June 23, 2017  

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Making the Case for Reggie Collier on Mt. Rushmore of Mississippi Quarterbacks

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Editor’s Note: The below article follows The Clarion-Ledger’s discussion of great Mississippi quarterbacks. It posed the poll question of who should be on the Mount Rushmore of NCAA quarterbacks from Mississippi universities and included Brett Favre, Archie and Eli Manning, Steve McNair, and Dak Prescott as worthy nominees with supporting arguments for each. But a sixth quarterback must also be considered. Here is the case for Reggie Collier.

The Perfect 10—not a mediocre 2, a pretty good 6, or even a fairly great 8. Reggie Collier was the perfect football quarterback before anyone realized what football quarterbacks could accomplish if they were both gifted throwers and runners of the football. But at The University of Southern Mississippi in the late 1970s and early 1980s—long before Michael Vick or Vince Young were leading their teams to national title games—Reggie Collier showed football coaches and fans what could be. If you want Mississippi’s Mount Rushmore on quarterbacks to be perfect, you must include the man they called the Perfect 10.

The case for Reggie Collier is part numbers, part winning, and part jaw-dropping, defensive coach-cursing, groundbreaking play. He was the first quarterback in NCAA history to rush and throw for 1,000 yards each in a single season in 1981. From 1980 through 1982, he led Southern Miss to a 25-9-1 regular season record and a pair of bowl berths at a time when postseason opportunities were not plentiful, especially for teams lacking a conference affiliation. When you watched Collier, “You didn't say one 'wow,' you said three 'wows,’" said Gil Brandt, who drafted Collier for the Dallas Cowboys.

Collier finished his career with almost 6,000 yards of total offense, 2,300 of which came on the ground. While those numbers may not appear eye-popping by today’s standards, consider that they came over the course of 11-game seasons, and postseason numbers were not included. Also consider changes in the game—Collier never threw more than 219 passes in a season—but don’t make the mistake of thinking he could not throw it. In 1981, he completed more than 58 percent of his passes, very few of which were of the dump off, snap-and-throw variety you see in today’s game.

Collier played sparingly in 1979 as a freshman and then led the Golden Eagles to a 9-3 season in 1980. But he gained national attention in 1981, a season in which Southern Miss went 9-1-1 in the regular season, including a 2-0-1 record against ranked teams, with none of the games played in Hattiesburg. At one point, the Golden Eagles entered the top 10 in the national polls, and Collier finished the season in the top 10 of the Heisman voting. In a little over a month, Southern Miss tied No. 7 Alabama on the road, beat No. 17 Mississippi State in Jackson, and dominated No. 20 Florida State in Tallahassee, 58-14. As usual, Collier was the star, rushing for 150 yards against the Seminoles. Imagine a ranked Florida State team giving up 58 points and 150 rushing yards to a visiting player—much less a quarterback.

In 1982, the Golden Eagles started slowly with a new coaching staff, but Collier and the Eagles rebounded, winning six straight on their way to a 7-4 record. That streak included another victory over Mississippi State and what became the signature win of Collier’s career, a 38-29 victory over No. 17 Alabama in Tuscaloosa, a victory that snapped a 57-game winning streak for the Crimson Tide on campus. As a junior and senior he was unbeaten against ranked opponents, and over his four seasons, the Golden Eagles went 7-2-1 against Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Alabama—with none of those games played in Hattiesburg.

But if you really want to know Collier’s impact on a game, opposing coaches like Bear Bryant and Bobby Bowden offer the best assessments. Bryant said Collier was one of the best athletes he ever coached against, while Bowden lists a successful fake punt in the fourth quarter of a 1982 game against the Eagles as one of his best coaching calls. He wouldn’t dare have given Collier the ball back with a chance to win a game in the fourth quarter, he said.

While it’s true that the five candidates for Mississippi’s Mount Rushmore of quarterbacks make for a worthy list and a fun debate, no list of the best NCAA quarterbacks in this state is complete without Reggie Collier. It’s a pretty good list for sure, but not a perfect one without the Perfect 10.

Jim Coll is the Chief Communication Officer at The University of Southern Mississippi. He can be reached on twitter @jimcoll or on Facebook at jimcollusm.