Top 6 Best College Football Quarterbacks of All Time

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Top 6 Best College Football Quarterbacks of All Time

College football has witnessed a rich history of exceptional quarterbacks who have left an indelible mark on the sport. These legendary players not only displayed extraordinary talent and skill on the field but also redefined the position of quarterback. 

In this blog post, we will explore the careers and legacies of the top six best college football quarterbacks of all time. 

From their remarkable performances to their leadership qualities and impact on their respective teams, these players have solidified their places as iconic figures in the annals of college football history. So, stay focused. 

Top 6 Best College Football Quarterbacks of All Time

Their exceptional performances, leadership, and ability to deliver in high-pressure situations left an enduring legacy on the college football landscape. Go through the following section to dig deep. 

1. Johnny Unitas: The Golden Arm of Louisville

Johnny Unitas

Johnny Unitas, often referred to as “Johnny U,” was a true pioneer of the quarterback position in both college and professional football. 

Born in 1933 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Unitas attended the University of Louisville and left an indelible mark on the college football landscape during his time with the Cardinals.

College Legacy

Johnny Unitas played for Louisville from 1951 to 1954, during which he showcased remarkable passing skills, leadership, and football IQ. 

Despite facing limited competition in the Missouri Valley Conference, Unitas demonstrated his prowess by leading the Cardinals to several notable victories and breaking numerous school passing records.

The Emergence of a Legend

Unitas’ defining moment came during his senior year when he led Louisville to a stunning 34-7 upset victory over the heavily favored Miami Hurricanes. His performance in that game earned him the Walter Camp Memorial Trophy, an honor awarded to the nation’s best college football player.

The Path to Greatness

After college, Johnny Unitas went on to have a legendary professional career, playing primarily for the Baltimore Colts. 

He became one of the most iconic quarterbacks in NFL history, earning three NFL MVP awards and leading the Colts to two NFL championships, including the historic 1958 “Greatest Game Ever Played.”

2. Peyton Manning: The Sheriff of Tennessee

Peyton Manning

Peyton Manning, a true field general, and master tactician, redefined the quarterback position with his remarkable intelligence, work ethic, and precise passing. Born in 1976 in New Orleans, Louisiana, Manning left an everlasting legacy during his college years at the University of Tennessee.

College Legacy

From 1994 to 1997, Manning quarterbacked the Tennessee Volunteers, establishing himself as a dominant force in college football. His performances were characterized by impeccable accuracy, strong leadership, and an uncanny ability to read defenses.

Accolades and Records

During his time with the Volunteers, Manning was a two-time All-American and received the prestigious Maxwell Award and the Davey O’Brien Award as the nation’s best quarterback. He finished his college career with numerous records, including the SEC record for career passing yards.

Championship Quest

Although Peyton Manning didn’t secure a national championship during his college career, his impact on the Tennessee football program was immense. He played a pivotal role in elevating the Volunteers’ status as a perennial contender in the SEC.

3. Joe Montana: The Comeback Kid of Notre Dame

Joe Montana

Joe Montana, known for his cool demeanor and clutch performances, is regarded as one of the greatest quarterbacks in both college and NFL history. Born in 1956 in New Eagle, Pennsylvania, Montana’s college career at the University of Notre Dame cemented his place among the all-time greats.

College Legacy

From 1975 to 1978, Joe Montana led the Fighting Irish to numerous memorable victories, exhibiting remarkable poise and playmaking abilities. His leadership and composure under pressure earned him the nickname “The Comeback Kid.”

The “Chicken Soup” Game

Montana’s most legendary moment in college came during the 1979 Cotton Bowl, where he led a remarkable comeback against the University of Houston after suffering from the flu. 

With Notre Dame trailing, Montana orchestrated a last-minute drive and threw the game-winning touchdown pass, solidifying his reputation as a clutch performer.

Awards and Recognition

Joe Montana’s college success earned him numerous accolades, including the 1977 Walter Camp Award as the nation’s best college football player and the 1977 and 1979 consensus All-American honors.

4. Tim Tebow: The Unstoppable Gator

Tim Tebow

Tim Tebow, known for his fierce competitiveness and dual-threat abilities, left an indelible mark on college football during his time with the University of Florida. 

Born in 1987 in the Philippines, Tebow’s college career was defined by his exceptional leadership and uncanny ability to deliver in high-pressure situations.

College Legacy

From 2006 to 2009, Tim Tebow quarterbacked the Florida Gators, leading the team to unprecedented success. His unique combination of passing skills and running prowess made him a formidable force on the field.

Heisman Triumph

In 2007, Tim Tebow became the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy, awarded to the best player in college football. His electrifying performances and record-breaking statistics made him a unanimous choice for the prestigious award.

Back-to-Back Titles

Under Tebow’s leadership, the Florida Gators won two national championships (2006, 2008). In the 2008 championship game against the Oklahoma Sooners, Tebow showcased his toughness and determination, playing through illness to secure the victory.

5. Tom Brady: The Michigan Maestro

Tom Brady

Tom Brady, now considered one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, made his mark during his college years at the University of Michigan. Born in 1977 in San Mateo, California, Brady’s college career laid the foundation for his remarkable success in the professional ranks.

College Legacy

From 1996 to 1999, Tom Brady quarterbacked the Michigan Wolverines, displaying his trademark poise and intelligence on the field. Despite facing competition for the starting position, Brady’s work ethic and determination earned him the role of the team’s primary quarterback.

The 1999 Orange Bowl

In his final college game, Tom Brady led the Wolverines to a thrilling 35-34 victory against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the 1999 Orange Bowl. His last-minute heroics and ability to engineer a game-winning drive solidified his reputation as a clutch performer.

Preparation for Greatness

While Brady’s college career might not have received the same attention as some of the other quarterbacks on this list, his time at Michigan laid the foundation for his future success. His dedication, work ethic, and football acumen prepared him for the challenges of the NFL.

6. Deshaun Watson: The Clemson Conqueror

Deshaun Watson

Deshaun Watson, a dynamic and versatile quarterback, showcased his extraordinary talents during his time at Clemson University. Born in 1995 in Gainesville, Georgia, Watson’s college career was characterized by his ability to elevate the Clemson Tigers to new heights.

College Legacy

From 2014 to 2016, Deshaun Watson led the Clemson Tigers to three consecutive appearances in the College Football Playoff National Championship. His remarkable performances and leadership guided Clemson to its first national title in 35 years in the 2016 season.

Two-Time Heisman Finalist

Watson’s outstanding college career earned him recognition as a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist. His dynamic playmaking abilities, strong arm, and leadership qualities made him a favorite among fans and scouts alike.

The Game-Winning Drive

Deshaun Watson’s defining moment came in the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game against the Alabama Crimson Tide. 

With a game-winning drive in the final seconds, Watson secured Clemson’s victory and solidified his place as one of the best college football quarterbacks of his era.

As they continued their careers in the NFL, they carried their college success and redefined the quarterback position at the professional level, cementing their places as legendary figures in the world of football.

Importance of Quarterbacks in College Football

Quarterbacks play a pivotal and defining role in college football, making them one of the most crucial positions on the field. 

Their significance stems from their unique responsibilities, impact on team performance, and ability to shape the outcome of games. Here are some key reasons highlighting the importance of quarterbacks in college football:

On-Field Leadership

Quarterbacks serve as the on-field leaders of their teams. They are responsible for calling plays, reading the defense, and making split-second decisions. Their ability to communicate effectively with teammates and coaches is crucial in executing game plans and adjusting strategies during a match.

Offensive Engine

Quarterbacks are the offensive engine of their teams. They direct the offense, control the tempo, and orchestrate drives down the field. Their passing and running abilities are essential in moving the ball and scoring points.

Decision-Making and Strategy

The quarterback’s decision-making skills are vital in determining the success of offensive plays. They must quickly assess the defense, identify potential openings, and choose the best course of action. Their strategic acumen can be the difference between a successful drive and a turnover.

Passing Accuracy and Arm Strength

A quarterback’s passing accuracy and arm strength directly impact the efficiency of the team’s passing game. Precise throws and the ability to deliver the ball to receivers with accuracy are critical in moving the chains and scoring touchdowns.

Running and Mobility

In addition to passing, many quarterbacks possess mobility and the ability to run with the ball. This adds another dimension to the offense, making it more challenging for the defense to defend against. Dual-threat quarterbacks can extend plays and pick up crucial yards on the ground.

Game Management and Time Control

Quarterbacks are responsible for managing the game clock effectively, especially during critical moments such as the end of a half or in a two-minute drill. Their ability to control the pace of the game and manage time can be decisive in close contests.

Media and Fan Attention

Quarterbacks often receive significant media and fan attention. Their performances are closely scrutinized, and they become the face of the team and university. Success and leadership on the field can elevate a quarterback’s status and influence the program’s reputation.

Impact on Recruiting

Highly talented quarterbacks can significantly impact recruiting efforts for college football programs. The presence of a star quarterback can attract top-tier offensive talent and elevate the team’s overall competitiveness.

The Face of the Program

In many cases, the quarterback becomes the face of the college football program. Their success and persona can draw attention to the university, increase attendance at games, and drive revenue through ticket sales, merchandise, and media coverage.


What criteria were used to select the top six quarterbacks?

The top six quarterbacks were selected based on their individual achievements, on-field performances, impact on team success, accolades, awards, and their overall influence on the game of college football.

Were national championships a significant factor in the rankings?

National championships were a crucial factor in evaluating the quarterbacks’ legacies, as winning the ultimate prize is a testament to a quarterback’s leadership and ability to elevate their team to the highest level.

How did each quarterback influence the position of quarterback in college football?

Each quarterback on the list brought a unique skill set and style to the position, which influenced future generations of quarterbacks and the way the position is played in college football.

Did off-field contributions and character influence the rankings?

Off-field contributions, character, and leadership were considered in the rankings, as quarterbacks who exemplified sportsmanship and made a positive impact beyond the field garnered additional recognition.

Were statistics the sole basis for evaluating the quarterbacks?

While statistics played a role in evaluating the quarterbacks, they were not the sole basis for the rankings. The impact of the quarterbacks on their teams and the college football landscape as a whole were equally significant.

Wrapping Up

The top six best college football quarterbacks of all time have etched their names in the sport’s history books with their exceptional performances, leadership qualities, and impact on the game. 

As we delve into the careers of these legendary players, we will witness their journey from college stars to iconic figures who forever changed the perception of the quarterback position. 

Their legacies continue to inspire future generations of quarterbacks and shape the ever-evolving landscape of college football. Best of luck.