Ranking college football's top 80 quarterbacks of the 2000s

Does Jayden Daniels beat out Caleb Williams as the top-ranked newcomer on Bill Connelly's list of best QBs of the 2000s? Melina Myers/USA TODAY Sports

With each passing season, ranking the college quarterbacks of the 2000s gets a little trickier.

It was a big deal when Missouri's Brad Smith averaged 2,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards per season from 2002 to '05. But then Michigan's Denard Robinson averaged 2,000 and 1,400 from 2010 to '12. And then Louisville's Lamar Jackson averaged 3,600 and 1,500 from 2016 to '17. And then Clemson's Deshaun Watson and Oklahoma's Kyler Murray went for 4,000 and 1,000 in 15 and 14 games, respectively. And in 2023, LSU's Jayden Daniels damn near matched that in 12 games. Meanwhile, after only three players threw for more than 4,700 yards in a season in all of the 1900s, we saw 10 such seasons in the first decade of the 2000s, 16 in the 2010s and already five in the 2020s.

Everything we thought about evolving quarterback play as we were watching Virginia Tech's Michael Vick, Purdue's Drew Brees and the wonders of the Mike Leach offense in the late 1990s has multiplied exponentially in the first quarter of the 21st century. And with a fun new batch of quarterbacks finishing their college careers in 2023, it's time to once again update my best quarterbacks of the century list. This gets trickier every year. Does one incredible season from Daniels trump four years of steady brilliance from Kellen Moore? Who was better for Bama, Tua Tagovailoa or Bryce Young? Does Caleb Williams' merely awesome junior year dampen his almost perfect sophomore campaign? And what the heck do you do with Stetson Bennett?

One thing is certain: I did this list perfectly, and you won't find a single ranking to complain about. Especially the No. 1 spot. Glad we can agree on that. To the list!

80. Bailey Zappe, Western Kentucky
Years (FBS only): 2021
Stats: 5,967 passing yards, 69% completion rate, 62 TD, 11 INT

This is an FBS-specific list, so the fact that Zappe threw for 10,004 yards at Houston Christian before even arriving at WKU doesn't really come into play. But he makes this list on the power of one utterly ridiculous season. Zappe topped 400 yards in eight games and ended up with more career FBS passing yards than Troy Smith. In 14 games.

79. Matt Ryan, Boston College
Years: 2004-07
Stats: 9,313 passing yards, 60% completion rate, 56 TD, 37 INT, 11 rushing TD

The ultimate late-career breakout star: Ryan threw for 4,507 yards and 31 touchdowns as a senior, leading BC to 11 wins and a brief No. 2 ranking and finishing seventh in the Heisman voting.

78. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
Years: 2011-13
Stats: 9,817 passing yards, 68% completion rate, 72 TD, 24 INT, 6 rushing TD

He was almost immediately Charlie Strong's best player at Louisville, and his last two seasons -- 7,688 yards, 58 touchdowns and a 23-3 record -- made him a legend.

77. Timmy Chang, Hawai'i
Years: 2000-04
Stats: 17,072 passing yards, 57% completion rate, 117 TD, 80 INT, 6 rushing TD

June Jones' early-2000s Hawai'i teams were late-night must-watches for college football degenerates, and Chang was at the helm for many of them. Only Keenum threw for more yards at the FBS level.