The Rose Bowl Corollary: Why College Conferences Matter for Super Bowl Quarterbacks


Nov. 23, 2012; Pullman, WA, USA; Washington State Cougars alumni Drew Bledsoe (right) gets inducted into the State of Washington Sports Hall of Fame during the first half against the Washington Huskies at Martin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The Super Bowl has begun the digestive drop that brings us to this point: How does college conference affiliation matter when it comes to getting a quarterback to the Super Bowl? Though this may (rightfully) sound like minusiac drivel, something may prove interesting to perspective recruits next week.

Forty Eight Super Bowls, 96 starting QB’s. Does your school predict arrival on the biggest stage? Well, yeah, it seems to. Certain coaches in large conferences do not want their recruits to look at this, because where a QB played, after several decades of evidence, would seem to indicate future success.

An argument may be made for specious reasoning, but for the more successful conferences the wealth has been spread, and the anomalies are infrequent. We give credit for multiple trips by the same QB, and measured from where a school was when the player left. This changes the ACC arguments, as Miami (along with many other schools) played as independents when their Super Bowl quarterbacks departed.  So no, ACC you do not get to claim Miami, and the Big 12 does not get to claim Jeff Hostetler. Anyone who scratches their heads when the Pac-12 Network shows highlights of Kordell Stewart or Alex Smith knows why we took this into consideration.

Independent teams proved prodigious through the 2003 season, sending twenty-one of eighty-six QB’s to that point, ending after Southwestern Louisiana graduate Jake Delhomme led the Panthers to the big game.  This is an example of QB’s in strange graduation situations, as just following Delohomme’s departure, Louisiana-Lafayette emerged from the University of Southwestern Louisiana, and (unconnected) joined the Sun Belt. Other notable (then) Independent SB quarterbacks include Louisville’s Johnny Unitis, Pitt’s Dan Marino, the aforementioned Hostetler out of West Virginia, and of course, Southern Miss’s Brett Favre.

Annapolis also gave us Dallas’ Roger Staubach, but one traditional power has delivered the most impressive set of alumni, Notre Dame.  Seven times an Irish QB has led his team to unto the breach, tied for number one, but the nod has to go to South Bend, as they delivered three representatives, where the other school only has two.  If you were wondering, that includes Daryle Lamonica, Joe Theismann, and of course, Joe Montana.

Division 1-AA (or FCS)  has made their impact known as well at the culmination of NFL seasons.  Most recently Joe Flacco of Delaware led the Ravens to a win last season, but these small school leaders dot the annals of the Super Bowl: Terry Bradshaw of Louisiana Tech first marched Pittsburgh into prominence followed by Ron Jaworski, Youngstown State, Ken Anderson, Augustana College, Phil Simms, Morehead State, Doug Williams, Grambling State, Stan Humphries, Northeast Louisiana, Kurt Warner, Northern Iowa, and Rich Gannon, Delaware.  Interesting note here, including an LSU representative, nearly 10% of Super Bowl QB’s went to school in Louisiana.

Moving to actual conferences, non-majors have seen representatives from four schools.  Ben Roethlisberger has a place in MAC history going to the Super Bowl three times, but whether they feel the need to remind the public of their association is still in flux.   The WAC has shown that it develops QB’s, but not just from the factory in Provo.  BYU has obviously thrown out some of the greats in this game, with Jim McMahon and Steve Young, but too often we forget that Trent Dilfer spent his time in the San Fernando Valley at Fresno State and of course, every Seahawk’s favorite lightning rod, Colin Kaepernick from Nevada.

Conference affiliation at this point would lean towards a proportional disparity towards the West Coast.  Next year we will evaluate this question from a place of origin, which considering Joe Namath, Joe Montana, and Dan Marino alone, Western Pennsylvania may be the top garden for QB’s.

The Big East, defunct but not forgotten by football fans, sent two memorable QB’s to the SB in the past couple decades.  First Donovan McNabb of Syracuse led the maligned and desperate Eagles, then Matt Hasselbeck escorted an equally desperate Seahawk team.  That’s it, Big East (or AAC or whatever you seem to want to be called).  The conference that was built on hoops has not been as prolific as they might have hoped (it gets worse for one conference, though.)

The other traditional basketball conference, the ACC, has done somewhat better, but from its non-Hoops tokens (yes, I know the Terps have done well in hoops, but they will always be a Lacrosse school.)  Maryland sent two QBs in the last thirty years, but none in the past 18, Boomer Esiason and Neil O’Donnell.   Brad Johnson from Florida State won Super Bowl XXXVII, matching up with Rich Gannon, putting the two least charismatic and most traveled QB’s possible on the field.

Before we look at the three conferences that have sent almost half the starting QB’s to the Super Bowl, we ask who is missing.  Four conferences have not been mentioned, one, well, has no need, except as a cautionary tale.  Perspective recruits at Quarterback, do not go to the Big 12.  Here is an article looking at the top NFL QBs from the Big 12.  Go ahead, it is a short piece.  They claim the best QB from their conference is Troy Aikman.  Sorry, Big 12, Troy’s total Oklahoma stats are as follows: 33 for 67 483 yards,4 TDs and 1 Int.  Connor Halliday was 39 of 63 for 488 yards, 4 TDs, no Ints, against Utah alone in 2013.    Bill Simmons once said that he refused to play at a blackjack table populated by residents of Big-12 States, and it seems that, if you are developing an NFL team with Super Bowl aspirations, an NFL GM should take that reasoning into consideration.

Dec 8, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) throws in the first quarter against the Tennessee Titans at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos defeated the Titans 51-28. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The success stories are much more interesting, though.  The SEC has shown constancy,  putting themselves in the limelight from the opening gun. Additionally astounding is that the SEC spreads the love around, with thirteen representatives from six schools.   Bama’s Bart Starr and Joe Namath are icons in SB history, but Georgia’s Fran Tarkington and the another Tide Man Ken Stabler kept the fire alive in the 1970s.  If I could find how to insert a footnote, David Woodley of LSU would be a footnote here, as in, history.  The past seven years, like at the college ranks, the SEC has been strong.  The Spawn of Archie and Rex Grossman made their appearances and broke the quarter century SEC drought with a deluge.  In fact, the Grossman/ Peyton Super Bowl was only the second conference match up in history, we’ll get to the first later.  Strong on you SEC.

Our Big Ten cousins do things a bit differently sometimes.  Their cheese is bland, their arteries are clogged, but they always seem to arrive with a casserole and beer to the family reunions, and we find similarities after talking for a few hours. What we see when examining the Super Bowl QB’s is what we call the Rose Bowl Corollary, the Big Ten and the Pac 12 are where to go to find your Super Bowl Quarterback.

The similarities are as follows:  Diversity of teams represented (five from the Pac-12, six from the Big 10), moderate success when reaching the Super Bowl, and efficiency.    Sixteen SB’s have been won by a Pac-12/Big Ten QB, more than 1/3 of the games.  These conferences are generating winners at an exemplary rate.

First the Big Ten.  They began with Len Dawson (Purdue) and Earl Morrall (Michigan State), and trumped them with Bob Griese (Purdue).  The decades following Griese were not kind to the Big Ten, with only the forgotten Tony Eason of Illinois until Penn State’s Kerry Collins showed up (sort of) in ’01 for the Giants.  Tom Brady and Drew Brees are at the top of the NFL QB ladder at the moment, and are representing well as they wait for Russell Wilson to take the reins.

Jan 11, 2014; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) passes the football against New Orleans Saints defensive end Keyunta Dawson (55) during the first half of the 2013 NFC divisional playoff football game at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Lastly, the Pac-12 (10) has brought the most Super Bowl QB’s to the fray.  Starting early with Cal giving us Joe Kapp, Craig Morton and Vince Farragamo; throwing in UCLA’s Bill Kilmer for good measure.  The forest came through with Chicano legend Jim Plunkett, beginning a tradition that continues today.  Stanford ties Notre Dame for the record, but only with Plunkett and John Elway.  That tie will be broken by Stanford sooner than it will by Notre Dame, however, as there is no chance that Jim Clauson or Brady Quinn will reach February before Andrew Luck.  Cal continues its tradition, after a hiatus, in Aaron Rogers, who could easily see himself at the top again.

The Washington Schools have made a name as well.  The Huskies sent an elderly Chris Chandler with the Falcons in 1999, the first conference match up in the Super  Bowl, losing to (Washington native) Elway.  The Cougs’ two delegates were the Crazy Canuck and SB Champion Mark Rypien, and of course Drew Bledsoe in 1997.  Side note, the 1996 AFC Championship game was a rematch of the 1992 Apple Cup, Bledsoe against Mark Brunell.

Overall, history and stats do not seem to lie here.  NFL teams should look closely at where these players are receiving their training.  The SEC is a good place to harvest, moreso the West Coast and the Rust Belt.  Avoid cattle and corn country at all costs, though the wheat and lentils of the Palouse are growin’ em strong.   Warning: The only five star QB’s in this year’s recruiting class are committed to Texas and Texas A&M;  they may want to reevaluate if they have Super Bowl ambitions.