Before the start of the college championship football game on Monday night, a collection of all-time college great players was onstage at the New Orleans Superdome. Nearly all of them were running backs, including Archie Griffin, Barry Sanders, Herschel Walker, Earl Campbell, and Jim Brown. There were also descendants of Gale Sayers, Red Grange, and Jim Thorpe.
Missing, of course, was O.J. Simpson who may be the best college running back I’ve ever seen.
Roger Staubach was also onstage, so the question popped into my mind: Who is the best college quarterback I’ve ever seen?
Almost immediately I came up with an answer: The guy who was about to take the field for LSU, Joe Burrow.
Cross era comparisons for college quarterbacks may be a fool’s errand because the college passing game has changed so drastically over the years. Staubach’s passing stats don’t come close to matching Burrow’s (or that of any quality QB of today), but what numbers would Roger have posted in LSU’s high-powered offense? Or Joe Namath in last year’s Oklahoma spread offense behind that great offensive line?
Here are Burrow’s numbers from this year. 5,671 yards, 76.3 percent completion rate, 60 touchdown passes, 6 interceptions, 368 yards rushing.
Here are his numbers from the SEC championship game, the national semifinals, and the national championship game:
vs. Georgia: 28 for 38, 349 yards, 4 touchdown passes, 0 interceptions, 41 yards rushing
vs. Oklahoma: 29 for 39, 493 yards, 7 touchdown passes, 0 interceptions, 21 yards rushing
vs. Clemson: 31 for 49, 463 yards, 5 touchdown passes, 0 interceptions, 58 yards rushing
Burrow set the single season record for touchdown passes that had stood for 13 years. He received a record percentage of first place Heisman Trophy votes and broke O.J.’s record for Heisman margin of victory.
In addition, Burrow’s quarterback grade from Pro Football Focus was its highest ever. PFF has only been doing these ratings since 2014, but this covers much of the era during which the modern college passing exploded into major conferences.
Even with all of this, it’s impossible to say with confidence that Burrow is the best college quarterback ever. Other candidates among those I’ve seen play during the past 60 years include, but aren’t limited to, Staubach, Namath, Jim Plunkett, Dan Fouts, Dan Marino, Cam Newton, Vince Young, Tim Tebow, Peyton Manning, Sam Bradford, Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston, and Baker Mayfield.
But Burrow is my pick.