Tyrann Mathieu will enter the 2012 college football season with the look of a man on a mission, and LSU fans should be glad to see it.
Coming off of one of the most memorable individual seasons in LSU’s rich football history, Mathieu is preparing to build on that entering his junior season in Baton Rouge. The 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist has seen his name pop up on every preseason All-American list known to man. He is already listed as a Heisman candidate heading into this year, as well as a potential 2013 NFL Draft first-round selection.
That’s a lot of pressure to put on a kid who can’t even legally have a cocktail at a local Baton Rouge pub.
But, from what we’ve seen with his play on the field and the “swagger” he carries around, Mathieu has what it takes to handle this type of pressure.
On the other side of the ball, there is junior quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who was buried on the quarterback depth chart last season while Mathieu was enjoying that magical 2011 campaign.
With Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee now gone, it will be Mettenberger who is expected to take over the starting quarterback gig in Baton Rouge this year. Of course, being the starting quarterback for one of the top programs in college football is certainly no easy task either.
Everyone knows that the quarterback position is the most highly scrutinized position on the football field. The quarterback is looked at to be the leader of the offense and the one who makes the offense go.
Despite having a near-perfect season last year, LSU fans were never truly happy with the play of Jordan Jefferson, who was a three-year starter for the LSU Tigers. That goes to show how much fans can put the quarterback under a microscope.
But the difference here between Mathieu and Mettenberger simply comes down to experience.
Mathieu has already cemented his name as a star in an LSU uniform. He has already cemented his name as the most electrifying return man in college football. He has already earned the right to be showered with such high expectations heading into his junior season, simply because of what he has already accomplished in his first two seasons on the gridiron.
If Mathieu doesn’t live up to those expectations, which are extremely lofty ones at that, the LSU faithful will view his season as a failure.
When it comes to Mettenberger, sure, there are going to be plenty of expectations for him as well heading into this year. We have all heard about the rocket arm and that laser pinpoint accuracy. And did you know that the last time LSU had a pro-style quarterback in 2007, they ended the season as National Champions?
But Mettenberger is unproven at this point. He hasn’t gotten that sweet taste of success like Mathieu has. He wasn’t a Heisman Finalist already. In fact, Mettenberger hasn’t even taken a meaningful snap in an LSU uniform up to this point in his young career.
Of course, quarterback is certainly a position that is under a constant magnifying glass, much more so than Mathieu’s defensive back/punt returner spot. But LSU fans know what type of production they should be getting from Mathieu, while that remains to be seen when it comes to Mettenberger.
There are certainly expectations for both of them, but Mathieu’s expectations are so high because LSU fans have seen how he can change a football game in the blink of an eye.
Who will be under more pressure next season?
Mettenberger’s expectations are solely based on what we have heard through the grapevines from spring ball and workouts throughout the summer. The live-game experience simply isn’t there with Mettenberger at this point, and that is why he isn’t under as much pressure as Mathieu is heading into the 2012 season, despite the fact he plays the most scrutinized position in the game.
If Mettenberger doesn’t live up to the hype, fans can simply say, "Oh well, on to the next one."
That’s not the case for Mathieu because he has already lived up to any hype there was surrounding his name, and then some.
Now the question becomes: What more can Mathieu do in 2011?
College football fans across the world can’t wait to see how that question is answered this season.