ESPN found itself on the hot seat on Tuesday after an article titled “Position U” was published on its website. In the article, ESPN Stats & Information developed a formula which they thought would give a fair and accurate assessment of which colleges produce the best crop of players at each position group for the NFL.
While naming schools such as USC and Texas in the quarterback category, NC State found itself not even mentioned in the top ten of the list for “QBU”. Wolfpack fans everywhere and even members of the media voiced their displeasure at the clear injustice on Twitter as soon as the article was put up online.
Clearly, ESPN’s formula to assess the best schools in the running for “QBU” was flawed, especially since the list only looked at quarterbacks since 1998, which is around the time the Wolfpack has had most of its quarterback success.
Starting in 2000 when Philip Rivers arrived in Raleigh, a new era of top-tier quarterbacks began at NC State. Russell Wilson and Mike Glennon continued the trend in the Tom O’Brien era and most recently Dave Doeren has developed Jacoby Brissett and Ryan Finley into quality NFL prospects.
NC State football owes all of these players for the attention and recognition that they have given the program on a national level. While ESPN failed to recognize this, the Twitter world reminded them of the university which has produced the best NFL quarterback prospects in the last 20 years.
What was clear from the response given by Wolfpack fans and some members of the media is that while NC State is thought of to be one of the schools that consider itself to be QBU, the NC State quarterback greats that are talked about are ones from the last two decades. What is not talked about is that NC State has had more than its fair share of great quarterbacks before Philip Rivers, and while these guys may not find themselves on the quarterback “Mount Rushmore” for younger NC State fans, these four quarterbacks are still worth remembering.
Roman Gabriel (1959-1961)
Gabriel is by far the most well known and most talked about on this list, which should say a lot about the type of revolutionary player he was. Gabriel, truly, was the first great quarterback to come through Raleigh, as he left a lasting legacy that is still remembered by Wolfpack fans today. After an abysmal 1-9 record in 1959, Gabriel led the Pack to a 6-3-1 record in 1960 that placed them second in the conference behind 10th-ranked Duke.
However, Gabriel was not finished there, as in the following year he cemented his legacy in Raleigh by having his best season statistically. In his 1961 campaign, Gabriel led the ACC in passing yards, completions, completion percentage and passing touchdowns. Gabriel also did his fair share of damage with his legs as he finished fourth in the ACC in rushing touchdowns, which is very impressive for a quarterback.
When it was all said and done, Gabriel ended his career at State with two ACC Player of the Year awards in his three years as a starter. Gabriel would also go on to have a very productive NFL career as well, even bringing home an NFL MVP trophy in 1969. In his era, Gabriel was the greatest to do it in the ACC and can be considered as the player who truly started the great quarterback tradition at NC State.
Jamie Barnette (1996-1999)
Barnette is the most recent player on this list but has been overshadowed for a variety of reasons. Having a dynamic receiver like Torry Holt to throw to and being followed up by Philip Rivers in 2000 will do that, but those reasons shouldn’t overshadow the player that Barnette was.
As talented as Holt showed himself to be, Barnette was always the guy that could put the ball in his hands. While NC State lacked talent in comparison to other ACC schools at the time, the connection between Barnette and Holt carried the Pack to many big wins. The greatest win of Barnette’s time in Raleigh came in 1998 when in the infamous “Weinke game” the 25-point underdog Wolfpack upset the No. 2-ranked Florida State Seminoles in Carter-Finley Stadium 24-7. Florida State was 47-1 against ACC teams previously, but that did not matter to Barnette, who threw two touchdowns on the day to help the Wolfpack to its biggest win in decades.
Barnette was a player that was known as a grinder, while the Wolfpack offensive line was one of the worst in the ACC, Barnette came to be known as one of the toughest quarterbacks ever to come through the program. Although the Pack lacked talent on both sides of the ball, Barnette and his receivers made sure that the Wolfpack never went down without a fight.
Barnette finished his time with the Pack as the career passing yards leader up to that point, and while the teams Barnette was on were mediocre at best, he laid the groundwork for Philip Rivers to succeed him at quarterback and take NC State football to a level of success that had not been seen in Raleigh for a long time.
Terry Harvey (1991-1995)
Harvey may be known more for his success on the baseball diamond while at NC State, but he was also one of the few bright spots for NC State football in the 1990s. While at the same time winning an ACC Baseball Championship for the Wolfpack in 1992 (the last major championship for the Pack to this very day), Harvey also led NC State to arguably its biggest bowl victory in the past 30 years, behind the 2003 Gator Bowl.
In a very tight game in the Georgia Dome against No. 16 Mississippi State, Harvey led the No. 23 Wolfpack to one of its biggest wins of the season. The bowl win put an exclamation point on the 1994 season which saw NC State finish ranked 17th in both the AP and Coaches polls. Harvey’s following season in 1995 ended with a disappointing 3-8 campaign, but in his three years as a starter, Harvey finished with 5,925 yards and 38 touchdowns, good for 6th and 7th all-time in school history, respectively.
The most impressive thing about Harvey is that he played both football and baseball at an extremely high level. Harvey even impressed so much on the baseball diamond that he eventually was drafted by the Cleveland Indians after the conclusion of his time with the Wolfpack.
Harvey even finished his baseball career as the all-time leader in strikeouts for the Wolfpack, a record that would stand until Carlos Rodon surpassed him in 2014. Harvey today may be most remembered for his baseball contributions, but his football career brought about one of the biggest bowl wins in school history, and places him in a comfortable spot among other great Wolfpack quarterbacks.
Erik Kramer (1985-1986)
Before Philip Rivers entered the NFL, Kramer was the NC State quarterback with the most recent NFL success. Kramer originally began his career playing football in junior college, but after seeing Jim Valvano and the Wolfpack basketball team win a title in 1983, he set his sights on transferring to NC State.
While only starting two years for the Pack, Kramer made the most of his time as the starter. In his first year in 1985, Kramer led the ACC in passing touchdowns and yards, but the team finished 3-8 on the year under the leadership of head coach Tom Reed. After the season, Reed was fired, and the Wolfpack decided to take the program in a new direction by hiring Dick Sheridan as head coach.
A new coach was all the Wolfpack needed in 1986, as Sheridan and Kramer led the Pack to an 8-3-1 record with the most memorable moment of the season being a 23-22 win over South Carolina that came from a Hail Mary thrown by Erik Kramer to wide receiver Danny Peebles to steal the game for NC State. The Wolfpack would go on to finish the year with a 25-24 loss in the Peach Bowl to Virginia Tech, but Kramer was still named the Peach Bowl Player of the Game for his performance.
Kramer’s 1986 season may have been less productive for him offensively, but he was still named ACC Player of the Year for his efforts. After college, Kramer went on to have a very productive NFL career for teams like the San Diego Chargers and Chicago Bears. While Kramer may be in the news now for his personal woes related to CTE, he is still remembered as the quarterback who helped kickstart the Sheridan era for NC State football, an era in which the Pack found a tremendous amount of success.
While now perhaps overshadowed by the greatness of Russell Wilson, Philip Rivers and company, NC State football has had a long and storied success of quarterback excellence. Whether or not that translates to wins on the field can sometimes be a toss-up. One thing is for certain, however: At NC State you can count on there being a terrific signal-caller under center, and while the newest products have experienced widespread success in the NFL, the quarterbacks that came before laid the groundwork for NC State to be called QBU.