To say the last two seasons for LSU were disappointing would be a big understatement. Just two years removed from a national championship with one of the best teams ever fielded in college football, the Tigers have failed to achieve winning seasons in consecutive years for the first time since the 1998/99 seasons. And just like that, LSU is already set to embark on a new era. After the departure of Ed Orgeron last season, LSU is setting sail with a new football coach. It shows that there is little forgiveness down on the Bayou, memories are short and their proud winning traditions must continue. Thus we enter the Brian Kelly Era in Louisiana.
Brain Kelly received a 10-year deal just north of $100 million to become the 33rd head coach of the LSU Tigers. He has the resume to back up that contract. A resume that boasts a 166-62 overall record, including a 34-6 record with Cincinnati and a 92-39 record with Notre Dame, which made him the winningest coach in Notre Dame history. His name got him the job at LSU; the record got him the payday. But it doesn't matter if your name is Brian Kelly or Nick Saban, and it doesn't matter what you did for some other school. What matters to LSU fans is what you can do for LSU football now.
What Kelly Has to Work With in Baton Rouge
First things first, Brian Kelly has one of the top wide receivers in the country in Kayshon Boutte. An injury derailed his 2021 campaign after six games with 509 yards and nine TDs. If healthy, we like him to go over 1,000 yards this season and to be in the mix for the Biletnikoff Award, which goes to the NCAA's top wideout. They also lured Jayden Daniels from Arizona State, where the former Sun Devil threw for over 6,000 yards and 32 touchdowns. We don't assume he came over to ride the bench, and with the departure of Myles Brennan, it seems clear that Daniels won't be riding pine. On the defensive side of the ball, BJ Ojulari is fierce coming off the edge, and defensive back Joe Foucha, another transfer portal grab from Arkansas, should make an immediate impact in the secondary.
LSU's Schedule Difficulty: Toss-Up
One tough thing for LSU is in the two off-years they had, more teams have gained ground in the SEC. Now, they don't have to fight tooth and nail with just Alabama, Georgia, Auburn and the Gators. Texas A&M has emerged as a legitimate threat. Ole Miss has made headway, and Arkansas has stepped up their game. So has Mississippi State and Tennessee. Looking at the Tigers' schedule, potential pitfalls that stand out are Mississippi State (Sept. 17), Alabama (Nov. 5), Arkansas (Nov. 12) and Texas A&M (Nov. 26). Upsets over Mississippi State, Arkansas, even 'Bama and A&M are always a possibility, but so are upset losses to Auburn, Florida or Ole Miss. Figuring conservatively, we like an 8-4 record for LSU this season with a 4-4 record in the SEC. Any upset over the four schools mentioned above would be the icing on the cake of a good first season for Brian Kelly.
But it all starts with a Week 1 matchup against Florida State.
Short Term vs. Long Term Expectations
The short-term mandate for Brian Kelly isn't to go out and win a championship this year (though that would be nice). The fact of the matter is this team just isn't built for that right now, as is the case with Mario Cristobal in Miami. With a new coach who signed 15 high schoolers in his first recruiting class and brought in another 15 football players from the transfer portal this offseason, there is going to be a lot of new personnel in Baton Rouge this year.
A winning season would be a step in the right direction for this LSU football team and a good look for Brain Kelly in his first season. No one is expecting him to have the same season as his South Bend successor Marcus Freeman or even reach the College Football Playoff, let alone a national title. Heck, LSU received 55 total votes in the AP Preseason Poll and a big fat zero votes in the USAToday Coaches Poll. So even insiders aren't expecting too much from LSU in 2022. Rankings are not on anyone's mind in Death Valley.
Kelly has the pedigree to be a successful head coach for LSU, and the school is banking on that, quite literally with the contract he was offered. He needs to get off on the right foot, though. A signature win and a winning record would suffice this season. But as we alluded to before, there is little forgiveness down on the Bayou.
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