THE WORDS ARE DELIVERED IN A CAREFUL, CONFIDENT TONE. THEY FLOW STEADILY from his lips as if he's making sure there's no chance of misinterpretation. "This year I expect to be an All-SEC player," Jordan Jefferson says. "I expect to be an All-America, and I expect to be a Heisman Trophy candidate. I expect us to win the SEC and win the national championship. After all those goals are accomplished, I expect to be a first-round draft pick in the NFL. I have so much potential, and this team has so much potential. Now it's time for me to show all that I've been given."
Make no mistake: That is plenty. Jefferson, LSU's senior quarterback, who was repeatedly benched last year, has ample physical gifts. At 6' 5", 224 pounds, he can run the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds. He can heave the ball 70 yards without much effort. And he can make every throw in the playbook—the deep outs, the comebacks, the touch fades. But his two seasons as the Tigers' starting quarterback have been marred by inconsistency. One game he does look like an All-America: In a 24--21 win against Alabama last season he completed 10 of 13 passes for 141 yards and had a QB rating of 193.4. In another game he'll appear completely lost: In a 16--14 win over Tennessee he was 3 of 10 with two interceptions and had a passer rating of 15.2. The uneven performances raise the question: Who is the real Jordan Jefferson?
Coach Les Miles is rooting for the All-America--Heisman version. "He's looking as comfortable as ever running the offense," Miles says, "being in control of everything and making decisive throws. He's going to live up to his promise this year."
Of course Miles spoke similarly before last season. At that time Jefferson declared himself ready to lead LSU after a blunder-defined 2009. This spring, though, Jefferson did look special. One afternoon, with two dozen media members watching, he completed about 25 consecutive short, mid-range and deep passes in a drill that featured the quarterback, a wide receiver and a defensive back. The Tigers' two other top signal-callers, former Georgia Bulldog Zach Mettenberger and senior Jarrett Lee, struggled to connect on 60% of their throws in the same drill.
Another reason why 2011 might finally be Jefferson's year? In the off-season Miles hired as offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe, who scaled back the playbook, simplified the offense and worked diligently on the QB's mechanics. Kragthorpe plans to call more passing plays on first downs and give Jefferson more opportunities to throw downfield. Shortly after LSU wrapped up its season by beating Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl, Jefferson returned home to St. Rose, La. Everywhere he went—the grocery store, the post office, restaurants—he heard whispers that he'd never be a championship-winning quarterback. "The criticism of my play was everywhere," says Jefferson. "You try to tune it out, but it's impossible not to hear it. I try to focus on the good things, how we have so much in front of us that we can accomplish."
Jefferson knows that his legacy with the Tigers will be tethered to his performance this season. If he plays anything like he did this spring, some of those high expectations—being named All-America, competing for the Heisman, becoming an NFL first-rounder—may come to pass.