BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — When Zach Mettenberger predicted this would be the longest week of his life, he wasn't even talking about tropical weather from Isaac that would bring life in south Louisiana to a standstill for more than a day.
The quarterback for No. 3 LSU is entering his fourth year of college football and finally makes his much anticipated debut as a starter for a major program on Saturday night against North Texas in Tiger Stadium.
"I'm definitely excited to finally be the guy," said Mettenberger, who spent a redshirt year at Georgia, a year in junior college, and then last season as LSU's third-stringer. "I'm tremendously just ecstatic about this opportunity I have to be a starter for LSU. A lot of kids dream of being that guy and I finally get a chance to go out there and showcase what I can do."
LSU is hoping Mettenberger, who coaches see as an exceptional down-field passer, will provide the Tigers' offense more of the balance it lacked in a 21-0 loss to Alabama in last season's national championship game.
LSU had spent much of last season racking up 203 yards per game on the ground while rolling to double-digit triumphs in 12 of its first 13 games. But the Tigers could neither run nor throw the ball against Alabama very effectively in either its tight overtime victory over the Crimson Tide or its loss in the rematch for the title.
This season, LSU coach Les Miles expects LSU to be much better in the passing game, as long as Mettenberger doesn't put too much pressure on himself to live up to those expectations.
"He needs to relax and let the game come to him," Miles said. "He shouldn't have any anxiety about playing. He just needs to do the things we ask him to do."
If Mettenberger is as good as advertised, that should only make things harder for opposing defenses that will still have to contend with a Tigers' running game that has its top four rushers back from last season: Michael Ford, Spencer Ware, Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard.
Miles has said that Blue and Hilliard have had the best August camp and should expect the bulk of carries in the opener.
The Tigers' potentially potent mix of a powerful ground game and proficient passing game is part of the reason that LSU is a six-touchdown favorite over the Mean Green, which is coming off of a 5-7 campaign in 2011, which marked the beginning of the Dan McCarney era at North Texas.
"LSU's just got it all," said McCarney, who knows from his experience as a former defensive line coach for Florida, a Southeastern Conference rival of the Tigers. "They're loaded with talent, experience. Where they're not experienced, there'll still be guys as good as there is in college football coming out of the high school ranks."
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