It’s long been the assumption at LSU regarding the quarterback candidacy of one Brandon Harris that it’s only a matter of time. He will eventually burst through the dreaded “potential” barrier and cast Anthony Jennings aside like a deflated New England football.
What if it never happens, though? What if Harris turns out to be a paper cowboy, all hat and no cattle?
What if Jennings really does improve from the Point A that was the end of last season to the Point B of the start of this season? What if he refuses to go?
Jennings has the job; the incumbent has the edge. So far it’s pretty much been by default. First Zach Mettenberger was injured and couldn’t play in the 2014 Outback Bowl, then Harris flamed out in his one start at Auburn — an incredibly tough spot to be thrust into for any first-time starter — and Jennings got the job back. Harris threw just one pass in the second half of the season.
It’s worth remembering the leaps that college quarterbacks can make from one season to the next. Former Auburn quarterback Jason Campbell comes to mind. He went from three middling years in which he threw for just seven more touchdowns than interceptions (24 to 17) to throwing for 2,700 yards and 20 TDs a senior. He finished a respectable seventh in the Heisman Trophy balloting and was a first-round draft pick.
Maybe it’s Harris who will make that leap this spring and summer.
But maybe it will be Jennings.
He talks the part. Harris sounds like he’s trying to convince people he can be that quarterback.
Jennings sounds like he is that quarterback.
“This spring, I know where guys are going to be, where they’re going to cut,” Jennings said. “I’m making better decisions, and making better decisions makes you more confident, and making you more confident makes your decisions seem easier.
“I’ve been working on putting the ball through guys, throwing it on a line instead of having it die toward them. We’ve done some things in the weight room to get my lower body and my core stronger.”
Jennings also said he’s been in offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s ear as much as possible, talking strategy and trying to pick up the little gems of knowledge that will make him a better quarterback.
“I’m not thinking about quarterback competition,” Jennings said. “I’m trying to learn what I can from Coach Cam.”
The cynic says Jennings is trying to play the political game as well as the football game with his coaches. If that’s true, well, who doesn’t want a little craftiness in the man behind center?
Here’s something else you want from your quarterback: resiliency. Jennings could have folded his emotional tent when LSU fell woefully behind Mississippi State, or when he was yanked in a bad performance against New Mexico State, or when he was benched at Auburn.
He hasn’t buried those tough times under the new turf being laid at LSU’s practice facilities. He wants to remember — and learn.
“I want to build on the things I messed up,” Jennings said. “I’ve watched every game multiple times. I want to get better.”
And now coach Les Miles has declared an open competition again, with Harris having the edge one week and Jennings the next.
Asked whether he was hurt that a quarterback competition exists at all this point, Jennings shrugged it off like a blitzing safety and replied: “There would be one regardless.”
He reminds himself, “They brought you here for a reason. Just go out and show your true colors and remain confident in yourself. Things won’t go your way sometimes, but you can’t hang your head and soak in your own disapproval.”
Jennings knows Miles and his staff have surrounded the quarterback position with top-10 caliber talent. He knows LSU can challenge for a Southeastern Conference championship and a CFP bowl/playoff berth if the Tigers get good enough quarterback play.
He knows it’s up to him. Or Harris.
“All the pieces are in place,” Jennings said. “Elite quarterbacks win championships along with elite teams. I understand I, and the quarterback room, have to be better.”
All along, everyone has assumed it will only be better if Harris is the quarterback.
But maybe he never gets his chance
Maybe Jennings will be too good to allow it.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.