Recruiting rankings and wins are conjointly related. Every year, you can look at the top of the team rankings on your favorite recruiting website and match that ranking up with how they’re performing on Saturdays – most of the time. Or it could be a predictor of what is to come for that program’s future. For example, it wouldn’t shock anybody to see Alabama atop the recruiting rankings year in and year out. The work done on the recruiting trail allows Alabama to produce NFL Talent like they’re Ford’s and collect National Championship trophies.
For some reason, LSU has not been able to remain amongst the brass of college football despite having two number two ranked classes (2014 and 2016) with a fifth ranked class right in the middle in 2015, according to 247Sports. The second ranked 2014 class was special. It featured two future top-ten picks in the 2017 NFL Draft in Leonard Fournette and Jamal Adams and a potential break-out player for the Miami Dolphins, Devon Godchaux. The next school to have two players drafted that year was the Clemson Tigers, fresh off a National Championship victory over Alabama. But Clemson’s 2014 class was ranked sixteenth and the following classes were ranked ninth and eleventh. In the years following Signing Day in 2014, LSU has won eight, nine, eight, and nine games. But why? How was it that Clemson eventually became national contenders and LSU was just simply a good team in the SEC?
LSU recruited better than almost anybody in the country. They averaged the third ranked recruiting class in the three years following a star-studded ’14 class. They were recruiting at a standard that matched Alabama and topped Georgia, Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Washington. All of which have made the College Football Playoff (CFP) in the time that LSU has out recruited them.
Now, here is the one preponderating difference between every single one of those schools mentioned and the LSU Tigers – a quarterback. Georgia made the CFP on the back on Jake Fromm (and an incredible defense), Clemson had Deshaun Watson, Ohio State with both J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones, Oklahoma with the Heisman winning Baker Mayfield, and Washington with Jake Browning.
Despite the fact that LSU could walk into any household in the state of Louisiana and take any kid they wanted, they could not find a quarterback to put all of the pieces together. Yes, you can still be a competitive team and win nine games a year in arguably the toughest conference in America, but that is not the standard. When you recruit the way the Tigers recruit it is for confetti and rings. Not to stay afloat.
LSU’s second ranked 2014 class brought in two quarterbacks. One was a Junior College quarterback named Brandon Bergeron who has no available stats, according to LSU. The other was Louisiana native Brandon Harris. Harris was a top 100 player in his class and was expected to be LSU’s next great. As a freshman, Harris was a 55.6% passer and threw six touchdowns to two interceptions in the eight games he played for the 8-5 Tigers. The next year he threw just 13 touchdown passes in 12 games in a 9-3 season. Harris eventually transferred to North Carolina after Purdue transfer Danny Etling took the job from him in week two of 2016. He was a bust, as some would say.
The next year, in 2015, the Tigers recruited another dual-threat quarterback. This one was from Cedar Hill, Texas by the name of Justin McMillan. McMillan finished his ephemeral LSU career with one passing attempt for 19 yards before announcing his intention to transfer on August 15th of this year.
In 2016, the only quarterback LSU signed goes by the name of Lindsey Scott who stands at 5-11 was the 2015 Gatorade Player of the Year in the state of Louisiana. To keep the story short, Scott lead East Mississippi (yes Last Chance U East Mississippi) to their fourth NJCAA National Championship before signing with the Missouri Tigers in February 2018. He transferred as well.
LSU had gotten virtually nothing from quarterbacks recruited in those elite 2014-2016 classes. They had to rely on a graduate transfer in Etling to get them through the constant misses in recruiting and they are doing so once again in 2018. Joe Burrow transferred in from Ohio State with two years of eligibility remaining and will more than likely be named the starter for their opener against Miami in Arlington, Texas over a couple highly-rated quarterbacks from their 2017 class, Myles Brennan and Lowell Narcisse, who became the fourth LSU quarterback to transfer since 2016.
If LSU can find a stable quarterback in one of their recruiting classes that can come in and truly grow within the program I have no doubt in my mind that LSU can return to their glory days that, according to their recruiting classes, they should still currently be in.
However one can’t be sure if it is entirely the quarterback’s fault. The LSU Tigers have had three offensive coordinators in the same amount of years. In 2016 Cam Cameron was calling plays and running his own offense before he was let go with Les Miles. The Matt Canada experience was cut short after just one year. And now 59-year old Steve Ensminger is the offensive coordinator 20 years after his last permanent coordinator position.
Now the problem is growing larger. LSU still needs to develop a quarterback, but all that underachieving and inconsistency has caused a slide in recruiting rankings in recent years. In 2017 the Tigers fell out of the top five to the seventh spot nationally. In their 2018 class, head coach Ed Orgeron failed to sign a quarterback and finished ranked fifteenth nationally. It was their worst finish from a ranking standpoint since they finished with the 21st ranked class in 2002.
Today, LSU has just two quarterbacks on scholarship, Brennan and the graduate transfer Burrow, going into a grueling schedule that has them opening up with Miami and playing Auburn, Georgia and Alabama to name just a few. One hit could change LSU’s entire season and potentially the state of their program.
Miami faces off against LSU in 12 days.