Ask any coach about the importance of the quarterback position and he is quick to throw out a tired cliché about quarterbacks getting too much credit and blame.
They will tell you there are 11 guys on the field at all times and each one of them must work together for the team to win.
Coaches know a lot about football. They also know about deflecting pressure from the most important pressure on the field.
How important is the quarterback position? Ask Texas A&M what Johnny Manziel meant to the team in 2012. Ask Auburn about Cam Newton’s worth in 2010. Ask Ohio State after Urban Meyer got a chance to turn around QB Braxton Miller in 2012.
A quarterback might not be everything, but a good one can mask a number of different deficiencies – be it a porous defense, a non-existent run game or erratic special teams.
Teams without a solid quarterback need virtually every other facet of the game to click in order to overcome poor play from the most important position.
This list is designed to spotlight 15 quarterbacks whose play will dictate their teams’ fates. With two exceptions, this list is made up exclusively of established QBs who have been starters for at least half a season.
The carefully chosen term “pivotal” is key here. This is to spotlight teams that could have significant swings based on the position. Players like Manziel and Miller are proven commodities at this point. Florida State has enough surrounding its yet-to-be-named starter – presumably Jameis Winston – to repeat as ACC champ even without great play from the position. Those appearing on this list are opined to have a wider swing.
Today marks the first edition of a 15-part series.
14. Zach Mettenberger, LSU
Remember how excited LSU fans were even as they made a run to the BCS National Championship Game with Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee?
They couldn’t wait.
Why? Because of next year, when Mettenberger – a junior college transfer who initially attended Georgia – would provide a dynamic threat in the passing game.
LSU fans had already seen what a difference a QB infusion could make, courtesy of Auburn and Cam Newton the year before.
Like Newton, off-the-field problems, and not competition, led to Mettenberger’s departure from an SEC school. Like Newton, Mettenberger rehabbed his game and image at a JUCO for a year before coming back to the league.
Unlike Newton, Mettenberger provided a roller coaster of emotions and expectations for fans en route to LSU’s 10-3 season.
Nobody questions Mettenberger’s strong arm, rather his accuracy and his mental toughness. There is also little doubt that a big step forward from Mettenberger could lift the Tigers to their third BCS national championship.
Ironically, some of Mettenberger’s worst performances came in wins and some of his best performances came in losses. Take, for interest, his effort against eventual national champ Alabama. Mettenberger completed 24 of 35 passes for 298 yards – a season-high – with one TD and no INTs.
Conversely, Mettenberger played poorly at hapless Auburn, where he completed just 56 percent of his passes for 169 yards. LSU scored one first-quarter TD – on a Michael Ford rush – and Mettenberger led just one more scoring drive against one of the league’s worst defenses.
The offense also stalled against Division I-AA Towson, which actually led LSU at halftime at Tiger Stadium.
Mettenberger’s season stats are hardly awe-inspiring. He completed just 59 percent of his passes and threw for 12 TDs while getting intercepted seven times. He also lost three fumbles and took 32 sacks.
Of the stats, the sacks taken might be the most problematic. With LSU’s powerful run game, putting the Tigers in long-yardage situations is a big mistake and one coaches would hope would be corrected well before a QB1 averages taking nearly three sacks per game.
Mettenberger deserves to be defended, though. His receivers consistently let him down, committing costly drop after costly drop. LSU also had to reshuffle the offensive line a couple times after losing starters, including star tackle Chris Faulk early in the season.
Still, Mettenberger’s consistency must improve in 2013 if the Tigers want to rejoin the national title picture.
The lasting image of Mettenberger’s first season as the starter came in a Chick-fil-A Bowl loss to Clemson. He completed 14 of 23 passes in the loss, but just for 120 yards.
Moreover, coach Les Miles gave Mettenberger a chance to ice the win against Clemson. LSU led 24-22 when it opened its final possession with 2:47 to play. Instead of lining up and running right at Clemson, LSU put the game on Mettenberger’s right arm. He completed his first pass before throwing a pair of incompletions, including a short-hop toward an open Jarvis Landry on third down.
LSU punted, Clemson drove the field and kicked the game-winning field goal.
On defense, LSU took a severe hit during the NFL Draft, losing seven starters and a potential return from CB Tyrann Mathieu. The Tigers have long since proven their ability to reload rather than rebuild on that side of the ball, but the offense might be asked to win more games instead of rely on the powerhouse defense.
Offensively, the Tigers return plenty of talent in the skill positions – especially if RB Jeremy Hill is cleared to return to the team after getting arrested for battery. Oversize RB Kenny Hilliard waits in case Hill is not reinstated. Top WRs Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham is back for 2013, as is TE Travis Dickson.
Expectations are high as always in Baton Rouge and Mettenberger’s performance will go a long way toward determining if LSU can live up to them.