Syracuse Football Top 25 Players of All-Time: No. 11 Don McPherson

Syracuse football (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)
Syracuse football (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images) /

Syracuse Football has had a long history of success. We look back at some of the best players to play at Syracuse University. Up next, No. 11: Don McPherson.

Most fans when they think of quarterbacks who played for Syracuse Football the first name that often comes to mind is Donovan McNabb. There’s nothing wrong with that as McNabb was an incredible athlete in his time at Syracuse, but it does take away from just how good his predecessor Don McPherson was.

McPherson played for Syracuse Football from 1984-1987. He was great passing the ball, but what a lot of people don’t remember is he also rushed the ball a ton as well and often to great success. A good way to describe him is a more polished form of Eric Dungey (also on this list). The only knock on McPherson’s career is his lack of a good pro career after Syracuse.

Though McPherson didn’t start games until his sophomore year, he quickly made a name for himself. In his sophomore year, he completed 85 passes for 1,469 yards and 12 touchdowns, with only five interceptions, according to He also rushed 157 times for 489 yards (3.1 yards per carry) and seven touchdowns.

In his junior year, he picked up right where he left off, completing 142 passes for 1,827 yards, 12 touchdowns, and seven interceptions. He also rushed 191 times for 523 yards (2.7 yards per carry) and six touchdowns.

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The highlight of his career though was his outstanding senior season in 1987. In that amazing 1987 season, he completed 129 passes for 2,341 yards (good for 10.2 yards per attempt), 22 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. He had a passer rating of 164.3 that season which led the NCAA and is still a Syracuse record, according to He also rushed the ball 110 times for 230 yards and five touchdowns. He also had the only reception of his career for seven yards and a touchdown as well.

That 1987 season, Syracuse finished 11-0-1, good for fourth overall in the nation, according to In fact, in the last 18 starts of his SU career, he led them to an incredible 16-2 overall record.

As such, McPherson was selected as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy but was robbed by Notre Dame’s Tim Brown by Heisman voters, finishing second instead. Sure, McPherson missed out on college football’s biggest award, but he did still win The Davey O’Brien award (most outstanding quarterback), Johnny Unitas Golden Arm award (most outstanding senior quarterback), and Maxwell award (most outstanding player).

As mentioned previously, McPherson’s college career was pretty outstanding, but his pro career was a huge letdown. The reason it was a letdown is because he was selected 149th overall by the Eagles in the 6th round of the 1988 NFL Draft, but would end up leaving after two years to play for the Houston Oilers in 1990, according to

After serving one year on the Oilers practice squad he signed with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League (CFL) with whom he played very little over a three-year span, before finishing his pro career with the Ottawa Rough Riders of the CFL as well.

McPherson was selected to the Syracuse All-Century team in 1999 and was later inducted to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008. His No. 9 Syracuse jersey was also retired in 2013, one of only a select few to receive that honor, according to

Next. Syracuse Football: Top 10 QBs in School History. dark

Don McPherson may be a forgotten man to many millennials who only saw Donovan McNabb play, but if you look back at his career highlights at Syracuse, you’ll quickly realize just how talented McPherson was in his own right. He definitely belongs among the best quarterbacks to ever play for Syracuse and thus among the Top 25 Football players to ever play for SU. Heisman or not, McPherson was a winner in his time at SU, and sometimes that’s all it takes to become a legend.