It has been five years since LSU entered a season with a starter at quarterback that was agreed upon by coaches, fans, and the entire LSU community. Fortunately, that looks to be the case heading into 2012.
Junior Zach Mettenberger takes over after the departure of Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson, and fans are ready to move on from the four-year debate. Mettenberger looks to have NFL talent, but he still lacks experience and must prove himself on the field. A successful spring will be one where Mettenberger gets tons of reps, earns the trust of his coaches, and develops as a leader. By organizing offseason work out sessions with LSU's wide receivers, he is already on the right path
With Mettenberger behind center, I expect LSU's offense to look awfully similar to the one we saw for the first eight games of 2011 when Jarrett Lee was the starter. You'll see more traditional pro-style formations and will not see any zone-read or outside option plays. However, I think LSU will utilize a few more three and four receiver sets and a few less one receiver sets. A year ago, LSU was content to keep pounding the ball in the running game...even against eight and nine man fronts from the defense. Early in 2012, I think you'll see more of the same. But once the coaches develop a bit of trust in Mettenberger, I believe LSU will start really making teams pay for stacking the box. While he may start off the season as a "game manager" type, I beileve his role will grow and that LSU will have some true balance on offense for the first time in a long time. If so, LSU's running game could be even more effective than it was in 2011 which is a scary thought.
Behind Mettenberger, a pair of redshirt freshmen will compete for the backup job. Stephen Rivers is a similar style quarterback to Mettenberger. He's a tall pocket passer that is best suited for a more pro style approach. Assuming LSU's offense is geared for Mettenberger's skills, it would make sense that Rivers fill the top backup role. Jerrard Randall is more of a dual-threat guy and can make some big plays with his feet. Randall has a very big arm but reportedly still needs to improve on his accuracy.
As we all know, Les Miles has always had an affinity for dual threat quarterbacks. Even in 2007, Miles would bring in Ryan Perriloux to run some option stuff just to keep the defense off balance. So will Miles devise a package of plays for Jerrard Randall to run this season? That's something to watch. Keep in mind that in the early part of 2011, LSU kept things simple with Jarrett Lee and did not have any kind of "Wildcat" package, that is...until Jordan Jefferson returned.
Many speculated that Jerrard Randall would be switching positions, possibly to wide receiver. Some photos of bowl practice from the Superdome surfaced where Randall was not wearing the traditional green no-contact jersey that the quarterbacks typically wear. So many assumed he had been moved. Remember at the time, LSU was counting on Gunner Kiel to be on campus for spring practice. So whether Randall was moved or not, I suspect that he'll be at quarterback this spring if for no other reason than they need arms to operate practice.
Walk-on Jared Foster has decided to concentrate on baseball full-time this spring, so he will not be with the team. That provides even more justification for Randall to be at quarterback. A team simply cannot go through spring ball with only two quarterbacks. At least I don't think they can.
All in all, LSU fans expect MUCH better play from the quarterback position in 2012. Most believed that Mettenberger was the most talented quarterback on the team last year. However, he was the new guy and probably not quite mature enough or experienced enough to lead the 2011 team...especially with the first game being on a national stage in Dallas, TX. The only weakness on LSU's 2011 team was the quarterback position. If that becomes a strength, then expectations will soar.
1.) Can Mettenberger develop as a leader and earn the coaches' trust?
2.) Who will win the backup job?
3.) Will Miles implement a series of plays for Jerrard Randall?
There's no question Mett is a baller and he has the ability. So you're right, the big question is can he win over his teammates, the coaches, and become a field general/leader? That's what we'll separate him from being either A. an up and down quarterback with amazing ability or B. a superstar college football player.