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January 31, 2011LSU is at or near the top of almost every preseason poll for the 2011 season.
The Tigers return 15 starters from a team that finished 11-2 in 2010, including an impressive Cotton Bowl beatdown of a Texas A&M team that came in with a six-game winning streak.
One of the stars of that Cotton Bowl was quarterback Jordan Jefferson, who threw three TD passes in the 41-24 victory. Jefferson will be a senior in the fall and entering his third full season as the starter.
A three-year starter in the SEC should be a cause for celebration. Instead, Jefferson is perhaps the biggest question mark on the team.
His three-TD performance in the Cotton Bowl was an anomaly, as he threw just seven TD passes all season to go with 10 interceptions. Instead of growing into the job after a so-so sophomore season, Jefferson regressed.
He threw for 2,166 yards, with 17 TDs and seven interceptions, as LSU went 9-4 in 2009. That was his first full season as the starter, and the obvious assumption was he would build on that. Instead, he threw for 1,411 yards in 2010. He had just one 200-yard game, against Ole Miss, and seven games in which he threw for fewer than 100 yards -- which means, frankly, it's incredible that LSU was able to win 11 games with a passing offense that ineffective.
That's where Zach Mettenberger comes in. He's a 6-foot-5, 245-pound quarterback from Butler County CC in El Dorado, Kan., who already has signed with the Tigers and will go through spring practice. Mettenberger, who began his career at Georgia in the same signing class as Aaron Murray, is the highest-ranked JC quarterback in the nation.
LSU certainly wouldn't mind if he had the same type of impact as the No. 1 JC quarterback in the nation in 2010. That, of course, was Cameron Newton, who also began his career at an SEC East school (Florida) before moving on to a JC and signing with an SEC West school. In addition, Mettenberger, like Newton, had off-field trouble, and that played a role in his leaving Georgia, just like Newton at Florida.
But Mettenberger is not going to have the same type of impact as Newton. For one, he is a drop-back passer, not a spread-option guy like Newton. Second, he's not nearly as athletic as Newton.
On the other hand, LSU doesn't need Mettenberger to make that kind of impact. LSU's defense in 2011 will be far better than Auburn's was in 2010, and LSU also has better skill-position players than Auburn.
What LSU needs is a competent quarterback, something Jefferson wasn't able to be for much of 2010. LSU ran the ball well in 2010 (185.7 yards per game), but the passing attack was abysmal (155.6 ypg, 107th nationally).
Earlier this month, LSU coach Les Miles told reporters that the Tigers "want to come out and throw the football. We want to throw it more efficiently. And we want to throw it more times."
While Jefferson is a dual-threat quarterback, throwing the ball is Mettenberger's strength. He threw for 2,678 yards, with 32 TDs and just four picks, for Butler County, which finished 11-1.
Miles said improving the passing attack was key when he hired a new offensive coordinator after Gary Crowton left for the same job at Maryland. Miles turned to former Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe to rev up the attack. While Kragthorpe flopped at Louisville, he has coached in the NFL and oversaw some potent offenses while coach at Tulsa.
"I have to have a fundamental quarterback coach," Miles told reporters when discussing Kragthorpe's hiring. "A guy who can take a quarterback and say, 'Let's talk about your footwork, let's talk about your eyes, let's talk about where your hand [is], your footwork, throwing motion, where your shoulders are' ... all those things."
Miles also hinted that LSU's quarterbacks were thinking too much and not just reacting.
"I felt he could short cut some of the elaborate thought process that was going on, make our guys quicker decision-makers," Miles said of Kragthorpe. "Being a quick decision-maker means the ball comes out of your hand in a timely fashion, which limits your sacks and gives you the best opportunity at a completion."
LSU begins spring practice March 11, and the renewed emphasis on the passing attack would seem to be beneficial to Mettenberger's chances to start. A new starting quarterback wouldn't necessarily be a detriment to LSU. After all, the past two national champions were SEC West teams with first-time starters at quarterback.
The BCS paid out almost $170 million, a record, from this past season's games. The five non-Big Six leagues received a record $24.7 million. Praise or scorn the BCS all you want, that's fine. Just don't buy into part of what the group Playoff PAC, a political action committee that wants a playoff, is selling. Matthew Sanderson, the founder of Playoff PAC, told The Associated Press that the "the imbalance is unconscionable, given that it has no basis in postseason performance on the field and in the marketplace." The marketplace? Is he serious? Yeah, I guess the only reason the SEC and the WAC aren't equal is that there isn't a playoff.
Groundbreaking ceremonies were held last Tuesday for the start of a three-year, $152-million renovation of the Rose Bowl. The renovations with not affect UCLA, which plays its home games at the stadium, or the annual Rose Bowl game.
The Iron Bowl is going back to a Saturday game for at least the next two seasons. Alabama and Auburn will meet on Nov. 26 this fall and Nov. 24 in 2012. Meanwhile, the Arkansas-LSU game will move back to the Friday after Thanksgiving for at least the next two seasons: Nov. 25 this fall and Nov. 23 in 2012.
Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.