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LSU All-Time Team: Quarterbacks

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Trying to dethrone the Ruston Rifle

Walter Iooss Jr / Getty Images

Way back in 1993, LSU observed the 100th anniversary of the first LSU football game by releasing an all-time team, dubbed a Golden Century of LSU Football. Little did the makers of that list know that we were about to enter into the Golden Age of LSU Football, which would completely rewrite the program's record book.

So our goal here is to come up with a new All-Time Team for the program. However, this blog and its readership skews young, and in order to give the older players a fair consideration for the team, we came up with the following system for making a new team. We will present to you the 1993 Golden Century member, and then suggest another contender who maybe should have made the team instead.

Only then, we will present the post-1993 options. In order to put a new player on the team, you have to show why that player is better than the guy already on the team. We're giving the old guys a little bit of advantage of inertia.

As the blog's designated old guy, I will present the case for the pre-1993 players. Paul will present the cases of the Golden Age players. It is a showdown of Old Codger versus Young Punk. We start with the quarterbacks.

Golden Century Member: Bert Jones (1972 TSN Player of the Year, All-American, 4th in Heisman voting)

Bert Jones' stats do not look impressive on first glance. He threw for 1536 yards on 110/228 in 1972, throwing 14 TD and 7 picks. That's 50.5%. But you have to understand the context: the rules had not yet been adjusted to help out offenses. By 1972 standards, those numbers were awesome. This is more apparent when you look at his SEC ranks. He ranked 1st in completions, 1st in completion percentage, 1st in passing yards, 1st in passer rating, 1st in touchdowns, and 9th (out of 10 teams) in interceptions. He was the highest vote getter for the Heisman of all quarterbacks.

Proving that things never change, despite ranking first in pretty much every passing category, Bert Jones did not win SEC Player of the Year. Alabama quarterback Terry Davis did. So Alabama players putting up worse stats yet garnering postseason individual honors is not a new development.

This is just going to be one of those things: either you can wrap your mind around the era adjustment or you can't. If you look at raw numbers, he's going to lose out, but if we look at how he performed relative to his era, Bert Jones' 1972 season is the best in LSU history.

Contender: Tommy Hodson (All-time LSU leader in passing yards)

Hodson owns the LSU career passing record book. It's not even close. He threw for 9,115 yards in his career. No other LSU quarterback has 7000 yards, and the closest guy to him is Jeff Wickersham at 6,921. JaMarcus Russell is the only guy even within 25 of his 69 career TD's (with 52). And despite all of his attempts, he still doesn't have the all-time interceptions lead thanks to Jamie Howard.

This comes down to what you value more: career value or peak value. College careers are so short, they tend to get remembered for just one or two seasons, but Hodson was an effective starter for four seasons, even if he was the QB as the Dark Ages began (he also won an SEC title as a freshman). No LSU quarterback has the career value of Hodson, and given the short nature of careers, we'll likely never see an effective four-year starter again.

Your contenders, Paul?

Paul

Contender: Rohan Davey (Single Season LSU passing yardage leader, LSU Single Game Completions Record, LSU Single Game Total Yardage Record vs. Alabama, 4th in School History in Completion %, etc.)

The most compelling argument for Davey is his phenomenal 2001 campaign, in which he really put the offense on his back. 2001 LSU didn't feature a dominant rushing attack (58th nationally), despite LaBrandon Toefield's 19 rushing TDs. LSU did rank 11th nationally in passing offense. Perhaps the most impressive bullet to Davey's resume is that he made LSU into an honest to god passing team. In yards gained, Davey places four games in the top 10 of LSU all-time, including the number 1 of all time... and he did it against Alabama. All from his 2001 season. Only Tommy Hodson appears on the list more than once (2x).

Beyond that, the emotional ties are deep, and I think that matters. "Rohan to Reed" calls back to the dawning of the Golden Age. It was our first taste of "We could actually be great again." Davey doesn't have longevity, but his peak was big and fun and beautiful.

Contender Jamarcus Russell (LSU leader in Single Season Pass Yards/Play, 2nd in LSU History in Passing TDs, 2nd in Single Season Passing Yards, 2nd in Career Completion %, 1st in Single Season Completion %)

Russell doesn't really occupy the top spot in any single category, but he also only played roughly 2.5 seasons at LSU. He represents a nice bridge of longevity and peak, as he played a lot as a young player, but never as dominantly as his 2006 campaign. How good was he? Well, he ranks 3rd all-time in completions at LSU, despite throwing for 200+ fewer attempts than either of the top two. He holds the LSU single season TD passes record. His 2006 stands up as maybe the great single season by an LSU QB in school history. His final campaign, Russell was ruthlessly efficient (67.8%, 9.1 YPA) but somehow criminally unheralded.

Sure, he went on to be the no. 1 pick, but the talk was always about his potential, rather than his actual accomplishments. Which is really quite the shame, because he may very well be the best QB in school history.

Poseur

Those are two good nominees, and as we get to the argument, let's remember that anyone who is even a nominee was a pretty awesome player. We're going to do our best not to run anyone down, and any negative comments either of us make have to be understood in the context of whether this player is the best ever at his position at LSU, not whether he was good or not. All of these guys were awesome.

That, of course, is prelude to quickly dispensing of two candidates on the board. Hodson threw for a bunch of yards, but he also had a bunch of attempts. Had Russell come back for his senior year, he's almost certainly be the career yardage leader. And I'm sorry, I can't get over the fact that LSU got progressively worse with Hodson as the QB. It's not the only thing that matters, but it does matter, especially when we're sorting elite players.
I also totally agree with you that sentiment matters. And there's few phrases that make an LSU fan of a certain age happier than "Rohan to Reed." However, let's not kid ourselves, Reed was the better part of that equation. How much of Davey's great season was having the good sense to keep throwing Josh Reed bubble screens? Before we get to the extremely hard decision, I think we can eliminate both Davey and Hodson, and we could narrow on the other two as the top contenders for best LSU QB ever.

Paul

I think you make a fair case. Look, I get the whole "availability" is one of the most important abilities, and Hodson has that. For sure. And I hate to minimize his career, but look at it this way: Joseph Addai ranks 5th all time in rushing yards at LSU. 5th. Adlai won't even enter the discussion of best RBs post '93, much less of all-time at LSU. The fact that Hodson has less competition is the only reason he's even mentioned here. That is, to say, Hodson was a good player on some mostly bad teams during a very bad era of LSU football. That doesn't make him the best LSU QB of all time.

And Davey simply doesn't have the bullets on the resume to compete. He has one very good season. Not one sensational season, like Bert Jones. Not one all-time great season. One very good season simply isn't enough to launch you to that peak.

So, it's Russell and it's Jones, and it's difficult, because they couldn't have played in two eras that actually featured QB's that threw, but were still so dramatically different.

Poseur

There's no wrong choice here. I've made the argument before that JaMarcus Russell should have won the Heisman his numbers were that good, and had he won, this would be a no-brainer. Heismans trump everything (remember I said that). And you're right, Russell has the perfect mix of a peak season plus good longevity. He's among the all-time career leaders, and his 2006 season stacks up with almost anyone's...

... except Bert Jones. Again, Jones was 1st in virtually every SEC passing category and though he didn't win the Heisman, he was the highest voted quarterback in 1972. He gave us "You are now entering Louisiana, please set your clocks back four seconds." Which is sort of awesome. When he left Baton Rouge, he was LSU's career leader in passing yards and touchdowns. He was simply a dominant player of his era. yet he was forced to split time prior to 1971 with Paul Lyons, because he butted heads with Cholly Mack. It stands as the biggest mistake of his career, not unleashing the Ruston Rifle until his senior season.

It's tough to compare across eras, so I think for an all-time team, the narrative has to matter a little. Bert Jones is still the gold standard by which quarterbacks are judged in Tiger Stadium. For some reason, Russell is already slipping from our collective imagination. Russell doesn't have the same place in our hearts that Rohan Davey does. And for me, that's enough to keep Bert Jones on the team. Both were great players, but Jones was a greater legend.

Paul

My argument against Jones is that his numbers don't even stand out in his era. Jones wasn't even top 10 in any national passing category, barely top 20 in most. I love the guy, but how he was voted 4th in the Heisman race is difficult for me to understand. I'm sure if I lived in that era and watched him play, I'd feel differently, but his stats were worse than, say, John Hufnagel, and he finished ranked higher in Heisman voting. 

My point here is that if we're gonna poo poo Jamarcus for not winning a trophy because voters missed on his greatness, that argument has to be applied to all fields and there's plenty of other QBs in 1972 that could make a case for being the Jamarcus to that generation's Troy Smith, Bert Jones. 

Jamarcus Russell was 6th nationally in completion %. 14th in yards. 4th in Y/A. 11th in TDs. 3rd in Efficiency Rating. And if winning is your thing, he captained a team that similarly only lost 2 games, finished 3rd in the AP (better than Jones and his 10th place finish), AND beat Notre Dame.

Jamarcus "slipping from our collective imagination," has as much to do with his failed NFL career and personal demons than anything he did at LSU, which is the basis for which he's being evaluated here. Jamarcus is the best QB in school history

Poseur

Hey, Bert beat Notre Dame, too. They can get together for beers and talk about beating the Irish.

Your point about Hufnagel is well-taken, though he did retire as Penn St's leading passer, but we have to remember this was well before the Nittany Lions were in a conference. As a northeaster independent, they had to cobble together a schedule and didn't exactly play Murderer's Row. Just to put his numbers in context. There's also the fact that contemporaries of the time rated Jones much higher, as reflected in the Heisman voting and in the NFL Draft. The opinions of the people in 1972 have to matter, when they are so over the top in favor of Bert Jones.

However, this really comes down to taste. If you want the big season, you go with Jones. If you value the career a little more, JaMarcus is your man. Jones really is the legendary figure, and that has to be taken into consideration. However, JaMarcus is vastly underrated by modern fans and deserves the validation.

So, we'll split the baby and leave it up to the readers. Have it, y'all. Go vote for LSU's best QB ever. There is no wrong choice.