Future QB competition already starting at LSU

Stability at LSU’s quarterback position disappeared as Zach Mettenberger launched his final college pass and then fell to the field clutching his left knee.

Some think it returned moments later when freshman backup Anthony Jennings led a 99-yard game-winning drive.

It’s not that easy.

Mettenberger’s season-ending injury on that pass against Arkansas two weeks ago shifts focus on the position’s future a few months earlier than expected.

After all, everyone wants to know: Who will be LSU’s starting quarterback next season and beyond?

While the battle for the No. 1 job won’t officially begin until spring practice, coach Les Miles says, bowl practice begins Monday with a new quarterback leading drills for the first time in two years.

It is clear who that’ll be: Jennings.

“Absolutely,” Miles answered when asked if he expects Jennings to start No. 14 LSU’s Outback Bowl game on Jan. 1 against Iowa.

The other four quarterbacks are chasing the fleet-footed young gun from Georgia in a competition that kicks off unofficially next week.

The quarterback battle will shape LSU’s offense and affect its depth for years to come.

Will the Tigers switch from their recent trend — a strong-armed pocket passer with little mobility? Or will LSU return to its old form — a shifty dual-threat playmaker with quick feet?

Either way, the result is likely to send someone looking for another team.

After all, LSU is expected to have five scholarship quarterbacks on its roster when spring practice begins: redshirt sophomore Stephen Rivers, redshirt junior Rob Bolden, Jennings, true freshman Hayden Rettig and new early signee Brandon Harris.

All but one — Rivers — was a consensus four-star-rated prospect out of high school.

The same four were ranked top five at their position styles: Jennings, Harris and Bolden as “dual-threat” quarterbacks and Rettig as a “pro-style” passer.

Rivers has the best football pedigree of the lot. His brother is San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, and his father is a long-time successful high school coach in Alabama.

Rivers, Miles confirmed Sunday, has been promoted to No. 2 behind Jennings. As starter, Jennings will receive twice as many reps as he did as the backup, the coach said.

Rivers is expected to get first-string reps, too.

The bowl practice reps will set up that impending official battle in the spring.

“I don’t want to comment on that at this time,” said Steve Rivers, Stephen’s father, when asked about the quarterback competition. “Maybe we’ll see how things fall. I’d rather not get into detail.

“He loves LSU,” Steve Rivers continued about his son. “And we hope he’s going to be the starting quarterback one day.”

They all have their own stories.

Bolden, a transfer from Penn State, arrived before last season and was expected to be Mettenberger’s experienced and competent backup. Rivers surpassed him on the depth chart.

Rivers entered preseason camp as a redshirt freshman and was expected to be Mettenberger’s No. 2. Jennings surpassed him on the depth chart.

Bolden’s demotion to No. 4 this season doesn’t change the quarterback’s mindset entering spring practice, said his father, Robert Bolden Sr.

He still wants the job.

“He’s ready to play,” he said. “He’s expressed that.”

A knee injury in a November practice last season has hurt Bolden’s once promising future at LSU, his father said. Rivers, meanwhile, has been eclipsed by a speedy passer.

The dual-threat quarterback isn’t anything new to LSU — remember Marcus Randall, JaMarcus Russell, Matt Flynn and Jordan Jefferson?

That style of quarterback is very much in the program’s future, Miles said.

“I think that a guy that can throw it, certainly get it to the best players, and also has the ability to extend plays with his feet — make plays with his feet — I think that’s the future of college football,” Miles said.

LSU’s recruiting echoes such a plan.

The Tigers signed the mobile Harris this season, and their only reported offer for a 2015 prospect is DeAndre Johnson, a four-star dual-threat passer from Florida.

It’s the way college football is trending. LSU is just getting in line.

“In college football, particularly when you have spotty offensive line play, there are a lot of advantages to having a guy who can run,” said Mike Scarborough, publisher and recruiting analyst at TigerBait.com, a Rivals.com affiliate. “I know that LSU has had offensive line problems in the past.”

One thing’s for sure: The race to be LSU’s starting quarterback begins in days, not months, and won’t end, Miles said, until another changing of the seasons.

As for any deep thoughts on his quarterbacks, Miles reveals none.

“The guys we have on campus, for the bowl, that’s where the future of the position is heading,” he said. “Certainly when the next class gets in, it will be defined by what is the best opportunity for us to win. What’s the best for our team? I think that there will be quality competition to determine those things.”