A ton goes into developing a quarterback at the collegiate level. On top of preparing your starter to win games, the importance of giving him the tools to succeed in the NFL can't go unmentioned.
Coaching staffs often have to balance a fine line between creating simpler game plans to make for easier offense or sophisticated schemes that impress professional scouts. For teams outside of the Power 5 that don't have the advantage of national prestige and an expansive network of boosters and alumni, bringing in quality prospects is a perpetual challenge. However, becoming a 'QB factory' can establish a recruiting pipeline that pays major dividends in the near future. Here are GMTM's four best non-Power 5 quarterback factories of the last thirty-five years.
North Dakota State
Notable QBs: Carson Wentz, Easton Stick, Trey Lance
A 21st-century FCS dynasty that few fans are familiar with, North Dakota State's recent success has been driven primarily by strong quarterback play over the past decade. As game tape and statistics have become easier to access, NFL scouts have begun to take notice.
Many eyeballs were raised when the Philadelphia Eagles traded up in the 2016 NFL Draft to select Carson Wentz, despite his immense success for the Bison and an ideal NFL frame. Although he struggled mightily in 2020, Wentz's key role on the 2017 Super Bowl-winning team and a Pro Bowl selection proved that NDSU QBs can win at the next level.
This upcoming draft, Trey Lance may prove to exceed Wentz in the NFL. Already touted as a soon-to-be first round pick, Lance's duel-threat game could make for an explosive career in the NFL. While it doesn't have an immense track record, North Dakota State's quarterback development machine is only getting better.
Notable QBs: Rich Gannon, Joe Flacco
In the last quarter-century, the University of Delaware Fightin' Blue Hens have produced just two NFL quarterbacks. However, it helps that both have had immense success in the league.
Gannon, who was the team's punter before switching to QB in his sophomore year, set numerous school records at Delaware over the course of three seasons. Selected by the Minnesota Vikings in the fourth round of the 1987 NFL Draft, Gannon wouldn't break out until joining the Oakland Raiders twelve years later. In 2002, he was named league MVP as he led the Raiders to a Super Bowl appearance, just two years before he retired.
Flacco, a transfer from Pittsburgh, initially struggled for the Blue Hens. However, his senior year saw him lead Delaware to a miraculous run in the FCS playoffs, ending in a championship loss to Appalachian State. After breaking 20 school records, Flacco was selected in the first round by the Baltimore Ravens, who were impressed by his composure and ability to play in bad weather.
In Baltimore, Joe was a solid but unspectacular regular season quarterback, game-managing a team that was solid on defense and liked to run the ball. However, his play in the playoffs was spectacular. In 2013, he had arguably the greatest run of any quarterback in league history, guiding the Ravens to a Super Bowl victory and winning Super Bowl MVP in the process. Today, he is a backup QB for the New York Jets.
Notable QBs: Tony Romo, Jimmy Garoppolo
Eastern Illinois' two NFL quarterbacks both flew under the radar during their college careers, but soon became household names upon entering the NFL. Romo was an Ohio Valley Conference standout, and is the only EIU player to have his number retired by the school. However, he wasn't even invited to the NFL Combine in 2003. After going undrafted, Romo was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Dallas Cowboys, a signing pushed for by then-assistant coach and former EIU quarterback Sean Payton.
Romo's chance to start for Dallas would not come until 2006, when he replaced Drew Bledsoe midway through the season and led the Boys to the playoffs. Starting at quarterback for the next ten seasons, Romo was named to four Pro Bowls and would be Dallas' all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns.
Jimmy Garoppolo's success at Eastern Illinois exceeded that of Romo's, breaking just about every school record during four seasons on campus and winning the FCS quarterback of the year award in his senior season. A second round selection by the New England Patriots in 2014, Jimmy G was eventually shipped out to San Francisco in 2017. In 2019, he led the 49ers to the Super Bowl, accompanied by a stellar QBR of 102. Despite an injury and turnover-plagued season this year, Garoppolo still has a prominent role on a talented San Francisco squad.
Notable Andre Ware, David Klingler, Kevin Kolb, Case Keenum, Kyle Allen
None of Houston's recent quarterback alums made major waves in the NFL, but the sheer amount of signal callers sent to the pros warrants them a spot on this list. Andre Ware, the 1989 Heisman Winner, was taken seventh overall by the Detroit Lions in 1990, but failed to make much of an impact while in Motown. Klingler, Ware's successor at Houston, was taken sixth overall by the Cincinnati Bengals in 1992 but, like Ware, didn't do much at the next level.
Once thought to be the future in Philadelphia, Kevin Kolb never really panned out, getting replaced by Michael Vick in 2010 and then moving on to Arizona for two more seasons. Keenum has had the most success amongst this group; after four seasons as a backup, he led the Vikings to the NFC title game in 2017 to go along with a career 75:47 touchdown/interception ratio. Allen has played just three seasons in the NFL after going undrafted in 2018.
While the Cougars haven't produced Pro Bowlers, most high school prospects looking at non-Power 5 schools are happy just to get drafted or signed to a roster. Houston's success in getting their QBs pro-ready is something most schools in the American Conference have struggled to do in recent years. Its only a matter of time before they manage to produce a star in the NFL.