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January 31, 2011

Monday with Mike: LSU needs more from QBs

LSU 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.

Hey, who's the new guy?
Here are six other junior college transfers -- listed alphabetically -- who, like Mettenberger, already are enrolled and will be expected to make an impact during spring drills.
Florida State DE Cornellius Carradine (6-5/245), Butler County CC: Carradine led Butler with 119 tackles, including 29 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks. He also had 15 quarterback hurries, five fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles. FSU is losing one starting defensive end, but the other three ends on the two-deep last season were underclassmen. Still, given Carradine's speed off the edge and playmaking ability, figure on him seeing time in the fall. He originally is from Cincinnati Taft.

Oregon DT Jared Ebert (6-5/285), Iowa Western CC: The Ducks lost both starting defensive tackles, and the top backups were redshirt freshmen. Thus, there is going to be playing time available. Ebert has a quick first step and the potential to rack up some sacks from the middle of the line. Ebert is from Iowa City (Iowa) West.

USC OT David Garness (6-5/290), San Francisco City College: The Trojans have lost two of their top three tackles, and Garness will get every opportunity to impress -- and win a starting job -- during spring practice. He originally is from Anchorage (Alaska) Bartlett.

Iowa State QB Steele Jantz (6-3/205), City College of San Francisco: Iowa State is losing four-year starting QB Austen Arnaud, and Jantz is a dual-threat guy who should compete with junior-to-be Jerome Tiller for the job. Jantz played less than two full games as a high school senior at Grass Valley (Calif.) Nevada Union -- Rich Brooks' high school alma mater -- because of an injury. He walked-on at Hawaii, then decided to attend junior college.

Cincinnati S Malcolm Murray (6-1/205), Mt. San Antonio CC: He had 10 interceptions in two JC seasons and should be a welcome addition to a Bearcats secondary looking for playmakers. He had 38 tackles and four picks for Mt. SAC in 2010, when the team finished 13-0. He originally is from Gardena (Calif.) Junipero Serra.

TCU CB Jason Verrett (5-10/180), Santa Rosa JC: The Horned Frogs are losing two of their top thee corners, and Verrett -- who also had an offer from Boise State -- immediately will be in the mix for playing time. He has excellent speed and also was used as a punt returner. He originally is from Fairfield (Calif.) Rodriguez.
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.

Grid bits
That 13 Iowa players were hospitalized after a strenuous offseason workout should make coaches everywhere ashamed. The players suffered from rhabdomyolysis, a stress-induced syndrome that can damage cells and cause kidney problems. We get it: Football is a tough sport. But offseason workouts that cause 13 players to be hospitalized? That is beyond the pale. Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz also should be ashamed for not cutting short a recruiting trip and immediately returning to Iowa City. Instead, he met with the players, then their parents, last Wednesday, two days after they were admitted to the hospital. Too often, coaches such as Ferentz take unnecessary heat when their players do stupid things, such as former Iowa wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos being arrested on drug charges. This is far worse: This is grown men who should know better putting their players in danger. This is the type of situation that really should draw heat.

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 mhuguenin@rivals.com.

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