No. 14 LSU starts season vs. McNeese St. with options open
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) As 14th-ranked LSU opens a season in which expectations are high - but questions are many - the Tigers can at least take the field against McNeese State on Saturday night knowing that their quarterback competition is settled.
Coach Les Miles tends to keep his options open. So as he announced earlier this week that sophomore Brandon Harris would take the first offensive snaps, he also left himself some wiggle room.
Asked when he first knew Harris would start, Miles cautioned, ''He hasn't until he has, but he has done everything we have asked him to do. He continues to improve. He's on course to do all the things that he's wanted to do.''
Junior Anthony Jennings started all but one game last season. But Harris opened August camp taking most first-team snaps after Jennings was suspended this summer because of an arrest in an unlawful entry case that prosecutors later dropped.
When Miles reinstated Jennings, he said competition for the starting job would be open. Jennings apparently never unseated Harris, but that doesn't mean Jennings performed poorly.
''We feel like both quarterbacks can play. Both quarterbacks have improved. They continue to compete,'' Miles said. ''I wouldn't hesitate if needed to play either one.''
Odds are Miles will want to see both quarterbacks during what is essentially a warm-up contest against a team from the second-tier Football Championship Subdivision.
Not that anyone expects McNeese to roll over. The Cowboys, ranked 23rd in the FCS preseason coaches' poll, gave Nebraska a scare in Lincoln last year. The Cornhuskers won in the final minute.
''We're going to what we do. It's what we did last year at Nebraska,'' Cowboys coach Matt Viator said. ''We're not inventing the wheel or going in there and trying to trick them and all that kind of stuff, which we never have done. ... We're going to play football the way we know how and if it's not good enough, that's fine.''
Some things to know about McNeese State's visit to Death Valley:
FABULOUS FOURNETTE: LSU will be eager to see how Leonard Fournette builds on a promising 2014, when he set a freshman record with 1,034 yards rushing. Fournette also is an explosive kickoff return man, which was on display when he took one the distance against Notre Dame in last season's Music City Bowl. But Miles hinted that he may not give Fournette too much work against McNeese. After all, Mississippi State and Auburn are on the schedule this month. Backing up Fournette at running back are sophomore Darrel Williams and freshman Derrius Guice, who also is a backup on kickoff returns.
VIATOR'S VICTORIES: Viator, who first took over after the 2006 season began, is already approaching a school record for coaching victories in less than nine full seasons. He needs 10 more to match all-time leader Bobby Keasler's 78 career coaching wins. ''Matt Viator is a great coach,'' Miles said. ''You can see that his teams are well prepared.''
DEFENSIVE DEBUT: The game marks the LSU debut for new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele and defensive line coach Ed Orgeron. Miles hired them after former coordinator John Chavis left for Texas A&M. Miles said he expects a lot from his defense players, noting that when coaches see their performance against the first-team offense, ''We realize the advantages they have.''
EXPERIENCED COWBOYS: McNeese has nine starters back on offense, including dual-threat QB Daniel Sams, a transfer from Kansas State. Seven starters are back on defense, but defensive end Brian Hine, who led McNeese last year with 9 1/2 tackles for losses, is expected to sit out to rest a knee injury.
MILES' MILESTONES: Miles enters his 11th season at LSU with an overall record of 103-28 and one national title (2007-08) to his name. He is second in LSU history in coaching victories behind only Charles McClendon, who won 137 games in 18 years. Earlier this week, the 61-yeear-old Miles checked himself into a hospital, but returned to practice that day and said drinking too much coffee, which he had removed from his diet for most of the past six months, appeared to be why he wasn't feeling well.