, the Tigers' first national title since 1958. He threw for 2,825 yards and 28 scores on 64 percent passing that historic season. Mauck also had streaks of 17 straight completions (5th all-time in SEC history) and 16 straight (9th all-time) in the ‘03 season.
Best of the rest:
21. Nick Marshall, Auburn (2013-present): 1,976 yds, 14 TDs, 6 INTs, 59.4%, 1,068 yds, 12 TDs
22. Matt Jones, Arkansas (2001-04): 5,857 yds, 53 TDs, 30 INTs, 55.2%, 2,535 yds, 24 TDs
23. D.J. Shockley, Georgia (2002-05): 3,555 yds, 34 TDs, 9 INTs, 643 yds, 7 TDs
24. Jared Lorenzen, Kentucky (2000-03): 10,354 yds, 78 TDs, 41 INTs, 56.9%, 283 yds, 12 TDs
25. Erik Ainge, Tennessee (2004-07): 8,700 yds, 72 TDs, 35 INTs, 60.6%, Rush TD
26. Rohan Davey, LSU (1998-2001): 4,415 yds, 29 TDs, 15 INTs, 59.8%, 77 yds
27. Matt Flynn, LSU (2004-07): 3,096 yds, 31 TDs, 13 INTs, 56.1%, 340 yds, 5 TDs
28. JaMarcus Russell, LSU (2004-06): 6,625 yds, 52 TDs, 21 INTs, 61.9%, 79 yds, 4 TDs
29. Bo Wallace, Ole Miss (2012-present): 6,340 yds, 40 TDs, 27 INTs, 64.3%, 745 yds, 14 TDs
30. Tyler Wilson, Arkansas (2008-12): 7,765 yds, 52 TDs, 26 INTs, 62.6%, 4 rush TDs