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LSU’s quarterback history is disappointing, but it’s not THAT bad

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It’s fun to clown on the Tigers, but take a second look.

Auburn v LSU
Danny Etling is a good quarterback
Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

LSU lost a quarterback for 2018, with former four-star quarterback Lowell Narcisse announcing his transfer just a few weeks before Week 1. Then roughly 13 hours later, Tiger QB Justin McMillan announced he’s on his way out, too.

The two bring yet more names to the long list of transfers that have left Baton Rouge:

The LSU quarterback situation has been a running topic of conversation among Tiger fans (and rival ones!) for awhile now. This recruiting meme was a bold effort:

It produced the same result as most bold efforts: endless roasting online.

I get it. It’s funny for LSU to try and claim good quarterbacking. We’ve spent most of the last decade watching the Tigers gain like 14 yards per hour against Alabama, and previous decades weren’t exactly filled with beautiful Bayou bombs.

So when LSU ties to assert that its QB lineage is great, jokes are fair game.

The 2018 punchline catalyst: LSU’s accepting a transfer from former Ohio State four-star Joe Burrow, which could turn out nicely for the Tigers. Every team, including Alabama, takes transfers, but LSU’s been downright Jim Harbaugh-ian about bringing in QB help from other colleges, and when you add that into a bundle of narratives that’d already been festering, you have some fertile humor terrain.

But let’s review how things have gone on the field. Has it really been that big of a disaster?

2005, Les Miles’ first year: LSU finished 15th in opponent-adjusted Passing S&P+

Was also JaMarcus Russell’s first year as the full-time starter. Went great.

2006: Fifth

Due to NFL-sullied hindsight, we’ve forgotten how awesome Russell was. He ranked top 10 in just about every passing stat, including No. 3 in passer rating, while facing a way tougher schedule than most of his statistical peers.

2007: 15th

The sport’s weirdest year ever, but national champs anyway. Matt Flynn was fine, with an assist from former five-star Ryan Perrilloux.

2008: 43rd, with a five-star QB leaving

This should’ve been Perrilloux’s era, but he was constantly suspended, and the Jarrett Lee/Jordan Jefferson Tag Team commenced. When people think about Bad LSU Quarterbacking, this is where Phase 1 begins. But still, ranking right around the top third of the country amid a QB change isn’t bad.

If Perrilloux hadn’t gotten booted, maybe this isn’t a narrative to begin with? In the only game of his that anyone remembers, he was the 2007 SEC Championship MVP, after all.

2009: 35th

Jefferson ran more of the show. It went OK, with a lower ceiling than a hypothetical senior Perrilloux would’ve offered.

2010: 61st

Jefferson-Lee is basically average out of 120 FBS teams. A team with top-10 recruiting should aspire to much better than average, but it happens. Fellow top recruiter Notre Dame was No. 60 in Rushing S&P+ this year, for example. USC was No. 61 in run defense. Nobody’s good at everything every year.

2011: Third

Set aside the disastrous Alabama rematch for one second. LSU nearly had one of college football’s greatest seasons ever, and that included its passing game, which threw only two picks against 12 non-Tide teams.

Jefferson-Lee — an 11teenth-year, two-headed senior — rarely needed to pass, so it got to do hilarious stuff like complete all eight attempts against Ole Miss. That was when the crowd in Oxford booed LSU for taking four knees at the goal line while up by 49 with five minutes to go. A long Zach Mettenberger scramble set up the legendary moment. See? Good LSU quarterbacking.


2012: 65th, with another five-star QB leaving

Well, of course things took a turn! LSU had to replace two decade-long starting QBs!

Still, ranking in the middle during Mettenberger’s first year as a starter (while having to do football despite shambling out from under the crushing weight of 2011) isn’t the end of the world.

Perhaps more importantly, LSU would’ve had No. 1 freshman QB Gunner Kiel if family hadn’t pulled him home right before Signing Day.

2013: Eighth

Team went 10-3 (as usual) with Mettenberger throwing to Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. Ok.

2014: 63rd

Another two-headed QB, the second one people think of when they think of Bad LSU Quarterbacking. Remember Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris, both of whom would transfer?

Meanwhile, LSU near-signee Kiel had a good 2014 at Cincinnati, ranking No. 2 nationally in QB rating vs. winning teams. His Bearcats ranked No. 10 in Passing S&P+.

2015: 37th

In a prettier universe, Kiel was an LSU senior coming off a nice junior year.

In our fallen reality, Harris ran the show all year, though this is a slightly better ranking than you would’ve guessed, based on Miles nearly being fired.

Also in ours, four-star QB Feleipe Franks decommitted amid Miles drama.

2016: 32nd

Purdue transfer Danny Etling took over for Harris around the time new coach Ed Orgeron took over for Miles, and the words “Purdue transfer” and “new coach” mean we’re into Phase 3 of things people laugh at. Considering the turmoil, Etling started fine.

2017: 16th

Despite being talked about as if he’s the homely lovechild of Jefferson-Lee and Jennings-Harris, Etling ranked No. 9 in the nation in yards per attempt, ranked No. 13 in QB rating, and guarded the football like he’d swore a solemn vow upon it.

Six top-20 finishes in 13 years, with a few other years that probably should’ve been top-20, if not for weird roster stuff!

That’s not bad! Right?

Average: 30th

Fine, that’s not great, but it’s not terrible, which is the point.

And with the head coach’s office being occupied by a Midwestern offensive lineman and a Louisianan strength coach (and considering two five-star QBs leaving for reasons that had very little to do with football), hopes probably shouldn’t have been a whole lot higher anyway.

Now let us resume the jokes.