Why didn’t Joe Burrow start at Ohio State? Revisiting his transfer to LSU
Joe Burrow’s bright future in the NFL continues Sunday.
The second-year quarterback leads the Cincinnati Bengals into a Super Bowl 56 matchup against the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium. While that NFL career promises to be prolific, Burrow’s college career continues to be a debate topic.
Burrow transferred from Ohio State to LSU after graduating in 2018, and the quarterback maintains relationships with both schools to this day.
“I’m definitely still a Buckeye,” Burrow said in a press conference on Feb. 3. “I graduated from there. I still have relationships to this day that I wouldn’t have without being there.”
Of course, Burrow was wearing a LSU hoodie at the time. So, why didn’t Burrow start at Ohio State? Sporting News revisits Burrow’s relationship with both schools.
Burrow was Ohio’s Mr. Football
Burrow’s prolific career at Athens High School, where he threw 63 TDs and two interceptions as a senior in leading the Bulldogs to the Ohio Division III state championship game, is well-documented now.
Burrow won the Mr. Football Award in 2014, and the four-star recruit became the first quarterback who won that award to choose Ohio State since Bobby Hoying in 1990. Burrow was the close-to-home hero, but he sat behind Ohio State record-setting quarterback J.T. Barrett for three seasons.
Still, Burrow had to work his way up the Buckeyes’ depth chart.
“I really wasn’t very good coming into college,” Burrow said at his Super Bowl virtual availability Monday. “I knew that I was going to have to get better. I came from a really small school in high school and it was kind of a culture shock when I got to Ohio State and realized how good everybody was.”
Burrow developed a reputation as a solid player. Ohio State running back Mike Weber even made a bold prediction before the 2017 season, one that is getting retweeted this week:
Joe Burrow is the Next Tom Brady and y’all don’t even know it 🤦🏾♂️
— Mike Weber (@mikeweberjr) February 6, 2017
A broken hand changed OSU’s backup plan
Burrow was the backup quarterback in 2017, but he suffered a broken hand at practice in late August. That opened the door for Dwayne Haskins to be the primary backup, and he took advantage of J.T. Barrett’s knee injury during the Michigan game that season.
Haskins finished 6 of 7 passing for 94 yards in a 31-20 victory against the Wolverines, and that gave him the lead in a three-way race with Burrow and freshman Tate Martell to start the 2018 season.
Burrow showed out at spring game
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer still made the QB race a three-way competition, but Burrow was presumed to be the graduate transfer before spring football even started.
“For about a year I would get all these tweets,” Burrow said the week before the 2018 Ohio State spring game. “‘Where are you going? Are you going to transfer? You never play.’ I see them. I don’t say anything, but I see them.”
Burrow finished 15 of 22 for 238 yards and two TDs at that spring game, and his last pass in Ohio Stadium was a 42-yard TD to Demario McCall on the last play of the game. Haskins finished 9 of 19 for 120 yards and two TDs in the same game, and Burrow gave a matter-of-fact response in the postgame press conference about his take on the QB race.
“Well I came here to play,” Burrow said. “I didn’t come here to sit on the bench for four years. I know I’m a pretty good quarterback. I want to play somewhere.”
Meyer never officially named Haskins the starter, but the combination of the Michigan game and his live arm made it clear how the race would go.
Burrow graduated from Ohio State on May 6, 2018. Two weeks later, he transferred to LSU.
Burrow’s first season at LSU was rough
Haskins passed for 4,831 yards, 50 TDs and eight interceptions for the Buckeyes in 2018. Ohio State finished 13-1, and Haskins finished third in the Heisman voting.
It looked like a no-brainer considering Burrow’s growing pains in his first year at LSU. Burrow finished with 2,894 yards, 16 TDs and five interceptions in more of a game-manager role, and the Tigers finished 10-3.
Burrow, however, had a turning point in the Fiesta Bowl victory against UCF. Burrow threw a pick six early in the game that gave the Knights a 14-3 lead, and he was knocked down on the play.
Here’s the hit #UCF dee lineman Joey Connors put on #LSU QB Joe Burrow during Pick Six. pic.twitter.com/ulXIgkkLTs
— Mike Bianchi (@BianchiWrites) January 1, 2019
After that, Burrow dominated. He finished with 394 passing yards and four TDs, and the Tigers ended UCF’s undefeated run in a 40-32 shootout. Burrow had another season of eligibility left, too.
Joe Brady was a game-changer
LSU coach Ed Orgeron was on the hot seat heading into 2019, but he hired Saints passing game coordinator Joe Brady to run the offense.
Burrow, who idolized Drew Brees as a kid, fit right in the new scheme. The rest is history.
LSU averaged 48.4 points per game. Burrow passed for 5,671 yards, 60 TDs and six interceptions. He lit up Alabama in a No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown in the regular season and won the Heisman Trophy.
Burrow then continued a record-setting season in the CFP with 1,035 yards of total offense in victories against Oklahoma and Clemson.
That was enough for Cincinnati to take Burrow with the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, and that’s where the comparisons with Haskins have started again.
NFL careers have heated up debate
Haskins was taken by Washington with the No. 15 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, but his pro career has yet to get on track. He was 3-10 as a starter over two seasons and released shortly after an incident where he was fined for breaking COVID-19 protocols.
Haskins was a backup quarterback for Pittsburgh this season and did not take a snap in the regular season.
Burrow, meanwhile, bounced back from a severe knee injury in his rookie season to lead the Bengals to Super Bowl 56. Burrow passed for 4,611 yards, 34 TDs and 14 interceptions and led the NFL with a 70.4% completion percentage.
Burrow could become the first quarterback to win a Heisman Trophy, national championship and Super Bowl, and he’s done it in two years.
That has rekindled the Ohio State-LSU debate among those fanbases.
Burrow will tell you – he’s a Buckeye and a Tiger
Burrow talked about the lessons he learned from the time as a backup at Ohio State during his media availability Monday.
“At Ohio State, I was still confident but not as confident but maybe not as confident as I had been in the past and would have been in the future,” Burrow said. “I wasn’t playing, and those are times when you really learn a lot about yourself as a player and person and keeping confidence in those situations is tough.
“I knew I wasn’t going to play early, but I worked really hard and they helped develop me into the player I am today,” Burrow said. “I owe Ohio State quite a bit.”
So it is fair for Ohio State fans to celebrate that work, with the understanding that Burrow himself points to LSU as the place that launched his NFL career. In this discussion, the Tigers must come first now.
“Coach O gave me the opportunity to continue to build my skills and show them off to the world,” Burrow said. “I owe Coach O my whole career. Without him and without LSU I wouldn’t be sitting here today.”