- Dan Murphy, ESPN Staff Writer
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Earlier this week a player who lost his starting job on the Big Ten’s worst team decided he’d have a better chance of finding playing time on an SEC West contender sure to be ranked in the Top 25 when the season begins this September. Have the scales really shifted that dramatically in the past year?
Well, no, of course not. So how to explain former Purdue quarterback Danny Etling seemingly falling upward into a future quarterback competition at LSU this week? There are a few ways.
Etling has long had a relationship with LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, who grew up in the same Indiana town as the rising junior and has mentored him for several years. The Tigers, as rich in talent as they are, have struggled to find a quarterback who consistently performs on par with the rest of the roster. And Etling, a former four-star recruit, showed some promise while starting 12 games for the woeful Boilermakers offense during his first two years in college.
As a freshman, Etling took over the offense midway through Darrell Hazell’s first season as head coach. He threw 10 touchdown passes and averaged more than 200 passing yards per game. The following year he threw six touchdowns and five interceptions while struggling to find his rhythm as a natural pocket passer in Purdue’s offense. He lost his job after going 2-3 in the first five games, and didn’t take another snap all year.
Sixteen touchdown passes in 12 games isn’t a bad stat line for an offense that struggled mightily around Etling. Yet he could do nothing to unseat his replacement, redshirt junior Austin Appleby, which speaks to the surprising strength of depth at quarterback in West Lafayette.
The “Cradle of Quarterbacks” remains strong despite Purdue’s lack of success in recent history. Among the three scholarship players that remain after Etling’s departure, two are former Elite 11 finalists (Appleby and redshirt freshman David Blough) and incoming freshman Elijah Sindelar was a four-star prospect who could join the competition for playing time in August.
The top-rated recruit in each of Purdue’s last three classes has been a quarterback, but the position remains a strange enigma for a school that has fallen behind its Big Ten counterparts in the talent acquisition side of the game. Quarterbacks are normally the pied pipers of good recruiting classes -- get a good one, and better players at each position line up to play with him. That hasn’t been the case at Purdue. Other than quarterbacks, the Boilermakers haven’t signed a single four-star prospect in three years.
Outside of Columbus, there aren’t many Big Ten schools that have that level of high school bona fides in their quarterback room. That hasn’t helped much on the field where the Boilermakers ranked 103rd in passing offense and 98th in scoring last year. In a game where a good quarterback increasingly can make all the difference, good quarterbacks haven’t made a significant dent in Purdue’s problems. Part of that has to do with development, and part has to do with the 10 other guys on the field.
It’s a credit to Hazell and offensive coordinator John Shoop that they find a way to keep attracting top-notch signal-callers despite the school’s poor record in recent years. That streak can’t last forever. Soon, they need to start capitalizing on that unexpected resource with some success on the field.