August 23, 2014
Top 5 USC quarterbacks
Matt Leinart passed for 10,693 yards and 99 touchdowns in three seasons as a Trojan.
1. Matt Leinart
There's really no debate here. Leinart easily had the greatest career of any USC quarterback. The real question is whether he was the greatest college quarterback of all time. The 6-foot-5 southpaw won the Heisman in 2004, finished third in 2005 and sixth in 2003. The three-time All-American led USC to a 37-2 record and national titles in 2003 and 2004. He guided USC to victories in the Orange Bowl and Rose Bowl and a 34-game winning streak. His 64.8 completion percentage ranks first among USC quarterbacks with 15 starts. He's behind only Barkley and Palmer in career totals, but only because he played fewer games. He produced several iconic moments and went 6-0 against UCLA and Notre Dame as a starter.
2. Carson Palmer
One could argue that Palmer's 2002 Heisman season was the best of any quarterback in school history. He threw for 3,942 yards with 33 touchdowns while leading USC to an Orange Bowl victory and No. 4 ranking, and jumpstarting the Trojans' dynasty. Palmer was considered the total package coming out of high school and occasionally started as a freshman. He played for multiple offensive coordinators and his teams didn't always win, but Palmer did set or tie 33 Pac-10 and USC total offense and passing records. One of those is for interceptions. In a vacuum, the 6-foot-5 Palmer was the Trojans' most talented quarterback.
3. Matt Barkley
He became USC's first true freshman to start an opener and broke every major passing record in school history. He finished sixth in the Heisman in 2011 while leading USC to a 10-2 mark and No. 6 ranking. He threw a school-record 39 touchdowns that year and completed 69.1 percent of his passes. Barkley helped keep the program afloat as it endured NCAA sanctions that included a bowl ban and loss of scholarships. Those circumstances are a big reason why his individual success didn't translate into the team success fans had grown accustomed to before his arrival. USC went 34-14 with Barkley as the starter, though he never made all-conference. He has 17 more touchdowns, 74 more completions and 509 more passing yard than any other USC quarterback.
4. Rodney Peete
He was a Heisman runner-up and Unitas Award winner. In 1988, he guided the Trojans to an unbeaten record and No. 2 ranking heading into the regular-season finale against Notre Dame. Peete was a Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year recipient and two-time team MVP. The three-year starter led USC to three bowl games, including back-to-back Rose Bowls, though the Trojans lost both contests. The team went 18-6 over his final two seasons and finished his senior season ranked No. 7. He is fifth on the school's all-time list in passing yards and sixth in touchdowns. He's remembered as a dual-threat -- and he did run for 12 touchdowns -- though he averaged only 1.4 yards a carry.
5. Paul McDonald
The two-year starter was an All-American in 1979 and finished sixth in the Heisman. McDonald led USC to the national title in 1978 and a No. 2 ranking the following season. He made all-conference and was team MVP as a senior. His numbers largely reflect the era he played in, as he led the Pac-10 in passing as a junior while averaging 151.5 yards a game. On USC's career lists, the lanky lefty is ninth in touchdowns, 10th in passing yards and 11th in completions.
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