Inside the Numbers - The QB Debate

The Florida Gators have had their share of great signal callers over the years, especially in the Steve Spurrier coaching era. There are three that standout - <B>Shane Matthews, Danny Wuerffel and Rex Grossman</b>. Lets take a look "Inside the Numbers."

A great debate among Gator fans is who has been the greatest quarterback ever at the University of Florida? There are a few from the older generations – Steve Spurrier, Kerwin Bell, Wayne Peace and John Reaves - to stake their claim as the greatest. But lets take a look "Inside the Numbers" at the newer generation and the top three in the Steve Spurrier coaching era – Shane Matthews, Danny Wuerffel and Rex Grossman.

Career QB Numbers at Florida

Danny Wuerffel, 1993-96 10,875 yards 114 TDs
Shane Matthews, 1989-92 9,287 yards 74 TDs
Kerwin Bell, 1984-87 7,585 yards 56 TDs
John Reaves, 1969-71 7,549 yards 54 TDs
Wayne Peace, 1980-83 7,206 yards 34 TDs
Doug Johnson, 1996-99 7,114 yards 62 TDs
Rex Grossman, 2000-present 6,010 yards 59 TDs
Steve Spurrier, 1964-66 4,848 yards 36 TDs

Matthews came out of nowhere to become Coach Spurrier's first starting quarterback. He sat fifth on the depth chart behind Donald Douglass, Kyle Morris, Lex Smith, and Brian Fox when Spurrier first arrived. His turning point was the Orange and Blue Spring game in 1990. From that point on, Matthews never looked back. One thing to his advantage was the system. Nobody in the SEC was ready for Spurrier and his ingenious offensive system. Matthews and company and Florida caught the league by surprise with a passing game never seen in conference history. Spurrier's offense set the tone and changed the way football was played in the conference. Matthews soon became the first great triggerman at Florida under Spurrier.

Having said that, the Florida Gators didn't quite have the talent they would later have. In 1990, the starting wide receiver corps consisted of Terrence Barber and Tre Everitt. But the go-to guy turned out to be tight end Kirk Kirtpatrick. Lets not forget Errict Rhett and Willie McClendon were very effective catching passes out of the backfield and over time, Rhett became one of the Gators best running backs ever. In 1991, the starting receivers were Willie Jackson and Harrison Houston. Aubrey Hill emerged as the third wide receiver. A year later Jack Jackson emerged.

Matthews had some solid receivers but he did not have the quality or quantity that Wuerffel had. This is what makes Matthew's run as Florida's quarterback even more special. Here is a guy that won the QB job as a 5th stringer, grasped and executed this complicated offense, and put up incredible numbers.

It is too easy to say Wuerffel was the best because he won a Heisman Trophy. But more importantly, he won 4 SEC Championships and a National Championship. Wuerffel battled Terry Dean his red-shirt sophomore year and Dean set the tone early. He put up monster numbers and quickly became the Heisman frontrunner in 1994. Mid-way through the season, Florida hosted Auburn and Dean had a nightmare of a game, throwing six interceptions in a loss to the Tigers. Wuerffel came in and almost led Florida to a come-from-behind victory. In the end, Florida lost but Danny boy won the starting job and never relinquished it. Over the next three seasons, he put up mind-boggling numbers. Some folks think he was the greatest college quarterback in the history of the game. Along the way, the Gators played in two National Championship games, winning one and losing one.

A luxury Wuerffel had that Matthews did not have was the unbelievable talent at the skilled positions – Ike Hilliard, Reidel Anthony, Chris Doering, Fred Taylor, Eli Williams, and Terry Jackson. WOW! And let's not forget some pretty good offensive lines and an above average defense. It still takes a super quarterback to push the "Fun ‘N Gun" offense to the limits and Wuerffel had the system down pat. Like Mathews, Wuerffel was a great competitor, very intelligent and always had Florida in the right play at the right time. When you combine his talent and the talent around him and good decision-making, you see why Wuerffel had so much success as a Florida Gator.

As good as Shane and Danny were as the Florida signal callers, Rex Grossman could emerge as the best in time. Grossman has had a lot of luxuries that Wuerffel had in his first two seasons; steller receiving corps and Earnest Graham. His 2001 campaign was a brilliant one and as a sophomore, he almost won the Heisman Trophy. It begs the question, had Earnest Graham remained healthy for the entire season, would Florida have beaten Auburn and Tennessee and played for the SEC Title and National Championship? That has always been the main focus of any quarterback under Spurrier. It wasn't about numbers and trophies but about first winning the conference title and hopefully getting a shot at the National Championship.

What's done is done and when you look back at last season you have to marvel at what Grossman accomplished. He threw for over 4,000 passing yards and 38 touchdown passes. If you break it down by each game he had two, 400 yard passing games, eight, three hundred yard passing games and two, two hundred yard passing games. Incredible.

But Spurrier is now gone. So are Jabar Gaffney and Reche Caldwell. Taylor Jacobs is the only proven guy returning at the receiver position and he has the potential to be one of the all-time greats at Florida. But who else will step up? How will Grossman and his teammates adjust to the new staff and their system? A common denominator in Florida football is having a receiving corps of three go-to guys and a running game to compliment. Graham and Ran Carthon are excellent running backs but will Carlos Perez, Kelvin Kight, and some others seize the moment and step up?

Grossman's career as a Gator is only half way completed and he still has a lot to prove. He has one SEC Title under his belt. Numbers wise, he could own every record in the book if he stays through his senior year. If he only throws for 3,000 yards and 25 TDs this season and next, he will shatter the record books.

So who is the greatest Florida quarterback of all-time. You would have to say Danny Wuerffel because of the combination of championships and the unreal numbers he put up. Put Shane Matthews on those star-studded Florida teams in the mid-90s, and I really believe he could have done the same things Wuerffel did. In many ways he did. The great unknown is Rex Grossman. He could never play another down at Florida and leave behind a super two-year run. But he is not and Grossman has a chance to truly leave his mark in the Gator record books. More importantly, he has the chance to lead his team to championships. Grossman has already proven himself but the next two seasons will define his ultimate legacy among the great Gator quarterbacks. Stay tuned, as this topic of conversation will be brought up once again in 2003.

Passing Leaders by Year

2001 Rex Grossman 4,144 yards 38 TDs
2000 Rex Grossman 1,866 yards 21 TDs
1999 Doug Johnson 2,574 yards 20 TDs
1998 Doug Johnson 2,346 yards 19 TDs
1997 Doug Johnson 2,023 yards 21 TDs
1996 Danny Wuerffel 3,625 yards 39 TDs
1995 Danny Wuerffel 3,266 yards 35 TDs
1994 Danny Wuerffel 1,754 yards 18 TDs
1993 Danny Wuerffel 2,239 yards 22 TDs
1992 Shane Matthews 3,205 yards 23 TDs
1991 Shane Matthews 3,130 yards 28 TDs
1990 Shane Matthews 2,952 yards 23 TDs

Fightin Gators Top Stories