With one game remaining, it's not time to bury the 2012 LSU football season just yet.
But it's also never too early to begin looking ahead to the future. Keeping that in mind, TSD will run a series over the next two weeks profiling each position grouping and that unit's outlook for the 2013 season.
Today, I'll take part one – quarterback.
Returning Players: Zach Mettenberger (Sr.), Rob Bolden (R-Jr.), Stephen Rivers (R-So.), Jerrard Randall (R-So.)
Added Recruits: Anthony Jennings, Hayden Rettig (both will be freshmen)
Starter: Zach Mettenberger (incumbent)
Darkhorse: Rob Bolden
It almost feels foolish that up through August of 2012 many in the media pegged Zach Mettenberger as a player who could be one-and-done in terms of starter's years at LSU. Hey, I was one of them who at least entertained the discussion – in print and on radio.
But it's clear now that won't be the case. Mettenberger will be back on campus for his senior year, and it will be a mighty big proving year for the player, not only for his future but for LSU's present in 2013. The Tigers suddenly have an offensive line that appears formidable (not young and inexperienced) heading into next season. Couple that with a full backfield and what looks to be an improved receiving corps, and the pieces are in place for Mett to improve on his 2012 campaign.
He'll be at the forefront of a quarterback grouping which could feature as many as six, but probably five, scholarship players. I've included Jerrard Randall's name on the "returning players" list for now, but I think it's easy to imagine him taking off for greener pastures, particularly with two true freshmen coming into the fold. Les Miles may want to avoid getting burned at the position after past letdowns, but six is a ridiculous number, especially in the grand scheme of having to maintain 85 total on the roster.
Here's the statistical book on Mettenberger in 2012 entering bowl season: 193-of-329 passing for 2,489 yards, 11 touchdowns and six interceptions. Breaking it down a bit farther, he led LSU to 207.3 yards passing per game. That wasn't very good nationally (91st) or in the SEC (11th), but it was a fairly big leap from a year ago when the Tigers passed for only 152.5 yards per game.
Even more important, though, is that the coaching staff trusted Mettenberger more than the duo from 2011. The Watkinsville, Ga., native attempted 27.4 passes per game during the regular season. Last season, between Jordan Jefferson, Jarrett Lee and a sparse sprinkling of Mettenberger, LSU averaged 19.9 pass attempts per game.
Should that progression continue into 2013 – and there's no reason to think it won't with better receivers set to take the field – the Tigers should feature their most balanced offense in more than a half decade.
Where Mettenberger will have to improve the most is in pocket awareness. No. 8 had mounds and mounds of trouble throughout the season detecting the rush (be in up the middle or from the corner), knowing when to step up in the pocket and knowing when to get rid of the football. He took 26 sacks in 2012, ranking LSU eighth in the conference in sacks allowed. A year ago the Tigers were tops in the SEC, letting up only 18 sacks (in 14 total games).
As for who backs up Mettenberer, that will be one of the big questions going into 2013. Mett was pretty darn reliable in 2012, but in this league, you never know when the big hit will come that changes your season.
Stephen Rivers was listed as the No. 2 guy all year in his redshirt freshman season, and there's no reason to think that won't happen again in 2013. A lot will depend on how things go in spring ball, especially given the fact that Rivers only attempted two passes in 2012 (for reference sake, running Spencer Ware attempted one). One of Rivers' attempts came in the second half of the Ole Miss game when Mettenberger was briefly out, so he did at least have a very small taste of SEC action.
Aside from that, though, the LSU staff put absolutely zero emphasis on getting Rivers ready for the future. Time will tell if that comes back to haunt the Tigers. The player has continued to add weight onto his 6-7 frame and, in my opinion, looks in good position to take over as the team's starter in 2014, his redshirt junior season.
His primary competition for the backup spot in 2013 will be Penn State transfer Rob Bolden. Bolden, who never took a redshirt in Happy Valley, did this season and will have two years left of remaining eligibility. There have been rumors out there (repeat: rumors, nothing confirmed) that Bolden tore his ACL during practice sometime this fall. He hasn't dressed out the past couple of weeks, something that would seemingly corroborate some type of injury, but we'll have to see what his status is. Should he be unable to go in the spring, it would certainly give Rivers even more of a leg up.
But, you will notice I have Bolden listed as the "darkhorse" this coming season. It's not that I think he'll challenge Mettenberger as the starter (or that I think he's a better future prospect than Rivers), but I do expect Miles will occasionally turn to Bolden in 2013 to add a running element given the player's healthy. There will no longer be an option to redshirt him, so letting him rot on the bench serves no purpose. Miles likes to have a running option under center and, with the likelihood of no Spencer Ware next season (more on that tomorrow), Bolden is the obvious answer. I expect he'll add at least some value to next year's offense.
After that, there are the two talented true freshmen coming on board in Anthony Jennings (Ga.) and Hayden Rettig (Ca.). With so many tenured options ahead of them, it's hard for me to envision either playing in 2013. They would have to really stand out in the spring. But, the sheer fact that both are expected to be around for spring ball as early enrollees is great news for LSU fans. The more offense and chemistry these two guys can soak up for the future, the better.
2013 Position Preview: Quarterback
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