HOOVER, Ala. -- With wide receiver Russell Shepard a late scratch from the SEC Media Days appearance list, LSU senior center T-Bob Hebert enthusiastically filled in.

"I'm like Brian Wilson," Hebert said Friday, referring to the former LSU pitcher and bearded San Francisco Giants All-Star. "They needed a closer and they came and got me."

How very LSU.

A little Cajun cooking: Hebert is the son of former NFL quarterback Bobby Hebert, who was born in the bayou burg of Cut Off, La.

A little controversy: Shepard was left in Baton Rouge for unspecified personal reasons.

A nice recovery for a program that always seems to bounce back into the thick of it under head coach Les Miles. LSU generally is picked to finish second behind Alabama in the SEC West, but is a solid national championship contender coming off an 11-2 season capped by a 41-24 drubbing of Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl.

Jordan Jefferson might be the best quarterback in the SEC.

Or the 6-5, 225-pound senior might get benched in favor of Zach Mettenberger or Jarrett Lee, if you read what fans say on-line.

Miles said he has never seen a message board and tells his players to "avoid the Internet."

"People who sign their name 'Slick Willie' don't necessarily have legitimate opinions about the things that we do," Miles said. "The criticism (Jefferson) sustains happens within our team room."

Jefferson clashed at times last season with departed offensive coordinator Gary Crowton and is off to a great start with new play-caller Steve Kragthorpe, the former Tulsa and Louisville head coach. "I feel like Coach Kragthorpe is behind me 100 percent," He said here Friday. "In the short time I've been with him, I feel I've improved a lot."

Tiger fans will find out soon enough. LSU opens against Oregon at the Dallas Cowboys' palace on Sept. 3.

"It's a lot of pressure put on me, but I'm ready for the pressure," Jefferson said.

LSU road games include Mississippi State (Sept. 15), West Virginia (Sept. 24) and Tennessee (Oct. 15) leading to the biggie at Alabama on Nov. 5.

LSU received 30 first-place votes in the SEC Media Days predicted order of finish for the SEC West.

Talk about no respect …

The Tigers have only one player on the All-SEC first team (cornerback Morris Claiborne) and only two on the second team (tackle Alex Hurst and linebacker Ryan Baker).

LSU might not have as many great players as some top teams but the Tigers have exceptional depth, including at quarterback. Dodging upsets, sidestepping fan disenchantment and eating grass have become Miles specialties.

T-Bob Hebert knows it.

"Who wants to play for just an average, run-of-the-mill coach?" he said. "What's important about Coach Miles is that he takes risks and when he does that, it shows he has confidence in his players. There's a method to his madness."

Reach Gene Sapakoff at 937-5593.