Here’s the thing. My very astute son, a sports fan whose grasp of sports facts is encyclopedic, was not able to respond to what I thought was a simple question. “Since Ohio State football has been among the four or five most dominant programs over the course of the last fifty years, which of the many Buckeye quarerbacks have gone on to find significant success in the NFL?”
A quick romp through the rosters reveals the sad truth that Buckeyes might clog the top ten draft choices and the Hall of Fame, but not at quarterback. Here goes, ranked by fans as the OSU Bluebloods, the ten best of all time:
Troy Smith, Duane Haskins, Braxton Miller, J.T. Barret, Justin Fields, Rex Kern, Craig Krenzel, Joe Germaine, Art Schlicter, Cardale Jones.
I know, there must be stars the fans have overlooked, and there are some names to conjure with: Kirk Herbstreit (#16), Tom Tupa (QB AND punter), and Tom Matte. Matte’s career in the NFL should put him on the top of the list. Primarily a running back, Matte led the NFL in total rushing yards in 1969, was named to the Pro Bowl twice, and in 1965 stepped in as quarterback for the Baltimore Colts when Johnny Unitas was injured at the end of a season that took the Colts to a playoff game against the Green Bay Packers. Matte still holds the record for the highest per-carry rushing average in a Super Bowl game (10.5), and ended his career with 4,464 yards and 45 touchdowns.
Still … in the pantheon of quarterbacks, OSU not really in the mix.
The NFL’s top 50 quarterbacks of all time spring from a plethora of college programs, only a few of which can claim superiority as a breeding ground of superior QBs.
Brady (Michigan), Brees (Purdue), Manning (Tennessee), Marino (Pittsburgh), Montana (Notre Dame), Young (Brigham Young), Rodgers (Cal), Favre (Southern Mississippi), Graham (Northwestern), Roethlisberger (Miami University), Wilson (North Carolina State), Rivers (North Carolina State), Starr (Alabama), Unitas (Louisville), Elway (Stanford), Tarkenton (Georgia), Baugh (Texas Christian), Warner (Northern Iowa), Staubach (Annapolis), Jurgensen (Duke), Moon (Washington), Kelly (Miami), Bradshaw (Louisiana Tech), Luckman (Columbia), Aikman (UCLA), Fouts (Oregon), Tittle (LSU), Van Brocklin (Oregon), Blanda (Kentucky), Dawson (Purdue), Griese (Purdue), Layne (Texas), Stabler (Alabama), Waterfield (UCLA).
QB Central? Purdue (Brees, Dawson, Grese), North Carolina State (Wilson, Rivers), Alabama (Starr, Stabler), UCLA (Aikman, Waterfield), and Oregon (Fouts, Van Brockin). Yeah, but … QB conference? Pac 12 (Cal, Stanford, Washington, UCLA x 2, Oregon x2). Highest SATs? Columbia.
The NFL is all about quarterbacks. A franchise without a franchise quarterback has very little chance of climbing to the top; college football looks very different. Champions since 2000 include Oklahoma, Miami, Ohio State, LSU, USC, Texas, Florida, LSU, Florida, Alabama, Auburn, Alabama, Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State, Alabama, Clemson, Alabama, Clemson. No Purdue there. No North Carolina State. No UCLA. No Oregon.
Changing offenses in the NFL seem to favor quarterbacks arriving from systems that develop skills necessary to operating in a pass-happy league. It’s still a big-boy league in which the average defensive tackle is 6’5 and weighs 309 pounds. Daunting enough, but that tackle also runs the 40 in about 5.2 seconds. There are some speedy and shifty quarterbacks, of course, virtually all of whom end up on injured reserve by the end of their second year in the league.
Oklahoma has provided two first draft pick quarterbacks in the last two years. The hope, clearly, is that their skill sets will animate a high speed offense. They come from the offense-loaded Big 12. The ideal prospect, however, may be more likely to come from a team that has faced a speedy and enormous defensive line and speedy and athletic safeties. Even the best scout can’t measure immeasurable abilities – judgment, poise, resilience – but accuracy under pressure, quickness of release, recovery from broken pays, number of interceptions can be measured.
The bottom line is that Hall of Fame quarterbacks reveal themselves somewhere in their second or third season; they have to survive the physical beating that comes in their first starting season with original skills intact and with the capacity to read a defense.
Quarterback U? The NFL.