Texas Tech football has experienced three Golden Ages. These were the Pete Cawthon decade of the thirties, the Jim Carlin/Steve Sloan years of the early- and mid-seventies, and the Mike Leach era of the aughties.
My personal remembrance of Red Raider football encompasses the immediate aftermath of the second Golden Age--which was itself a Dark Age--the third Golden Age, and the present. During this period I have seen many a great Tech football player despite the fact that Tech experienced 11 losing seasons and two 6-6 marks in those 33 years.
And excellence certainly appeared at the quarterback position. Tech has put few signal callers in the NFL, but it has produced several outstanding, record-breaking collegiate QBs. Heck, even most of Tech's "caretaker" quarterbacks were good. And this history of quality made it most difficult to select the top five that follows.
No. 5: B. J. Symons – In 2003 B. J. Symons had arguably the greatest single season of any Texas Tech quarterback when he threw for an NCAA record 5,833 yards and a Big 12 record 48 touchdowns despite playing most of the year with a partially torn ACL. Symons was awarded the Sammy Baugh Trophy, which went to the nation's premiere college quarterback, and was named the Chevrolet National Offensive Player of the Year.
Symons started only one season in scarlet and black, but finished his Tech career with 6,374 passing yards and 55 touchdowns.
The Houston Texans selected Symons in the seventh round of the NFL draft and he played one season with the franchise. The remainder of his professional career was spent with NFL Europe and Arena Football teams.
No. 4: Kliff Kingsbury – Symons' predecessor as the trigger-man in Tech's offense was Kliff Kingsbury. He was also Mike Leach's first Texas Tech quarterback, and as such, was heavily responsible for establishing the "Air Raid" offense, and the tradition of statistically monstrous quarterbacks under Leach.
In his time on the South Plains, Kingsbury completed 1,231 of 1,883 passes for 12.429 yards, with 95 touchdowns and 40 interceptions. At the time of his departure from Tech in 2002, Kingsbury owned 39 school, 13 Big 12 and seven NCAA records. Kingsbury capped off his senior season by winning the Sammy Baugh Trophy and being unanimously named first-team All Big 12.
Kingsbury spent the bulk of his NFL career on various practice squads and injured reserve lists, but was on the active roster of the New York Jets in 2005.
No. 3: Robert Hall – Quarterbacks who played at Texas Tech before the arrival of Mike Leach put up statistics that paled into comparison to the Air Raid quarterbacks. How could they not have? The older passing attacks were nowhere near as sophisticated and prolific as the spread. But that doesn't mean the old school quarterbacks were not good.
Case in point was Robert Hall who played for the Tech in the early nineties. A walk-on option quarterback from Dallas Carter, Hall would go on to set a plethora of school records as a Red Raider and be inducted into Tech's Hall of Honor in 2008.
When he completed his eligibility in 1993, Hall owned Tech records for career passing yards (7,908), touchdown passes (48), pass completions, and total offense (8,489). Hall also rushed for 17 touchdowns.
An accurate passer with outstanding pocket presence and excellent broken-field running ability, Hall would have been lethal had he played in Mike Leach's system.
No. 2: Billy Joe Tolliver -- The player whose school records Robert Hall broke was Billy Joe Tolliver. Tech's starting quarterback from 1985 through 1988, Tolliver set school records for passing yardage (6,756), pass attempts (1,008), pass completions (493) and touchdown passes (38).
Tolliver was a somewhat inconsistent passer, but was capable of explosive production. He burst onto the scene in his redshirt freshman season throwing for a school record 422 yards and five touchdowns in his first game as a starter against TCU. In 1988 Tolliver passed for a school record 446 yards against Oklahoma State. Tolliver was inducted into Tech's Hall of Honor in 2002.
But what sets Tolliver apart is his professional career. He is unquestionably the must successful professional quarterback Texas Tech has ever produced. Drafted by the San Diego Chargers in the second round of the 1989 draft, Tolliver went on to play ten seasons in the NFL and start a slew of games. Tolliver passed for 10,760 yards and 59 touchdowns. No other Red Raider quarterback put up numbers that come remotely close to these.
No. 1: Graham Harrell – Graham Harrell racked up countless school, conference and NCAA records in his Texas Tech career, but the truest index of his greatness was winning. During his three years as Tech's starting quarterback, the Red Raiders were 28-11.
Harrell authored the greatest comeback in collegiate bowl history, leading the Red Raiders back from a 38-7 third quarter deficit and completing the feat with a 44-41 victory over the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the 2006 Insight Bowl.
Harrell connected with Michael Crabtree on a 28-yard touchdown pass with one second on the clock to defeat the No.1 Texas Longhorns in 2008. It is the only victory over a No.1 team in school history and is generally considered the greatest win in Red Raider football history.
Harrell proceeded to lead the Red Raiders to a No.2 national ranking, the highest in school history. He concluded his Tech career by coming in fourth in the Heisman Trophy balloting.
Harrell is currently an active squad member of the Green Bay Packers, the same organization for whom former Tech great Donny Anderson played. Anderson also finished fourth in the Heisman voting.