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The 19 best QB seasons in Nevada history, and Carson Strong's place on that list

Carson Strong
Carson Strong had a historically good season for Nevada in 2020. (David Calvert/Nevada athletics)

Carson Strong just had one of the best seasons for a quarterback in Nevada history. But was it the best? You could easily make that argument. I dove into the record books and my memory bank to list the top-19 quarterback seasons in Wolf Pack history to see where Strong, this year's Mountain West offensive player of the year, landed on that list. Did he reach the top? Read below to find out.

19. Zack Threadgill, 2002

Stats: 61.0%, 3,418 yards, 7.6 ypa, 26 TDs, 17 INT, 136.1 QB rating (116 rushing yards, one TD)

In short: Threadgill got one season as Nevada's starter and made the most of it, his 451 passing attempts ranking second in single-season Wolf Pack history. While Threadgill's passer rating was so-so (it's the third worst on this list), he did throw for 3,418 yards and 26 touchdowns, which rank fifth and seventh, respectively, on Nevada's all-time single-season list.

18. Ty Gangi, 2018

Stats: 60.5%, 3,331 yards, 7.5 ypa, 24 TDs, 13 INTs, 135.7 QB rating (146 rushing yards, three TDs)

In short: Gangi started parts of three seasons at Nevada, although he only had one season where he was the starter from start to finish. That came in 2018, which was slightly better than his 2017 season. Gangi actually threw more touchdowns in 2017 (25 compared to 24 in 2018), but he threw for 3,331 yards, the eighth most in a season in Nevada history, in 2018.

17. Fred Gatlin, 1989

Stats: 55.8%, 2,522 yards, 8.2 ypa, 19 TDs, 12 INTs, 137.2 QB rating, (51 rush yards, one TD)

In short: Gatlin is one of three quarterbacks on this list eligible for the Nevada Hall of Fame but not in it (the others are Threadgill and David Neill). Gatlin's freshman season was his best as he accounted for 20 touchdowns in 11 games and passed for a career-high 2,522 yards. Gatlin was named the Big Sky's freshman of the year, beating future NFL quarterback Jamie Martin for that honors.

16. Jeff Rowe, 2005

Stats: 62%, 2,925 yards, 7.5 ypa, 21 TDs, 10 INTs, 137.8 QB rating (119 rushing yards, six TDs)

In short: Rowe played in parts of five seasons at Nevada. His best year came in 2005 when he led the Wolf Pack to a WAC title and Hawaii Bowl win. That was his junior season and he set career highs in passing touchdowns (21), rushing touchdowns (six), passing yards (2,925) and yards per attempt (7.5), all slightly better than the stats posted during his senior season.

15. Mike Maxwell, 1994

Stats: 60.6%, 3,537 yards, 7.9 ypa, 29 TDs, 15 INTs, 141.8 QB rating (minus-39 rushing yards, three TDs)

In short: Maxwell is one of three players to make this list multiple times, joining Colin Kaepernick and Eric Beavers. As a junior, Maxwell threw for 3,537 yards and 29 touchdowns, both ranking second in program history at the time. He did toss 15 interceptions, which was an issue during his career, but he guided a Nevada unit that led the FBS in total offense in 1994 and 1995.

14. Jeff Tisdel, 1976

Stats: 55.3%, 2,542 yards, 8.3 ypa, 26 TDs, 14 INTs, 143.8 QB rating

In short: Long before he became Nevada's head coach, Tisdel was a second-team AP All-American at the Division II level, which he accomplished as a junior in 1976 when he set program records for passing yards (2,542) and passing touchdowns (26), the latter still ranking tied for seventh in school history 44 years later. Tisdel was really good as a senior, but his peak came in 1976.

13. John Dutton, 1997

Stats: 61.3%, 3,526 yards, 9.6 ypa, 20 TDs, six INTs, 156.7 QB rating (minus-4 rushing yards, one TD)

In short: Dutton succeeded his friend, Maxwell, and was Nevada's starting quarterback in 1996 and 1997, the second of those years being stronger. A transfer from Texas, Dutton's 3,526 passing yards remain fourth in program history in a single season. His 9.6 yards per attempt are a program record. He was a little light on TDs (20), but this was a stellar senior season.

12. David Neill, 1998

Stats: 57.8%, 3,249 yards, 9.4 ypa, 29 TDs, nine INTs, 159.8 QB rating (102 rushing yards, two TDs)

In short: Neill had a tremendous freshman season, setting the NCAA record for single-game passing yards (611) and single-season passing touchdowns (29) for a freshman. His 29 passing scores still rank third in program history and his 159.8 passer rating also is third. Unfortunately, it was downhill from there for Neill, but he was the BMOC in 1998.

11. Cody Fajardo, 2012

Stats: 67%, 2,786 yards, 7.6 ypa, 20 TDs, nine INTs, 143.9 QB rating (1,121 rushing yards, 12 TDs)

In short: Fajardo was a rare four-year starter for Nevada, with his peak in terms of performance coming in 2012 when he was a sophomore. That was Chris Ault's final season as Nevada's head coach, and Fajardo's skillset matched the Pistol offense perfectly. Fajardo set career highs in passing yards (2,786), passing TDs (20), rushing yards (1,121) and passer rating (143.9) in 2012. He battled injuries in 2013 and posted a career-low 120.1 passer rating in 2014, although you could argue for either of those seasons making this list, too.

10. Colin Kaepernick, 2008

Stats: 54.3%, 2,849 yards, 7.4 ypa, 22 TDs, seven INTs, 132.1 QB rating (1,130 rushing yards, 17 TDs)

In short: All four of Kaepernick's seasons rank in the top 10, although this was his "worst" year. As a sophomore, Kaepernick posted a career-worst 132.1 passer rating — that's the lowest on this list — and tossed a career-high seven interceptions, but he accounted for 3,979 yards and 39 touchdowns (second most in school history), so if that's your "worst" season, you're a pretty damn good player.

9. Colin Kaepernick, 2007

Stats: 53.8%, 2,175 yards, 8.8 ypa, 19 TDs, three INTs, 150.8 QB rating (593 rushing yards, six TDs)

In short: Kaepernick backed up Nick Graziano for the first five games of the 2007 season before exploding on the scene after Graziano suffered a season-ending injury. Kaepernick threw 19 touchdowns despite starting just eight games and posted a career-best 150.8 passer rating, thanks largely to the deep ball (his 8.8 yards per attempt were a career high). Kaepernick threw just three interceptions and averaged 5.6 yards per rushing attempt before the read-option was added to the Pistol offense.

8. Eric Beavers, 1985

Stats: 62.4%, 2,617 yards, 7.2 ypa, 27 TDs, 12 INTs, 151.7 QB rating, (minus-23 rushing yards, three TDs)

In short: I've listed Beavers as the most underrated player in Wolf Pack history, and it's easy to see why considering he leads Nevada in career quarterback wins (39) and has had two of the top-eight quarterback seasons in program history, by my estimation. This was Beavers' junior season when he set then program records for passing yards (2,617), passing touchdowns (27) and passer rating (151.7).

7. Colin Kaepernick, 2009

Stats: 58.9%, 2,052 yards, 7.3 ypa, 20 TDs, six INTs, 139.1 QB rating (1,183 rushing yards, 16 TDs)

In short: Kaepernick improved his passing accuracy during his junior season, which spiked his quarterback rating, too. He was still a massive running threat as Nevada became the first team in FBS history with three 1,000-yard rushers. Kaepernick's 7.3 yards per attempt were the lowest of his career, but he accounted for 3,235 yards and 36 touchdowns.

6. Eric Beavers, 1986

Stats: 58.9%, 2,810 yards, 8.8 ypa, 25 TDs, 13 INTs, 150.0 QB rating (28 rushing yards, one TD)

In short: Beavers' senior season saw Nevada reach No. 1 in the nation for the second time as the Wolf Pack went 13-0 before losing in the FCS semifinals. Beavers bested his program record for passing yards with 2,810 and his 25 touchdowns still rank top 10 in program history. Beavers, Maxwell and Tisdel are the only quarterbacks in Nevada history with two top-10 single-season passing touchdowns seasons.

5. Mike Maxwell, 1995

Stats: 67.7%, 3,611 yards, 8.8 ypa, 33 TDs, 17 INTs, 160.2 QB rating (12 rushing yards, one TD)

In short: Maxwell's senior season included just nine games, but he put up massive numbers. He threw for seven touchdowns in two of those games and had five in another. His 3,611 yards and 33 touchdowns both rank second in program history, and his 160.2 passer rating also ranks second. Nevada went 7-0 in conference to win the Big West and finished 9-3 overall.

4. Chris Vargas, 1993

Stats: 67.6%, 4,265 yards, 8.7 ypa, 34 TDs, 18 INTs, 156.2 QB rating (67 rushing yards, one TD)

In short: Vargas was coming off a down 1992 season, his first as Nevada's primary starter (54.1 completion percentage, 13 TDs, 16 INTs), but he exploded as a senior in 1993. Vargas set schools records in pass yards (4,265), pass touchdowns (34), pass attempts (490) and pass completions (331), all of which still exist. His 18 interceptions are the second most in a season at Nevada (John Barnes threw 23 in 1969), but Vargas' 1993 season still sits atop the Wolf Pack record book as one of the best in school history.

3. Carson Strong, 2020

Stats: 70.1%, 2,858 yards, 8.1 ypa, 27 TDs, four INTs, 160.6 QB rating (minus-95 yards)

In short: It's not a stretch to say Carson Strong had the best pure passing season in Wolf Pack history, and he did it as a sophomore. Strong's 160.6 passer rating is a Wolf Pack record, as is his 70.1 completion percentage (and he had a healthy 8.1 yards per attempt, too). His 27 pass touchdowns are tied for fifth in a season despite playing just nine games. His four interceptions are the second fewest on this list. Strong was accurate, stretched the field, didn't turn the ball over and Nevada went 7-2. He checked all the boxes outside of being a running threat.

2. Stan Heath, 1948

Stats: 56.9%, 2,210 yards, 9.3 ypa, 24 TDs

In short: In 1948, Heath became the first NCAA quarterback to throw for more than 2,000 yards in a season, something that wouldn't happen again for 15 years. He also set a program record by passing for five touchdowns in a game, which stood unmatched for 35 years. He finished a program-record fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting and helped pioneer the passing game in college football.

1. Colin Kaepernick, 2010

Stats: 64.9%, 3,022 yards, 8.4 ypa, 21 TDs, eight INTs, 150.5 QB rating (1,206 rushing yards, 20 TDs)

In short: After three seasons of great running and inconsistent passing, Kaepernick became a true threat with his arm as a senior. He completed a career-best 64.9 percent of his passes (up from 55.6 percent in his first three seasons) and threw for a personal-best 3,022 yards while keeping the interceptions in check (his ability to not turn the ball over has always been underrated). He also ran for a career-high 1,206 yards (7.0 per carry) and accounted for a Nevada record 41 touchdowns, besting his own record of 39 in 2008.

Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.

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