If you look at it from a statistical standpoint, it's easy to name the top two quarterbacks in South Carolina history. Either Steve Taneyhill (1992-95) or Todd Ellis (1986-89) own practically every school passing record.
For a game: Steve has the top two marks for passing yards (473, 451), Todd is third (425). Steve is first in pass attempts (58), Todd is third (53).
For a season: Todd is first in passing yards (3,206), Steve second (3,094). Steve has the top two marks for pass completions (261, 157), Todd is third (241). Steve has the top mark for passing touchdowns for a season (29), Todd is next (20).
For a career: Todd leads in pass attempts (1,350), Steve is second (1,245). Steve has top spot in pass completions (753), over Todd (747). Steve has the career mark in passing touchdowns (62), Todd is No.2 (49).
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Steve was inducted into the USC Hall of Fame in 2006 and Todd in 2005.
I believe those numbers make a compelling case for Taneyhill, now the head coach at Union High School, and Ellis, a lawyer and in his 11th season as the play-by-play voice of the Gamecocks, to be considered the most successful QBs in Carolina history.
That conceded, I will name my personal Top 5 signal callers of the last 40 years.
At No. 5 on my all-time list is Dan Reeves (1962-64). I got to see this Gamecock great play four games in the 1964 season, my freshman year at Carolina. Two were ties. My first game as a student was the season opener against Duke, which ended 9-9. I only saw half of the game because my roommate wanted to try something called sloe gin. The other was an exciting 7-7 tie with Georgia, a moral victory over a Bulldog program that was dominating the series.
The other two were home wins over The Citadel (17-14) and Wake Forest (23-13). What made me a fan was Dan's amazing leadership and tremendous poise. You could tell by his decision making that he was a student of the game. I especially remember the Demon Deacons were really bringing the pressure and Dan stood in the pocket as if there were an impenetrable shield around him and delivered the football.
The 1977 South Carolina Hall of Fame inductee was by no means a flashy athlete, had average arm strength, and his teams didn't win many games. But even with my limited knowledge of the game, I knew Dan Reeves was a true leader.
I’m sure some will question naming an all-time best based on one season, but it's my list and I can, so at No. 4 is the 1984 tandem of Allen Mitchell and Mike Hold. During that Black Magic 10-win season, that dynamic duo each ran or passed for a TD in four games, including the 17-10 defeat of Georgia and the stunning 36-32 victory over Notre Dame.
The victory over the Irish was special on so many levels, but it was a classic Mitchell-Hold performance. Allen scored on a one-yard run in the first quarter and kept the Gamecocks close in the first half (17-14). Mike came in a couple of series into the third quarter, ran for one-yard score and on a scramble play sprinted for a 33-yard TD, a lead Carolina would not relinquish.
It was a special season and a unique partnership by two quarterbacks willing to share the spotlight to “just win baby.”
At No. 3 on my list is Phil Petty (1998-01). I can tell you that Lou Holtz couldn't stand the fact that Phil wasn't Tony Rice, wasn't the athlete his Notre Dame All-American had been. All the Boiling Springs native did was win.
The 0-11 '99 season wasn't memorable, but Phil passed for 2,285 in the 8-2 2000 season and for 1,926 yards in the 9-3 2001 campaign. He is No. 6 on the USC career passing leaders list (5,652).
Phil holds a few other spots on USC's passing records lists. He's 10th in passing attempts for a season (315), No. 4 in career passing attempts (861), 10th in career completion percentage (.527) and tied for 8th in career passing TDs (28).
Coach Skip Holtz always remarked about what a smart player Phil was and that they once watched him on film make five reads on one play, his four progressions from left to right before throwing the ball to the running back in the flat. On top of all that there has never been a more quality person in USC's program.
No. 2 on my favorites list is Jeff Grantz (1973-75). Two of his three seasons were 7-win campaigns, 7-4 in '73 under Coach Paul Dietzel and 7-5 in '75 under Coach Jim Carlen.
I think what made Jeff a fan favorite was his remarkable athleticism. He was the two-sport athlete, the shortstop/second baseman on the diamond, and the lightning-quick quarterback who could run and throw with equal success on the gridiron. During his career he had four 100-yard rushing games and his senior season he passed 1,815 yards.
Jeff holds down 9th place all-time in passing touchdowns for a season (16) and is 10th for a career (26), but his most memorable record by far is his tie with four other players for most passing touchdowns (5) in a game. That was the 56-20 beat down of Clemson in '75.
An active member of the Lettermen's Association, Jeff was inducted into the USC Hall of Fame in 1985, the first year he was eligible.
There are at least three compelling reasons why Tommy Suggs (1968-70) is a no-brainer pick for my No. 1.
First of all, he is the only quarterback to lead the Gamecocks to a conference championship, the 1969 ACC title. It happened to be the first year I saw every game of a season and it was a wild and fun ride through the 6-0 league campaign. All the way Tommy directed the show with a senior's confidence and poise.
Secondly, Tommy is the hero of all of us little guys who would have given anything to be six inches taller. He might be the 5-foot-9 he was listed in the program if had one-inch lifts in his shoes, but he became a master of the roll-out pass. He would roll left or right until he had a throwing lane to the receiver he needed, and he was very adept at scrambling out of trouble (he was almost always out of the pocket) and finding the open receiver while throwing on the run.
And third, and always a part of my thought process when selecting an all-time best quarterback – his record against Clemson, of course. Tommy never lost to the Tigers. He won with the freshman team in '67, and his three varsity seasons were 7-3 in '68, 27-13 in '69 and 36-32 in '70.
Tommy ranks 7th on the career passing leaders list (4,916 yards) and 6th in career passing touchdowns (34). He was inducted in the USC Hall of Fame in 1989.
There are a number of honorable mentions from Bobby Fuller to Blake Mitchell to Connor Shaw, who began the season at the No.1 spot for career passing percentage (.668). If he finishes out his career as I expect he will, he will certainly make my next Top 5 list.
It's a great time to be a Gamecock!