Jarrett Lee was an LSU quarterback for five years, redshirting in 2007 and staying until the bitter end in 2011.
Jordan Jefferson began to see playing time as a freshman in 2008 and was still out there plugging away through the aforementioned bitter end in the 2012 BCS National Championship Game.
In some ways it seems like they shuffled off the LSU football stage only yesterday. In other ways, Jefferson and Lee seem like quaint relics of a bygone era.
The quarterback position is the most volatile one in college football. Players these days bolt for greener fields if their paths to significant playing time becomes blocked — or sometimes, as in the case of Clemson-turned-Missouri quarterback Kelly Bryant, even looks partly cloudy.
Nowhere is the position more volatile than at LSU.
Since Jefferson and Lee bade farewell that frustrating night inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome no LSU quarterback — none — has started and finished his entire career with the Tigers.
In fact, in the seven seasons from 2012 until now, LSU’s starting quarterback has been a transfer for five of them.
Make no mistake. LSU was fortunate to have Zach Mettenberger in 2012-13 and Danny Etling for the 2016-17 seasons, sandwiched around Anthony Jennings’ year as a starter in 2014 and Brandon Harris in 2015 before both of them transferred out. And though no one would try to spin Joe Burrow’s passing numbers as anything extraordinary — 2,500 yards, 12 touchdowns, four interceptions, 57.4 completion rate — there is little doubt LSU would not be preparing for a New Year’s Day date in the Fiesta Bowl without him. The Tigers have fed off the Ohio State transfer’s grit and toughness in a 9-3 season regular season that far exceeded LSU’s shaky preseason expectations.
That said, for the most part LSU’s quarterback position has been a series of quick fixes preceding even Jefferson and Lee. The Tigers’ problem dates to 2008 when Ryan Perrilloux was dismissed from the team for multiple discipline issues, robbing the Tigers of the heir apparent to five-year quarterback Matt Flynn. Remember Harvard transfer Andrew Hatch quarterbacking the Tigers early that season?
There is nothing written anywhere that says you can only win a national championship with homegrown, cultivated quarterback talent, as Flynn and LSU did in 2007. One only has to look to 2003 when Matt Mauck, a one-time Michigan State commitment, chucked a dead-end career in minor league baseball to lead LSU to the top. And Oklahoma might not be playing in the CFP semifinals were it not for Heisman Trophy-winning Kyler Murray, himself a transfer from Texas A&M.
But consistency and building from the ground up within your offensive system certainly helps. Bringing a quarterback up from a freshman in your program is no guarantee of success, but playing the transfer game is an even bigger crapshoot.
Right now, a week before Christmas 2018, LSU has a viable path forward with its quarterbacks. Again, it comes attached to no guarantee of championship trophies, but at least it is a starting point.
There is every expectation that Burrow will return in 2019 to quarterback LSU for his senior season. Then he could be expected to give way to Myles Brennan, who saw some mop-up duty against Rice but is still well within the new NCAA requirements to redshirt this season and return in 2019 as a third-year sophomore.
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Following him, LSU is expected to sign four-star quarterback Peter Parrish out of Phenix City (Alabama) Central on Wednesday as part of this cycle’s early signing period. After him, the Tigers have a pair of quarterbacks committed for 2020 in T.J. Finley of Ponchatoula and Max Johnson of Watkinsville (Georgia) Ocoee County.
LSU needs a progression of Burrow to Brennan to some winner of the quarterback derby between Parrish, Johnson and Finley going forward. The reliance on transfers, while it has mostly panned out for the Tigers the past seven years, is not a viable way to build a championship-caliber program. It's a program that needs a dynamic talent behind center if it is to ever to knock off Alabama again.
The only remaining critical factor for LSU is for it to decide on an offensive identity under Ed Orgeron. He appears to like the dual-threat capability of a Burrow, and Parrish is also a dual-threat prospect. But Brennan is in the mold of a pro-style quarterback, as are Finley and Johnson.
That is a matter that can be settled later. And it would be folly to expect all three of LSU’s currently committed quarterbacks to finish their careers as Tigers, just as it was to expect Brennan, Lowell Narcisse and Justin McMillan would all stay when they were battling it out during the preseason before Burrow’s departure.
But it is vital for LSU to get off the transfer merry-go-round, find a winning recruitable quarterback and ride him to the end of his career. To break a pattern that started after Jefferson and Lee left and has continued on far too long.
Tulane's quarterback, who transferred from LSU in late August, has been making quick adjustments for all of his life.