JaMarcus Russell was a player so good that even his successes seemed like disappointments. Here is a player that went 25-4 as a starter, yet people question whether he is a winner. He was a miracle play by Iowa away from having nine come from behind wins in his career, yet people questioned whether he was clutch. But no one ever, ever questioned his immense talent.
Actually, the first time we got a glimpse of JaMarcus was coming off the bench in the 2004 season opener. As a freshman, he came off the bench and score two touchdowns against Oregon St. to lead LSU to his first comeback victory. He would serve primarily as a backup as a redshirt freshman, but he started four games. He didn't start the Capital One Bowl, but he came in down 24-12 and went 12/15 for 128 yards and 2 touchdowns, the apparent game-winner with less than a minute left. Still, it was about as promising a freshman year a quarterback could have,
Russell earned the starting job before his sophomore year, and he was the QB for the remarkable 2005 season, plagued by the hurricanes. OK, we can admit it was a bad call that allowed the play to stand, but his last second, 4th and 10, 39-yard touchdown pass to Early Doucet against Arizona St. was just a fantastic play. He put up big numbers: 188/311 for 2,443 yards, 15 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions. Russell threw for a TD pass in 9 straight games, as he was the emotional leader who carried the team through adversity and to the SEC Championship Game.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but Russell's junior year is the single greatest season by an LSU quarterback. Better than Hodson, better than Jones, better than Tittle, better than anyone. He was 232/342 for 3,129 yards, 28 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions. The yards were second best in school history to Rohan Davey, but he set school records in completions, completion percentage, passer efficiency, and touchdowns. He became the only LSU quarterback to ever beat Alabama, Auburn, Florida, AND Tennessee (not to mention bonus wins over Arkansas, Miami, and Notre Dame).
Somehow, Russell was not name first team All-American, though he did sweep the All-SEC teams and won the Manning Award. He absolutely crushed Brady Quinn's Notre Dame team in the Sugar Bowl, as if to show everyone who really deserved the plaudits as best quarterback in the country. Russell rightfully went pro and became the first LSU player since Billy Cannon to be drafted first overall in the NFL Draft. JaMarcus Russell is the greatest LSU football player to never win the SEC title, which is the only thing keeping him from being the #1 guy on this list.