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The Grueling Truth - Where Legends Speak / The Grueling Truth's Top 10 Sports Lists / Top 10 Big Ten Quarterbacks of All Time: Who will be Number One?

Top 10 Big Ten Quarterbacks of All Time: Who will be Number One?

Publish Date:04/26/2024
Fact checked by: Mark Lewis

The Big Ten has been known for being three yards and a cloud of dust on offense, but that hasn’t always been the case with every Big Ten team. Today, we will break down the greatest quarterbacks in Big Ten history.


Winning always helps, and on this list, it helps also. The type of offense the quarterback played has much to do with it. For guys like Cornelius Green or Rx Kern have a hard time making this list because they were option quarterbacks. Winning, especially in big games, has a lot to do with making this list also.

10) Rick Leach-Michigan

Leach was never fully utilized as a quarterback under Bo Schembechler’s Cro-Magnon offensive system. Bo’s restrictive strategy in bowl games ultimately hindered him from finishing and led to an 0-4 record in bowl games.

An accomplished baseball player himself, Leach spent parts of 10 Major League seasons with four clubs before turning his attention back to Big Ten football as one of its slickest option quarterbacks when option offense reigned supreme.

Video: 1977 Duke Michigan Rick Leach TD Run #1

1977 Duke Michigan Rick Leach TD Run #1

9) Antwan Randal El-Indiana

His performance as a passer and runner is unparalleled in NCAA annals; no other athlete had done such a feat before him. Though his accuracy as a passer left much to be desired, his moves often made defensive coordinators fear him more than they anticipated, given how limited support from Indiana offensive lines was at scrimmage for passing stats as such as his All-America QB selection in 2001 (despite only reaching 51% completion percentage ). Randal El is also rated as one of the Greatest Indiana Hoosier football players of all time.

No Big Ten football player was more enjoyable to watch than Randle El. No longer considered a quarterback strictly in terms of strict definition, Randle El could just as efficiently have been running the Wildcat and made just as big an impactful statement with each run he took — but his electrifying runner abilities overshadowed any shortcomings as a passer – like Michael Vick but without that extra cannon strapped onto his shoulder! He ran for over 3,500 yards and threw for over 7,000 yards.

Video: Antwaan Randle El Highlights

Antwaan Randle El Highlights

8) Troy Smith-Ohio State

Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith had an astounding 19-win run as starting quarterback of Ohio State between the 2005 and 2006 regular seasons as a starter, earning the Heisman Trophy easily. Ohio State entered the Bowl Championship Series national title game against Urban Meyer’s Florida Gators as a 7-point favorite and No. 1 team; unfortunately, they went on to suffer an unexpected 41-14 defeat that will forever taint Smith’s legacy, and he made some mistakes but Florida dominated the line of scrimmage.

Video: The Definitive Troy Smith Ohio State Highlights!

The Definitive Troy Smith Ohio State Highlights!

7) Art Schlichter-Ohio State

Schlichter revolutionized the quarterback position on a Buckeyes team where running backs had long been seen as stars of the show, which only underscored his remarkable impact. Perhaps Woody Hayes’ on-field meltdown at the 1978 Gator Bowl was a blessing for Art; with Earle Bruce as his new coach, Schlichter quickly launched into a fourth-quarter drive to come back and beat UCLA; following this win came Big Ten dominance, and Ohio State would have won the national title had they been able to stop Charles at the one-yard line in the 1980 Rose Bowl.

Video: Art Schlichter QB 1978-1981 Highlights

Art Schlichter QB 1978-1981 Highlights

6) Brett Basanez-Northwestern

Basanez was an integral member of Randy Walker’s offensive staff, helping take it from 1-7 in league play during his freshman season to 10-6 during his junior and senior years combined! Specialized in winning close games while passing, running, and spreading with fearlessness from the spread, and ultimately finished second in career total offense (11,576) behind only Purdue’s Drew Brees.

Video: Brett Basanez connects with Mark Philmore on the bubble screen for a Northwestern 27 yard touchdown

Brett Basanez connects with Mark Philmore on the bubble screen for a Northwestern 27 yard touchdown

5) Bob Griese-Purdue

Griese was an integral member of Purdue’s “Cradle of Quarterbacks,” following Len Dawson and predating Mike Phipps. Griese finished second in Heisman Trophy voting behind Steve Spurrier after leading Purdue to their inaugural Rose Bowl (and beating USC 14-13) in 1967.

Video: 1964 Notre Dame vs. Purdue - Huarte vs. Griese

1964 Notre Dame vs. Purdue – Huarte vs. Griese

4) Kerry Collins-Penn State

Collins may have been one of the greatest pro-style quarterbacks ever seen for an entire season and a half that the Big Ten has ever seen, enjoying an impeccable offensive line, numerous weapons at his disposal and leading an explosive offense – 48 points per game unimpeded by any defense in 1994 – to lead an explosive offensive output with no one stopping him at any point in time.

His efficiency rating of 172.9 placed him among single-season NCAA leaders, while no other field general could match Collins as a pocket passer and field general.



3) Chuck Long-Iowa

Hayden Fry began making waves at Iowa as Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler’s influence waned during the 1980s. Long was one of several Big Ten quarterbacks who revolutionized how people saw Big Ten football; Long, in particular, proved himself far superior compared to most.

Penn State fans of a particular vintage may recall him throwing for 345 yards passing in a historic 42-35 win against Penn State Lions during an earlier Big Ten matchup that year! Long was one of the Greatest Iowa Hawkeyes ever.

Video: Iconic Person: Chuck Long

Iconic Person: Chuck Long

2) C.J. Stroud-Ohio State

Stroud is a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist and holds the record for most passing touchdowns over any two years in Big Ten history (85). He became only the fifth player ever with multiple 40-passing touchdown seasons. Ohio State led FBS in points per game (45.0) and yards per game (526.0).

Video: C.J. Stroud Highlights || Full Career Highlights || Ohio State || QB || 2020 Through 2022 Season ||

C.J. Stroud Highlights || Full Career Highlights || Ohio State || QB || 2020 Through 2022 Season ||

1) Drew Brees-Purdue

Brees dragged an otherwise ordinary Boilermaker team into their first Rose Bowl in 34 years — since Bob Griese was under center.

I could throw Brees stats at Purdue at you, but you know the stats were through the roof! Brees was a winner everywhere he went, but that was especially true at a mediocre program like Purdue. Once again, Brees took Purdue to the Rose Bowl; any questions? If you love this list, check out our list of Greatest Big Ten Running backs!

Video: The Time Drew Brees Shocked #13 Ohio State

The Time Drew Brees Shocked #13 Ohio State

Honorable Mentions

Jack Trudeau-Illinois

Illinois was a perennial bottom feeder since Dick Butkus’ time. No Rose Bowl victory had occurred since. Under Trudeau and former California transplant Mike White as head coach, however, Illinois went 26-8-1 in Big Ten, with an unbeaten season culminating in a Pasadena appearance in 1983.

Connor Cook-Michigan State

Cook led his 2013 freshman team to a 13-1 season and reached the CFP in 2015, while his 71/22 touchdown/interception ratio is an outstanding accomplishment. Although no running impact can be detected from him during these three seasons as captain, his record of 9,100 yards while leading two B1G championship teams speaks volumes for itself.

Rex Kern-Ohio State

But Kern was like Trace McSorley half a century earlier: he would do whatever it took to win. Resourceful and deceptive on the option, Kern was a tough runner who endured physical punishment from Woody Hayes’ wishbone before leading Ohio State to 20 consecutive wins between 1968-1969 (including winning the national title) before Michigan was upset by Michigan.

Darrell Bevell-Wisconsin

Bevell completed 67.8 per cent of his passes as a sophomore to lead Wisconsin to an unlikely Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl victory, including an unlikely scramble down the left sideline that led directly to a critical touchdown in the Badgers’ win against UCLA in Pasadena. Bevell concluded his UW career 26-16-3 with two bowl wins.

Tom Brady-Michigan

Brady was a stud in college also. Unfortunately, his coaches never realized it until his senior year, when he played well. If you don’t believe me, check out his final game against Alabama.

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