Casey Pachall will return to action for TCU for the first time since last September. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
All around college football, quarterback competitions have headlined a preseason already filled with talking points. Many programs have a need at arguably the most important position on the field, and coaches are taking their time figuring things out -- or at the very least, trying to find an extra edge in Week 1.
While TCU’s Gary Patterson can be accused of playing mind games, he’s bluffing with a good hand, which makes him extremely dangerous to the riverboat gambler sitting across the table. Last season was rife with injuries and off-the-field issues for the Horned Frogs, and the quarterback position was no exception: Then-junior Casey Pachall was arrested for DWI in October 2012 and ended up in rehab. (He had publicly admitted to failing a drug test in February of the same year and to using marijuana, cocaine and ecstasy.) Redshirt freshman Trevone Boykin slid into the starting role, a position he wasn’t quite ready for, even if he handled the offense fairly well.
TCU wrapped up its first year in the Big 12 with a 7-6 record after losing to Michigan State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. When the season ended, many of the team's youngsters became veterans -- and TCU's struggles suddenly became opportunities.
“The knowledge base of our football team is older,” said Patterson during the Big 12 teleconference on Monday, “but we still have a lot of young players. It’s really a two part in how we grow up. If we can stay healthy, we’ll see this team mature and grow a lot faster than we saw the team a year ago just because of the leadership and where we’ve gotten better at certain positions.”
Entering the first game of the 2013 season, Patterson has a decision to make with his quarterback. He can choose not to decide, which the band Rush says is still a choice (and everyone knows how philosophical Rush is). But all signs point to Pachall being the starter. He has higher upside and had thrown 10 touchdowns to only one interception in 2012 before he left the team in early October.
Still, that doesn’t mean Boykin will simply be cast aside and left to waste a year of eligibility. The redshirt sophomore is a dangerous dual-threat player. Not only did he pass for 2,054 yards last fall, but also he was the Horned Frogs’ second-leading rusher, picking up 582 yards and averaging 5.7 per carry.
College football isn't like professional sports, where teams cans simply trade from positions of depth. Coaches have to get the most out of their best players in as many creative ways as possible.
“There will be a starter and there will be a ‘sixth man’ like you talk about it in basketball,” Patterson said. “The one thing about it, you know a lot of people’s sixth man -- there’s a most valuable player award for the sixth man in the NBA -- the guy who comes in and does the thing he needs to do, and I see that other guy being that guy. He’s really considered a starter, but you can only put five on the court. In this case, you can only put 11 on the football field.”
Scheming for one talented quarterback is challenging enough for an opposing coach. But scheming for that quarterback and a second one who will be used in a variety of packages? That seems downright unfair.
TCU is going to need every advantage it can get. LSU has won just one fewer game than Alabama over the past three seasons, and while it lost a ton of talent to the NFL, it always boasts a great defense.
And on the other sideline …
There’s Zach Mettenberger. While it might be hard for Les Miles to truly gauge what to expect from TCU’s men under center, it’s likely equally difficult for those around college football to know exactly what to make of Mettenberger. The 6-foot-5 senior threw for 2,609 yards with a 12-to-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio in 2012, yet he was regularly inconsistent, with happy feet in the pocket and a tendency to overthrow receivers.
But Mettenberger's talent was there, even if the stats don't fully reflect it. The Tigers averaged 22.5 points per game in SEC play last fall. Take out the Mississippi State and Ole Miss games, and that number drops to 17.
If LSU is going to be successful this year, it has to help out a young defense that could benefit from playing with early leads.
“Mettenberger has worked closely with first-year offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Cam Cameron to improve his mechanics and master a more diverse system,” said Les East of the Baton Rouge Advocate. “Though the Tigers will still emphasize a power-running game and build play-action off of that, they're counting on Mettenberger to be more accurate and more consistent this season. He's attempting to be more assertive as a leader, something he was learning on the job as a first-year starter last season. In the end, don't look for Mettenberger to compile eye-popping statistics, but to be a more efficient quarterback, which will make LSU less predictable and therefore harder to defend.”
The Tigers' receiving corps should be better, and their backs will play at a high level (whether Jeremy Hill plays in Week 1 or not). Mettenberger’s support system is in place. Soon, we’ll know whether he’s up to the task.
Will they or won’t they?
Patterson and Miles aren’t pulling any punches leading up to Week 1. Both know how important this game is in establishing the tone for the rest of the year, so of course there are some fun word and rhetoric games being played. LSU's Hill was voted back to the team after he plead guilty to a misdemeanor battery charge in July, but it's still unclear if he’s going to play.
Chances are the suspension will hold. A lot of talk has revolved around player discipline this offseason, and keeping Hill out for a series or half won’t quiet that talk. That also won’t stop TCU from throwing suspension smokescreens of its own. Devonte Fields, the 2012 Big 12 freshman of the year, will be dressed and on the sidelines, according to Patterson, after originally being suspended for two games. He’s listed on the depth chart as an “OR.” Just another thing both coaches will have to think about leading up to Saturday.
What else have the coaches been up to?
Well, Patterson has been playing the guitar:
And Les Miles has been scaling buildings:
So that’s fun.
Both LSU and TCU need their offenses to play at high levels if they hope to stay in their respective conference title hunts. Both will be looking to particular players to help make that happen. Ask any LSU expert about the Tigers’ offense, and the first name mentioned is wide receiver Jarvis Landry.
“Landry was the centerpiece as the passing game reached a higher level during the final third of last season," East said. “He's strong, fast and a precise route-runner who appears ready to become a star.”
The Horned Frogs’ running game was decimated by injuries a year ago, but if Waymon James can stay healthy, TCU will be able to sustain more drives and take pressure off its already imposing defense. James has big-play potential, and the two-headed monster of him and B.J. Catalon -- along with Boykin’s bag of plays -- should help the Frogs from becoming too one-dimensional.
• Stephen Baker aka Poseur, And The Valley Shook: “In the past three years, LSU has gone 2-2 against Alabama, a team being compared to the very greatest teams in college football history. So excuse us for feeling a little bit overlooked and disrespected. We’ve got a bit of a persecution complex even in the best of times, and watching Alabama win two consecutive national titles while LSU gets picked to finish sixth in the SEC is not the best of times.
Last year’s team lost a bit of that chip on their shoulder, but the 2013 model appears to have picked up the mantle. This senior class has, collectively, been more successful on the field than just about anyone in the country, and now we’ve been subjected to all of the talk that LSU is slipping. Clemson is the first team that did not go to a BCS bowl to beat LSU since 2009, yet somehow LSU is in decline. We’ve heard it before. Don’t believe. This team is loaded with talent, and returning the starting senior quarterback for the first time since 1998. LSU was one play from winning the SEC West last year. This team will be one play better."
• Patrick McCullough, Frogs O’ War: “LSU is one of the more underrated teams coming into 2013, not just in the SEC but nationally as well. They may be replacing a lot of NFL talent, but Les Miles has developed a factory in Baton Rouge and they return a lot of talent at all the right positions. At the end of the day, it is hard to pick against the SEC regardless of TCUs positive strides forward, so I will pick LSU to win this one, 17-14 on a field goal late in the fourth quarter.
TCU still has the talent to get to 10 wins in the Big 12 this year, win or lose versus LSU. But, if they find a way to win against the Tigers, TCU could be set up to make a big run late into the 2013 season.”