"I had a lot to learn before I became the leader I am now. It was hard at first to find the characteristics needed to lead an SEC team." —Jordan Jefferson, Quarterback
Taking the field as a starting quarterback in the Southeastern Conference can teach a man quite a bit about himself. For LSU's senior starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson, the last three years of lessons and tests have prepared him for a lengthy final exam: his senior season at the helm for a team widely expected to contend for the 2011 BCS National Championship.
2011 marks Jefferson's fourth and final year as LSU's starting quarterback, and no one has higher expectations for the Tigers play caller than himself. "I have very high expectations for myself, as do my coaches, my teammates, and the fans," said Jefferson. "I've set high goals for this season, and I'm doing everything I can to meet them."
If the 2010 is any indication for 2011, the Tigers have a lot to look forward to, especially from Jefferson. Jefferson can end his career as one of the winningest starting quarterbacks in school history and become the first LSU quarterback to start in four bowl games. Jefferson finished the 2010 season completing 118 of 209 passes, throwing for seven touchdowns. He added seven rushing touchdowns, including an impressive 83-yard scamper to open the game against Tennessee. Jefferson had his most dominant game in the Cotton Bowl against Texas A&M, passing for 158 yards with three passing touchdowns and one rushing score.
Jefferson admits that the three-year ride as LSU's starting quarterback hasn't been easy. "I had a lot to learn before I became the leader I am now," he said. "I was very young when I first became a starter, and it was hard at first to find the characteristics needed to lead an SEC team. I've been through a lot, and I'm taking on the challenge."
Jefferson has proven he is capable of serving as a team leader through his interactions with new offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe and his ability to offer insight as well as accept direction. "Coach Kragthorpe is actually adapting to our system somewhat, learning our playbook," Jefferson said. "At times I have to teach him throughout practice. He has been a great teacher to me. He's taken us under his wing and emphasizes the small things that will really help me be a better quarterback."
Head coach Les Miles has openly praised Jefferson's marked improvement. "Jordan is having an outstanding summer," he said, "the sort of summer he should have. He is showing a lot of leadership. This should be his finest year."
In addition to the veteran leadership provided by Jefferson and others, Miles is particularly enthused about LSU's continued recruiting success. This year's incoming class was ranked No. 6 nationally. "I really like our recruiting class," Miles said. "They are a very talented group."
The Tigers are slated as one of the preseason favorites to reach the BCS National Championship Game at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, but they have a tough road ahead of them. LSU opens the season in front of a national audience at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas against last year's runner-up, Oregon, and later travel to West Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama and Ole Miss. Analysts across the country have tabbed
LSU's road schedule the toughest in the nation.
Perhaps the greatest sign of experience and leadership from Jefferson is what he looks forward to most: playing on the road. "I'm looking forward to playing the difficult road games," he said. "Being in someone else's stadium is fun, and I find it very exciting. You go onto the field and play ten times harder than you normally do."
Miles is less keen on opening the season against Oregon on the road, but he is not any less confident than Jefferson. "I would rather play a home game in Tiger Stadium," he said. "Hopefully we will get everything together in that first game and have it set the tone for the rest of our season."
Still, Miles himself is no slouch when it comes to competitive fire, and even he is amped up to butt heads with SEC rivals this season. "I enjoy competing against all coaches in college football," he said. "There is one coach I'm looking forward to competing against this season. I know who he is, and I want him again."
With Jefferson at quarterback, the Tigers have a solid offense that, coupled with a vaunted defense, comprises a championshipcaliber team. Look for young talent on both sides of the ball to flourish and for the Tigers to win in big games this season. The last two times the BCS National Championship was decided in New Orleans, LSU emerged victorious--an omen, the players will not forget. Jefferson feels there is no reason it can't happen again. "We will have a great season," he said. "We have set our goals, and we are working hard to make sure we do what is needed to finish No. 1."
------------------------------------------------------------------- SEASon PREvIEW
2010 Record: 11-2 (6-2) Cotton Bowl Champions Key victories: North Carolina, West Virginia, Florida, Alabama, Texas A&M Key Losses: Auburn*, Arkansas * Eventual National Champion
On paper, this team has been touted as one of the best in the country; however, LSU has the toughest road schedule in the nation, in addition to playing in the toughest conference in football. LSU must win big in a neutral-site game against Oregon, then on the road in a tough environment in Morgantown against West Virginia. The Tigers also take to the road to battle SEC opponents Mississippi State, Tennessee, Alabama and Ole Miss. The season also features home clashes against tough opponents in Arkansas, Florida and defending national champion Auburn. Conceivably, if LSU emerges from this schedule unscathed, they would be a lock to participate in the BCS National Championship.
LSU returns 16 starters on both sides of the ball this season, and will look to Jefferson for guidance on offense. Look for the LSU defense to remain one of the best in the country with a stout defensive front and Karnell Hatcher, Brandon Taylor, Morris Claiborne and rising star Tyrann Mathieu lurking in the secondary. The team is still young, but if Coach Miles and his staff can maintain balance and manage the tough schedule, look for LSU to remain atop the SEC and the national polls.
LSU hired Kragthorpe to replace the departed Gary Crowton as offensive coordinator. Kragthorpe, who spent 2010 away from football, has head coaching experience at Tulsa and Louisville and looks to bring a pro-style offense to LSU. Jefferson returns for his final season backed up by Jarrett Lee and transfer Zach Mettenberger, who was named the top junior college quarterback in the nation. The addition of Kragthorpe and Mettenberger provide valuable depth to the program. LSU lost power back Stevan Ridley to the NFL Draft, but has great depth at the running back position in Spencer Ware, Alfred Blue and Michael Ford. Russell Sheppard and Reuben Randle return at the receiver slots and bring NFL-caliber speed. The offensive line improved tremendously in 2010, allowing LSU to have one of the best rushing games in the nation. If LSU can improve its passing game, and Jefferson builds on his success from the end of last season, look for the offense to put up big numbers this fall.
While at times the passing offense seemed to be a liability for the Tigers in 2010, the team finished with 11 wins and an impressive passing display by Jefferson in the Cotton Bowl victory over Texas A&M. Jefferson returns for his senior season, and he is poised to finish as one of the winningest starters in school history, as well as the first Tiger to start in four consecutive bowl games. LSU finished No. 102 in the country in passing offense last season, but Jefferson showed in spring practice that he has improved, and he aims to execute his role as the leader on the field. His performance at the Manning Passing Academy has drawn praise from many, including quarterback guru Jon Gruden.
For the first time since Ryan Perrilloux's departure from the squad, LSU enjoys true depth at the quarterback position. Following Jefferson on the depth chart are experienced senior Jarrett Lee and heralded junior college transfer Zach Mettenberger. Lee remains LSU's No. 2 quarterback. Mettenberger drew the loudest cheers from fans at LSU's Spring Game, showing poise and completing long touchdown passes. Miles has stated Jefferson is his man for the job, and signs indicate a potential breakout season for the senior starter, but look for Lee and Mettenberger to be productive in a pinch. "Our young quarter-