HOOVER, Ala. - By LSU standards, the past two seasons have been disappointing. In each of those seasons, Jordan Jefferson has played quarterback.
The link may be coincidental, but Jefferson, now a junior, has taken it personally.
"I think I do have a lot of prove, a lot of things I should've improved on last year," Jefferson said Friday on the third and last day of SEC Media Days. "The focus going into camp is to get my leadership qualities ready to make sure that we're successful this year."
The Tigers finished 9-4 last season, which is a good year almost everywhere else in the country. But when you've won two national championships in the past seven seasons, nine wins is unacceptable.
A big reason for the substandard season was a lackluster offense that ranked 90th in the nation in rushing, 97th in passing and 112th overall. Jefferson threw for 2,166 yards and 17 touchdowns. He wants to do more. Much more.
"I have high goals for myself and I'm ready to accomplish those things," he said. "I learned a lot last year, but we weren't quite successful."
Teammates expect Jefferson to make strides this season.
"I have so much confidence in Jordan," said star cornerback Patrick Peterson, who also is likely to return kicks and punts this season. "I believe he's taking the proper steps to be an elite quarterback in the conference. He's doing the things he needs to do."
Jefferson seemed to struggle during spring drills, but coach Les Miles said he has seen improvement since then.
"He's starting to realize that it's more than a position," Miles said. "It's a responsibility to ... give us an opportunity at victory and to see the defense and to understand the call, understand the check and give a wider, more encompassing view of the position. I think he understands that now."
Jefferson also understands that LSU expects to challenge for the SEC championship and that trips to "lesser" bowls aren't good enough in Baton Rouge.
"We're focused on being the old LSU, being victorious week after week," Jefferson said. "We've been focused on summer workouts and taking on the young players, making sure they know the playbook, just lots of little things that we lagged in over recent years that we want to correct this year.
"We have a lot of great talent around us. We just have to put it all together."
So far, so good for Newton
Quarterback was a position of strength for Auburn last season with Chris Todd throwing 22 touchdown passes and only six interceptions.
But Todd is gone. Now, the Tigers are looking to junior college transfer Cameron Newton to direct the offense. So far, coaches like what they've seen from Newton, who led Blinn College (Texas) to a national junior college championship.
"Everything that we have to base our idea on right now, with what we've expected him to do, what we've asked him to do, he's done," Tigers coach Gene Chizik said. "He's really, really worked at it ... He's got to get on the field now and deliver. That's the last piece of the puzzle - and the most critical part."
Relying on defense
Though Ole Miss suffered significant personnel losses on defense, coach Houston Nutt still sees the unit as an area of strength.
"Our defense gives us a chance in every game because we're strong up the middle," Nutt said.
"All these guys played in the SEC, played a lot of snaps," he said. "I'm proud of their leadership, their work ethic. They've been outstanding."
The Rebels ranked 15th in the country in scoring defense last season, but lost some productive members from that unit. Free safety Kendrick Lewis, a fifth round selection of the Kansas City Chiefs, and cornerbacks Marshawn Green and Cassius Vaughn have to be replaced.
Still, Nutt thinks scoring against the Rebels will be difficult.
"I have a lot of confidence in [coordinator] Tyrone Nix," he said. "He's one of the best in the country. They love playing for him. We're going to play hard."
Georgia isn't on his mind
Though new Tennessee coach Derek Dooley grew up in Athens while his father, Vince, was Georgia's coach, he isn't that sentimental about the Bulldogs.
Dooley played college football at Virginia, and he said any notion that the Vols game at Georgia on Oct. 9 has extra meaning is overblown.
"It means we're going to play a quality SEC opponent, a great coaching staff on the road," Dooley said. "I did leave Georgia when I was 18 years old. People somehow forget that.
"I know a lot of people are trying to make that game a little more nostalgic or personal than it is. Certainly, I have friends at Georgia, but I have friends at LSU [where he was an assistant under Nick Saban] and other programs. That's just kind of how the SEC is."
Etheridge is back
Auburn's defense received a big boost earlier this week with the announcement that senior free safety Zac Etheridge had been cleared medically to play this fall.
"To get the news the other day that he was able to play is just an incredible feeling for our football team," Chizik said. "Everybody has an extremely high regard for Zac as player. We're excited about the prospects of having him back."
Etheridge posted 52 tackles in nine games last season but suffered a severe neck injury in a 33-20 victory over Ole Miss. He was motionless for several minutes before being taken from the field. He had to wear a neck brace for six months.
"He's like having another linebacker on the field," Auburn linebacker Josh Bynes said. "He's very intelligent. Me and him talk a lot on the field. It's good having him back."
Auburn's secondary also should be bolstered by the returns of strong safeties Aairon Savage, who has missed the past two seasons with injuries, and Mike McNeil, who was sidelined in '09 with a broken leg.
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.