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Stan Becton | | February 27, 2023

Steve McNair vs. Trey Lance: Comparing the college careers of FCS legends

Trey Lance's 2019 FCS playoff highlights for North Dakota State

The FCS (or I-AA) has had legendary football players coming in and out of the sub-division since its origins in 1978. Most notably at the quarterback position, two all-time legends come to mind thanks to their accomplishments: Alcorn State's Steve McNair and North Dakota State's Trey Lance.

Legendary FCS athletes. Both all-time greats. But who’s the better FCS legend between Steve McNair and Trey Lance? 

To answer that question, we’ll look at a side-by-side breakdown of the collegiate careers of McNair and Lance from the statistics to the accolades.

Keep in mind, this is a comparison of FCS careers ONLY, so NFL and professional accomplishments do not factor in.

That said, let’s get into the comparison.


Steve MCNair Vitals Trey Lance
Alcorn State School North Dakota State
6'2'' Height 6'3''
230 Weight 221
4 Years Active 3*

*Trey Lance played in two games during his redshirt season and one game during the fall of 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic postponed most of regular season to the spring.

Both McNair and Lance are large quarterbacks with big frames. McNair was the heavier quarterback of the two, while Lance stands an inch taller.

Wins and Losses

Steve McNair Stats Trey Lance
43 Games Played 19
30 (2) Wins (Ties) 19
0-2 Postseason Record 4-0

McNair played four complete seasons at Alcorn State, winning almost 70 percent of his games. Meanwhile, Lance played one full season, going undefeated over 16 games. Overall, Lance went 17-0 as starter.

FCS CHAMPIONSHIP: How the FCS playoffs work | Schools with most titles | Full championship history

Career Stats

Steve McNair

Here are Steve McNair’s career passing stats in college.

1991 10 189 338 55.9 2,895 289.5 8.6 24
1992 11 231 419 55.1 3,541 321.9 8.5 29
1993 11 204 386 52.8 3,197 290.6 8.3 22
1994 11 356 612 58.2 5,377 488.8 8.8 47
Career 41 980 1,755 55.8 14,496 353.6 8.3 119

Here are Steve McNair's career rushing stats in college.

1991 10 57 5.7 242 24.2 4.2 6
1992 11 92 8.4 516 46.9 5.6 10
1993 11 107 9.7 633 57.5 5.9 8
1994 11 128 11.6 904 82.2 7.1 9
Career 41 384 9.4 2,327 56.8 6.1 33

Trey Lance

Here are Trey Lance's career passing stats in college.

2018 2 1 1 100.0 12 6.0 12.0 0
2019 16 192 287 66.9 2,786 174.1 9.7 28
2020 1 15 30 50.0 149 149.0 5.0 2
Career 19 208 318 65.4 2,947 155.1 9.3 30

Here are Trey Lance's career rushing stats in college.

2018 2 2 1.0 54 27.0 27.0 1
2019 16 169 10.6 1,100 68.8 6.5 14
2020 1 15 15.0 143 143.0 9.5 2
Career 19 186 9.8 1,297 68.3 7.0 16

McNair and Lance each thrived as passers and runners. When comparing Lance's 2019 season to McNair's 1994 season, his best statistical season, you'll see a few things:

  • McNair has higher counting stats than Lance (completions, attempts, yards, touchdowns) through the air while playing in five fewer games.
  • Lance was a more efficient passer than McNair, having a higher completion percentage and more yards per attempt.
  • McNair averaged more rushing yards per game and rushing yards per attempt than Lance.
  • Lance ran for 196 more yards and five more touchdowns than McNair.

Best Season

Steve McNair

McNair's best is undoubtedly his 1994 season. Many of his records set during his career (see in the records section below) came during this season. 1994 was the year that the legend of Air II — Steve's older brother Fred was the original — McNair was cemented in history. Here's a deeper look at the season. 

McNair passed for career highs in yards and touchdowns, surpassing his previous highs by over 2,000 yards and 25 touchdowns. His additional rushing yards gave him 5,799 yards total yards, the most total yards of all time.

McNair's individual success led to team success to, leading Alcorn State to a share of the SWAC title. His earned SWAC Player of the Year honors for the fourth-consecutive year. Moreover, McNair finished third in Heisman trophy voting — the highest of any FCS player ever — with many arguing he should have won the award.

Trey Lance

Lance only has one option for his best season as his only full season was in 2019. He began the season as the first North Dakota State freshman to start a season-opener at quarterback. From there it was all upward.

Lance gained over 2,700 passing yards and 1,100 rushing yards as he led North Dakota State to an undefeated regular season and the FCS national title, taking home championship most outstanding player honors. Lance became the first player in history to win the Walter Payton Award and Jerry Rice Award in the same season.

👀: The greatest individual seasons in HBCU football history

Best game

Steve McNair

Picking McNair's best game can feel like picking a straw out of a hat because he has so many to choose from. You can go with one from his sweep of rival Jackson State or even his FCS playoff performance where he fought through a hamstring injury and still threw for 514 yards and three touchdowns. However, the premier game of them all occurred on Oct. 22, 1994 against Southern. 

Against Southern, McNair passed for a season-high 587 yards, adding 62 rushing yards while scoring five total touchdowns. McNair's 649 total yards set a single-game SWAC and FCS record and made him the NCAA's all-time leader in offensive yards. Yet, it's not just McNair's statistics that makes this his best game, it's also the game itself.

In the final six minutes, the lead changed four times as McNair had to rally his Alcorn State troops from behind twice in the last four minutes of the game. The result? Alcorn State walked away victorious 41-37. McNair's stats and late-game heroics makes this his best game.

Trey Lance

Lance has multiple options from his 2019 season that could be chosen as his best game. The common choice may be his FCS Championship performance that won him Most Outstanding Player honors. However, his best game statistically — and arguably, impactfulness too — came in his first-ever start.

Lance made his first start against Butler at Target Field in Minneapolis. And what a start it was!

Lance racked up 301 yards of total offense and six touchdowns in North Dakota State's 57-10 win. Lance completed 91 percent of his passes for 185 yards and a season-high four touchdowns, rushing for 116 yards and two touchdowns. 

Lance's performance set the tone from his first start for his dominant season and it carried him and the Bison all the way to a championship.

MORE: See all of Trey Lance's career stats, highlights and records

Records set

McNair and Lance each had record-breaking careers. Here's a look at records currently held by both as McNair and Lance have lost a few records since each moved on from the FCS.

Steve McNair

College football records

  • 1st in career total offense per game: 400.5 yards per game
  • 1st in total offense in a season per game: 527.2 yards per game

DI football records

  • 1st in career total offense gained against one opponent per game (min. 4 games): 443.0 yards per game (Jackson State)
  • 1st in total offense in three consecutive games: 1,859 yards
  • 1st in total offense in four consecutive games: 2,432 yards

FCS records

  • 1st in total yards gained in a season: 5,799 yards
  • 1st in passing yards gained in 4 consecutive games: 2,159 yards
  • 1st in career 200-yard passing games: 41 games
  • 1st in career total offense: 16,823 total yards
  • 1st in career 300-yard games of total offense: 32 games
  • 1st in consecutive 300-yard games of total offense in a season: 11 games
  • 1st in 400-yard games of total offense in a season: 9 games
  • 1st in 500-yard games of total offense in a season: 6 games
  • 1st in 500-yard games of total offense in a career: 9 games
  • 1st in career total offense gained against one opponent: 1,772 yards (Jackson State)
  • 1st in single-game total offense per play (min. 50 plays):  11.35 yards per play
  • Tied for 1st in consecutive 300-yard games of total offense in a career: 13 games
  • Tied for 1st in 400-yard games of total offense in a career: 15 games
  • Tied for 1st in consecutive 400-yard games of total offense in a season: 5 games
  • Tied for 1st in career 300-yard passing games: 32 games
  • Tied for 1st in seasons gaining 3,000 yards of total offense: 4 seasons
  • 2nd in single-season passing yards per game: 442.1 yards per game
  • 2nd in career passing-yards: 14,496 yards
  • 2nd in career passing-yards per game: 345.1 yards per game
  • The only player in Alcorn State and SWAC history to be named SWAC Offensive Player of the Year and to the 1st Team All-SWAC list every season in his career

Trey Lance

College Football Records

  • 1st in most passing attempts in a complete season without an interception: 287 attempts
  • Quarterbacked the first 16-0 finish in college football since 1894

FCS records

  • 1st in lowest percentage of passes had intercepted in a season (Min. 175 atts.): 0.00%
  • 1st freshman to win the STATS FCS Walter Payton Award
  • 1st player to win the Walter Payton and Jerry Rice Award in the same season
  • 1st freshman voted MVFC Offensive Player of the Year

2019 Single-Season Ranking

  • 1st in FCS  pass efficiency rating: 180.6
  • 2nd in FCS in yards per pass attempt: 9.71 yards per attempt
  • 4th in points responsible for: 252 points
  • 5th in completion percentage: 66.9 percent
  • 10th in rushing yards per carry: 6.51 yards per carry

FCS HISTORY: The 9 all-time winningest FCS programs | 7 of the most unbreakable FCS records

Awards won

Here are the awards won by McNair and Lance during their college careers.

Steve McNair

Here are the awards and honors McNair won in college:

  • 4x SWAC Offensive Player of the Year (1991-1994)
  • 4x First-Team All-SWAC (1991-1994)
  • SWAC Freshman of the Year (1991)
  • Sports Illustrated Offensive Player of the Year (1992)
  • Third in Heisman trophy voting (1994)
  • SWAC Hall of Fame (2009)
  • Black College Football Hall of Fame (2012)
  • College Football Hall of Fame (2020)

Trey Lance

Here are the awards and honors Lance won in college:

  • NCAA Division I Football Championship Game Most Outstanding Player (2020)
  • Walter Payton Award Winner (2019)
  • FCS Jerry Rice Award Winner (2019)
  • CFPA FCS National Performer of the Year (2019)
  • FCS ADA Offensive Player of the Year (2019)
  • Phil Steele FCS Offensive Player of the Year (2019)
  • First-Team (STATS, HERO, Athlon, Phil Steele, ADA, Walter Camp) All-American (2019)
  • Second-Team (AP, AFCA) All-American (2019)
  • MVFC Offensive Player of the Year (2019)
  • MVFC Newcomer of the Year (2019)
  • MVFC Freshman of the Year (2019)
  • All-MVFC First Team (2019)
  • MVFC Commissioner's Academic Excellence Award (2019)
  • MVFC Honor Roll (2018-2019)

🐐: We picked the top-5 players all-time for North Dakota State football

Championships won

McNair won two SWAC Championships during his career, winning Alcorn State's first SWAC title since 1984 in 1992, later adding the 1994 title. Additionally, McNair never lost to rival Jackson State — he gained the most yards any FCS player has ever gained against an opponent against the Tigers in his career.

Lance won the MVFC title and the FCS national championship in his first and only year as a starter in 2019, leading North Dakota State to the first 16-0 finish in college football since 1894.

MORE: Here are 6 can't-miss HBCU football game-day atmospheres

Who's better: Steve McNair or Trey Lance?

Now you’ve seen how all-time FCS great quarterbacks McNair and Lance stack up and compare. The stats, the facts have been presented for each.

McNair's four-year career is arguably the best of any player at any position in FCS history. Lance's career, while short, features perhaps the greatest single season of any quarterback in FCS history, while ending in a national championship.

Since McNair and Lance never played each other and we're operating in the realm of hypotheticals, you can only project what Lance's career may have been had he stayed all four years. That said, it becomes a battle between McNair's four years of greatness or Lance's one great season and championship, and which holds more weight.

So, who’s better all-time between Steve McNair and Trey Lance?

That’s for you to decide.

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