By CLINT FOSTER
At long last, college football season is on the horizon! It's so close you can almost feel the sights and sounds, the unmatched excitement and the buzzing atmosphere at your favorite school's home games. Nothing can match the thrill or the heartbreak that comes with the success or misfortune of college football.
What a wonderful time of year!
Initially, I wanted to write a prediction column in celebration of the upcoming season. But, let's be honest, predictions are a dime a dozen this time of year, and who knows how many of you actually care to hear those of some 22-year-old kid fresh out of TCU.
So, I got to thinking. Many believe that Casey Pachall -- a friend of mine from my four years as a TCU football equipment manager -- will be the best quarterback in the Big 12 this season, assuming he can return to the same high-level of play he showed before last year's stint in substance abuse rehab. I tend to agree.
As a history lover, and particularly a college football history lover, my next thought was: "I wonder who the greatest quarterbacks in all of Texas college football were." I love making and reading top 10 lists and, as far as I know, no such list exists. So, I took it upon myself to create one. So without further ado, I present Clint Foster's Top 10 Greatest Quarterbacks in Texas College Football History.
Honorable Mention: James Street, Texas (1966-69); Rodney Allison, Texas Tech (1974-77); Kevin Murray, Texas A&M (1983-86); Tommy Kramer, Rice (1973-76); Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech (1998-2002).
10. Graham Harrell, Texas Tech (2005-08): I struggled with how high to put Graham Harrell on this list. Some might argue that because he was a "system quarterback" he doesn't belong on the list at all. But, regardless of what offense head coach Mike Leach had him running, I believe it is ludicrous to look at his stats and accomplishments and not say he was among the best that Texas college football has ever seen.
Arguably the greatest quarterback in Red Raider history, Harrell started three seasons in Lubbock en route to a 28-11 record (2-1 in bowl games). He holds the NCAA record for career passing touchdowns with 134 and was the first player in NCAA history to post multiple 5,000-yard passing seasons. His senior season was, by far, his best, as he had the Red Raiders on the brink of a national championship appearance after a thrilling, last-second win over Texas in Lubbock. The championship hopes were dashed in a 65-21 loss to Oklahoma, but Harrell still found himself on All-American lists and earned various Player of the Year honors to go along with a Cotton Bowl appearance. His lack of success at the pro level shows how much Leach's system effected Harrell's success; but his toughness is well documented and Harrell found ways to lead Tech to levels of success they have rarely enjoyed.
9. Andy Dalton, TCU (2007-10): It was true in college and it is true today in the NFL, Andy Dalton's strength is his intangibles. Rarely have I ever had the pleasure of watching -- or knowing -- a better leader both on and off the football field. A four-year starter in Fort Worth, Dalton was undoubtedly surrounded by talent -- particularly a characteristically dominant Gary Patterson defense -- in two of TCU's most successful seasons in 2009 and 2010. But there is no question that Dalton deserves the bulk of credit for willing those Horned Frog squads to victory after victory. With a 42-8 record (only three loses after his freshman campaign), two Mountain West Conference Championships, three MVPs in three bowl wins and two undefeated regular seasons, Dalton is just a winner. That's why the Frogs recruited him and that's why the Cincinnati Bengals drafted him. He threw for at least 2,000 yards in each of his four seasons and was a two-time honorable mention All-American and a two-time MWC Player of the Year. He holds TCU records for wins, touchdown passes (71), passing yards (10,314) and completion percentage (61.6), among others.
Like Harrell, Dalton's senior year trumped the rest. He led the Frogs to a perfect season, a Rose Bowl Championship in their second BCS Bowl berth and a No. 2 ranking in the final Associated Press poll. I firmly believe that the 2010 TCU squad could have beaten any team in the nation that year -- including Cam Newton's Auburn Tigers -- and Dalton is a huge reason why. He has continued to succeed in the NFL, earning many awards and an invitation to the 2011 Pro Bowl. Dalton is one of only three quarterbacks in NFL history to pass for over 20 touchdowns in his first two seasons and is the only Bengals quarterback to led his team to the playoffs in both of his first two seasons.
8. Bobby Layne, Texas (1944-47): Bobby Layne was an all-time great both at Texas and in the NFL. He is a member of the Pro Football and College Football Halls of Fame and his jersey number "22" is retired by both the Longhorns and the Detroit Lions, and for good reason. Layne did it all.
A teammate of SMU legend Doak Walker at Highland Park High School, Layne burst on to the scene in Austin and was named All-Southwest Conference all four years in college.
He set a UT career record with 3,145 passing yards -- quite an accomplishment in the run-heavy offenses of that decade. He posted a 33-8 record, including two bowl wins, two 10-1 seasons and a SWC championship in 1945.
Layne led the Longhorns to a Sugar Bowl victory over sixth-ranked Alabama in his senior season in '48. But perhaps the win that most epitomized his importance to those Texas teams of the late 40s was the 40-27 win over Missouri in the 1946 Cotton Bowl. Layne scored every point in the winning effort, rushing for four touchdowns, passing for another two and kicking four extra points.
In the NFL, Layne was a six-time Pro Bowler and a three-time NFL champion. They simply don't make them like Bobby Layne anymore. In fact, one could easily make an argument for him to be a bit higher on this list.
7. Andre Ware, Houston (1987-89): The lowest ranked Heisman Trophy winner on this list, Ware's college career essentially boiled down to one brilliant junior season in 1989. That year he became the first African-American quarterback to win the Heisman and added the Davey O'Brien Award -- given to college football's most outstanding quarterback -- for good measure.
In those days, the Houston Cougars were a force to be reckoned with in the SWC. Ware ran the "Run and Shoot" offense to perfection, throwing for 4,699 yards and 44 touchdowns in his junior year alone. In 1989, he set a whopping 26 NCAA records. That year the Cougars finished ranked 14th nationally and Ware declared for the NFL draft. To put it lightly, Ware was a dud in the NFL, as he became one of many draft disappointments for the Detroit Lions in recent history. He did, however, find success in the Canadian Football League, where he led the Toronto Argonauts to a Grey Cup Championship in 1997.
6. Don Meredith, SMU (1956-59): Before he was a legend with the Dallas Cowboys and in the broadcast booth, "Dandy Don" Meredith was turning heads on the Hilltop at SMU. A three-year starter for the Mustangs, Meredith was a two-time All American and a fan favorite. Famous for his personality, students jokingly referred to their school as "Southern Meredith University" during the years Meredith was on campus. He actually played linebacker his freshman season because of excessive depth under center. But after Meredith threw for two touchdowns and ran for another in a win over Texas his sophomore year, that was all coach Bill Meek needed to see and Meredith was the starter from then on.
SMU's offense in those days was loosely structured and depended entirely on Meredith making plays out of essentially nothing. His jersey number "17" is retired at SMU.
5. Robert Griffin III, Baylor (2008-11): Easily the greatest quarterback in Baylor history and possibly the most popular Baylor Bear of all time, RG3 is synonymous with Baylor's recent success and national recognition.
Griffin was a solid four-year starter in Waco, but, much like Andre Ware, his legacy is built around one incredible season. He was a Freshman All-American in 2008, but back-to-back 4-8 seasons proved less than stunning.
In 2010, Griffin led the Bears to a 7-6 record and their first bowl appearance since 1994. Then in 2011, magic happened in Waco. After a thrilling opening night comeback victory over 15th-ranked TCU, Griffin's Bears went 10-3 and beat Washington in the Alamo Bowl -- the program's first bowl win since 1992. Oh yeah, and did I mention that year he won the Heisman Trophy, AP Player of the Year, the O'Brien award, the Manning Award and was a Consensus All-American.
Griffin put that Baylor squad on his back every week, and without him the Bears likely would not have come close to their second 10-win season in school history. Griffin has burst on to the scene in the NFL as well, collecting multiple awards and accolades with the Washington Redskins.
4. Sammy Baugh, TCU (1934-36): If this list was predicated on NFL success, "Slingin' Sammy" Baugh would undoubtedly be at the top. One of the most versatile and athletic players in TCU history, Baugh was a three-sport letterman for the Horned Frogs, as he excelled in football, baseball and basketball. On the football field alone he started at punter and defensive back in addition to his duties as a signal caller.
He was 29-7-2 in his three years as TCU's quarterback. In those days, freshmen could not play varsity football. The highlight of his career was a 12-1 season in 1935. TCU earned a share of the National Championship that year when they beat LSU 3-2 in the Sugar Bowl and rival SMU -- the Frogs only loss in what was dubbed the "Game of the Century" -- lost in the Rose Bowl. Baugh was also a runner-up for the Heisman that season, when he passed for a then unheard of 1,241 yards and 18 touchdowns. The following year, he led the Frogs to a victory over Marquette in the first-ever Cotton Bowl and was the game's MVP.
As a pro, Baugh revolutionized the passing game and was a two-time NFL champ en route to picking up countless personal awards. He was a charter member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and is also a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. His jersey number "33" is retired by the Washington Redskins, as is his jersey number "45" by TCU.
3. Colt McCoy, Texas (2006-09): A National Championship is a tough act to follow for any quarterback, much less a red-shirt freshman, especially if that Championship team was captained by one of the greatest quarterbacks in college football history. But Colt McCoy took the challenge head on and exceeded expectations, leading the Longhorns to continued success on the national stage and setting records along the way. Despite some injury struggles, McCoy set the UT record for wins with 45. He was a two-time All-American and was the MVP in all three of his Bowl wins, including a 24-21 Fiesta Bowl victory over Ohio State. Like so many on this list, his senior year was arguably his best as he led the Horns to a 12-0 regular season before he had to leave the BCS National Championship game with an injury. Texas lost that game to Alabama, 37-21.
In 2009, McCoy won his second-straight Walter Camp Award, the Maxwell, the Manning, the Chic Harley and the Davey O'Brien, among many others, and was a runner-up for the Heisman Trophy for the second-straight year. He was also named Player of the Year by multiple outlets.
He is one of only three FBS quarterbacks to average 10 wins per season for four seasons. It was a no brainer for Texas to retire his number "12" jersey after he graduated. Although McCoy has not seen much success in the NFL, he definitely left his mark in Austin and on college football at large.
2. Davey O'Brien, TCU (1935-38): Davey O'Brien: the name and likeness of whom are on the award given annually to college football's most outstanding quarterback. Need I say more?
Speaking of tough acts to follow, O'Brien became the starter in Fort Worth immediately after Sammy Baugh's graduation in 1936 and expectations were as high as ever in Cowtown. But like the Biblical David, O'Brien did not back down from a giant task and took the Frogs to new levels of dominance and national acclaim. This 5'7" quarterback captained the Frogs for two years, both of which he was first team All-American.
In 1938, O'Brien passed for 1,457 yards, a 10-year SWC record, and 19 touchdowns with only four interceptions. He still holds the NCAA record for most rushing and passing plays in a single season. TCU went undefeated that year, outscoring opponents by a combined 269-60 margin, including three shutouts. O'Brien became the first SWC player to win the Heisman Trophy, and his Frogs won the National Championship in a 15-7 victory over Carnegie Tech in the Sugar Bowl.
Adding to his list of firsts, O'Brien was also the first player ever to win the Heisman, Maxwell and Walter Camp trophies in the same year. He was selected fourth overall in the NFL draft, but his pro career was short-lived. He led the league in passing yards as a rookie and broke Baugh's single-season yardage record en route to a Pro Bowl appearance. He retired in 1940 after leading the league in several passing categories.
His jersey number "8" is retired at TCU and his memory is kept very much alive by his prominently displayed Heisman Trophy in TCU's football complex.
1. Vince Young, Texas (2003-05): Say what you will – even I hate to admit it – but as far as college quarterbacks go, there are probably less than five players in the history of the nation that can compare to Vince Young's sheer dominance when he was at Texas. He may not have the laundry list of awards that some signal callers on this list do, but if you saw Young play in his prime, there was no doubting his abilities. Even as a redshirt freshman backup, he put up great numbers including 1,155 yards through the air and another 998 on the ground. But in his two years as a starter in Austin, Young was virtually unstoppable.
As a sophomore, he led the Longhorns to an 11-1 record and the school's first-ever Rose Bowl appearance and win, for which he was named MVP. Then came 2005. Young became the first player in NCAA history to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for another 1,000; only one other player has done it since. He led the Longhorns in a dominant undefeated season capped by a National Championship won in the Rose Bowl against a USC team that featured two Heisman winners. If you are among the few who did not watch that game, don't worry, the Longhorn Network virtually plays it on repeat, as they should. Young put the team on his back and virtually won that game by himself. No one could find an answer for him all season. A lot of credit goes to Mack Brown's coaching staff for changing the offense so that it would cater specifically to Young's talents.
Young also played with one of the most talented rosters from top-to-bottom in college football history, but there was no question it was Vince Young's team. It was nothing short of a crime that he did not win the Heisman that year; but the All-American was awarded the O'Brien, the Maxwell, the Manning and multiple Player of the Year honors. He is one of only four players in history to win the Rose Bowl MVP twice.
He may have been a "flash in the pan" in the NFL, as he slowly faded into obscurity after a jaw-dropping rookie season, but Young's place in college football is very much cemented. A 30-2 record, a National Championship and a highlight reel of a college career was enough to get his jersey number "10" retired in Austin. In the same way, his accomplishments were certainly enough to earn him the top spot on my list.
Follow Clint on Twitter @Clint_Foster55