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Tigers, Gators Still Stuck in QB Doldrums

By Matt Smith
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Since the start of the current decade, quarterback play has been nothing short of a disaster for the two annual rivals, who will meet on Saturday afternoon in Gainesville.

Three statues of Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks sit outside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on the campus of the University of Florida. The most famous quarterback family, the Mannings, hails from the state of Louisiana.

One would surmise, then, that the flagship universities in Florida and Louisiana would have little trouble bringing in and churning out great quarterback talent. In reality, that hasn’t been further from the truth over the past decade.

LSU and Florida won back-to-back national titles in 2007 and 2008 with Matt Flynn and Tim Tebow under center respectively. Since the start of the current decade, quarterback play has been nothing short of a disaster for the two annual rivals, who will meet on Saturday afternoon in Gainesville (3:30 p.m. ET) with, yet again, the quarterback situations murky at best.

Five of the six quarterbacks to be selected in the first round of the past two NFL Drafts have played at California, Memphis, North Carolina, North Dakota State and Texas Tech. Meanwhile, at two SEC blueblood programs, the decade-long struggle for the recruiting and developing of a quarterback continues.

The teams have signed a combined 26 quarterbacks out of high school since 2007. A couple had a respectable a year or two, but most either flourished elsewhere after dismissals (one quite notably at Auburn), never developed and moved on, or are still on the roster waiting for their chance.

For the Tigers, Jefferson and Harris (before losing his job) were the only ones to have any amount success at LSU. Rivers barely saw the field at Vanderbilt, and Harris has been benched at North Carolina after starting the season. The flameout rate is much higher than at Florida.

The Gators have gotten respectable performances from Brantley, Driskel, Grier and Franks, which is a better percentage than LSU. However, Newton (duh), Murphy, and Brissett all went on to have one huge seasons elsewhere. You all know what Newton did, but Murphy led Boston College to seven wins (including an upset of USC) in 2014, while Brissett was so effective in 2015 at N.C. State that he was drafted by the New England Patriots and is currently the starter for the Indianapolis Colts.

LSU’s issues appear to be more systemic. Les Miles kept his offenses bogged down, making LSU an unfriendly place for a high-school quarterback with NFL aspirations. Florida has had three different head coaches in that span. Urban Meyer not signing a quarterback for two straight seasons left Will Muschamp with a huge void when he took over in 2011, but both Meyer (Newton) and Jim McElwain (Grier) have lost potential stars to off-field issues, while Driskel was never the same after breaking his leg as a junior in 2013.

Whenever Florida has seemingly had a good thing going, something happens. LSU simply hasn’t had anything going outside of Zach Mettenberger in 2013 season, but the Tigers only landed Mettenberger after he was dismissed by Georgia.

Florida’s quarterback development has been a major disappointment and point of contention in Gainesville, but it looks like Miami (FL) of the ‘80s compared to the mess at LSU. It’s hard to say who will snap out of their long funk first, but it probably won’t happen on Saturday. Tigers starter Danny Etling is barely hanging onto his job, while Florida’s Feleipe Franks did lose his job for a week until Luke Del Rio suffered a season-ending injury last season.

Northwestern, Washington State, and Wyoming have quarterbacks who could be high selections in the 2018 NFL Draft. Florida and LSU have no one anywhere close. It’s a question that nobody has been able to answer, but one that is holding back two sleeping giants who dominated the league in the 2000s.

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.