football Edit

Persa is Northwestern's top QB

The fans have spoken, and Dan Persa is their choice as the best Northwestern quarterback over the last 25 years.

In a WildcatReport poll, Persa, who played from 2008-11, received 36.3% of votes to claim the title of the No. 1 Wildcat quarterback in the quarter century since Northwestern's Cinderella run to the Rose Bowl in 1995.

Persa won by a comfortable margin over runner-up Brett Basanez (2002-05), who finished with 24.8%. Steve Schnur (1993-96) is the third-stringer with 15.9%, while Clayton Thorson (2015-18) and Zak Kustok (1999-01) will be holding the clipboards with 11.5% and 8.9%, respectively. There were just four votes, or 2.5%, for write-in candidates.

The vote for Persa was one for brilliance over longevity. Voters recognized that Persa played at a level in 2010 that no other Northwestern quarterback reached.

With very little help around him, Persa was Northwestern's offense in 2010, a one-man, dual-threat dynamo. He completed an FBS-best 73.5% of his passes and generated 3,100 yards of total offense and 24 total touchdowns in just 10 starts. He was on the money with his throws and rarely made mistakes (a 15-4 TD-INT ratio), and he was Northwestern's best runner to boot.

Even his season-ending injury was dramatic: he tore his Achilles tendon celebrating a game-winning touchdown pass against Iowa with 1:22 left in the game. The Wildcats were 7-3 at that point with Persa as their starter. They went 0-3 to close out the season without him.

Dan Persa's Key Statistics
Comp. % Pass Yds TDs/INTs Rush Yds Rush TDs

Career

72.7%*

5,181

34/13

716

10

Best Year (2010)

73.5%

2,581

15/4

519

9

* Best all-time among Northwestern quarterbacks

More: Who was Northwestern's best quarterback over the last 25 years?


Persa came back from the injury amid a Heisman campaign in 2011. He made 10 more starts and put up some impressive passing numbers (he completed 73.4% of his passes, just .1% off his mark the year before). But he was in and out of the lineup as he struggled to recover from his injury, and his electric running ability all but vanished as his rushing numbers yards dropped from 519 to 32.

Persa's light didn't shine long, but, man, was it bright. And it outshone Northwestern's top two all-time passers (Thorson and Basanez) and the only quarterback with two Big Ten championship trophies to his credit (Schnur).

We thought that Thorson would get more support than he did, with career numbers and the recency effect on his side. But while Thorson is Northwestern's all-time leader in every major statistical category (yards, touchdowns, attempts, completions, wins), he never really had that sensational season (he was never named better than the third-team All-Big Ten QB). Voters went with Persa's greatness over Thorson's statistics.

Schnur made a compelling case as the guy with the rings who was also named the first-team All-Big Ten QB in 1996, but he also had, by far, the best team around him, and his career numbers paled in comparison to the others.

Basanez -- who, in full disclosure, got my vote -- offered the best of both worlds as the No. 2 all-time leading passer who also had a brilliant redshirt senior season in 2005. But, in the end, Persa's best was judged to be better than Basanez's.

Voters seemed to recognize that Persa was asked to do the most heavy lifting by himself during his career. His teams struggled defensively and he was the only QB on the ballot without a bona fide star running back lined up behind him.

Schnur had Darnell Autry. Kustok had Damien Anderson. Basanez had Jason Wright, Noah Herron and Tyrell Sutton. Thorson had all-time rushing leader Justin Jackson for three years. All of them are backs who ran for more than 1,000 yards in a season. Persa never had a running back who ran for more than the 530 Mike Trumpy put up in 2010.

In all, Persa was a worthy and wise choice as Northwestern's QB1. In case you've forgotten just how good No. 7 was, take a look at these highlights.