NEW ORLEANS -- Meet Zach Mettenberger, who woke up Monday morning as LSU's third-string quarterback and wakes up this morning as its first-string quarterback.
As the confetti descended Monday night in the Superdome to put a close to the 2011 college football season, the door opened for Mettenberger, who is sure to be among the Southeastern Conference's most scrutinized players in the months ahead. After waiting behind seniors Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee, the 6-foot-5, 222-pound transfer from Georgia is eager to work with a loaded roster that will be picked to make a second straight BCS title-game appearance.
When interviewed last Friday, that eagerness was evident.
"I'm really excited, because on January 10th, it will be my team," Mettenberger said. "I'm looking to keep the momentum going to where we have another great year. The main thing for me will be to keep a level head."
Mettenberger played in five games this season as a redshirt sophomore but threw passes only against Northwestern State, going 8-of-11 for 92 yards and a touchdown in a 49-3 rout. He had a 25-yard run to the 1-yard line on a bootleg midway through the fourth quarter against Ole Miss, but that got overshadowed by him taking a knee the next four plays in a 52-3 win.
LSU quarterbacks coach Steve Kragthorpe, who announced in August that he had Parkinson's disease, is excited about Mettenberger's potential.
"He will have been in our program for a year and a half going into next season, and that's one of the reasons I want to stay," Kragthorpe said. "I want to coach him, because I think he has a comfort level with me and I have a comfort level with him. He doesn't need another change."
Mettenberger grew up several miles from Georgia's campus and signed with the Bulldogs in 2009 as Rivals.com's No. 11 pro-style quarterback nationally. He enrolled early along with current Bulldogs starter Aaron Murray, and the two redshirted that year.
Murray, Mettenberger and Logan Gray competed for Georgia's starting job in 2010 spring drills, but Mettenberger got arrested that March in a bar outside Valdosta. He was dismissed from the program by coach Mark Richt a month later and eventually pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of sexual battery.
Mettenberger spent the 2010 season at Butler County Community College in Kansas, where he threw for 2,678 yards with 32 touchdowns and four interceptions, and he led the team to an 11-1 record. After enrolling at LSU last January, his arm strength has continued to impress and his mobility has improved.
"We may not have as much option or zone read next season, but Zach is very talented and can throw the ball really well," Lee said. "I think he's going to have a very bright future here at LSU."
It's not a given Mettenberger will start the 2012 opener against North Texas, because the top quarterback in this year's signing class, Gunner Kiel of Indiana, is set to begin classes in Baton Rouge next week. Mettenberger will have the edge in experience, but the microscope will be on both.
"I don't think it will be a big deal, because it won't be about one person," he said. "We've got guys like Tyrann Mathieu and Brad Wing who get a lot of attention, and all of our success has been as a team."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.