At LSU, especially during the John Chavis tenure, it's been no laughing matter to suggest a defensive player merits consideration as the team's best overall player and, at times, for a seat in New York as one of the country's best overall players. After all Tyrann Mathieu did make that trip in 2011, finishing fifth in Heisman voting, and fellow DB Patrick Peterson was on a different stratosphere as well with his play in 2010.
But this fall, the first under offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, it was clear the other side of the ball carried the Tigers to a 9-3 regular season.
With that in mind, and because no individual defender matched the production and impact that the following four offensive players had, here are my four finalists for the 2013 LSU Heisman. I'll list them in alphabetical order, lay out the case for each and then give my final vote below at the bottom of this story.
Junior WR Odell Beckham
The Isidore Newman product has quite simply upped his game every year he's been in purple and gold, particularly as a pass-catcher. As a freshman Beckham caught 41 passes for 475 yards (11.6 yards per reception) and two scores. He snared 43 passes for 713 yards (16.6 ypr) and two touchdowns as a sophomore. In 2013 Beckham caught 57 balls for 1,117 yards (19.6 ypr) and eight touchdowns. He's been LSU's deep threat for two years running and, this season, ranks 11th nationwide and third in the SEC in yards per reception.
As for the ‘others' in this wide receiver's bag: Beckham rushed the ball five times for 58 yards (finishing as the Tigers' fifth-leading rusher, ahead of Anthony Jennings, J.C. Copeland and Connor Neighbors); he returned 14 punts for 141 yards (10.1 yard average); he returned 30 kickoffs for 806 yards (26.9 yard average); and he brought one missed field goal back (officially) 100 yards for a score. Beckham really did do it all, expect play defense.
Sophomore RB Jeremy Hill
Still, despite the turmoil and off-the-field matters, Hill ended the regular season with 175 carries for 1,185 yards (6.8 yards per carry) and 14 rushing touchdowns in 11 games played. That's good enough to rank him second in the SEC in rushing yards, behind only Auburn's Tre Mason and ahead of the likes of Alabama's T.J. Yeldon, South Carolina's Mike Davis and Arkansas' Alex Collins, all backs that have gotten plenty of love from pundits nationwide in recent months.
The leap was certainly there for Hill, too, considering he averaged only 5.3 yards per carry as a freshman. He also made an impact in the passing game, finishing as LSU's third leading receiver with 18 catches for 181 yards. The sample size may not have been as big as expected, but Hill produced at a high rate when given opportunities.
Junior WR Jarvis Landry
The junior from Lutcher hauled in 75 passes for 1,172 yards (15.6 ypr) and 10 touchdowns, also giving him an average of 97.7 yards per game receiving. Some historical perspective for those numbers: Landry's 75 receptions are the most for the program since Michael Clayton caught 78 passes in 2003; his 10 touchdown grabs are the most since Brandon LaFell's 11 in 2009; and his 1,172 yards are the most since Josh Reed won the Biletnikoff Award in 2001 with a mind-numbing 1,740 yards.
So Landry wasn't just good, but historically good, when it comes to how his season stacks up in recent Tiger lore. What will be remembered most, though, about Landry's year are his unparalleled hands, making 5-10 grabs that dropped jaws across America, and his ability to eke out first downs over the middle of the field seemingly every time the Tigers needed it. LSU finished the regular season converting on 58.6% of its third downs, tops in the NCAA. Landry was a really big part of the reason why.
Senior QB Zach Mettenberger
In 2013, his senior season, Mettenberger threw for 3,082 yards on 192-of-296 attempts (64.9%) with 22 touchdowns and eight interceptions in 12 games. His QB efficiency rating was 171.4. Mettenberger threw less but was more accurate when he did pass and hit for larger chunks of yards per completion (16.1 yards this season to 12.6 yards last fall). He also had arguably his biggest game in a narrow defeat for LSU in a shootout in Athens, another reminder that the team's shortcomings this season weren't under center.
Under the tutelage of Cameron and with a year of experience coming into 2013, Mettenberger did so many things better at the position. His pocket presence improved ten-fold, sensing trouble, getting the ball out quicker, reading defenses better and flashing better overall mobility within the pocket. Mettenberger also showed more trust in his receivers, something Beckham and Landry more often than not repaid. His college career has come to an end with a knee injury suffered against Arkansas, but Mettenberger has positioned himself to extend his days at quarterback in the NFL much farther than it appeared he would last season. Perhaps that says all you need to know about how good he was in 2013.
MY FINAL VOTE
1. Jarvis Landry
2. Zach Mettenberger
3. Odell Beckham
4. Jeremy Hill
Who do you think was the LSU Heisman winner in 2013?