Another high-profile quarterback battle in the SEC has been decided as LSU coach Les Miles has named sophomore Brandon Harris as the team's starter Saturday vs. McNeese State. The No. 14 Tigers are -36.5 on 5Dimes' college football odds with a total of 46.5.
Scouting McNeese State
I must have made my editor mad because this is the third FCS team I will preview this week after UT-Martin (at Ole Miss) and Wofford (at Clemson)! So what do we know about the Cowboys? They play in the Southland Conference of the Football Championship Subdivision. McNeese State was 6-5 overall last year, losing its final three, and 4-4 in the conference. The team's coach is Matt Viator, who is in his 10th season and is 68-32. Viator has never had a losing season.
McNeese returns nine starters on offense and seven on defense. Senior QB Daniel Sams is back. Sams, a transfer from Kansas State, led the team in rushing with 711 yards last season and threw for another 624. This is a run-heavy team as it did so on 61 percent of its plays in 2014. The Cowboys lost three of four defensive linemen, and all three were first team all-conference guys season in Kevin Dorn, Sean Brown and Everett Ellefsen. But McNeese did add four-star recruit Isaiah Golden, a transfer from Texas A&M. He played in 11 games and started in six as a true freshman in 2013. He didn't play in 2014 after being dismissed from A&M last June.
Don't just write off McNeese State getting pummeled. It nearly pulled off one of the upsets of the decade in last season's opener at No. 19 Nebraska. The Huskers avoided potentially utter embarrassment when star running back Ameer Abdullah turned a short screen pass into a 58-yard touchdown run with just 20 seconds left for a 31-24 victory. Abdullah broke five tackles on the play.
McNeese State has never beaten a team from a Power Five conference. But to open the 2013 season, the Cowboys went to South Florida and pulled off a 53-21 surprise. And to open the 2012 campaign, McNeese won 27-21 at FBS school Middle Tennessee.
This is the second all-time meetings between the Tigers and Cowboys. LSU won 32-10 at home in October 2010.
Just Decent LSU QB Play Could Lead To Big Things
LSU has arguably the nation's most exciting player in sophomore running back Leonard Fournette, a Heisman Trophy favorite at +1300, two terrific receivers in Travin Dural and Malachi Dupre, and what should be yet another stellar defense, with perhaps the best secondary in the country. So this is a national championship-caliber roster. But it all depends on Harris and the jury is way out on him.
Anthony Jennings started all but one game last season and was generally not good, completing just 48.9 percent of his passes for 1,611 yards with 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Harris played in eight games and threw for 452 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions while completing 55.6 percent of his passes. LSU finished 116th out of 128 FBS teams in passing yards per game at 162.0 per game.
Harris got the jump on Jennings this summer for the starting job because Jennings was suspended six weeks for an off-field issue. And it doesn't appear that Harris ever lost that lead. Harris' lone start last year was a disaster as he was 3-for-14 for 58 yards in a 41-7 whitewashing by Auburn on Oct. 4. He essentially didn't play again after that (one attempt). I wouldn't be shocked if Jennings saw some snaps on Saturday, but things get much tougher immediately after this game as LSU visits Mississippi State in Week 2 and hosts No. 6 Auburn in Week 3. LSU returns 14 starters overall (eight on offense) and all of its specialists from a year ago.
LSU is 10-0 against members of the FCS, with its last game coming against Sam Houston State last year. That was a 56-0 rout. The Tigers have won a school-record 12 straight season openers. In addition, they have the nation’s longest regular-season non-conference winning streak at 49 straight games. A total of 38 of those are under Miles. LSU has also won 43 consecutive games against non-SEC teams in Tiger Stadium, dating to 2001.
College Football Picks: I think it's fair to say McNeese will lose four in a row for the first time since 1996. But could it cover? I say the Cowboys do. Miles will get his starters out of there quickly and ready for those back-to-back SEC clashes. Go 'under' the total of 46.5 at 5Dimes.