6 Brandon Harris (Jr.)
Completed 148-of-276 passes (53.6%) for 2,158 yards (7.8 YPA) with 13 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. Rushed for 327 yards on 54 non-sack carries (6.1 ypc - 226 yards/3.4 ypc sacks included) with 4 touchdowns.
16 Danny Etling (Jr.)
Redshirted after transferring from Purdue.
12 Justin McMillan (RS-Fr.)
LSU returns a starting quarterback who threw every significant pass last season (sans one halfback pass attempt from Leonard Fournette), and despite the departure of senior Anthony Jennings, has a backup with another 12 starts over two seasons of football in a Power-5 conference. For all our talk about narratives and LSU quarterbacks and all the things that have been problems over the years, one thing that LSU absolutely has in its corner this season is experience.
Brandon Harris started every game in 2015 and took every meaningful snap -- Jennings didn't even get to throw the ball in limited mop-up snaps. He finished the season with a mediocre passer rating of 130.5, seventh among conference quarterbacks. It was a season of highs and lows. Harris was the league's highest-rated quarterback in the month of October, and managed to avoid throwing his first interception until November, but when the going got rough in that final month he couldn't take the wheel and get the offense back on track, culminating with a dreadful 7-of-21 passing performance in LSU's final regular season game against Texas A&M.
Still, Harris was largely on track with most first-year starters his age in the SEC, and in LSU terms, his efficiency rating was slightly ahead of Zach Mettenberger's first season in 2012 (rating of 128.3), and slightly behind Jamarcus Russell's first season as a full-time starter in 2005 (136.6). He also spent the last four games of the season, bowl game included, playing with a sports hernia that required surgery in January. And while Harris himself has downplayed the injuries' effects in the media, I find it hard to believe a painful abdominal injury didn't affect his throwing accuracy in some way.
But back to the analogy of Harris versus previous first-year starters, like Mettenberger. Looking back to Mettenberger's first spring as the incumbent starter in 2013, we were questioning his ceiling a bit. He struggled with things like feeling/reading pressure in the pocket, touch and accuracy down the field -- and with some help from a still-developing Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr., Mettenberger took a major leap in those areas. His completion rate jumped six percent and his yards per attempt average jumped a full three yards from 2012 to 2013.
That isn't to say there's a linear pattern from Mettenberger to Harris, but I don't think it's unreasonable to expect some improvement.
Well, there's the weight of LSU's history with the position in play here, isn't there? LSU expected a jump in play last season, and while it came, but when it came time for Harris to shoulder a larger load for this team, he wasn't up to the task.
As for my Mettenberger analogy, one of our own thinks the differences are much more disparate between the two. As it is, you could somewhat see Mettenbergers progress, particularly as he hit a big stride in November of 2012. Harris, after some progress early, fell apart in the final month (although to be fair, he played much better in the bowl game than Mettenberger did in a 2012 Peach Bowl loss to Clemson).
Ultimately, folks around here are going to be in "prove it" mode regarding just about anything said about this position. And it's hard to argue otherwise.
What's more, while Danny Etling does bring a little bit more experience to the backup spot, it's hardly experience worth bragging about. True, there isn't much to write home about in general when it comes to Purdue football, but you'd still prefer a quarterback with a career rating over 120.
What's the goal this spring?
Iron sharpens iron. It's a cliché, but it's true.
There's a lot of grand pronouncements about how much improvement is needed, and the importance of the position and OMG MANY MUCH DRAMATIC QB TAKES.
Just compete. Get better. Simple as that really. For all the talk about changes and adjustment and revamping and everything that goes with talking about this position at LSU every spring, this team just needs the players that are on the roster to do what college players are supposed to do: develop.
What am I watching for?
The competition here is real. That doesn't necessarily mean that Etling is going to take the job away from Harris -- the winner doesn't determine that. When a coaching staff has more experience with a starter than another player, the backup taking the job is going to take a combination of stellar play on his own end and some struggles from the starter. That's just how these things work. Etling has to take the job as much as Harris has to lose it. To date, reports mention his touch and accuracy, although he clearly isn't the power passer that Harris is. He also lacks Harris' pure footspeed, although Etling does have the necessary mobility to buy time and scramble.
But more importantly, Etling is offering a true alternative. When this was Harris and Jennings, let's be about the competiton: nobody really believed that Jennings offered much of a second option. It would be speculation to project that on to Harris and suggest that it affected him or the way he worked, but it would certainly be understandable, even on a sub-conscious level. Etling may not be some world-beater but he's a hard worker that has fit in well with both his fellow quarterbacks and the rest of LSU's locker room since he arrived. He doesn't have Harris' arm, but can make all the throws and puts some nice touch on the ball. What's more, he has 12 starts on his resume in a Power-5 conference. At a minimum, he'll step in if Harris goes down with an injury, and he could be waiting in the wings if Harris falls apart like he did last November.
As far as differences and changes go, to my eyes (and granted, I don't have nearly the experience that other beat writers have in terms of LSU football practice in recent years) LSU's quarterbacks have been doing mostly what they've always done in the 15-20 minutes media members get to see: throwing basic routes or gauntlet-type drills. That said, reports from players and recruits talk about things being different.
More than anything, new receivers coach Dameyune Craig is offering a different level of input to things than former coaches in his position. While he's working exclusively with the wideouts on the field, in the classroom and in meetings, Cam Cameron has sought out his input on things like drills (working on touch has been a constant the last six weeks) and other ways to become better teachers to Harris and Co., in addition to giving Craig the freedom to make some decisions regarding quarterback recruiting as well.
That all makes sense for a number of reasons. For one, Craig has a much more well-rounded background in the style of offense LSU wants to run, having coached quarterbacks and helped develop game-plans himself at different levels. Having more to offer than somebody like Tony Ball is a reason Craig is such a rising star in the coaching world.
Additionally, Craig has a strong relationship with Harris, having recruited him at Auburn, and can relate as a player. Despite being labeled a "dual threat" quarterback, Craig largely used his legs to augment his passing at Auburn in the mid-90s, throwing for more than 5,000 yards in two full seasons as a starter. That's Harris' game as well -- he's never going to be featured much as a runner, but with his arm he could develop into a big-play threat by extending plays and giving receivers more opportunities down the field.
Third-stringer Justin McMillan has put on some weight over his redshirt season, but it likely still at least a year away from being a meaningful factor in any competition. The youngster does throw a very nice ball in the limited reps that we've been able to see, but he also has a labored, wind-up type of delivery that will need to tighten up. That could take some time, but McMillan will have that, barring an extreme rash of injuries.