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LSU has all the pieces for a title run, if it can just pass the ball. Sound familiar?

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The Tigers return 18 starters, including a Heisman favorite. If LSU can produce a decent passing offense, chances look good for a postseason run.

Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

LSU's 2015 football season featured a number of peaks and valleys. The Tigers climbed as high as No. 2 in the playoff rankings through October, only to suffer their first three-game losing streak in 16 years, which led to November's discussion of firing Les Miles. But the program pushed through to a statement win over Texas A&M and a dominant 56-27 win against Texas Tech in the Advocare Texas Bow. LSU finished 16th in the final AP Poll, ninth in S&P+ and can be found in the projected top 10 of most of the too-early 2016 rankings.

The Tigers lose just one early entry to the NFL Draft (LSU had lost 23 over the previous four years) and return 18 starters next season, including NCAA rushing champion Leonard Fournette and eight of their top 10 tacklers on defense. But the big question is a familiar one: quarterback.

There's no doubt the pieces are all in place for LSU to have a strong passing attack.

Receiver 2016 year Stars as a recruit Receiving stats
Travin Dural Senior 3 1,436 yards (19.9 per catch), 12 TDs
Malachi Dupre Junior 5 1,016 yards (17.8 per catch), 11 TDs
Trey Quinn Junior 4 276 yards (12.5 per catch)
Tyron Johnson Sophomore 5 150 yards (16.7 per catch), 2 TDs
Jazz Ferguson Sophomore 4 N/A
Colin Jeter Senior 3 153 yards (12.8 per catch), 1 TD
DeSean Smith Senior 4 141 yards (15.7 per catch)
Jacory Washington Sophomore 4 N/A

Seven of the Tigers' top nine players at receiver or tight end were four-star recruits or better -- and they'll be adding four more in the class of 2016. But the question is returning junior quarterback Brandon Harris.

The position has been the most consistent complaint from both fans and pundits during Miles' tenure in Baton Rouge. LSU has had five offensive coordinators in the past 11 seasons, and while the Tigers have been able to score points and run the football, when the offense has failed, the quarterback position has usually been the culprit.

This season was no different, despite clear strides from 2014. LSU jumped from 62nd in the nation in yards per play and 38th in S&P+, to 17th and 12th, respectively, but the Tigers' passing S&P+ still lagged at 37th nationally (an improvement from 63rd in 2014, however).

Harris showed flashes early on. Then Alabama happened.

Even in early games where he didn't throw for many yards, the sophomore kept the offense moving efficiently with his legs and his feet, and he improved as the weeks went on. He was the SEC's highest-rated passer in the month of October, and threw for 488 yards and five touchdowns in the Tigers' final two games before the big showdown with Alabama -- including a 13-of-19, 202-yard, two-touchdown performance against Florida's outstanding secondary.

But after that, things took a sharp turn south.

Harris completed just 6 of 19 passes against Alabama, and threw a back-breaking interception on the first play of the second half that allowed the Tide to pull away. The tailspin continued through November, with his completion rate dropping to just 47 percent in the month. Harris also threw his first five interceptions of the season through that disastrous three-game stretch.

The recent revelation that Harris played through that final month with a sports hernia is certainly a factor to consider. A painful abdominal injury could certainly affect a quarterback's accuracy. But the slide was nonetheless dramatic: Harris' passer rating in the season's final month was just 101.2, and even as LSU managed that dramatic, surreal season-ending win over Texas A&M, Harris completed just seven passes in 21 attempts for 83 yards.

The tools are certainly there, with a strong arm and enough mobility to be an asset in the running game.

In LSU's bowl game, Harris completed 13 of 22 passes for 254 yards, with a passing and rushing touchdown against an admittedly bad Texas Tech defense. He was able to at least serve as a nice complement to Fournette and the running game as it dominated teams like Mississippi State, Auburn, Syracuse and South Carolina.

Plus, even with the late-season slide, Harris's overall passer rating of 130.4 isn't radically different from Zach Mettenberger (128.3) or Jamarcus Russell (136.6) in their first seasons as starters. And his numbers compare well to other underclassmen SEC quarterbacks. It's also worth noting that LSU's best passing seasons under Miles have all featured quarterbacks in at least their third season in the program.

It's one thing to be a great running team, and when you have a classic, workhorse-style tailback like Fournette, it's smart to let him lead the way. But with any pro-style offense, having a quarterback that can make plays down the field off of play-action is crucial. When that aspect has been a consistent part of LSU's offense, the results have been stellar.

LSU

Passing S&P+ Ranking

Rushing S&P+ Ranking

Overall (SEC) Record

2005

15th

29th

11-2 (7-1)

2006

5th

16th

11-2 (6-2)

2007

15th

7th

12-2 (6-2)

2008

43rd

16th

8-5 (3-5)

2009

35th

40th

9-4 (5-3)

2010

61st

19th

11-2 (6-2)

2011

3rd

8th

13-1 (8-0)

2012

65th

8th

10-3 (6-2)

2013

8th

17th

10-3 (5-3)

2014

63rd

29th

8-5 (4-4)

2015

31st

6th

9-3 (5-3)

That's a pretty constant running game -- LSU has ranked in the top 20 in rushing S&P+ eight times in 11 seasons. But the passing game has only cracked the top 20 five times. All five of those seasons featured double-digit wins, including the four highest finishes in the final polls under Miles, the 2007 national championship and the 2011 appearance in the title game.

Harris will be one of just two returning starters in the SEC West, along with Ole Miss's Chad Kelly. Factor in the eight other starters back on offense and the division, the conference and a spot in the College Football Playoff could all be there for LSU in 2016. Flipping the quarterback from liability to asset is the key. But given LSU's track record in recent years, fans are short on faith and patience.

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