This rundown is a credit to offensive innovators as much as anything else. The list contains players from two schools, Texas Tech and Houston. Both can lay a pretty confident claim to Quarterback U. Tech through the innovation of Mike Leach and later Kliff Kingsbury. For Houston, they credit a branch of the Leach tree, Kevin Sumlin as well as one of the original offensive innovators to bring run and shoot principles to the mainstream, John Jenkins. All told ten of the top twenty single season passing marks in NCAA history come from Tech and Houston. By the way, if you look at the list, two other quarterbacks in the top 20 have significant Texas ties. Ty Detmer played at San Antonio Southwest High School and Derek Carr played three seasons at Clements High School in Fort Bend.
B.J. Symons, Texas Tech, 5,833 in 2003
Symons' 2003 season ranks as the greatest passing performance in NCAA history. It was also Symons only season starting at Tech. Recruited by Oklahoma and Texas Tech out of Cy Creek high school in northwest Houston, Symons backed up Kliff Kingsbury for two seasons and threw 80 passes in that time. In 2003 Mike Leach handed him the keys to offense and Symons took off. Symons had a run of four out of five starts with 500 yards or more including a 661 yard performance against Ole Miss. He threw for 505 yards and eight touchdowns against Texas A&M that season. Symons threw for 52 touchdowns and led the NCAA in every significant passing stat including a completion percentage of 65.4%. All that got Symons 10th place in the Heisman race. The eventual winner Jason White from Oklahoma threw for 2,000 yards less that Symons. TWO THOUSAND. No other quarterback in 2003 got within 1,300 yards of Symons yardage total.
Graham Harrell, Texas Tech 5,705 in 2007
Graham Harrell thew for the second most yards in NCAA history thanks to his 2007 season. Speaking of Heisman travesties, Harrell didn't even make the top 10. Tim Tebow and his broke throwing motion won the Heisman. Harrell, from Ennis, came out of the gates quick in 2007, completing 74% of his passes in his first three games and over 400 yards in each outing. In week four he threw for 646 yards against Oklahoma State. Harrell thew for 400 yards or more in eleven of thirteen games for the Red Raiders. Tech went 9-4 in 2007 and beat Virginia in the Gator Bowl. For three straight seasons Harrell led the NCAA in completions and attempts. For his final two years he led the NCAA in passing yards. Harrell won the Sammy Baugh trophy for his 2007 season and yet somehow couldn't crack the Heisman top 10.
Case Keenum, Houston, 5,671 in 2009
Case Keenum should be considered one of the greatest quarterbacks in NCAA history. He holds two of the top four passing seasons in NCAA history and three of the top fourteen. He threw for the most yards in NCAA history by 2,200 yards and most touchdown passes by a long shot. His Houston teams won 72% of his starts. And now we just remember him for that terrible season of Hard Knocks and Jeff Fisher ruining his career. Keenum's 2009 was his best. He threw for 500 plus yards four times and 44 touchdowns. He had seven games of 400 yards or more. Keenum completed 70% of his passes and that was good enough for second in the NCAA in 2009. He was third in yards per attempt and sixth in passing efficiency. Keenum finished eighth in Heisman voting, somehow behind seventh place finisher Kellen Moore who threw for over 1,100 less yards and five fewer touchdowns.
Case Keenum, Houston, 5,631 in 2011
Keenum comes in with the fourth best season of all time with his 2011 year. He completed 71% of his passes he twice threw for 500 yards including 534 against Rice and 532 against Penn State in the Ticket City Bowl. Keenum lit of the Owls for nine touchdowns. NINE. For the season Keenum threw 48 touchdowns and just five picks. That 2011 Houston team was one of the underrated G-5 teams of all time. The Cougars were 12-0 heading into the CUSA title game against Southern Miss. The loss probably prevented Houston from a BCS bowl. Houston got redemption by beating Big 10 foe Penn State in their bowl game.
David Klingler, Houston, 5,140 in 1990
David Klingler transformed college football in 1990. His 1990 season is one of only two passing year pre-1998 to show up in the NCAA single season top 25 passing marks. The other was also from 1990, Ty Detmer's Heisman trophy season. The Cougars were 10-1 in 1990 and ineligible for the SWC title due to probation. Klingler threw for 54 touchdowns were an NCAA record including eleven vs. Eastern Washington. In the season finale at the Tokyo Dome he passed for a then NCAA record 716 yards against Arizona State. Klingler won the Sammy Baugh trophy for his efforts and fifth in the Heisman voting in spite of throwing for fourteen more touchdowns and eight fewer picks that Detmer.
Graham Harrell, Texas Tech, 5,111 in 2008
Graham Harrell is back on the list with his 2008 season, a magical season for Texas Tech. The Red Raiders went 10-0 to start the season and beat number one ranked Texas ascending to number two in the country. Harrell was at the center of that season. Harrell 2008 season comes in as the 8th best passing season in NCAA history. Harrell eclipsed 400 yards six times in his senior season and threw for 45 touchdowns with just nine picks. For the season Harrell completed 70% of his passes including four games of 80% or better. Harrell finished fourth in the Heisman voting in 2008 behind winner Sam Bradford and runner ups Colt McCoy and Tim Tebow.
Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech, 5,052 in 2016
Patrick Mahomes 2016 season checks in with the twelfth best single season passing yardage year in NCAA history. Mahomes threw for an NCAA best 734 yards against Oklahoma with five touchdowns. He threw for 470 plus in four of his first five games and complete over 70% of his attempts in each of his first five starts. Mahomes ended his Tech career with 586 yards in a win over Baylor. Tech finished 5-7 in spite of Mahomes' season. Mahomes didn't garner enough attention for his efforts to finish in the top 10 in Heisman voting but he did take home the Sammy Baugh trophy.
Case Keenum, Houston, 5,020 in 2008
Case Keenum's third appearance on this list is good enough for the 14th best single seasons in NCAA history. Keenum was a true sophomore in 2008 and he doubled his production from his freshman season. He finished the regular season with a 480 yard performance against UTEP and a 494 yard outing vs. Rice. Against UTEP he completed 41 of 51 passes for an 80% completion percentage afternoon. Keenum completed 44 touchdown passes and threw just 11 picks. The Cougars went 8-5 with a Armed Forces bowl win over Air Force. Keenum didn't make the top 10 in Heisman voting, but he was selected as CUSA's Offensive MVP.
Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech, 5,017 in 2002
Kliff Kingsbury's 2002 was the first year that Mike Leach's Air Raid project at Tech took off. Kingsbury threw for 1,500 more yards in 2002 than his previous best Tech season. Kingsbury led the NCAA in attempts, completions, yards, and touchdowns. He completed 67% of his passes and hit for 45 touchdowns and just 13 interceptions. Among his highlights was a 49 for 59 474 yard five touchdown performance at Texas A&M and a six touchdown performance against Texas. Kingsbury finished ninth in the Heisman voting in 2002. He did win the Sammy Baugh Trophy. Texas Tech went 9-5 and blew out Clemson in the Tangerine Bowl.
Sonny Cumbie, Texas Tech, 4,742 in 2004
Sonny Cumbie was the second in a string of three one and done starters for Mike Leach that all blew out the stat book. He was bookended by the aforementioned B.J. Symons and Cody Hodges. Cumbie's 2004 season ranks 20th best in single season passing yards. In case there was any thought of a fall of after Symons departure, Cumbie threw for 440 yards or more in each of his first three starts. He threw for 436 yards and five touchdowns in a start against Nebraska and he ended his Tech career by blowing out Cal in the Holiday Bowl. Cumbie threw for 520 yards that night in San Diego. Texas Tech finished 8-4 in 2004.