The ball hissed, a tight spiral that traveled some 50 yards into the arms of a receiver who caught it in stride. It was a beautiful throw, an NFL throw, and LSU coach Les Miles flashed a knowing smile as he admired the arm strength and accuracy of his senior quarterback. "I think you're going to see a very confident, productive Jordan Jefferson this season," Miles said. "He's going to live up to all of his promise this year."
If Jefferson does, then the Tigers should contend for the national title. LSU has seven starters back on defense and eight on offense, including Jefferson, the winningest active QB in the SEC with a 20--7 record as a starter. Though running back Stevan Ridley (1,147 rushing yards, 15 TDs) left early for the NFL, a capable replacement is at hand in bruising tailback Spencer Ware, who scored two TDs in the spring game. And the dynamic receiving tandem of Rueben Randle and Russell Shepard combined for 66 catches and 798 yards last year.
But Jefferson needs to be more consistent. The 6'5" 224-pounder appeared utterly lost in a 16--14 win over Tennessee last October, completing just 3 of 10 passes with two interceptions and a passer rating of 15.2. But in a 24--21 win over sixth-ranked Alabama a month later, he played like an All-America, connecting on 10 of 13 throws for 141 yards, with a rating of 193.4.
Before he stepped aside as the new offensive coordinator two weeks ago after revealing that he has Parkinson's disease, former Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe had scaled back the Tigers' playbook and simplified the attack. (Kragthorpe is now the QB coach; veteran line coach Greg Studrawa is the new coordinator.) Kragthorpe had also planned to give Jefferson more chances to throw downfield, a notion Studrawa has already endorsed.
Jefferson knows he has one season left to silence critics who say he's too erratic. The arrival of 6'5", 250-pound junior college transfer Zach Mettenberger, a more accurate passer, seems sure to turn up the pressure this fall—though Jefferson outplayed him in the spring. "I try to focus on the good things," he says. "We have so much in front of us that we can accomplish."