Penn State’s Best Quarterbacks Through The Decades
By David Abruzzese and Ben Rappaport
Many talented quarterbacks have made their way through Happy Valley, but only a select few have had the right mix of talent and luck for their legacies to transcend time. Below are what we consider to be the top Penn State quarterbacks of each decade, dating back to the 1970s. Obviously, a number of notable names have been omitted, but that’s not to say that they’re not equally deserving of a spot on this list. Let us know how you feel about our selections in the comments below.
2010s: Christian Hackenberg
This list would be incomplete without one of Penn State’s most important recruits during the sanctioned era. Christian Hackenberg’s career hasn’t yet concluded, but his place in Penn State lore is forever cemented. Hackenberg committed to Penn State before the NCAA levied crippling sanctions on the school’s football program, but kept his word after the fallout — earning the trust and respect of Penn State fans across the country. On the field, he was as good as advertised, setting a number of freshman school records, including season yardage, touchdown passes, completions, and 300-yard passing games. Though his sophomore season was underwhelming, he enters his third season brimming with confidence, as he returns a number of dangerous offensive weapons — including WR DaeSean Hamilton, TE Kyle Carter, and TE Adam Breneman. The second half of his Penn State career is only just beginning, but his place among the school’s most notable signal-callers is undeniable.
2000s: Michael Robinson
The most electrifying quarterback to ever play for Penn State, Michael Robinson, brought with him a dynamic element never before seen in a Nittany Lion signal-caller. His ability to make plays with his legs, even when no receivers were open, has been unmatched by a quarterback since. His incredible athleticism allowed him to run a multidimensional offense that succeeded in bringing Penn State an Orange Bowl victory in 2006. Although he’s famous for his dual threat ability, Robinson was also an incredible leader.
He managed to pull out a Penn State win in the Orange Bowl despite enduring three gut-wrenching overtimes. Never really fitting into a position until his senior season, Robinson began his career bouncing around the depth chart. From quarterback to running back, Robinson never found a prominent role in the offense until 2005, where he exploded onto the scene by having one of the best Penn State seasons ever by a quarterback. He finished the season with 2,350 passing yards, 17 passing touchdowns, 806 rush yards, and 11 rushing touchdowns.
He was the first player in school history to throw for over 2,000 yards and rush for over 500 yards in the same season. Finishing fifth in Heisman voting that year, Robinson will always be remembered for his incredible passion for the game of football — and of course bowling over this unfortunate Minnesota safety.
1990s: Kerry Collins
Kerry Collins’ name is synonymous with success at the quarterback position. Collins holds the top marks for consecutive completions in a game, passing yardage in a game for a junior, and consecutive games with a touchdown pass, to name a few. Collins’ career marks are even more impressive, and include the highest season passer efficiency ever for a Penn State quarterback, along with the highest completion percentage numbers for both a single season and overall career.
Simply put, Kerry Collins was a gunslinger, and his name deservedly stands atop the list of storied Penn State quarterbacks. The 1994 season brought unprecedented success for Collins, whose play garnered him just about every national quarterback recognition. Along with the Maxwell, Davey O’Brien, and Sammy Baugh awards, Collins was also named a Consensus All-American — capping off what still stands today as the greatest single season ever by a Penn State quarterback.
1980s: Todd Blackledge
In perhaps the most important Penn State football game of all time, Todd Blackledge led the Nittany Lions to victory over the University of Georgia to gain their first national title. The three-year starter had an exceptional career record of 31-5.
During his championship run in 1982, he won the Davey O’Brien Award for being the nation’s best quarterback. That season he threw for 2,218 yards and 22 touchdowns. Mostly known for his composure under pressure, Blackledge will be remembered forever as the model quarterback that all should try and emulate. He finished his career with 4,812 yards and 41 touchdowns.
Be sure to check out the famous 47 yard strike that Blackledge threw to Gregg Garrity to capture the 1982 National Championship and secure the upset against the No. 1 ranked Bulldogs. He won the game’s most outstanding player award — one that was definitely well-earned. Blackledge ended up being selected in the first round of the 1983 NFL draft, going No. 7 overall to the Kansas City Chiefs.
1970s: Chuck Fusina
Chuck Fusina enjoyed an incredible run at the helm of what many consider to be Joe Paterno’s best teams, but there’s always the feeling of “what if?” In a sense, Fusina resembles a top-tier golfer who never captured a major championship. His laundry list of accolades includes a 29-3 record as a starter, the 1978 Maxwell Award, a 1978 Heisman Trophy nomination, and at the time, Penn State’s all-time leading passer with 5,382 career yards. The only honor missing from this remarkable list is the title of National Champion.
Despite losing only three games throughout his stellar career, Fusina was unable to attain college football immortality despite knocking on the door twice. A home loss to Kentucky in week four served as the lone blemish on an otherwise spotless record, preventing the Nittany Lions from competing for a title. The next season brought even more success for Fusina, but the the illustrious National Championship crown was snatched by Bear Bryant’s Alabama Crimson Tide on a goal-line stand in the game’s waning moments. Although he was unable to win a title, he still remains a fixture in Penn State football lore.
Who’s the best Penn State quarterback ever? Let us know your takes in the comments below.