Note: This preview appears in the Friday, Nov. 8 newspaper on Page A7.
Out of all the college football players in the country — from the Big Ten to the smallest D-III league — no single player has had more words written about them in 2019 that LSU fifth-year quarterback Joe Burrow.
Do a google search on Burrow, and you’ll find library’s worth of stories. The topics run the full gamut, from the mundane to the extraordinarily long, from the funny things he says and does to 5,000 words that try to explain his meteoric rise this fall.
The thread throughout most of the Burrow coverage this season has been a simple one. As apparently surprising as Burrow’s success this season has been, it’s been nothing but expected for the quarterback himself.
And football fans in Athens County and all of southeastern Ohio fall in the same boat. For most in these parts, it was never a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’ Burrow was going to hit it big.
Here at The Athens Messenger, we know this as well as most. We’ve covered Joe Burrow for 10 years. And we’re going to cover him now as he tries to finish 2019 as the best player in college football.
Every week, check back here for another story about Burrow — what he’s facing in a given week, the impact his transfer has had on his family, how he continues to affect his home town, and what those who knew him then (and now) think now that he’s a house-hold name.
From his first start as a varsity quarterback at Athens High School, to a heart-breaking title loss in his final game with the Bulldogs, to his signing day with Ohio State, and his spring camp battles for playing with the Buckeyes, we’ve been there to cover The Plains’ favorite son.
And now that he’s chasing a national title with LSU, and the Heisman Trophy, we’ll do our best to give a view into how Burrow continues to remain football focal point here in Athens County.
And this is a fitting time to jump into checking back in with Joe Burrow. He and the Tigers face Alabama in a mammoth matchup Saturday (3:30 p.m., CBS). LSU enters the weekend ranked No. 1 by the AP, and No. 2 in the first College Football Playoff rankings, and Alabama is No. 2 and No. 3 respectively. Both teams are 8-0.
It’s not hyperbolic to say Burrow’s entire football career has led to this moment. It’s a huge pressure spot for he and the Tigers, as they try to end an eight-game losing skid to the bullies on the block in the SEC.
And Burrow is playing as well as he ever has, at any level. Burrow leads the nation with an unreal 78.8 percent completion percentage, and is doing that with throws down the field — not check downs. He’s thrown for 2,805 yards and already has a school-record 30 touchdown passes on the season.
LSU’s offense, under guidance from Burrow and new LSU passing game coordinator Joe Brady, has entered the modern age with spread formations, daring downfield attacks and more than 40 points a game.
Burrow has flourished. He was good in 2018 — after the OSU transfer and as a first-year starter — with 2,894 passing yards and 16 touchdowns. He led LSU to a 10-3 record and a Tiger record four wins against Top 10 teams last season.
But this year, he’s been otherworldly. He’s been, well, like Joe Burrow from 2014.
Then, Nathan White was orchestrating the offense at Athens High School. Burrow was the catalyst in the offense that featured talent across the board, and finished the year with an OSHAA record 861 points in 15 games (57.4 per game).
Out of all the words written this fall about Burrow’s emergence and LSU’s ascendancy, it’s White — now the Athens High School head coach — who explains it most succinctly.
Do you want to know why LSU has turned the corner offensively?
“They decided to let Joe be Joe,” White said last month. “We all knew it was there. We all knew the capabilities.
“And they’ve unleashed that this year.”
And the football world has noticed. Burrow’s stock in the NFL Draft has shot through the roof, and there are now projections that have him going No. 1 in the NFL Draft next spring. Burrow has become the betting favorite to win the 2019 Heisman Award.
Even President Donald Trump will be in Tuscaloosa on Saturday to check out the game. He name-dropped Burrow this week.
It’s heady times for a kid from The Plains.
“Regardless of your political views, that’s pretty cool, having the president at your game,” Burrow told reporters Monday. “The president at the game is pretty cool.”
Burrow’s father, Jimmy, was in Athens on Wednesday to see his own former team — the Ohio Bobcats — face Miami in a rivalry game at Peden Stadium. He gave up his own career to spend this season watching Burrow play.
And now the game of the year in college football is up next. Jimmy Burrow said Joe is locked in on the task at hand. There’s been little speculation in the family so far about what happens next.
All that matters is Saturday. It’s precisely the kind of game that Joe has thrived in as a player. Only this time, seemingly the whole world will be watching.
“This is why you transfer, to get a chance to play in these kinds of games,” Jimmy Burrow said Wednesday. “He’ll be ready.”