Who was the best WVU QB?
Sports fans love to argue about which player or coach was “the Best Ever.” The problem for West Virginia University fans is that there’s just no point arguing about several of the school’s sports legends.
For instance, there’s simply no argument about who was the greatest basketball player in WVU history. It’s Jerry West, hands down. Shoot, the man from Cabin Creek is in the discussion about who was the best basketball player in the Earth’s history.
Similarly, there’s not much point arguing about who has been the greatest WVU football coach. Don Nehlen’s your winner, end of argument. True, Rich Rodriguez was highly regarded (at least until he went to Michigan), and Bobby Bowden became a legendary coach after leaving Morgantown. But Nehlen built the program into a national contender, and then into a traditional powerhouse. He’s the man.
But here’s a question I think is worthy of a true WVU sports fan’s consideration: Who was the best quarterback in Mountaineer history?
To my mind it comes down to two names: Major Harris and Pat White.
Granted, Jeff Hostetler’s first game as a Mountaineer was a 41-27 upset over the No. 6 Oklahoma Sooners, and he went on to the NFL and won a Super Bowl with the New York Giants. Hoss went 18-6 in his two years at Morgantown (he was a transfer from WVU’s bitter rival Penn State). He was great, but not quite the best, in my thinking.
WVU went undefeated in the 1993 regular season, one of the best years in the program’s history, but two players split time at quarterback for that team — Darren Studstill and Jake “the Snake” Kelchner. Both were talented, but neither could be called the best ever.
More recently, Geno Smith showed at WVU he had the talent to light up the scoreboard and was taken in the second round of the NFL draft. But Geno never had the breakout year as a Mountaineer many fans hoped he would have, perhaps partially because the team’s defense was not as stout in those early years of Dana Holgorsen’s tenure as head coach as it has become in the past few seasons.
So we’re left with two candidates for best WVU quarterback ever. Major Harris was a 1989 All-American and finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1988 and third in 1989.
In his sophomore year in 1988, Major led WVU to an undefeated regular season. That year national media frequently referred to him as the most exciting player in college football. A tremendous, elusive runner, Harris also had a strong arm and developed as a passer throughout his college career.
His two strong showings in the Heisman voting — along with that undefeated regular season — brought WVU to a level of prominence the program had never experienced before.
Major declared for the draft after his junior year but never played a down in the NFL, a fact which remains bewildering to many WVU fans. He played just one season in the Canadian Football League,
Harris was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2009.
Pat White became WVU’s starting quarterback in his freshman season in 2005, and held the position through his senior season. He holds the distinction of being the only Mountaineer quarterback to start and win four bowl games.
His starting record of 35-8 is unmatched by any quarterback in the school’s history. He gained 4,480 yards rushing, more than any player in NCAA history who played quarterback exclusively.
In his junior year in 2007 he finished sixth in the Heisman voting. As a senior in 2008 he finished seventh.
White’s post-college football career was almost as frustrating as that of Harris. Playing for the Miami Dolphins in his rookie season, Pat was injured by a hard hit in a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers and never played a down in the league again.
Clearly these were two amazingly talented athletes, and they took WVU to heights no other quarterback has ever accomplished at the school.
True, Jeff Hostetler, Oliver Luck, Mark Bulger and even the perpetually unlucky Geno Smith have had greater NFL careers, but I think Major and Pat stand head and shoulders above the rest based on their legendary feats behind center for the Mountaineers.
But which one of these two was the greatest? Surely you WVU fans out there have an opinion. Please let me know what you think!
Send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me who you think out best signalcaller was. I’ll publish the responses I receive in next week’s column. Speak your mind and let your voice be heard. Let’s go, Mountaineers!