Jan 1, 2019; Glendale, AZ, USA; Louisiana State Tigers quarterback Joe Burrow against the Central Florida Knights in the 2019 Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium.

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LSU still playing catch-up at the quarterback position

Alabama-Clemson highlighted the need for elite-level QB production

Seth Dunlap
January 08, 2019 - 8:03 pm

Last night’s college football national championship game was a showcase in the evolution of modern football.  It’s long been held that you need elite quarterback play to compete for championships in the NFL, but you can win a title in college football without a highly touted prospect at that position.  Those times seem to be going the way of the dodo bird.

Yesterday’s contest featured quarterbacks Tua Tagovailoa of Alabama, this year’s Heisman trophy runner-up, and Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, a true freshman sensation who is already the near-lock to be the #1 overall NFL Draft pick in 2021.  If you think it’s a coincidence that two of the handful of best quarterbacks in college football made it to the sports ultimate prize-fight, you might not have been paying enough attention the past few seasons.

Tagovailoa won last year’s championship, out dueling Georgia’s Jake Fromm in the title game. Fromm was regarded as one of college football’s best freshman signal-callers.   Deshaun Watson lifted Clemson to a title in 2016 and also played in the 2015 championship game.   Oregon’s Marcus Mariota surprisingly guided the Oregon Ducks to the championship game in 2014, with Jameis Winston and Florida State winning in 2014. 

There are a few exceptions to the theory of great quarterback dominance in college football, but those exceptions are continually becoming harder to find, especially in the Playoff era.  Jake Coker guided a loaded Alabama team to the title in 2015 during his only season as the Crimson Tide’s starting quarterback.  Ohio State won the championship in 2015 with Cardale Jones replacing Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett who were injured during the Buckeye’s title run.

Just as in professional football, you’ll be able to find the outliers where the Trent Dilfers or Joe Flaccos win a championship about once a decade.  Yet, to be in consistent title contention the trend is becoming clear – you better have an elite quarterback at the helm of your offense or you’ll be threading an incredibly thin needle to overcome sub-par production at that position.

This brings me to LSU.  The Tigers just finished a 10-3 season where they overachieved the expectations of most media members and the fan base.  Head coach Ed Orgeron and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda deserve extreme credit for their yeoman’s work with a roster that was littered with question marks at a variety of positions before the season began.  Orgeron also deserves praise for enticing quarterback Joe Burrow to transfer from Ohio State to LSU over the summer.  Burrow proved to be a stabilizing force at the position for the Tigers, and it’s incredibly unlikely that the team would have won as many games with some combination of Myles Brennan, Lowell Narcisse, or Justin McMillan helming the position for a bakers-dozen games. 

A stabilizing force at the quarterback position, however, isn’t going to win LSU many national championships.  Burrow went an entire month during the team’s most pivotal regular season stretch without throwing a touchdown.  In those games against Florida, Georgia, Mississippi State, and Alabama he threw four interceptions, had a sub-60% completion rate, and never eclipsed 200 yards passing.  It was a slap-in-the-face realization for this fan base that game managing quarterbacks can no longer be the answer at the position for LSU, if they want to compete for SEC titles or national championships. 

That’s not a shot at Burrow.  Again, he played as well as anybody could have reasonably expected him to this season.  He limited turnovers, finishing the season with just five interceptions, and threw a dozen touchdowns to just one interception in his final three games, including a 394 yard, four touchdown performance against Central Florida in the Fiesta Bowl.

It’s time for LSU to wake up and join the rest of the college football powerhouses in recruiting, and developing, premier quarterback talent.  Alabama has Tua.  Clemson has Lawrence.  Oklahoma may have another two seasons of Kyler Murray, and they also have the nation’s top quarterback prospect, Spencer Rattler, on his way to campus.  Georgia has Fromm and four-star recruits Dwan Mathis and John Rhys Plumlee incoming.   Auburn has the country’s #2 prospect Bo Nix committed.   Michigan, Penn State, Wisconsin, and Washington – all now annual playoff contenders – have top-10 quarterback recruits signed in this year’s class.

LSU, meanwhile, is touting Peter Parrish, the 25th ranked quarterback prospect in this class, as the possible program savior.  Parish may well be.  So might Brennan, if he develops further this offseason and next year learning behind Burrow.  The Tigers are still behind the quarterback eight-ball though.  They’re left picking up the quarterback scraps other programs are leaving behind.  If that wasn’t dreary enough, the track record of this program developing promising quarterback recruits is almost non-existent.  Not since Jamarcus Russell or Matt Flynn have the Tigers developed NFL-caliber passers, and let’s be honest – it’s not exactly a ringing endorsement to use Russell or Flynn as the program’s bannermen at the position.

So the LSU football program has, once again, been put on notice.  If the goal is to get back to consistently competing for conference and national titles, it’s not enough to load up with a mountain of talent across the roster.  The quarterback position is too important in the modern era of football, and the Tigers are still trying to catch up to everybody else in this pivotal area.

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