What happens when the most talented quarterback in college football goes up against the most talked-about quarterback in the sport?

Fans are about to find out the answer to that question Saturday when reigning Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams and the No. 8-ranked USC Trojans travel to Boulder to battle Shedeur Sanders and the Colorado Buffaloes at noon ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app.  

Both Williams and Sanders are off to exceptional starts this season, with each ranking in the top 10 in passing yards, passing touchdowns and completion percentage among FBS signal-callers. 

A dominant showing by Williams this weekend could go a long way in his quest to become just the second back-to-back Heisman winner in college football history. Meanwhile, Sanders will look to catapult his name back into the Heisman conversation following a down week in Colorado’s 42-6 loss to Oregon.

Williams and Sanders are certainly not alone when it comes to outstanding quarterback play at their respective schools. USC has a long list of standout signal-callers, including a pair of Heisman winners who shined for the Trojans in the early 2000s. Colorado has had its share of outstanding QBs as well, which includes a former dual-threat star who is known for one of the greatest Hail Mary passes in college football history.

Here is a look back in time at some of the top quarterbacks from both USC and Colorado:

NOTE: This list excludes Williams (USC) and Sanders (Colorado) and is based on player’s success over their respective college careers. Names are listed in chronological order.

Can Coach Prime and Colorado pull off the upset against USC?

USC Trojans

Rodney Peete, 1984-88

Pette arrived at USC in 1984 and took over as a starter late in his redshirt freshman season and never looked back. A two-sport athlete who also starred in baseball, Peete put together a memorable career in a Trojans uniform, throwing for 7,640 yards and totaling 62 touchdowns. He finished his college career as USC’s all-time leader in completions, passing yards, total offense and career starts. During his senior season, Pete was named the Pac-10 Offensive Player and a first-team All-American.

Carson Palmer, 1998-2002

Palmer was a four-year starter at USC, putting together one of the most impressive QB résumés in college football history. He finished his collegiate career with 11,388 passing yards and 71 passing touchdowns, both of which were program records at the time.  Palmer put together a magical 2002 campaign, leading the Trojans to a win in the 2003 Orange Bowl, where he was named MVP. That season, Palmer was named the Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year, a consensus All-American and the winner of the Heisman Trophy. He went on to be the top pick in the 2003 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals.

Matt Leinart, 2001-05

When you go 37-2 as a starter while leading your team to an AP National Championship and a BCS National Championship, you’re going to earn a spot on this list. Leinart, who is a college football studio analyst for FOX Sports’ “Big Noon Kickoff” pregame show, left USC as one of the most accomplished players in college football history, regardless of position. A three-year starter under Pete Carroll, Leinart threw for 10,693 yards and 99 touchdowns during his time at USC. He was a two-time Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year, a two-time first-team All-American and the recipient of the 2004 Heisman Trophy.

John David Booty, 2003-07

Booty spent his first three seasons at USC in a backup role to Leinart, but when he was named the starter ahead of the 2006 campaign, he delivered for the Trojans. A once highly touted recruit from Louisiana, Booty combined to throw for 5,708 yards and 52 touchdowns in 2006 and 2007, all while helping guide the Trojans to back-to-back 11-2 campaigns. Booty finished his career with a perfect 9-0 record as a starter against top 25 teams.

Mark Sanchez, 2005-08

Another member of the FOX Sports team, Sanchez was a star during his collegiate days at USC. While he only started 16 games in his college career, the former USC QB put together one of the most impressive individual seasons in program history during the 2008 campaign. Sanchez completed 66% of his passes for 3,207 passing yards and 37 touchdowns in 2008, while guiding the Trojans to a 12-1 mark and a victory over Penn State in the Rose Bowl. 

Matt Barkley, 2009-12

Take a look at the list of USC passing leaders, and you will be sure to find Barkley’s name at or near the top of every category. A four-year starter from 2009-12, Barkley threw for more than 12,000 yards and 116 touchdowns during his time at USC, both of which are program records. The former USC standout enjoyed his best season during his junior year, completing 69.1% of his passes and throwing for a then-Pac-12-record 39 touchdowns while leading the Trojans to a 10-2 record. 

Cody Kessler, 2011-15

Kessler put together a brilliant career during his time at USC, serving as a three-year starter under center from 2013-15. He is one of three USC QBs to throw for more than 10,000 yards and 80 touchdowns, joining both Leinart and Barkley. Kessler also holds the program record for the most touchdown passes in a single game, throwing seven TDs in a win over Colorado during his junior year. Kessler was 27-14 as a starter at USC, including an impressive 10-4 mark during his first year under center. He was a third-round selection in the 2016 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns.

Sam Darnold, 2015-17

Darnold’s career stats might not be on the same level as some of the other top signal-callers in USC history, but he was exceptional during his two seasons starting under center for the Trojans in 2016 and ‘17. In 27 career games, Darnold completed 65% of his passes for 7,229 yards and 57 touchdowns while leading the Trojans to a combined 20-4 record as a starter. He was honored as the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year in 2016 and followed that up by being named first-team All-Pac-12 while leading the Trojans to a conference title in 2017. Darnold’s 4,143 passing yards during his redshirt sophomore season ranks second all time in program history, trailing only Caleb Williams’ 2022 campaign.

USC or Colorado: Who needs a win more?

Colorado Buffaloes

Darian Hagan, 1988-91

Considered one of the greatest players in Colorado football history, Hagan starred for the Buffaloes from 1988-91 as an option quarterback. He took over the starting QB job during his sophomore season and went on to have an incredible year, becoming just the sixth player in Division I history to pass for more than 1,000 yards and rush for more than 1,000 yards in the same season. He finished fifth in Heisman Trophy voting that season with 242 points. Hagan finished his collegiate career with 3,801 passing yards, 27 passing touchdowns, 2,007 rushing yards and 27 rushing scores. He was 28-5-2 in games he started under center and an eye-popping 20-0-1 in the Big Eight.

Kordell Stewart, 1991-94

The man known as “Slash” was a three-year starter under center for the Buffaloes in the early ’90s. He left Colorado as one of the most accomplished players in school history, regardless of position, setting multiple program records, including passes completed (456), passing yards (6,481) and passing touchdowns (33). While his passing numbers were certainly prolific, Stewart was also a threat with his legs, rushing for more than 1,200 yards and 15 touchdowns as a Buffalo. He helped lead Colorado to a pair of top-10 finishes in the AP poll and was selected as a second-team All-American in 1994, while leading the Buffs to an 11-1 record and No. 3 ranking. He was responsible for one of the most memorable plays in college football history, completing a game-winning Hail Marry pass against Michigan in 1994.

Koy Detmer, 1992-96

Detmer enjoyed a standout four-year career at Colorado, highlighted by his senior season when he was named first-team All-Big 12. During the 1996 season, his senior year, Detmer threw for 3,156 yards and 22 touchdowns while leading the Buffaloes to an impressive 10-2 record and the No. 8 ranking in the final AP poll. Detmer finished his career with 5,390 passing yards and 40 passing touchdowns, which was a school record at the time. He went on to be selected by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1997 NFL Draft.

Joel Klatt, 2002-05

FOX Sports’ lead college football analyst could sure sling it during his playing days at Colorado. Klatt was a three-year starter for the Buffs from 2003-05, totaling 7,708 passing yards and 46 passing touchdowns during his collegiate career. The most impressive part of Klatt’s college playing days? He was a walk-on who played on the punt return team during his true freshman season. Klatt went on to set 19 school records during his sophomore season, while also taking home All-Big 12 honors. He helped lead the Buffaloes to back-to-back Big 12 North titles in 2004 and 2005, finishing his collegiate career with a 20-16 record as a starter under center.

Sefo Liufau, 2013-16

Liufau was a four-year starter at Colorado from 2013-16 and is the owner of a jaw-dropping 99 school records. He concluded his career at CU with 9,748 passing yards and 60 passing touchdowns. Liufau’s best season came in 2014 during his sophomore campaign where he threw for 3,200 yards and 28 touchdown while completing better than 65% if his passes. During his senior year, he helped guide the Buffs to an impressive 10-4 record and an 8-1 mark in Pac-12 play.

Steven Montez, 2015-19

When you start 39 games under center during your collegiate career, you’re bound to hold some school passing records, and that is certainly the case with Montez. A three-year starter for the Buffs from 2017-19, Montez finished his college career at Colorado with 9,710 passing yards and 63 passing touchdowns. Montez also added 960 yards and 11 scores on the ground during his time at Colorado. He is the owner of 43 program records, which includes being tied for the most TD passes in program history.

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