For the past few weeks, we've published series looking back at the spring -- so we thought we'd really take a look back this week.
Because this year marks the Big Ten's 120th anniversary, we cracked open the history books and took a look back at some of the conference's best players. So, as part of this week's series, we're ranking the top 5 all-time B1G players at each position. Every day, we'll give you an offensive position and a defensive position.
We're not basing this on NFL careers or numbers; a lot of it has to do with how each player's college career was viewed in his respective time period. We're also technically doing some cheating here because we're picking players that come from teams currently in the Big Ten. In other words, expect to see a few Nebraska and Penn State players -- even if they didn't technically compete in the conference.
So, without further ado, let's kick off this week's series. Up first: Quarterbacks.
1. Tommie Frazier, Nebraska, started from 1992-1995: He's certainly not the most accurate passer on this list, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a signal-caller who could help you win more games. Frazier won back-to-back national championships in 1994 and 1995, and he was Nebraska's bowl MVP for three straight seasons. On top of that, the College Football Hall of Famer also made both the Walter Camp and Sports Illustrated all-century teams, the only "B1G" quarterback to do so. His numbers weren't incredible, but some of the plays he made were. Just take a look at this run, for example.
2. Drew Brees, Purdue, 1998-2000: He left the Boilermakers as the Big Ten's career leader in pass attempts, completions, passing yards, total offense and passing TDs. He also left with two NCAA records and 19 school records. He's easily the B1G's best QB of the BCS era. He never won more than nine games, but he twice finished within the top 5 of the Heisman voting -- fourth in 1999 and third in 2000 -- and he was the starting signal-caller on The Big Lead's all-time Big Ten team. Said then-Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, back in 2000: "There's nothing he can't do."
3. Chuck Long, Iowa, 1982-1985: If you're looking for the most accurate passer on this list, look no further. Long was nearly automatic. He started four seasons, and he completed at least 61 percent of his passes every year. He even placed within the top-5 nationally in both completion percentage and passing TDs in both 1984 and 1985, and he was in the Heisman race both seasons -- finishing second in 1985, behind Bo Jackson, and seventh in 1984. He was just the second player in the nation to throw for more than 10,000 yards in his career (bowl games included). He also fared well in the win/loss department -- his career record was 35-13-1 -- but not as well as some other quarterbacks on this list.
4. Bob Griese, Purdue, 1964-1966: The former Miami Dolphin certainly made a name for himself back in college. He twice finished within the top 10 of the Heisman voting -- eighth as a junior and second as a senior -- and ended his college career on a high note by edging out USC in the Rose Bowl 14-13. It was the first time Purdue made the Rose Bowl and, to date, it's the only Rose Bowl the Boilermakers have won. Griese just seemed light-years ahead of his Big Ten competition. In both 1965 and 1966, he led the conference in the following categories: passing TDs, completion percentage, passing yards, completions, yards per attempt, pass efficiency and total yards. He even punted and kicked field goals during that time, too.
5. Troy Smith, Ohio State, 2004-2006: He's the most recent Big Ten player to win the Heisman, and he's the only true Big Ten quarterback to ever win the award. (Nebraska's Eric Crouch won it in 2001 outside of the Big Ten, which we didn't penalize him for, but he barely beat out Florida's Rex Grossman. Smith won in a landslide.) Smith was truly a versatile quarterback. In 2006, when he guided the Buckeyes to the national title game, he threw a conference-best 30 touchdown passes while completing a conference-best 65.3 percent of his passes. The year before? His passer rating was the fourth best in the nation, and he rushed for 611 yards and 11 touchdowns. Our own Adam Rittenberg named him the "B1G player of the decade."
Honorable mentions: Otto Graham, Northwestern; Art Schlichter, Ohio State; Eric Crouch, Nebraska; Benny Friedman, Michigan; Rick Leach, Michigan; Mark Herrmann, Purdue; Rex Kern, Ohio State