Quarterback U is a nickname used by sportswriters to refer to colleges that have trained a series of notable football quarterbacks (QBs). It is a literary device invoked in the individual discretion of sportswriters and does not represent any formal decision-making process or organized sportswriters' poll. Generally speaking, the term implies that many of the school's former quarterbacks later had successful careers in professional football, particularly in the National Football League (NFL).
A Wall Street Journal article on November 18, 2012, pointed out that 'Purdue may be the ultimate Quarterback U. Since the 1970 merger (between the AFL and NFL), quarterbacks from Purdue have started 724 NFL games, easily the most of any major-conference program.' After Purdue QBs' 724 NFL games, the next best schools were the University of Washington (623 starts), Miami (573), University of Southern California (547) and Notre Dame (543).
In August 2009, an Altoona Mirror writer sought to name "Quarterback U" by player achievements, such as NFL starts, Pro Bowl appearances, and Heisman Trophies won. He noted that, in the Super Bowl era, USC (15), Notre Dame (13), Washington (12), Miami (10), Stanford (10), and UCLA (10) produced at least ten starting NFL quarterbacks, while Purdue recorded the most combined NFL career starts (704). The article concluded that no single program deserved the title significantly more than others.
Brigham Young University
Sports writers dubbed the BYU as a Quarterback U from the mid-1980s through the 1990s, during which time it produced Jim McMahon, Steve Young, Gifford Nielsen, Robbie Bosco and Ty Detmer. The Deseret News wrote that the last great BYU signal caller was 2001 Heisman Trophy runner-up Brandon Doman, who also later served as the Cougars' offensive coordinator. It also asserted that, upon Doman's graduation, head coach Gary Crowton rotated quarterbacks so frequently that it adversely affected their performance.
In the 1960s, Purdue became known as 'Quarterback U' and 'Cradle of Quarterbacks' by media and rivals such as Ohio State and Notre Dame due to its prominent QBs. Between 1967 and 1974, Purdue QBs Len Dawson and Bob Griese started five Super Bowls, winning three; Cecil Isbell led the Green Bay Packers to a NFL title in 1939, Elmer Oliphant led the Buffalo All-Americans to a disputed NFL title in 1921; Purdue has produced NFL starting QBs in Mike Phipps, Gary Danielson, Jim Everett, Mark Hermann, and Kyle Orton; Scott Campbell and Curtis Painter were well-known backup quarterbacks, Joey Elliott is a starting QB in the Canadian Football League. The tradition has continued through to this day with Drew Brees winning the Super Bowl XLIV, in which he was also named MVP. 15 Purdue QBs went on to the NFL; Purdue is tied for first with Alabama in producing Super Bowl winning quarterbacks. According to ESPN.com, Purdue QBs have won (and started) more NFL games than any other school; thrown for the most touchdowns and yards in the NFL. Purdue QBs have won more League TD titles (14 through the 2012 NFL season) than any other school.
As early as 1975, the term Quarterback U had been applied to Stanford University, which had produced such players as Frankie Albert, John Brodie, Jim Plunkett, Don Bunce, and Mike Boryla. This reputation was enhanced when Bill Walsh joined the Cardinal as head coach, and quarterbacks Guy Benjamin, Steve Dils, and Turk Schonert promptly led the NCAA in passing in 1977, 1978, and 1979. They were followed by perhaps Stanford's best-known quarterback, John Elway, who played at the university from 1979 to 1982, finishing second in the Heisman voting his senior season. Elway would go on to have a Hall of Fame career with the Broncos and win the Super Bowl in 1997 and 1998. By 1989, the San Jose Mercury News surmised that Stanford's "once bright legacy" as Quarterback U appeared "to be flickering out". However, recently Stanford's quarterback tradition has experienced something of a revival under Andrew Luck. Luck finished second in the voting for the Heisman trophy, the award given to college football's most outstanding player, in both 2010 and 2011. When drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in the 2012 NFL Draft, he became the fourth Stanford quarterback taken with the first overall pick, following Elway, Plunkett and Bobby Garrett, but the first since Elway was taken by the Colts in 1983. Stanford quarterbacks have started 7 Super Bowls, winning 4, and garnering two Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Awards.
Texas Tech University
In 2005, a Sporting News writer described Texas Tech as Quarterback U in an article that bestowed several positional "U" monikers with the criteria being college performance since 2000. Its author cited head coach Mike Leach's numerous 4,000-yard-plus passers.
University of Maryland
During the 1980s, the term was also applied to Maryland, which produced several NFL-caliber quarterbacks during the tenures of head coach Bobby Ross and offensive coordinator and quarterbacks/receivers coach Joe Krivak. These Maryland quarterbacks included Boomer Esiason, Frank Reich, Neil O'Donnell, Scott Zolak, and Stan Gelbaugh. In 2005, The Washington Post reapplied the label to the Terrapins under head coach Ralph Friedgen and offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe, after Sam Hollenbach became the Atlantic Coast Conference's leading passer. That coaching staff also groomed Shaun Hill and Scott McBrien.
University of Miami
In the 1980s, the term was often applied to the University of Miami. In 2003, Tracy Gale, a sport publicist working for the University of Miami, named Fran Curci, who was Miami's quarterback in 1959, as the start of what he called "Miami's Quarterback U tradition." George Mira, Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar, Vinny Testaverde, Steve Walsh, Ken Dorsey, Craig Erickson, and Gino Torretta are some Hurricanes quarterbacks that influenced his use of the term. The term is still often applied, although Miami currently has fewer quarterbacks starting in the NFL than it has in the past. In 2008, all three Miami quarterbacks entered the season with no game experience, and pundits charged head coach Randy Shannon with rebuilding the program's reputation of producing high-quality signalcallers.
University of Michigan
In recent years, sportswriters have mentioned several schools as being appropriate for the designation. A 2005 ESPN article cited that, since 1988, Michigan sent as many starting quarterbacks to the NFL as the University of Miami. It argued that "three yards and a cloud of dust" is no longer the offensive philosophy at Michigan. A year later, Rivals.com proclaimed that Michigan was "the new Quarterback U." Elvis Grbac, Todd Collins, Tom Brady, Jim Harbaugh, Brian Griese and Chad Henne are some of the Wolverine quarterbacks who have gone on to start in the NFL.
University of Southern California
After the 2008 season, The Los Angeles Times claimed that USC, more traditionally known as "Tailback U", was the school most deserving of the designation. In 2009, 4 former USC quarterbacks started in an NFL game: Matt Leinart, Matt Cassell, Carson Palmer, and Mark Sanchez.
University of Washington
Washington quarterbacks have consistently advanced to the NFL, with 16 of the previous 18 starting quarterbacks as of 2012 having started in the NFL. Washington's Pro Football Hall of Fame member Warren Moon is fourth in all-time passing yardage, reflecting his CFL and NFL careers. Other notable alumni include Chris Chandler, Mark Brunell, Damon Huard and Jake Locker. ESPN points to the program's history by the early 1980s.
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Since 1950, Purdue quarterbacks have compiled 865 NFL starts, more than any other school.
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