Brandon Harris is LSU's likely starting quarterback, but competition continues

Brandon Harris has the lead for the starting job, Les Miles reiterated that nothing is set. Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY Sports

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Les Miles hasn't come right out and said it, but LSU's coach hinted several times in the past week that Brandon Harris is his starting quarterback.

At the same time, Miles made it abundantly clear that he hasn't made any long-term decisions about the job.

"I would not be surprised to see Brandon Harris take a first snap," Miles said. "Who takes the last snap and who is the starter at the back end of the season, I'm going to withhold my judgment."

As the Tigers enter game week for Saturday's opener against McNeese State, perhaps Miles will make an official announcement at some point prior to kickoff. Then again, maybe he won't. He indicated that both Harris and 2014 starter Anthony Jennings could see time this season -- and if all goes according to plan against McNeese, perhaps that will happen Saturday.

Maybe it happens because of injury. Maybe because of underwhelming play. Maybe it comes once the Tigers build a big lead and the backup gets his opportunity. All of those scenarios came into play in games where the two quarterbacks shared time last fall.

"As you get through a season, you're certainly going to have ebb and flow of play and it's going to be interesting to see if one guy separates himself so significantly that there's no question he's the guy," Miles said. "If you look at the necessity of both quarterbacks playing, you just have to guess at some point in time, both guys are going to have to shoulder the load."

Thus far in August, Miles said, Harris has done enough to hold onto the starting spot he won when Jennings was suspended six weeks for a summertime arrest. Jennings, who started 12 games last season, was reinstated once the charges were dropped shortly before the start of preseason camp.

"[Harris has] not lost his position," Miles said. "He's kind of put himself in that position based on a summer's body of work and he's continued that path."

Harris remains a work in progress as a starter, however. The sophomore is clearly the more explosive contender, but there are still occasions where he shows questionable decision making. Jennings doesn't possess the same electric arm, but his starting experience makes him a useful fallback option should Harris fail to manage the quarterback's full set of responsibilities.

"[Harris is] still a guy that really probably throws the ball as well as anybody we've been around, but he needs to make sure that he's doing all of the things that make the other 10 guys more capable," Miles said. "And [my] opinion is that he's learning and he's working to do that and that's just what we need from him. Anthony Jennings on the other hand is probably a little bit further ahead there and maybe not as natural a thrower."

Whoever settles into the starting role, LSU's championship hopes will likely remain intact only if the Tigers get significant improvement from the quarterback position.

Harris admitted during spring practice that LSU's quarterbacks "were one of the weak points of this past year" and Jennings guaranteed improvement from the position. In fact, Jennings said if the Tigers can get a 60 percent completion rate from their quarterback, it would be enough for LSU to win a national title.

That would be a major jump for Jennings, who completed just 48.9 percent of his passes last season. He ranked 118th nationally in ESPN's Total Quarterback Rating metric with a 33.8 raw score. The average QBR among 126 FBS quarterbacks was 57.3.

Oddly enough, Jennings' QBR was actually better on the road (53.1) than at home (28.7). Harris, meanwhile, posted a 62.7 QBR with nearly all of his production coming at home. He boasted a nearly perfect 99.2 raw QBR in 54 action plays at Tiger Stadium. Conversely, in 24 action plays on the road -- nearly all of which came in a disastrous lone start at Auburn -- he posted a 7.0 raw QBR.

Keep that in mind as the Tigers prepare to visit Mississippi State and host Auburn in Weeks 2 and 3 -- possibly the make-or-break stretch of their schedule. That was the case last season when embarrassing early losses to those clubs contributed to the Tigers' stumble to an 8-5 record.

Quarterback play wasn't the lone issue that produced the tailspin, but it was a major factor.

As their competitions heads into its second season, Jennings and Harris know the talent around them is championship caliber. But for their title goals to be realistic, the quarterbacks have to hold up their end of the bargain -- whoever ends up as the starter.

"Everybody wants to start, but if he starts 15 games and wins 15 games and wins the national championship, I'm happy right there with him," Jennings said. "I'm happy for him, and I know the same goes for him."