The Peach Bowl has the potential to reveal which freshman QB has the upper hand going into the Spring. And that will be important because LSU is about to experience a log jam of talent at QB for the foreseeable future.
I made a conscious decision to leave Andrew Hatch out of most of this discussion. I guess there's a chance Hatch will make me look foolish for excluding him by playing a major role at QB next year. But I have a hard time believing that. I think Hatch played a role this year, and had a chance to grab the brass ring. It didn't work out. I think he's going to close out his time as an experienced, reliable backup. He could transfer, but he's probably tired of that. I'll get back to Hatch towards the end of this piece.
It sounds like Jefferson will start the Peach Bowl. And it appears that Lee's injury is healed and he'll be available. Both QBs are liable to see time, but it's not clear what the plan will be for rotating them in and out. What gets lost in all the conversation about these two freshmen is just that - THEY ARE FRESHMEN. Once in a very long while, a college freshman QB will have a great first season. It's no disgrace that didn't happen this year for these two men.
The challenge of matching scores with Georgia Tech will be a great competition for both of these fellas. I'm looking forward to watching them go at it. It's going to be important for one of them to separate himself going into the Spring, if he can. Because the picture gets cloudier after that.
Chris Garrett. From watching his film and reading his stats, I think Garrett might be one of the more underrated QBs in the country. He's a 3-star on Rivals and Scout. Based on his outstanding high-school career - setting school records for touchdowns, yardage and completions - the only factor keeping Garrett from a fourth star may be his mobility. He's a pocket passer. But he's a 6' 4", 222lb rifle-armed, dead-accurate pocket passer. And he's enrolling at LSU in January. And he's smart. And he has a great work ethic. While it seems likely (and rational) that Garrett will end up redshirting next year, it is by no means a lock. If he has a good game at the Junior World Championship of American Football (I had no idea that game even existed - his participation is a rumor that I cannot confirm at this point), he may get his fourth star. And that might mean he's been under-evaluated. He could push Lee and Jefferson this Spring. And he looks to be a great compliment to this next fella.
Russell Shepard. If you're reading this, I'm going to assume you know who Shep is. The LSU-related internet is awash in adoration for this kid. And he probably deserves every bit of it. He's obviously ridiculously talented, unusually mature, and he just loves the idea of playing at LSU. What's not good about that? Like Garrett, he will graduate HS early and enroll at LSU in January. Since Shep is very much a Pat White kind of QB, he's likely to play a role in the LSU offense immediately in the Spring. He's a Percy Harvinesque runner. But he also has a very good arm, tons of poise, and has both accuracy and touch. Oh. And he LOVES the leadership role. So, the question for Shep is not will he play, but how much will he play? There really doesn't seem to be any way he redshirts.
So LSU begins the 2009 season with: two sophomores, both with some playing time; two freshmen, one of them a superstar in waiting; and Andrew Hatch. Of those five, I think I can comfortably predict one thing. Shep will see the field. My guess is that Shep will play the pre-Heisman Tebow QB-role, using his athleticism and versatility to give opposing defenses nightmares. Or, perhaps, Shep would be a nasty slot receiver in the Percy Harvin mold.
So that leaves JJ, Lee and Garrett. How does that pan out? My guess is that JJ and Lee fight for the #1/#2 slots and Garrett redshirts. In fact, once Garrett gets a look at the crowded QB passing drills this Spring, he's going to WANT to redshirt to distance himself from Shep by a year.
But here's the wildcard.
Lee and JJ are both sophomores next year. With Shep in the mix, it's doubtful that Lee and JJ share time. It's far more likely that either one or the other wins the starting job and keeps it. And, since they're in the same class, one of them faces the potential of being a backup forever. Sounds familiar, right? Matt Flynn stuck it out and has a BCS championship ring to show for his patience. And a Green Bay Packers job. And it has happened many, many times before that.
But there is a difference this time. Russell Shepard. Shep will likely not threaten either JJ or Lee for the starting job at the beginning of 2009. But if he lives up to even half of his hype, it is difficult to imagine how the coaching staff would choose to continue to limit his touches in 2010 by platooning him in and out. Clearly, he looks like a sophomore starter at LSU. In fact, if JJ and Lee don't play very well next season, he may find himself starting by year's end. What does that say for JJ and Lee? As juniors, they find themselves as the #2 and #3 guys? I'm thinking not.
My guess is that either JJ or Lee will end up transfering after the Spring. Why not wait a year? Well, that's possible. But if either decides to transfer to a Div 1-A school, they'd have to sit out a year of eligibility. By waiting a year, they'd only have their senior season to play. I doubt either of these two would transfer to Div 1-AA, where they could play immediately (Ryan Perrilloux). So my guess is next year is the perfect year to go. And if one of them will transfer, it will probably be Lee. He's said publicly that he has no intention of doing so. But the situation will be clearer for everyone after the Spring Game.
IF - and it's obviously still a huge IF - either JJ or Lee transfer, then this is where Hatch reenters the picture as an important piece of the QB queue. If the QB situation is going to be Shep and either JJ or Lee, then Hatch has a place as the backup to JJ/Lee. That allows Garrett to comfortably redshirt.
Now. Add to THAT the fact that LSU is recruiting better than ever right now, and that there are some excellent high school QBs who are interested in LSU, and the QB queue just gets busier. My guess is that LSU will go after one high profile QB next year.
Yes. That Montana. That's just an early look, and I'd say Notre Dame probably feels pretty solid with Montana. But since Broadway is from Baton Rouge, if he has a great senior season there's a very good chance LSU lands yet another great dual-threat QB in the 2010 class.
LSU may be entering an era where QBs sign understanding that they may only get one year as the starter unless something happens to the studs in front of them - like the NFL draft or an unfortunate injury. Sounds a bit like an elite football program to me.
So. Here's what that could look like. I've put them in the order I think they're most likely to play.
2009: #1 JJ and Shep; #2 Hatch; RS Garrett; Lee transfers
2010: #1 Shep; #2 JJ (jr); #3 Garrett; RS Broadway
2011: #1 Shep (jr); #2 JJ (sr); #3 Garrett (soph); #4 Broadway
2012: Too far out. But if Shep is drafted as a Jr? Interesting.
Combine the QB outlook with LSU's other skill positions and you see why 2010 and 2011 look like very exciting years for LSU football.
It's crowded at QB this spring. I think it gets a little less crowded by the Washington game. But all in all, I see a very bright future for LSU at the QB position.