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Brandon Harris, Young QBs and the SEC

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Is Brandon Harris progressing? Can LSU count on Harris to improve in 2016? The stats say so.

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Death, taxes and inept QB play at LSU: these are life's inalienable truths.

The "Miles is super conservative" punch line isn't wholly inaccurate, but the rationale for why typically is. Miles hasn't been "super conservative" because he "likes 1940's Michigan football" so much as he's been "super conservative" out of necessity.

The reality is, the biggest failure of the Miles era isn't so much a development issue as a recruiting one, which seems backward to say, considering recruiting is one area Miles is clearly truly elite. All of LSU's truly poor QB seasons came when Miles was forced to play a young QB too early in his developmental arc. Pair the scars of being forced to play too early with poor offensive coaching in general and you get what we've seen at LSU for most of Miles' tenure.

Like Pavlov's dog, LSU fans are conditioned. The mere sign of QB struggles starts the salivation process. Much of this has begun to impact the discussion regarding Brandon Harris. Harris' freshman season was undoubtedly a failure. The strong start to his season was quickly derailed by the horror show at Auburn, which lead to him not playing another snap in 2014. Jennings limped through 2014 himself and by the offseason it was clear Harris would be LSU's starting QB going forward. None of this can be undone and insisting it will be repeated does nothing but make you the angry drunk uncle at Christmas.

"Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forward." - Soren Kierkegaard

So, we move forward. There's reason for hope. And it's not pie-in-the-sky optimism or the type of hoping against hope that many would have you believe anyone who has confidence in the LSU offense must be doing. LSU ranked 43rd nationally in scoring offense in 2015. They return nearly all of their offensive production and most of their offensive line. The value of continuity and returning experience simply cannot be overstated. These are very simple and easy surface observations a casual observer could make. Put it this way: if you removed any past history about LSU and their QB struggles and plopped all this data down, blindly, in front of a college football fan and asked him/her if he/she expected this team to field a great offense in 2016, you'd get 100% yes answers.

But let's peer past the surface. The most common complaint about the offense is unquestionably whether Brandon Harris is the man for the job. Curiously, there seems very little optimism that Harris may be trending upward and instead only arguments for why he's already a failure and LSU should discard him, even for players with even less impressive resumes, like Danny Etling. Harris' 2015 is, largely, deemed another in the latest of failed Les Miles QB seasons. But what does the data say?

I took the time to comb the past 8 seasons of underclassmen (RS. So. QBs that attempted 200> passes) SEC QB data in hope to draw some sort of conclusions about young QB play. It's quite easy for us to see Johnny Manziel, Jameis Winston or Deshaun Watson and start to believe that young QB success is the rule, rather than the exception. The data suggests entirely otherwise. Let's take a look:

Player Attempts Completions Completion% Passing Yards Y/A Passing TDs INTs Rating Att/G Passing Yards/G
Brandon Harris  2015 276 148 53.6% 2,158 7.8 13 6 130.49 23 179.8
Average Underclassman SEC QB 317 184 57.64% 2,352 7.3 17 9 130.50 26 192.2
Avg. minus Manziel/Murray 300 170 56.33% 2132 7.03 15 9 125.41 25 178.32

Looking at this data should ease any concerns you face about Harris' lack of progression. Statistically Harris is right in line, if not ahead of the line, for the average development of an SEC QB. It's as if playing QB young is pretty difficult in this conference, no? The one glaring issue is Harris' accuracy, which is well below the average. Let us also consider that this is Harris playing five games with a torn hernia. How that impacted his production and LSU's decisions to utilize him will never be known, but I don't think anyone would argue it helped his game.

Taking this one step further, I handed over the data to Poseur to setup ATVSQBPI. Poseur crunched the numbers and here's the data laid out in nice bar graphs:

It won't surprise you to see Harris' numbers behind players like Murray, Manziel and Mallett. What may surprise you is that his true sophomore seasons ranks amongst the best in underclassmen QB seasons in the past eight seasons. Harris is basically at the same position Dak Prescott was in as a RS sophomore, and I think we can all agree that turned out alright?

I remain confident that Brandon Harris is on a proper trajectory. Does he need to improve? Yes, of course. His accuracy and midrange passing game are areas where he needs to make major strides this offseason. Most importantly, Harris doesn't need to be 2013 Johnny Manziel for LSU to be exceptionally successful. If he can simply manage to find success on obvious passing downs while taking advantage of the many opportunities presented in the passing game by the threat of Fournette as a runner, LSU's passing attack will flourish in 2016.