Celebrating 5 years: Top 5 QBs of BTN era

Believe it or not, BTN will celebrate its fifth anniversary later this month. The big day is Aug. 30, to be exact. As a way to celebrate – not to mention kill time before the 2012 season kicks off – I’m spotlighting some of the great football careers during our time on the air. I’ll do it in the mold of “Big Ten’s Best,” our popular countdown show that returns this fall for another season of ranking the best in Big Ten history. My fourth list ranks the top five quarterbacks of the last five seasons, aka the BTN era.

Editor’s note: This list only includes players who competed during the 2007-2011 seasons, and it ranks the best careers. As for players who only played one or two seasons during the five-year period (i.e. Russell Wilson), their career totals are considered but don’t always carry as much weight as guys who amassed all of their numbers during the era. NFL success and pro potential have no impact.

[BTN.com: Top 5 wide receivers | Top 5 running backs | Top 5 tight ends]

1. Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State – Pryor’s name will forever be linked to Ohio State’s “Tattoo-Gate,” and rightfully so. However, this list ranks the best playing careers during the BTN era, and few Big Ten quarterbacks are more decorated than Pryor. In three seasons, two-plus as the starter, Pryor led the Buckeyes to at least a share of three Big Ten crowns and a pair of BCS bowl wins (2010 wins, Big Ten title and Sugar Bowl win have since been vacated). And in each BCS triumph, Pryor claimed MVP honors. A criticized passer, Pryor completed 61 percent of his passes and threw 57 touchdowns, including 27 in 2010. Add that production to Pryor’s ability to run (2,164 yards, 17 TDs), and you’re looking at a statistical beast who won a lot of games.
BTN era stats: 477-783 (61 percent), 6,177 yards, 57 TDs, 26 INTs; 436 car., 2,164 yards, 17 TDs; 3 rec., 24 yards, 2 TDs

2. Russell Wilson, Wisconsin – Wilson spent just one season in Madison, Wis., but what a season it was. The North Carolina State transfer compiled one of the best all-around seasons in Big Ten history, completing an unfathomable 73 percent of his passes for 3,175 yards and 33 touchdowns, to go along with a miniscule four interceptions. Now, for the top accolades: Wilson’s 33 scoring strikes were second in Big Ten annals to Drew Brees’ 36; and he set the national record for pass efficiency rating in a single season (191.8). Oh, and his 84 incompletions in 14 games averages out to six – yes, SIX! – misfires per game.
BTN era stats: 225-309 (73 percent), 3,175 yards, 33 TDs, 4 INTs; 79 car., 338 yards, 6 TDs; 3 rec., 56 yards, 1 TD

3. Denard Robinson, Michigan – Robinson is one of the best runners the NCAA has ever seen; in fact, his production on the ground in three seasons (3,229 yards, 35 TDs) would be excellent for a star running back. Thanks to his legs, Robinson became the first player in NCAA history to pass for 2,500 yards and rush for 1,500 yards in a single season (2010) and the fourth player in NCAA history to throw for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards twice in his career (2010, 2011). Accounting for 75 career touchdowns, injury is the only thing that can keep Robinson from eclipsing the 100-mark.
BTN era stats: 338-580 (58 percent), 4,931 yards, 40 TDs, 30 INTs; 546 car., 3,229 yards, 35 TDs

4. Daryll Clark, Penn State – Clark only needed a pair of seasons as a starter to become one of Penn State’s all-time great quarterbacks. As the starter in 2008 and 2009, Clark amassed 6,088 total yards and accounted for 60 touchdowns on his way leading the Nittany Lions to a share of the 2008 Big Ten title, the 2009 Rose Bowl and a 22-4 record. Along the way, he also broke several Penn State records, including career touchdown passes (43) and single-season passing yards (3,003).
BTN era stats: 430-711 (60 percent), 5,626 yards, 43 TDs, 16 INTs; 175 car., 571 yards, 19 TDs (2006-09 career stats: 444-738 (60 percent), 5,742 yards, 43 TDs, 16 INTs; 190 car., 619 yards, 22 TDs)

5. Kirk Cousins, Michigan State – Cousins will forever live in Michigan State lore, whether it’s for his 3-0 record versus rival Michigan, his leading the Spartans to back-to-back double-digit win seasons – years that included a share of the 2010 Big Ten crown and the 2011 Legends Division title – or his memorable last-second Hail Mary touchdown pass to Keith Nichol in prime time. A three-year captain, Cousins finished his career as the program’s all-time record holder in passing touchdowns (66), passing yards (9,131), completions (723) and passing efficiency (146.1 rating), among other things.
BTN era stats: 723-1,128 (64 percent), 9,131 yards, 66 TDs, 30 INTs

Next five (in alphabetical order of school): Juice Williams, Illinois; Ricky Stanzi, Iowa; Chad Henne, Michigan*; Dan Persa, Northwestern; Curtis Painter, Purdue; Scott Tolzien, Wisconsin

Who did I miss? Who would you have No. 1? Tweet me your thoughts (@BTNBrentYarina) or leave it as a comment below.

* — Henne was left off the original “Next five” list, but it was an oversight.

Brent Yarina is a web editor and blogger for BTN.com. Find all of his work here and follow him on twitter at @BTNBrentYarina.


Your Opinion?
Show Comments (43 Comments)
10 on 8/17/2012 @ 1:26pm EDT Said:

no Stanzi? at least he could throw… Robinson and Pryor cant. I agree with Cousins… But Robinson is the most over rated player in recent memory as a throwing QB

generaliowa on 8/17/2012 @ 1:46pm EDT Said:

So Pryor and Robinson make it because they were average pocket passers and good runners, yet Stanzi showed how excellent he was in the pocket as time went on.

I bet Brad Banks wouldn’t make this list as he was Pryor and Robinson long before those two and if this list covered the last 12 years

Nick on 8/17/2012 @ 2:33pm EDT Said:

So Shonn Greene is left off the list of top 5 RB’s because he only played 1 season and Russel Wilson is on the qb list?? How many years did Wilson play at Wisconsin?? Ill hang up and listen.

    Brent Yarina, BTN.com on 8/17/2012 @ 2:49pm EDT Said:

    Nick – No one ever said Greene was left off because he only played one season. Instead, he was left out of top 5 (included in Next 5) because there were so many great running backs, ones with multiple very strong seasons. The pool was a lot deeper than it was at QB. If there were the same number of true candidates at RB as there were at QB, Greene would have made the list. Look at the Next 5’s for proof: Greene, Royster, Ringer have a better case than Juice, Tolzien, Painter. All about depth of position.

    Also in Wilson’s case, his one year was SO much better than every other Big Ten QB. Like by A LOT. Greene’s year was unreal, without a doubt, but Mendenhall had more total yards and only one fewer TD, on top of a pretty good 2006, Clay only had two fewer scores in his best year, but he also went for 41 TDs in his career, and Beanie had 200 less yards and five fewer TDs in his best year(Greene’s biggest advantage), but he had 2.5 good seasons and a national title game berth. Wilson’s numbers shattered every QB in this era.

Wes on 8/17/2012 @ 2:44pm EDT Said:

Stanzi’s stats:

2008: 59% completion percentage, 1,956 yards, 14 TDs, 9 INTs
2009: 56% completion percentage, 2,417 yards, 17 TDs, 15 INTs
2010: 64% completion percentage, 3,004 yards, 25 TDs, 6 INTs

Excellent senior year. He’s a career 60% passer (542 out of 903) 7,3777 yards 56 TDs, and 30 INTs. He also rushed for -133 yards and 2 TD’s in his college career.

Not bad, but not leaps and bounds better than Pryor/Robinson. On average, Pryor has better passing numbers than Stanzi in everything but yards (120 less attempted passes for Pryor, which would probably drop his completion percentage, but boost yards/TDs/INTs). Robinson’s passing numbers aren’t great, but his running ability is unlike anything the Big Ten conference and possibly the NCAA as a whole has ever seen at the position.

Doug on 8/17/2012 @ 2:49pm EDT Said:

Get Robinson and Pryor off this list, what a disgrace to true QB’s ….

    Brent Yarina, BTN.com on 8/17/2012 @ 2:53pm EDT Said:

    Doug – Take a look at Pryor’s passing stats. He wasn’t a pure QB, by any means, but he completed 61 percent of passes – not terrible, definitely inflated by short routes – and he threw 57 TDs, including 27 in 2010. You realize only four QBs in Big Ten history have thrown 30 TDs in a season, right? Pryor was three away from that. He must be the best worst quarterback ever.

Jeff on 8/17/2012 @ 2:51pm EDT Said:

this is getting embarrassing for you.

Steven on 8/17/2012 @ 2:54pm EDT Said:

^^^ Waiting on an explanation for this, although these comments/questions will likely be deleted and never addressed. Let’s just say these lists have lost major creidibility. I don’t understand why this “rule” would apply to RB’s and not QB’s??? Greene was the best freaking RB in the NATION in 2008!

doug mack on 8/17/2012 @ 3:09pm EDT Said:

I am with the all the other Hawkeye fans. Ricky Stanzi is just behind Pryor, Ricky save Ferentz’s job.

jonathan wolfe on 8/17/2012 @ 4:03pm EDT Said:

This list is okay as far as athletes who happened to play QB, but I don’t think it is a true list of the best QBs who played QB, if that makes sense. I think Darryl Clark and Kirk Cousins are the two best examples on the list. I would then argue for Painter and Stanzi for better careers. I, too, struggle with Russel Wilson being on this list when Shonn Greene misses the RBs list. Wilson’s numbers for 1 year are good but so were Greene’s in comparison. However, at least you got Wilson right for the QBs. Greene and Ringer? Not so much.

Doug on 8/17/2012 @ 4:12pm EDT Said:

Brent, none of those stats happened, check the books…

I’ll still take Pryor over Denard, but I understand how you have to put Denard on every list

Leif Gordon on 8/17/2012 @ 4:13pm EDT Said:


aroznowski on 8/17/2012 @ 4:18pm EDT Said:

I love the choice of Terrelle Pryor at number one. He was definitely productive and the most talented quarterback in the conference during the BTN era. If his college football career hadn’t ended the way that it did, Pryor topping the list wouldn’t even be worth a debate.

Nathan Merz on 8/17/2012 @ 4:21pm EDT Said:

This might be in the history of stupid lists, the most all-time stupid list. The second the top 5 qb’s over the btn era list didn’t include Ricky Stanzi, it failed to be legit. Seriously guys. I can make a concession for Pryor being on there, the next 3 are patently ridiculous, and the fact that Wilson is number 2 makes you an idiot. He was a QB on a team with the best running game in the nation. Teams put 9-10 guys in the box at all times. What Wisconsin had the last two years are two of the best offensive lines in the history of college football and great running backs. WIlson’s numbers had more to do with O-line and running game than Wilson. Seriously him at 2 is absolutely, patently, re-donk-u-less. Give me a break guys.

    Brent Yarina, BTN.com on 8/17/2012 @ 5:07pm EDT Said:

    Nathan – As I wrote in the post, Wilson set the national record for pass efficiency rating in a single season (191.8) and his 33 scoring strikes are second in Big Ten history, behind some guy named Drew Brees. And I’m not taking anything away from Brees, but he needed 207 more attempts to throw his 36 TDs. If Wilson threw it 207 more times, he would have finished with 55 TD passes. Wilson threw a TD on every 9.4 attempts, while Brees did it every 14.3. Impressive. And his 84 incompletions are flat-out ridiculous. You realize that’s 2.5 incompletions to every TD pass? Again, using Brees’ numbers, he had six incompletions to every TD.

    I don’t want to hear about the line. You probably also think Emmitt Smith was no good and the product of Dallas’ awesome lines. Tolzien played with the same caliber of line, and while he had a nice 2010 season, it was NOTHING close to Wilson’s.

    Brent Yarina, BTN.com on 8/17/2012 @ 5:11pm EDT Said:

    Nathan – Assume you’re an Iowa fan with you saying “The second the top 5 qb’s over the btn era list didn’t include Ricky Stanzi, it failed to be legit” and that Robinson, Clark and Cousins’ inclusion is “patently ridiculous.” I don’t think you’ll find any non-Iowa fan who will say Robinson/Clark/Cousins’ inclusion over Stanzi is ridiculous. Stanzi had a nice career and unreal 2010 season, but he’s in no way THAT much better than Robinson/Clark/Cousins to warrant that kind of talk.

trj on 8/17/2012 @ 4:22pm EDT Said:

Brent Yarina, BTN.com on 8/15/2012 @ 6:26pm EDT Said:

It’s quite simple, really: “This list only includes players who competed during the 2007-2011 seasons, and it ranks the best careers.” No one is saying Greene didn’t have an unreal season, but in a conference that was loaded with running backs who had multiple really good seasons during this five-year period, someone is going to be left out.

Wilson’s unreal season warrants inclusion. Greene’s does not.

    Brent Yarina, BTN.com on 8/17/2012 @ 5:12pm EDT Said:

    Trent – Take a look at the field of QBs during this era; it’s not nearly as deep as the RBs. It was hard enough to come up with the Next 5 players, while you can make an entire top 5 out of the Next 5 in the RBs. There are only so many spots, as you know, and every player on that top 5 had very good careers. Greene did, too.

Matt on 8/17/2012 @ 4:49pm EDT Said:

So despite Greene being the best running back in the country for the year he played he’s left off. Wilson was the best QB in the big ten last year and he gets slotted as #2? You should really stop making these lists, you’re losing all credibility.

Nathan on 8/17/2012 @ 4:59pm EDT Said:

Oh btw, according to the NCAA and President Emmert, pretty sure Clark didn’t win a single game in his career at Penn State and I think Pryor lost a couple of his too if memory serves me. Lot of folks who didn’t win very many games on that list of top QB’s.

    Brent Yarina, BTN.com on 8/17/2012 @ 5:43pm EDT Said:

    Nathan – You’re right on both fronts. And I considered taking that into account, but the stats don’t go away as far as I know. The wins do, of course, however we all know what they did in their careers. And I mentioned Pryor’s wins and such being vacated in blurb on him.

Nathan on 8/17/2012 @ 5:18pm EDT Said:

Cousins was awesome, never said he didn’t belong on this list. Wilson, Robinson and Clark don’t belong on this list

Aaron on 8/17/2012 @ 5:54pm EDT Said:

Chad Henne isn’t even Honorable Mention?!

    Brent Yarina, BTN.com on 8/17/2012 @ 5:58pm EDT Said:

    Great call. That was a complete oversight on my part. Apologies.

Aaron on 8/17/2012 @ 6:18pm EDT Said:

I would also say that Adam Weber should be considered for HM consideration. As a 4-year starter, Weber threw for over 10,000 yards in his time at Minnesota.

Brett Mauk on 8/17/2012 @ 8:42pm EDT Said:

It’s crazy that Ricky Stanzi was left off the list. Besides his statistics, he won all three of his bowl games, including the Orange Bowl. He also won all his games vs. Cousins and lead Iowa to a twelve game winning streak. Are you sure you should be the one writing these articles?

    Brent Yarina, BTN.com on 8/17/2012 @ 9:21pm EDT Said:

    Brett – Every fanbase is going to think their guy deserves this or deserves that. It’s a guarantee. No one can please everyone. Show me a list that every fanbase has absolutely no complaints about, and I’ll be shocked. As I’ve said here already, this is just my opinion and it’s not the only list. If everyone felt the same way and saw everything the same way, rankings and lists like these would serve no purpose. They’re popular for a reason, and that’s because they’re debatable and everyone has an opinion.

Dave on 8/17/2012 @ 10:22pm EDT Said:

As a side note, head to head against the top 5 Stanzi was 5-1… And I know it wasnt QB vs QB but still…I don’t have time to gather the stats of those games but as you can imagine 5-1 record Stanzi’s stats were better and it doesn’t look too close.. Not to dog Cousins but Michigan State was undeated in that game and it was a huge on national TV game, Stanzi played a great game, cousins pretty much pissed down his leg with 3 picks.. And no I’m not from Iowa I’m right here in Buckeye country, but numbers don’t lie.. Weber needed to be on that list as well if you’re looking at the entire body of work over that time span especially since he wasn’t surrounded by tons of talent

Frank on 8/18/2012 @ 12:26am EDT Said:

I remember when I wrote my first top 5 list.

pez on 8/18/2012 @ 1:37am EDT Said:

Daryll Clark on this list and not Stanzi is a bigger gaffe then leaving Greene out of the RB list. Your bosses need to find you some other hobbies until the season kicks off.

You’re the gift that keeps on giving for the Iowa message boards…kudos.

    Brent Yarina, BTN.com on 8/18/2012 @ 2:23am EDT Said:

    You’re free to feel that way. I’ve had people tell me Daryll Clark should be No. 1, as well, so maybe I’m not the craziest person. Clark lost the head-to-heads, but he was pretty darn good, winning a share of the B1G title, setting Penn State’s record for career TD passes and passing yards in a season. It’s not like we’re talking about Matt McGloin, who, by the way, beat Iowa and James Vandenberg last year. Does that make him better than Vandenberg? Not at all. Back to my point… Clark also had nine more total TDs than Stanzi – he started two years to Stanzi’s three. Stanzi’s 2010 season was terrific, the main reason he made this list, however his first two seasons weren’t that strong. 56% 15 INTs in 2009.

Doug on 8/18/2012 @ 8:34am EDT Said:

Brent, no need to get sarcastic, Pryor was part of a scandal, he should not be on the list. As an MSU fan, I’ll even say put Henne or Stanzi on there instead of Pryor and/or Denard. At least they could pass the football.

Bryan Burk on 8/18/2012 @ 9:19am EDT Said:

Don’t quit your day job. Oh hell, somehow this is your day job. I can only speculate on how you got it.

a Big Ten fan on 8/18/2012 @ 9:39am EDT Said:

You’re top 3 made not because they were great qb’s but because of the situation of their teams. Pryor on just about any other team is a running back the4 strength of ohio State covered up his shortcomings, Robinson for example was Michigans only offense again at most of the other schools he is not a qb, Wilson’s stats are out of proportion because wisky likes to run up scores not to mention the running game wisky had…you brought up Drew Brees, if Breese got to pick which team he played for his senior year or if had the running game whisky had …Wilson picked his situation..I would think most coaches would have picked Cousins #1 for obvious reasons He was a winner and a leader!

steve on 8/18/2012 @ 10:32am EDT Said:

I know making list like this is hard, you almost needed a top ten in the big ten type thing. I don’t know if stanzi had the raw talent that the others on the list did, but the side could win, I think being undefeated on bowl games during a time when most of the big ten was choking on the big stage is enough to warrant a four or five slot.

Curtis Knapp on 8/18/2012 @ 11:58am EDT Said:

This is amazingly amusing. I AM a Hawkeye fan. However overall I am a football fan. Do you really think for any second that you didn’t say it was because it was one season and not based off of a career? Then stick your foot in mouth on the next article. It don’t matter, if your list is what it is, Henne should be on the list an Cousins should be higher. I understand it’s your opinion, however its an opinion that not only certain team fans but other teams fans think is awful. On top of that you just through “facts” at the situation which makes no sense. If at any point in EITHER article you just said “hey you know what, I wasn’t being reasonable ONE or the other should be in based off of what I said.” I think you would have had some credibility. Hope in future you at least consider the fact that you aren’t infoulable.

Curtis Knapp on 8/18/2012 @ 11:59am EDT Said:

Also wasn’t Kafka a pretty good QB?

Dave on 8/18/2012 @ 4:58pm EDT Said:

Dan persa NCAA All time leader not just big ten in completion %and led NCAA in yards in 2010 Pryor is a joke and shoelace is in that same category

Dave on 8/18/2012 @ 5:16pm EDT Said:

% not yards *

Andy on 8/18/2012 @ 7:58pm EDT Said:

From an neutral position, I believe Chad Henne was a much better quarterback than Denard Robinson. Yeah, Robinson can run, but if Michigan is playing a powerhouse team and trailing in the 4th quarter, I’d rather have Chad Henne’s arm, decision making, and leadership, over Denard Robinson’s speed, and toss up passes.

J.P. Scott on 8/20/2012 @ 4:29pm EDT Said:

You gotta have Stanzi in the argument, if not #1.

Ben Schlichter on 8/22/2012 @ 3:42pm EDT Said:

Wilson shouldn’t be on this list, much less #2.

He had ONE year in the Big 10. ONE. Its a disgrace to have him on the list when you have much more seasoned and storied QBs in the BTN era. I’m a huge Buckeye fan, but Cousins deserves to be #1 by far. No QB has done more for turning their program around than him.