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January 2, 2012TUSCALOOSA | There he sits.
Still today, roughly two months since his last snap as a starting quarterback, LSU's Jarrett Lee still sits at the top of the Southeastern Conference ranking for pass efficiency. His efficiency rating is 152.0, and with help from a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 14-3, he still edges out the likes of Tyler Wilson, Aaron Murray, AJ McCarron - the best the league has to offer.
And there he'll sit -- on the bench, that is -- when the BCS National Championship Game gets underway without him as the University of Alabama rematches the Tigers in New Orleans Jan. 9.
Rematch? For Lee, reversed would be more accurate.
The most dynamic change for either team since the SEC titans played to a 9-6 overtime game on Nov. 5, by far, is LSU's quarterback switch from Lee to Jordan Jefferson. The pocket passer has been replaced by the pass-or-run threat that Jefferson used to close out LSU's season with its last four wins. The Alabama coaching staff, for its part, isn't making any assumptions that Lee won't see action.
"We have a lot of respect for both of these guys and what they can do, and what they have done very successfully in their careers there as quarterbacks and most certainly the way they've both played this year," said UA coach Nick Saban. "We have to be ready for each scenario. They're a little different style, so there is some differences in the kind of things that they do. The players need to be aware of that. I think we have to be prepared for both in terms of what they both can do extremely well."
Nearly two months ago, Lee entered the LSU-Alabama game entrenched as the starter, having navigated two-thirds of the Tigers' treacherous schedule with only one interception. Jefferson, at the time, was playing a part-time role with running skills that gave LSU's offense a different dimension. But make no mistake, the job was Lee's until he threw his second interception of the game to safety Mark Barron in the third quarter. That was his last pass as a starter for LSU, giving way to Jefferson for the balance of the Alabama game, and the balance of the season as well.
Since Barron ran past the LSU coaching staff along the visiting sideline with Lee's starting role in hand, he has thrown just five passes in four games. A look at Lee's career results against Alabama -- seven interceptions in 58 attempts over four games -- certainly suggests the Crimson Tide defense could be in his head. Jefferson, by contrast, has played consistently well against Alabama over three years; Nov. 5 included.
"He's a guy that can run. It's kind of hard to be a relentless pass rusher with a guy who can run," Alabama defensive end Damion Square said of Jefferson. "It's hard to come around that corner or go all out and make any move you want to make on an offensive tackle when you have a guy who can dip out of the pocket and make things happen with his legs."
Added UA linebacker Nico Johnson: "It changes the mindset a little bit when one comes in for the other."
On the night LSU learned it would play Alabama again, Tigers coach Les Miles was asked point blank if fans had seen the last of Lee. His answer? Diplomatic, to be sure. And if you didn't know he was talking about the league's top-rated passer, you'd have thought he was referencing an exciting young freshman.
"I keep thinking we're going to get him in the game earlier, and maybe this year, this final game might be that opportunity," Miles said. "One thing about it, he practices extremely well."
Reach Chase Goodbread at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0196.