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LSU and Florida are both starting Purdue transfer QBs against each other

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How did Florida and LSU end up in this situation, and what does it say about quarterback development in the SEC?

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LSU and Florida meet in Week 12. Both will start Boilermakers at QB.

Danny Etling is the starting quarterback at LSU after Brandon Harris's performance was so weak he didn't last two games into his junior season. Austin Appleby is the starting quarterback at Florida, after fellow transfer Luke Del Rio suffered multiple injuries this season.

Etling and Appleby are transfers from Purdue, which is one of the worst Power 5 programs and has been since Joe Tiller lost his fastball a little less than a decade ago. Both were benched during the season.

Both have been capable players before, producing a handful of decent performances in the Big Ten. Etling was a four-star recruit, Appleby a three-star. Struggling at Purdue is not a guarantee of eternal failure -- everyone struggles at Purdue.

And both have played moderately well this season. Etling is No. 7 in the SEC in passer rating among players with 180 or more attempts, and Appleby has gone 2-1 in SEC games.

But the Gators and Tigers are college football royalty, or at least they should be, based on all of the factors that one would normally associate with a great program: recruiting base, fan support, facilities, revenue, etc. Their five-year national recruiting rankings are seventh and 12th, respectively.

So how is it that, at the most important position on the field, they are starting guys who couldn't keep the starting job at Purdue?

Or, to paraphrase King Jaffe Joffer, how could you let him come to such a pass?

Is it recruiting?

Florida QB signees

247Sports Composite

LSU QB signees

Composite

Feleipe Franks ‘16

4* - .9721

Lindsey Scott ‘16

3* - .8410

Kyle Trask ‘16

3* - .7984

Justin McMillan ‘15

3* - .8267

Will Grier ‘14

4* - .9758

Brandon Harris ‘14

4* - .9645

Max Staver ‘13

3* - .8472

Hayden Rettig ‘13

4* - .9311

Skyler Mornhinweg ‘12

3* - .8460

Anthony Jennings ‘13

4* - .9135

Florida and LSU are two of the preeminent recruiting teams in the country. Florida's recruiting history reflects that Will Muschamp either was unable to recruit the position to the same level as other positions, or chose not to make it a priority. He left Jim McElwain with one viable quarterback option: Will Grier. When Grier was suspended for PED usage and then transferred, Florida's cupboard was empty, forcing McElwain to dip into the transfer market. The result was a depth chart of two transfers and two true freshmen.

And if you want an illustration as to why the "Why are the quarterbacks so underwhelming in the SEC?" question gets asked so frequently, Muschamp was rewarded for ignoring the most important position on the field by being tabbed to replace Steve Spurrier at South Carolina. (And now somehow has a potential future star in freshman Jake Bentley.)

Since Tim Tebow left, Florida's had an amazing list of QBs go on to succeed at other schools or other positions, with ex-Gator Jacoby Brissett helping to lead the Patriots to a Week 2 victory as the latest example.

LSU, on the other hand, has the recruiting history one would expect, bringing in three blue-chip quarterbacks in the 2013 and 2014 classes. The Tigers' depth chart is not great in terms of younger quarterbacks because of the '15 and '16 classes, so the future might not be great at the position, but one cannot look at those results and see a set of events that would require starting a Purdue castoff.

Is it retention and development?

Florida has an issue going forward only in the sense that McElwain was unlucky in that his starting quarterback got carried away with himself at GNC, then unlucky again when Del Rio got hurt.

LSU, on the other hand, has a boulevard of broken dreams. Here's the complete list of four- and five-star quarterback recruits during the Les Miles era:

LSU blue-chip QB recruits

Composite

Brandon Harris ‘14

4* - .9645

Hayden Rettig ‘13

4* - .9311

Anthony Jennings ‘13

4* - .9135

Zach Mettenberger ‘11

4* - .9350

Jerrard Randall ‘11

4* - .9158

Russell Shepard ‘09

5* - .9985

Jarrett Lee ‘07

4* - .9254

Of the three who should be on the roster, two have transferred and the third has been demoted. The raw material that should have produced an above-average quarterback handing off to Leonard Fournette and throwing to Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural is either gone or riding the pine.

Taking a broader view, either Miles has been unlucky or LSU has squandered a pile of quarterback talent over his tenure. Jarrett Lee was a part-time starter, Shepard moved to wide receiver, and Mettenberger delivered one average year and one excellent one, although the list of quarterbacks who can be effective when throwing to Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. and handing off to Jeremy Hill is fairly long.

One season of top production from seven blue-chip recruits is not a great return on investment, even accounting for the fact that recruiting is an imprecise business.

Is this part of a bigger problem?

On the one hand, the SEC brings in more talent at the quarterback position than any other conference. Here are the four- and five-star recruits brought in by the five conferences over the past five seasons, with the first number in each cell the "pro-style" quarterbacks and the second number the "dual-threat" quarterbacks, as categorized by the rating services:

Year


SEC

B1G

Big 12

ACC

Pac-12

2016

4/4

4/0

1/1

2/3

2/0

2015

5/4

2/1

0/2

2/0

4/2

2014

6/1

2/1

1/2

4/2

2/2

2013

9/2

3/5

1/1

2/3

5/1

2012

2/2

1/1

3/1

2/2

4/1

Total

26/13

12/8

6/7

12/10

17/6

SEC teams have pulled in roughly twice as many blue-chip quarterback prospects as Big Ten, ACC, and Pac-12 teams, and three times as many as Big 12 teams. (It's interesting that the Big 12, the most offense-heavy league among the five major conferences, has by far the fewest top recruits at quarterback, but that's a separate story. Also of note: how the Pac-12 skews towards pro-style quarterbacks.)

And yet, the state of quarterbacking in the SEC has been dicey for years, until late in this season. Auburn, LSU, Florida, and others have degrees of uncertainty. Texas A&M had a stop-gap graduate transfer, who got hurt. Tennessee has a senior who is either a limited passer or damaged by his sub-par offensive coordinator.

Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, and others have promising young quarterbacks, this year, though.

The 2014 class is a good example. In that year, the SEC signed six of the top eight pro-style quarterbacks in the 247Sports Composite. These players would be in their third years, which would be an ideal time to produce. Here is the carnage:

  • Kyle Allen transferred to Houston, citing dysfunction at Texas A&M on his way out the door
  • Grier transferred from Florida after a PED suspension
  • David Cornwell is fourth on the depth chart at Alabama
  • Jacob Park transferred from Georgia
  • Drew Barker was starting at Kentucky, most notable this season for throwing a pass that caused Gary Danielson to wonder openly about the identity of the intended receiver
  • Sean White is often starting for Auburn's dysfunctional offense

Meanwhile, the other two from that top eight are Keller Chryst, who lost out on the Stanford quarterback derby to a similarly touted and more experienced candidate, and Brad Kaaya, who's been getting NFL Draft hype since the spring.