Brandon Harris Dubs LSU “Best Team;” Pressure on Tigers?

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Per Ross Dellenger of The Advocate, LSU quarterback Brandon Harris upped the ante on lofty preseason expectations awaiting the Tigers in 2016.

Harris’ assertion that LSU is “the best team in college football” jibes with what plenty of pundits project for the campaign to come. LSU’s a popular pick to dethrone SEC West rival Alabama en route to the College Football Playoff.

With nine returning starters on offense — including Brandon Harris — and another nine retuners to the defense, the praise lavished on the Tigers should come as no surprise.

This championship talk fuels a fascinating subplot. Rumors swirled last November, suggesting head coach Les Miles was out the door at season’s end. Backlash to the chatter, both from media and LSU fans, more or less shamed the athletic department into retaining Miles.

All this talk of the Tigers as national championship contenders draws a pretty clear standard Miles must meet, otherwise the rumored split may have only been a delay of the inevitable.

Brandon Harris plays a central role in this plot development.

We’re all well aware of running back Leonard Fournette, a front-runner for the Heisman Trophy and one-man wrecking crew. Should LSU in fact contend for the SEC championship — which is synonymous with contending for the national championship — Fournette will be a cornerstone.

So, too, will a talent-laden defense. Last year’s version struggled more than Tiger defenses of the past, but the arrival of coordinator Dave Aranda from Wisconsin promises an upgrade from Kevin Steele, who replaced Will Muschamp at South Carolina.

Fournette and the defense make for two considerable tent poles to build a title team, but the Tigers are going as far as Harris has progressed.

He struggled a season ago, completing just 53.4 percent of his pass attempts with just 13 touchdowns. Harris was at times productive as a two-way play-maker — even downright explosive on occasion — but sustaining a high level of play

Brandon Harris did not exactly tread new territory with his boasts Friday. He expressed similar sentiment during spring practices in April, saying: “I feel like I’m the best quarterback in the country” to ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich.

But in that same interview, he also lamented his lackluster performance in 2015. He understands he cannot play with similar inconsistency and expect LSU to reach its goals.

LSU hasn’t exactly been a hotbed of quarterbacks. Since JaMarcus Russell became the No. 1 NFL draft pick a decade ago, arguably the next-most talented Tiger to line up behind center was Ryan Perrilloux. Perrilloux spent most of his college career at FCS Jacksonville State after his 2008 dismissal from LSU.

Nevertheless, in the two seasons LSU played in national title games, the Tigers had at least adequate quarterback play backing up stout defenses and hard-nosed rushing attacks.

Matt Flynn and Ryan Perrilloux capably tag-teamed the position 2007, combining for 29 passing touchdowns on the season. Jarrett Lee functioned as the quintessential game manager for much of 2011, throwing just one interception through the Tigers’ unbeaten start, prior to losing the gig to Jordan Jefferson at Alabama.

The turmoil at quarterback after the win in Tuscaloosa arguably kept LSU from winning its second national title under Miles. The Tigers have yet to return to that level since, and inconsistency at quarterback is a contributing factor.

Zach Mettenberger was, in 2013, LSU’s statistical best since Russell. However, he struggled in 2012 with a more talented team and schedule more conducive to a title run.

After that 2012 campaign, in which LSU ranked a paltry 57th in scoring offense, Cam Cameron came on as offensive coordinator. Save Mettenberger’s decent ’13 season, quarterback performance under Cameron’s watch has been downright bad.

Harris will have the opportunities to back up his proclamations, and they start early. LSU opens in a virtual road game against Wisconsin, which last season earned the right to call its defense best with the nation’s lowest point-per-game yield.

In a little more than two months, we’ll know just how prescient Brandon Harris is.