Greatest Cal QBs of the 2000s

More of the CGB All-Decade Posts: Best Golden Bear running backs, best Golden Bear wide receivers, best Golden Bear fullbacks, best Golden Bear tight ends, best Golden Bear offensive linemen, best Golden Bear defensive linemen, best Golden Bear linebackers, best Golden Bear defensive backs.

In all the previous Best Golden Bear players of the decade posts, the players have been ranked in one big list.  When I sat down to write out this post, that is how I originally began to rank the players myself.  However, I began having trouble ranking the players against each other due to one player trumping another in one area, only to be out-done in another area.  In other words, I was faced with a dilemma of which factors of quarterbacking are more determinative of whether one QB is superior to another?   Do you give the most weight to statistics?  Or big wins?  Their overall Cal career?  Or who is the best pro prospect? 

Melding all those factors is difficult.  So instead of coming up with one big list for all the Cal QBs of the decade, instead I've broken down the list into many smaller lists as since I do not want to make the decision as to whether a QB's raw statistics is more determinative of his greatness than his pro prospectus.  

Thus, below you shall find, in my opinion, whom are the best Cal QBs of the 2000s, broken down into three categories. 

First, the best Cal QB of the 2000s Statistically.  This category is quite simple.  It looks at the statistics of the QBs and determines who had the best career statistically.  No adjustments are given for one QB playing with an inferior team to another QB (those considerations are for the "Best Cal Career" list).

Second, the best Pro Prospect Cal QB of the 2000s.  This category looks at the sheer talent of the player, and his potential as an NFL player.  No consideration of statistics is taken into account.

Third, the best Cal QB of the 2000s whom had the best Cal Career.  This category will take into account statistics, wins, games played, and his performance given the surrounding cast of talent.  However, there will be no consideration of the actual talent of the quarterback.

BEST QB STATISTICALLY

In this category the quarterbacks are ranked by their statistics. I'm not really looking at career totals, as since that's mostly determined by how long the QB has played and unfairly punishes 2 year starters compared to 4 year starters.  Instead, I'm looking at the quality of the statistics.  Therefore, having a high completion percentage is key rather than who has the most completions.  Having a good TD-INT ratio is key, rather than who has the most TDs thrown.

Also, I pondered whether to include some of other Cal QBs who have thrown passes but only played in a handful of games.  Namely, Steve Levy and Reggie Robertson.  I have decided not to include those players as since their playing time was extremely limited and their statistics wouldn't really represent an adequate sample size.  Therefore I was left with five QBs: Boller, Rodgers, Ayoob, Longshore, and Riley. 

#5 - JOE AYOOB

YEAR CMP ATT YDS CMP% YPA LNG TD INT SACK RAT
2005 125 254 1707 49.2 6.72 58 15 14 20 114.13
2006 11 26 205 42.3 7.89 40 1 1 1 113.54

Ayoob suffered from a low completion percentage and a very high interception rate of 5.5%.  He accumulated the most statistics in 2005 as a 9 game starter.  Despite the low completion percentage, he had an okay yards-per-attempt statistic of 6.72 in 2005.  Thus, when Ayoob was completing passes, they were longer ones.  This probably can be attributed to longer down-field passes to Robert Jordan, Lavelle Hawkins, and Desean Jackson. 

 

#4 -KYLE BOLLER

Year	Att	Cmp  Int	Pct	Yds	TD	Long	Rtg
1999 259 100 15 38.6 1303 9 83 80.75
2000 349 163 13 46.7 2121 15 81 104.49
2001 272 134 10 49.3 1741 12 48 110.24
2002 422 266 10 53.6 2818 29 ? 127.59

Boller suffered during his first three years from an extremely low completion percentage.  Consequently his QB-ratings suffered a lot too.  He did turn things around in 2002 under Tedford with his best season posting improved (although still bad) completion percentage and a near 3:1 TD-INT ratio.  Despite Boller's bad first three seasons, the statistics from his senior season give him a narrow lead over Ayoob on this list.

 

#3 - KEVIN RILEY

YEAR CMP ATT YDS CMP% YPA LNG TD INT SACK RAT
2007 36 56 563 64.3 10.05 64 5 1 4 174.63
2008 112 221 1360 50.7 6.15 59 14 6 19 117.85
2009 209 382 2850 54.7 7.46 61 18 8 30 128.75

Riley career isn't over, and perhaps next year I'll have to revise this list slightly with his 2010 statistics (although his 2010 statistics really aren't the 2000s anymore, are they?).  Obviously, Riley's best season came as a freshman.  After his amazing Armed Forces Bowl performance, many Cal fans touted him as the next Aaron Rodgers.  Looking at those 2007 statistics, you can definitely understand why.  Unfortunately, Riley had a considerable sophomore slump.  Blame it on the QB-carousel.  Blame it on the henny (pop culture joke here).  Blame it on the loss of WRs from 2007.  Riley just didn't quite look the same during 2008.  Nevertheless, he rebounded slightly in 2009 posting a better completion percentage, a better yards-per-attempt and improving his overall QB rating.  As much as many Cal fans now are over Riley and eyeing Brock Mansion or Beau Sweeney as the next Cal QB of the future, it can't really be ignored that Riley is still the third best Cal QB of the 2000s statistically.

 

#2 -NATHAN LONGSHORE

YEAR CMP ATT YDS CMP% YPA LNG TD INT SACK RAT
2005 8 11 131 72.7 11.91 44 1 1 0 184.58
2006 227 377 3021 60.2 8.01 62 24 13 12 141.63
2007 230 384 2580 59.9 6.72 49 16 13 6 123.32
2008 93 164 1051 56.7 6.41 74 10 4 5 125.79

Longshore was the next great hope.  After Aaron Rodgers departed early for the NFL in 2004, and after Cal fans had endured the Ayoob year of 2005, Cal fans looked to Longshore to be that next Tedford QB.  And in 2006, he delivered hope.  Longshore's statistics in 2006 weren't great, but they weren't bad.  They were okay, if not good/acceptable.  He delivered a solid completion percentage.  He had a high yards-per-attempt partly due to his completion percentage and partly due to Desean Jackson.  And his QB-rating was a good 141.63.

Then in 2007, Longshore delivered Cal fans with even more hope... until his injury in the 2007 Oregon game.  Longshore's 2007 statistics almost need to be split into his pre-injury statistics, and post-injury statistics.  Prior to his injury, he was en fuego (on fire). He was throwing at a 63.8% clip, with a 6.98 yards-per-attempt, and an interception percentage of 1.23%!  Then of course, he got injured, Cal's offensive line blocking became more porous and his statistics came down.  Ironically, as bad as many Cal fans believe that Longshore was in 2007, he still was statistically just about the same as Riley's best year thus far (2009).  Longshore's QB-rating in 2007 was 123.32 and Riley's QB-rating in 2009 was 128.75.  In other words, as far as QB-rating is concerned, 2007 Longshore was just about as good as 2009 Riley.  Yikes.  That doesn't exactly speak well for Riley.  However, Riley gained the superior QB rating due to his better TD-INT ratio than Longshore.

In 2008, Longshore again played through a pectoral muscle injury and still was not his old self and his statistics suffered from it diminished capabilities.  Overall though, Longshore's statistics on a year-to-year basis slightly nudge out Riley for the #2 spot on this list.

 

#1 - AARON RODGERS

Year 	Att	Com	Int	Pct.	Yds	TD	Long	Rtg
2003 349 215 5 61.6 2903 19 79 146.58
2004 316 209 8 66.1 2566 24 80 154.35

This is easy.  No quarterback in the 2000s has ever gotten as close to Aaron Rodgers.  Most Cal fans will probably remember him for his amazing 2004 season.  However, his 2003 season was pretty good too.  He had a good completion percentage of 61.6%.  He had a TD-INT ratio near 4:1.  His QB rating was through the roof.  And if things couldn't get any better, they actually did.  In 2004 he posted an excellent 66.1% completion percentage, a ridiculous 8.12 yards-per-attempt (2566/316=8.12), and a TD-INT ratio of 3:1 (still great). 

Aaron Rodgers, statistically, remains the model of perfection that all Cal QBs will have to live up to during the Tedford era.

 

 

BEST PRO PROSPECT 

This category looks at the QB's sheer abilities as a QB.  I'm talking about arm strength, accuracy, height, speed, and mental abilities.  No consideration is given to statistics.

#3 - NATE LONGSHORE

After Kyle Boller, and Aaron Rodgers, Nate Longshore was Tedford's best chance at another NFL QB.  Nate Longshore was not going to be a first round pick though.  In fact, he probably was more of a late-round pick, but he definitely had a chance at being drafted based on his performances while healthy.  While Longshore was healthy, he was a solid pro prospect.  He had the size at 6'5" and about 230 pounds.  He had a decent arm.  He had good accuracy.  He threw good spirals -- they didn't have a ton of RPMs because Longshore never really seemed to be a wrist-flicker but he put an adequate amount of RPMs on his balls (throwing a good spiral seems like a given for QBs but it's really not and many highly recognized college QBs suffer from the inability to throw good spirals).  Longshore's weakest physical aspects were his footspeed, and his injury history.  Unfortunately for Longshore, he had the ankle injuries (two of them) and his pectoral injury which significantly hampered his playing time and abilities.  This is a definite red flag for NFL teams.

As for Longshore's mental side of quarterbacking, he was very good, and at his peak he was probably right behind Aaron Rodgers.  Longshore has been described by Tedford as another "coach on the field."  Tedford has not graced any other Cal QB with that label -- not even Rodgers.  Longshore had the uncanny ability to get rid of the ball to avoid sacks.  He knew where his dump-offs were.  Tedford has cited Longshore as having the ability to make it through up to five progressions (can't find the article).   Nate Longshore might be one of the biggest what-ifs as Tedford's next greatest QB (post-Rodgers) had he not suffered so many injuries.

 

#2 - KYLE BOLLER

Entering his senior year, Kyle Boller probably wasn't more than a faint blip on most NFL scouts' radar.  After all, he struggled his first three years at Cal and was sporting (approximately) a pretty lowly 48% completion percentage over his first three years, and a pedestrian 1:1 TD-INT ratio.  But after his senior year under Jeff Tedford, and posting a completion percentage over 50% and a whopping 3:1 TD-INT ratio (approximately) he finally earned a real hard look from NFL scouts. 

At the NFL combine, Boller ran a 4.6 second forty yard dash, and had a 3.99 second shuttle run.  What did he prove?  He had athleticism.  Of course, this was no surprise to Cal fans.  What did surprise Cal fans and NFL scouts alike, was when during Cal's Pro Day, Kyle Boller took a knee at the fifty yard line and threw the ball through the uprights.  What did he prove? He had a particle accelerator for an arm.  Of course, this was no surprise to Cal fans either; however, none of us really expected him to be able to -- or any human being in general -- to be able to throw a football through the uprights from one knee on the fifty yard line.

Boller clearly had the physical tools to be a great NFL QB -- there was no question about that.  As already described above, he had the strength and athleticism.  He also had the size at being a prototypical 6'3" 220 pounds.  What was in question though, was his mental acuity.  Some theorized he had a bad completion percentage because he couldn't read defenses.  If I recall correctly, an ESPN article hammered Boller for his sudden improvements under Tedford.  The gist was that these improvements were due to Tedford simplifying the reads so that Boller was only reading half the field.  (I don't personally have the links for these stories and rumors, sorry.  One day, I did ask Tedford about these rumors, and he said to ignore those criticisms without providing further explanation.  I got the feeling from Tedford's reaction to my question that he felt like such rumors were a bunch of a nonsense.)

Despite the criticism that Boller wasn't fully reading defenses, and that Boller was over-hyped, it is quite clear in my opinion, that he still was Cal's best pro prospect at the QB position during the 2000s.  Physically, he was every scout's dream QB (as well as every coed's dream).  Regardless of whether the criticism about his mental acuity was true or not, most NFL teams don't expect rookies to come in right away and play lights out.  Hence, even if he did lack some of the mental acuity to be great right away, with some time and development, there was little doubt that he had a decent chance at being a solid NFL QB.

 

#1 - AARON RODGERS

What usually puts a college prospect on a NFL scout's radar first?  Statistics.  Aaron Rodgers had them.  His junior year statistics included a fantastic 66.1% completion rate, 8.12 yards per attempt, and a 3:1 TD-INT ratio.  The kid must have been doing something correct, right?  Yup.

He had the accuracy.  None of the Cal QBs of the 2000s had the extreme and consistent accuracy that Rodgers had.  Ball after ball, no matter the distance always seemed to be right on the money.  I remember going to Cal's 2004 pro day and watching Rodgers perform.  I remember on one particular play he rolled out right, and while on the run, threw a 40 yard bomb down the field to Makonnen in stride and right on the hands.

He had the smarts.  Tedford was quoted saying how Rodgers just got it -- and got it quickly.  He understood the offense, and defenses.  His mental acuity was so good that by mid 2003 (his first year) he was already seeing playing time.  

He also had the athleticism.  Rodgers ran a 4.77 forty yard dash.  He had a strong arm, that has only gotten even stronger if you watch him in the NFL right now.

He had the size.  At 6'2" he wasn't perhaps as tall as NFL scouts would like, but he was adequate.  He was a solid 223 pounds too and had enough thickness to absorb sacks (see the 2009 NFL season). 

As one scout said:

Athletic passer with the physical skills and mental intangibles needed to lead a franchise at the next level. Quickly sets up in the pocket, sells ball fakes and technically very sound. Poised under the rush, steps up to avoid defenders and works to keep the play alive. Patient, buys time in the pocket and waits for receivers to come free. Does an excellent job with his reads and natural looking off the safety. Does not make mental errors and throws the ball away rather than toss the errant pass. Times the short and intermediate throws well, as receivers rarely wait for the ball out of their breaks. Outstanding vision and immediately spots the open receiver. Possesses a quick release, live arm and zips the outs or gets the ball downfield. Throws with touch. Sits in the pocket and takes a big hit in order to get the pass off. Fleet-footed and picks up yardage with his legs when necessary.

Aaron Rodgers still stands out in every Cal fan's mind as the ultimate, creme de la creme, numero uno, archetype QB.  Without a doubt he is the best QB prospect to come out of Cal in perhaps multiple decades, and perhaps ever.

 

BEST CAL CAREER

This category will take into account statistics, wins, games played, and his performance given the surrounding cast of talent.  However, there will be no consideration of the actual talent of the quarterback.  This is perhaps the most subjective category and is open for varying degrees of interpretation.

Note: these are taken from the 2007 Cal Football history guide.  This is the most recent history guide listed on Cal Football's website, therefore Nate Longshore's career statistics are not complete, however I have added in Longshore's career statistics.

#4 Best Cal Career of the QBs of 2000s -- Steve Levy
Accolades:
*Most biggest clutch Big Game wins: 1 (2005)

While he won't grace any career records, and while he didn't play QB all the time or for very long, every Cal fan knows his name.  In 2005, when Cal seemed to be in its most vulnerable state since Tedford took over in 2002, Steve Levy gave Cal fans hope that they could win the 2005 Big Game, and delivered.  Statistically, he was only 10/18 for 125 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT, and 36 yards rushing, but meaningfully he was infinity.  Nobody can forget how he courageously led the Cal football team against the Furd, ran with purpose and aggression, and hoisted the axe over his head upon victory. 

357100_medium

via graphics.fansonly.com

 

#3 Best Cal Career of the QBs of 2000s -- Kyle Boller
Accolades:
*Most passes attempted in a career: 1301 (1999-2002)
*Most passes attempted in a season: 421 (2002)
*Most career touchdown passes: 64 (1999-2002)
*#2 Career Total Offense: 7811 yards (1999-2002)
*#6 Single Season Total Offense: 2732 yards (2002)
*#1 Career Passing Touchdowns: 64
*#2 Single Season Passing Touchdowns: 28 (2002)
*Tied #9 Career 300-yards passing games: 2 (1999-2002)

While Boller lacked a lot of quality over his tenure, he did have a lot of quantity.  His quantity lands him atop many lists for career records and single season records.  Boller also deserves credit for being a part of the turn-around 2002 Cal team that knocked off a ranked Michigan State team, ending the 20+ game long lose streak against Washington, and winning that memorable 2002 Big Game.

A-boller-083102-lg_medium

via cdn1.sbnation.com

 

#2 Best Cal Career of the QBs of 2000s -- Nate Longshore
*#3 Single Season Total Offense: 2969 yards (2006)
*Tied #3 Career Passing Touchdowns: 51 (2005-2008)
*Tied #3 Single Season Passing Touchdowns: 24 (2006)
*Tied #9 Career 300-yards passing games: 2 (2005-2008)
*#5 Single Season Passer Rating: 141.6 (2006)
*#7 Career Passer Rating: 131.84

Clearly the second best Cal Career of the 2002s, and perhaps also the #2 most hated Cal QB of the 2000s too.  Nevertheless, Longshore's production when healthy can't be ignored; he was good.  His 2006 season alone landed him atop a couple of lists.  Compared to Boller, what Longshore lacked in quantity, he usually made up for in quality.  Credit has to be given for his solid 2006 season, and a clutch TD throw to beat Miami in the Emerald Bowl for 2008.

0922calnatelongshoreg1_250_medium

via vmedia.rivals.com

 

#1 Best Cal Career of the QBs of 2000s -- Aaron Rodgers
Accolades:
*Most passes completed consecutively: 26 (2004 @ Oregon State & @ USC)
*Most passes completed consecutively in one game: 23 (2004 @ USC)
*Highest completion percentage in a game: 85.3% (2004 @ USC)
*Most 300-yard passing games in a season: 5 (2003)
*Lowest percentage of passes intercepted in a career: 1.95% (2003-2004)
*Lowest percentage of passes intercepted in a season: 1.43% (2003)
*#6 Career Total Offense: 5805 yards (2003-2004)
*#2 Single Season Total Offense: 3113 yards (2003)
*#7 Single Season Total Offense: 2732 yards (2004)
*#3 Single Game Total Offense: 424 yards (2003 vs. Virginia Tech)
*#4 Single Game Total Offense: 414 yards (2003 @ Stanfurd)
*#4 Single Game Passing Yards: 394 yards (2003 vs. Virginia Tech)
*#6 Career Passing Touchdowns: 43
*Tied #3 Single Season Passing Touchdowns: 24 (2006)
*#4 Career 300-yards passing games: 5 games (2003-2004)
*#2 Single Season Passer Rating: 154.4 (2004)
*#4 Single Season Passer Rating: 146.6 (2003)
*#1 Career passer rating: 150.3

Easily the best Cal career of the 2000s -- and only in two years of playing time.  Aaron Rodgers was a beast, and still is.  Despite not even playing every game in 2003, Aaron Rodgers' 2003 statistics landed him atop many accolades lists.  Credit must be given for his participation in the defeat of #3 USC in triple overtime in 2003, as well as Cal's defeat of national powerhouse Virginia Tech in the Insight Bowl that same year.  Also, nobody can ever forget Rodgers' 23 consecutive completed passes against USC in 2004.  The amount of quality and quantity in Rodgers' statistics in such a short period of time is simply amazing.

 

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via a.espncdn.com

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