Tajh Boyd started his season season with a victory over Georgia that earned him the Athlon Sports National Player of the Week. The win, coupled with the LSU truimph in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, marked the Tigers’ entrance onto the national stage and the completion of the program’s full transformation–from annual under-achiever to serious contender–under Dabo Swinney. Boyd was one of Swinney’s first major recruits–he signed on before Dabo had even a full season under his belt. Years later, Boyd would mean so much to the program that Coach Swinney included him in the interview process that culminated with hiring of OC Chad Morris. Now that his senior season is over, I’ve gone back and reworked my top QB in Clemson history list to include all of his accomplishments. Check it out and let me know what you think.
I’m no historian and 2013 was only my first year of being a Clemson season ticket holder (though I’ve been to over 60 Clemson football games) so pitch in with your suggestions in the comments below. The dates beside players’ names indicate the seasons during which they were on the roster and not redshirted.
So, we begin with the honorable mentions and countdown to #1.
Honorable Mention Charlie Whitehurst (’02-’05): Largely known for beating South Carolina four times, Charlie Whitehurst took over after Woody Dantzler. As a sophomore, he threw for 3,561 yards with 21 TDs. That season was his high point as the Clemson Tigers won nine games including memorable wins over FSU (the start of their decline), South Carolina (63-17), and Tennessee (who was ranked #4 entering the Peach Bowl). Whitehurst owned the Clemson record for completions (817) and pass attempts (1,368) until Tajh Boyd passed him on both marks with 901 completions in 1,402 attempts.
A few items barely keep him out of the top five. He won just 7, 6, and 8 games in his freshman, junior, and senior seasons, respectively. His career TD-INT ratio is only 49-46. (His junior season is largely to blame for that as he posted a poor 7-17 TD-INT Ratio). Although beating South Carolina is always fun, we also have the fond memory of just how awful those Gamecock teams really were (one bowl appearance and zero bowl wins in those four seasons).
Honorable Mention Bobby Gage (’45-’48): Gage played before passing was en vogue making it very hard to compare him to players of our era, but he led Clemson to a perfect 11-0 record in 1948 and was named the MVP of the that season’s Gator Bowl. In addition to being the starting quarterback, he also tallied 10 career interceptions as a defensive back. He is a member of the Clemson football Hall of Fame. After his career at Clemson, he was drafted 6th overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Honorable Mention Homer Jordan (’79-’82): The national championship quarterback deserves his due. He played in an era of great defense and hard-nosed rushing attacks, yet was a critical piece to some of the best Clemson football teams. He was the Clemson offensive MVP in the 1981 Orange Bowl that gave the Tigers their program’s National Championship. He left it all out on the field that night. After winning the game, he passed out from heat exhaustion. In 1981, he had the second most passing TDs and the highest passing efficiency in the ACC. His stats don’t tell the story though. His combined record as a junior and senior at Clemson was 21-1-1.
5. Rodney Williams (’85-’88): Coached by Ring of Honor inductee, Danny Ford, Rodney Williams is the greatest QB in Clemson history. He currently holds the record for the most games won by a quarterback (tied with Boyd at 32), most consecutive passes without interception (122), consecutive games completing a pass (46), most games started by a quarterback (44), and won three straight ACC Championships. Clemson has just two ACC Championships since he graduated (to be fair, FSU joined the conference after Williams matriculated).
4. Woody Dantzler (’98-01): At the turn of the millennium, Woodrow was one of the most electrifying running quarterbacks in the nation. Part way through his RS sophomore season in 1999 he took over as starting quarterback for Tommy Bowden’s then 1-2 football team and led them to a Peach Bowl.
In his junior campaign, the Tigers finished with 9 wins, but it was his senior season that was most amazing. He tallied 2,360 passing yards and 17 passing touchdowns along with another 1,004 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground. With that, he became the first player in NCAA history to pass for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yard. He set 53 Clemson records and is in the Clemson football Hall of Fame.
3. Mike Eppley (’80-’84): Eppley took in ’83 following the departure of national champion QB, Homer Jordan. Clemson had been placed on probation prior to the start of 1983 and was unable to officially win the ACC. Nevertheless, Eppley led Clemson to a perfect ACC record in a year in which they finished 9-1-1 and beat a top 10 UNC in Chapel Hill. UNC (along with UVA) had pushed for the additional penalties, making the win all the sweeter and inspiring a fan to make a sign reading “King of the Heel.” In that ’83 season Eppley had the best passing efficiency and the second best completion percentage in the ACC. Over his career he passed for more TDs and fewer INTs than Jordan, but Clemson’s dominance faded in 1984 as the probation began to show on the field and they only finished 7-4. Even then, Eppley led the ACC in passing TDs and total TDs.
1b. Steve Fuller (’75-’78): Steve Fuller played under Coach Charlie Pell and started 27 consecutive games for him. He was an All-ACC selection in ’77 and ’78 and was honored as the ACC Player of the Year both years. He is the only Clemson Tiger to do it twice. That year he quarterbacked the Tigers to their ’78 Gator Bowl victory over Ohio State (the Woody Hayes game) and delivered Danny Ford his first win as a head coach.
In his 1978 senior campaign, he finished sixth in Heisman voting accounting for 2,164 yards (1,515 passing and 649 rushing) in a “three yards and a cloud of dust” style offense. The stark difference in playing style makes it near impossible to compare to modern day greats like Whitehurst and Boyd, the latter of which doubled his yardage totals in most seasons.
He was drafted 23rd overall by the Kansas City Chiefs after that season. He also earned a 3.93 GPA and made the Academic All-ACC team three times. His name hangs in Memorial Stadium. Relative to his peers of the day, he is the greatest in school history, but QBs are asked to do much more in modern football, and as a result Boyd’s numbers are beyond comparison and I’m partial to lean in his direction.
1a. Tajh Boyd (’10-13): This is where is gets really challenging? Do you compare to his peers of the era (e.g., Cam Newton, AJ McCarron, Aaron Murray, Jameis Winston, etc) or directly to other greats such as Bobby Gage and Steve Fuller.
Boyd holds the Clemson record for pass attempts at 1,402–nearly triple Steve Fuller’s 531 career pass attempts. Therefore it holds that he holds the Clemson records for career completions, passing yards, passing touchdowns. To completely chalk up his numbers to a system that afforded him more pass attempts though is folly. Tajh Boyd also holds the ACC record for total touchdowns and passing touchdowns (breaking Philip Rivers’ passing TD record with one less season as the starter). He compiled a 32-8 record, tying him for the most wins by a QB in school history. Additionally he is one of three Clemson QBs to ever win the Orange Bowl, the others being Homer Jordan in the ’81 season and Billy Hair in the ’50 season.
The knock on Boyd was always his occasional poor play on a big stage. This was most evident in his first two starts against South Carolina and his last matchup with FSU. Still though, in his career he beat Virginia Tech, Auburn, LSU, UGA, and Ohio State, hardly pushovers. With that, he led Clemson two an ACC Championship (after a two decade drought) and two Orange Bowl appearances. After the first of those appearances ended in a blowout to WVU, he led Clemson to a 22-4 record in his RS junior and RS senior seasons.
He holds every meaningful record at Clemson, but because of the vastly different styles of play it is about impossible to definitively say he is better or worse than Steve Fuller. Among his peers of the day, Steve Fuller was viewed more favorably (Heisman voting and NFL draft). Fuller also fared more positively against South Carolina, who Boyd never beat. Still, the numbers speak for themselves. Both QBs revitalized Clemson’s football program after taking over a losing team. They are the two best in program history, which one you put on top is generally based on how harshly you penalize Boyd for his 0-3 record against the Gamecocks.