The Super Bowl 57 rumble between the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs gave a nod to some college football history. The Eagles’ Jalen Hurts was the first quarterback to fly from the Oklahoma Sooners’ nest and soar to the Super Bowl stage. The Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes did the same in 2020 when he became the first signal-caller from a Texas college to compete on the big stage.
This got me thinking about where Super Bowl champions went to college and kicked off their football careers. Which college football conference is known for breeding the most Super Bowl champions throughout history? The answer may surprise you.
CFB Conference Carrying All-Time Most Super Bowl Champs
When you think about notable college football programs, a handful of schools typically pop into your head – Alabama, Michigan, Ohio State, Georgia, Clemson and, if you’re like me, maybe even Notre Dame. But, what if I told you only two from that list come from the conference with the most Super Bowl champions? And no, one of them is not Alabama.
Up-to-date data following Super Bowl 57 shows the Big Ten paves the way by having the highest number of alumni go on to win a Super Bowl ring with 358 players – 16 of them appeared in the latest NFL championship game. In fact, Big Ten quarterbacks have played in nine of the past 20 Super Bowls. The Penn State Nittany Lions have had 45 Super Bowl-winning players graduate from their program, the most of any Big Ten school. Following Penn State are the Michigan Wolverines (43) and Ohio State Buckeyes (37), which isn’t too much of a shock.
Expect the Big Ten’s reputation in the NFL to skyrocket following the conference realignment in 2024-25. Here’s why:
The Pac-12’s USC Trojans have trained 50 Super Bowl champions, topping the leaderboard for most in college football. The UCLA Bruins (37) are tied with the Buckeyes, producing the 10th-most Super Bowl-winning players. But, as we all know, both of those Pac-12 schools have agreed to leave the conference and join the Big Ten in a couple of years.
💪 @uscfb has the most Super Bowl winning players of all time 📈— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) February 13, 2023
Who on this list surprises you? pic.twitter.com/NINH5SANj7
It’s interesting to note the Alabama Crimson Tide, who boast the most CFP wins (9) and appearances (7), don’t crack the top 10 for producing Super Bowl champions. Let’s peek at some notable names who’ve contributed to the success of the Big Ten and Pac-12 in that regard:
CFB To Super Bowl Champion: Two Of Big Ten’s Biggest
There’s a quarterback duo, one considered the greatest of all time by many and the other known for being up there with the best, that started their football journeys in Big Ten territory.
Tom Brady (Michigan Wolverines)
The former New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback has been a large contributor to putting Michigan’s name on the map. His seven Super Bowl rings during his 22-year career and 10 appearances on the big stage benefit his former Big Ten Conference. Brady was labeled as a massive underdog in his first Super Bowl appearance, with the St. Louis Rams favored by 14 points, but the Pats went on to win 20-17. Brady was favored in all but two other championship performances (2015, 2021) when he was the underdog again but by spreads of 3 points or less.
Russell Wilson (Wisconsin Badgers)
When Wilson transferred to Wisconsin from the NC State Wolfpack, the Badgers’ national championship odds surged from +3000 to +700 by the first half of the season. Eventually, it was Alabama that took home the title that year. Wilson has gone on to have a noble career, appearing in two Super Bowls and winning one in 2014.
CFB To Super Bowl Champion: The Pack of Pac-12s
The Pac-12 has its fair share of historical and recent representation on the big stage. Notably, the California Golden Bears have produced five starting QBs who went on to win a Super Bowl, the most of any college.
JuJu Smith-Schuster (USC Trojans)
Smith-Schuster won his first Super Bowl just a few weeks ago with the Chiefs. The wide receiver had the second-most receptions (78) and receiving yards (933) for Kansas City in 2022. Before reaching the pros, he spent three years with the Trojans, racking up 143 career catches, the 13th most in program history. USC never reached the CFP or got a sniff at the national championship with Smith-Schuster, only getting as close as +2000 preseason odds in 2015.
Juju Smith-Schuster is a champion. pic.twitter.com/svumtHUTBp— Mark Gunnels (@MarkAGunnels) February 15, 2023
Troy Aikman (UCLA Bruins)
The Dallas Cowboys signal-caller went undefeated in his three Super Bowl performances. In all of those seasons, the Cowboys were favorites with odds of +300 or better by the wild-card rounds. Aikman has been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and helped the Bruins post a 10-2 record in back-to-back years after transferring from the Oklahoma Sooners following the 1985 season.
Rob Gronkowski (Arizona Wildcats)
Winning four rings between time spent with the Pats and Bucs, Gronkowski spent his early days in the desert. The tight end’s collegiate career was short-lived but in two seasons, he amassed nearly 1,200 receiving yards and averaged 18.8 yards per reception. Across his five Super Bowl performances, Gronkowski pocketed over 350 yards and five touchdowns.