Dual threat quarterbacks seem to have been prevalent throughout the last decade in the Big 12. At least seven of the ten starting quarterbacks from last season could credibly be labeled as such. Five of them, in fact, carried the ball at least 10 times per game in 2020. This isn’t a recent trend in the conference, however, as the 25 year history of the conference is rife with guys who could sling it as well as tuck the ball and run.
Trying to rank them alongside each other is challenging, since the way football was played in the Big 12 in its inception – with multiple teams in the late 1990s regularly lining up in a classic “I” formation – differed markedly compared to the shotgun/spread offenses of today. Here, we look at some of the top dual threat quarterbacks from the early history of the Big 12, identifying the era before spread formations really took off in the conference. These QBs took the overwhelming majority of their snaps from under center. Plays like the triple option and speed option were a staple for a lot of the guys on this list, and many of them became very proficient in the schemes of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
1. Michael Bishop, Kansas State (1997-1998)
A generational talent, Bishop makes the top of this list because he really typifies what it meant to be a dual threat quarterback before the spread was really in vogue in the Big 12. At a time when recruiting JUCO players was largely frowned upon, Bishop was recruited by Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder out of Blinn Junior College, where he’d won two NCJAA championships and never lost a game.
Bishop’s agility and ability to break tackles was tailback quality, and it did amazing things to open up the Wildcats offense. Snyder had fielded quarterbacks that could run the ball at Kansas State before, but after Bishop, having a signal caller who was also one of your primary ball carriers became a staple of offenses in Manhattan.
That’s because not only did Bishop prove to be dangerous once he was outside the pocket, tallying 748 rushing yards his senior season, but the JUCO standout also had a powerful arm. In 1998, he led the Big 12 in passing yards (2,844), passing yards per attempt (9.6), and passing touchdowns (23). Bishop was the most dynamic playmaker on this list, and he stands as one of the most electric quarterbacks of all time.
2. Eric Crouch, Nebraska (1998-2001)
Crouch is one of the faster quarterbacks on this list, having clocked a 4.47 40 yard dash at the NFL Combine. He’s gone down – rightly so – as one of the best option quarterbacks in Nebraska’s history of twenty-plus years of having run that offense. In the early years of the conference, it was more common for teams from the Big 12 North to utilize various forms of the option in their offenses, but those concepts had been central for the Huskers since Tom Osbourne took over in Lincoln.
For that reason, Nebraska tended to recruit players that were a lot more like running backs who could adequately throw the ball. By the early 2000s, however, having a quarterback tote the rock through heavy traffic 15-20 times a game was coming out of fashion.
Despite being one of three quarterbacks in FBS history to rush for 3,000 and pass for 4,000 yards in a career, after winning the 2001 Heisman, Crouch was never given the opportunity to play quarterback in the NFL. His story is one reason that only a handful of teams run the traditional triple option in college football today. Plenty of people – especially those from Nebraska – would probably have Eric Crouch, as the only Heisman winner, at the top of this ranking. Crouch threw about as many touchdowns (29) as picks (25) in his career, which is why I have him a little lower.
3. Ell Roberson, Kansas State (2000-2003)
Roberson was a shifty, strong quarterback who had the ability to both run and throw the ball at a high level. Like many of Snyder’s quarterbacks at Kansas State, Roberson fits the mold of a true “dual threat” guy, as not only did he average 4.7 yards per carry, he also had some of the best passing stats in the Big 12 in his last year in Manhattan. Roberson was the quarterback on the 2003 Kansas State team that beat then No. 1 Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship 35-7 to give the Wildcats their only outright Big 12 title. That was also the last time a team not named Texas or Oklahoma would win the league crown until 2011.
The signal caller had something of an ignomimious end to his college career, however, as he was accused of sexually assaulting a woman in Arizona on the day of the 2004 Fiesta Bowl. Charges were never filed, but the senior was subsequently stripped of his scholarship by Snyder.
4. Scott Frost, Nebraska (1993-1997)
Frost is another example of a player who was ideal for the option-based offense of the Cornhuskers, even though his skill set might not fit the same way in other offensive schemes. A transfer from Stanford, Frost became the first player to pass for 1,000 yards and run for 1,000 yards in 1997. He hit that number running the ball 176 times that season, a volume of carries that was high even for Nebraska quarterbacks. Frost’s 20-to-12 touchdown-to-interception ratio is also impressive when compared to some of his contemporaries. His ability to take care of the ball and become a workhorse in the running game helped Nebraska lay claim to the 1997 national title.
5. Jonathan Beasley, Kansas State (1996-2000)
One of the least productive runners on this list is Beasley, who averaged 3.2 yards per carry throughout his college career. His strength is undeniable as a passer, having led the Big 12 in multiple passing categories in 1999 and 2000. He doesn’t usually receive the same kind of attention as other Big 12 quarterbacks, but when you’re in the same conference with players like Josh Heupel and Kliff Kingsbury, notoriety is a little harder to come by. Still, Beasley ended up being one of three quarterbacks to lead Kansas State to a Big 12 Championship Game for Bill Snyder, and he rightly should be known as one of the best signal callers in conference history.
6. Seneca Wallace, Iowa State (2001-2002)
Wallace is the most accurate passer on this list, having posted a 57.7 completion percentage throughout his career. As a senior, he led the Cyclones to a victory over then No. 20 Nebraska, a team that Iowa State hadn’t beaten in ten years. With the win, they rose to No. 9 in the AP Poll, the highest Iowa State has ever been ranked in school history. One of Wallace’s most impressive traits is his ability to throw accurately while on the run, and he was especially dangerous on rollouts. His ability to escape the pocket and weave his way through a defense was equally impressive.
7. Jammal Lord, Nebraska (2000-2004)
Lord was the last of the true option quarterbacks for the Cornhuskers, who brought on Bill Calahan’s West Coast offense after Lord was drafted by the Houston Texans in 2004. In terms of the ability to change direction on a dime, you probably won’t find a better dual threat guy on this list. Lord was fourth in the Big 12 in rushing yards in 2002 with 1,412 on the season. He was a capable passer at Nebraska as well, averaging 7.0 yards per attempt through the air.
8. Corby Jones, Missouri (1995-1998)
Jones is a great example of what the dual threat quarterback was back before teams really went to the shotgun more than a handful of times in any given game. He might have had the least impressive measurables of any guy on this list – just under six feet tall, not exactly blazing speed – but Jones is a classic example of a “gamer,” a guy who just made a lot of plays with his legs and his arm. In his time at Missouri, Corby Jones gained 2,533 yards on the ground, and helped lead the Tigers to their first winning season in 13 years.
9. Zebbie Lethridge, Texas Tech (1994-1997)
Before Mike Leach came to town and brought on quarterbacks who did most of their damage standing in the pocket, the Red Raiders had their fair share of signal callers who could scoot. Lethridge, who could run a 4.39 40 yard dash, certainly had the athleticism to carry the ball, and did for 27 touchdowns during his college career. His passing stats stand out slightly more, however, as the Lubbock native ended his career at Texas Tech with a 42-to-22 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
10. Tony Lindsay, Oklahoma State (1997-2000)
A player whose career at Oklahoma State was cut short by injuries, Lindsay put up great numbers for the Pokes, and led the team to an Alamo Bowl victory in 1997. Tony Lindsay was serviceable as a runner, and definitely had an ability to take off and run that allowed him to average 3.3 yards per rush over his career. As a gifted passer, Lindsay put up over 4,000 yards, and throwing the ball was slightly more of a strength for him.