Posted by Jerry Hinnen
There's an argument to be made -- and you don't even have to break a sweat to make it -- that no single position in the SEC has had a greater negative impact over the past two seasons than quarterback at LSU .
In 2009, under new defensive coordinator John Chavis , the Bayou Bengals finished a strong 26th in the country in total defense and allowed the third-fewest points in the SEC; unfortunately, Jordan Jefferson finished eighth in the league in passing yards per-game and took enough sacks to place LSU 103rd in that category, and LSU lost four games in which their opponents scored 13, 24, 25, and 19 points, respectively. Chavis's unit has been even better in 2010, finishing eighth in the FBS in total D and ninth in scoring defense . It's a good thing, too; with Jefferson and Jarrett Lee combining for a dead-last finish in the SEC in passing and a next-to-last finish in QB rating, the Tigers managed to win games with scoring totals of 20, 16, and 24 points. The Tigers also lost when they scored only 17 points against Auburn's eminently flammable defense. It's fair to say that with competent-to-good quarterbacking, LSU is looking at at least back-to-back BCS bowl appearances, possibly an SEC title one year or the other, maybe even another national title game berth.
Which is why that even amongst the coaching hiring-and-firing-and-retiring mania, the news this week that JUCO quarterback Zach Mettenberger has elected to play for Les Miles and Co. shouldn't fly under the radar. Mettenberger was a consensus four-star recruit coming out of Watkinsville, Ga., and proved his bona fides as one of the top pro-style quarterbacks in his class by battling Aaron Murray tooth-and-nail for first the Georgia backup quarterback's job in spring 2009 and then the starter's position this past spring. After being booted from the Bulldog roster (more on this in a moment), he landed at Butler County (Kan.) Community College and went 176-of-299 for 2,678 yards this fall with an impressive 32-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Mettenberger will arrive at LSU with more than a little baggage, earning his ticket out of Athens by pleading guilty to two counts of misdemeanor sexual battery following an incident at a Remerton (Ga.) bar, as well as a host of other minor offenses. But time and a JUCO stint often heals all wounds in the SEC -- just ask Cam Newton -- and at 6'5", 250 pounds, with Mettenberger's pro-grade arm, he'll arrive at Baton Rouge with a real chance at winning the starting job as soon as next season. Mettenberger cited Miles's immediate interest as one reason he chose the Tigers over Alabama, Arkansas, and others; that LSU pursued him as fervently as they did should say something about confident they are in his potential to start from Day 1.
Even if Mettenberger has to wait one season for his turn, both Jefferson and Lee are seniors. He'll get his shot eventually, and that's reason enough for the SEC to worry; given Murray's stunning first year at Georgia, Mettenberger's huge year at Butler, and his recruiting profile, the odds are very good that Mettenberger will be a quality SEC starter, and pairing a quality SEC starter at QB with Chavis's defense (not to mention the wealth of talent across the rest of the offensive board) could easily put LSU back on top of the SEC West.
In short, LSU's biggest Achilles heel these past two seasons may have been healed. Given how good they've been anyway, Mettenberger's commitment could prove to be a turning point -- not only for the Tigers, but for the entire SEC West. And if you don't think one JUCO quarterback can have that kind of impact, we'd ask you to take it up with Mr. Newton.