- Bill Connelly is a staff writer for ESPN.com.
In the last year of the 20th century, quarterback play in college football seemed to be making a quantum leap. Virginia Tech’s Michael Vick was showing us a combination of rushing and passing prowess that we didn’t realize was possible, while Georgia Tech’s Joe Hamilton was combining 3,000-yard passing with 700-yard rushing. Mike Leach was, through Oklahoma’s Josh Heupel, introducing the Air Raid offense to its eventual home, the Big 12. Purdue’s Drew Brees was, through Joe Tiller’s Basketball-on-Grass spread, throwing 70-plus times in Big Ten games.
Everything we thought was evolving at the turn of the century did so, and then some. Quarterback play in the 2000s has evolved to include numbers we never thought imaginable: 3,500/1,000 seasons, 200 passer ratings, completion rates nearing 80%. Where might things go next?
As we wait to find the answer to that question, let’s step back and take stock of what we’ve seen so far by ranking the best quarterbacks of the century to date. We’ve updated and added to our previous rankings from 2021, going from 60 QBs to 75. That means room for NFL stars like Matt Ryan and Dak Prescott, plus newcomers Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud and Stetson Bennett. No Caleb Williams, though, since we’re only counting players who finished their college careers.
This was, to be honest, an even more difficult task than I imagined. We’ve seen single-season explosions from the Cam Newtons of the world, and we’ve seen controlled, four- or five-year fires from Case Keenums and Baker Mayfields that produced seemingly untouchable career totals. How do you compare a Keenum or Kellen Moore to a Newton or Joe Burrow? Very carefully! I’m sure you will not disagree with a single one of the picks below!
Let’s get started.
75. Matt Ryan, Boston College
Stats: 9,313 passing yards, 60% completion rate, 56 TD, 37 INT, 11 rushing TD
The ultimate late-career breakout star: Ryan threw for 4,507 yards and 31 touchdowns as a senior, leading BC to 11 wins and a brief No. 2 ranking and finishing seventh in the Heisman voting.
74. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
Stats: 9,817 passing yards, 68% completion rate, 72 TD, 24 INT, 6 rushing TD
He was almost immediately Charlie Strong’s best player at Louisville, and his last two seasons — 7,688 yards, 58 touchdowns and a 23-3 record — made him a legend.
73. Timmy Chang, Hawai’i
Stats: 17,072 passing yards, 57% completion rate, 117 TD, 80 INT, 6 rushing TD
June Jones’ early-2000s Hawai’i teams were late-night must-watches for college football degenerates, and Chang was at the helm for many of them. Only Keenum threw for more yards at the FBS level.
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