Updated: Aug 22, 2022
By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
After an off-season full of bizarre coaching swaps, high profile transfers, two of college football's most renowned figures engaging in a showdown of public bloodletting, the beginning disintegration of entire conferences, and an established secession from the NCAA, you can't help but sense we are hurdling at a violent pace towards the start of a highly intriguing college football season.
Concerning wild changes to the very fabric of the game itself, 2021/2022 stands as one of the wildest off-season cycles in memory.
Lincoln Riley to USC, Billy Napier to Florida, Marcus Freeman taking over & ushering in a new era at Notre Dame.
Brent Venables leaving Clemson after a decade and a half for his dream head coaching job at Oklahoma.
Mario Cristobal trading Oregon for Miami.
Brian Harsin holding on to the Auburn job despite an overwhelming public "tabloid push" for his ouster.
Then, perhaps most bizarre of all, long-time Notre Dame Head Coach Brian Kelly left the Midwestern cold for the first time in his near four decade-long career, taking the LSU job down south in Baton Rouge....
Having never won a National Championship himself, Brian Kelly arrived in LSU country with one mission in mind, bring the National Championship back to Louisiana State University.
Only three years removed from their last title, Kelly believes the Tigers have the resources, fanbase support and state-wide talent to accomplish his ultimate goal.
In order to build his vision for the program, Brian Kelly first had to repair the fractured culture and roster left behind by former Head Coach Ed Orgeron.
Before Kelly could succeed in changing LSU's culture of poor academics, unreported Title IX violations, and an environment which began to prioritize the NFL over all else, the former Notre Dame chief had to make sure LSU's roster possessed enough quality players to remain competitive.
In a rapid portal assault, Kelly signed 16 transfers, headlined by possible starting QB Jayden Daniels, 7 defensive backs, as well as keeping a handful of much-needed veterans from heading for the NFL Draft.
The former Cincinnati Head Coach actually went to great lengths retaining transfer portal-bound quarterback Myles Brennan and star receiver Kayshon Boutte, both with one foot out the door last winter.
Simultaneously, Kelly fused together a staff split in two camps, loyalists from his time at Notre Dame, next to a "who's who" list of top Louisiana-born coaches.
This staff then ensured 2022 recruiting success through 5 star signees Will Campbell, Walker Howard, Harold Perkins, as well as high 4 star talents Emery Jones, Laterrance Welch and Bo Bordelon.
Now here we are, deep into fall camp and the Brian Kelly vision is beginning to align.
Kelly's coaching staff is loaded, counting on National Champions and Super Bowl winners at key spots.
Even former collegiate head coaches, prior NFL coordinators or SEC position assistants were willing to take analyst jobs just to be part of the Irish Tiger's ambitious LSU project (Terry Malone, John Jancek and Trent Miles among others).
It's fantastic building an elite coaching staff, but as LSU have found out the hard way since 2019, you may as well shut up shop without a solid quarterback in today's game.
Accordingly, LSU's high profile quarterback race still rages on.
Garrett Nussmeier & Jayden Daniels are both strong options, each signifying the two most talented LSU quarterbacks since Joe Burrow left the school.
Smelling blood in the water due to Brennan's retirement or Nussmeier's ankle injury, Daniels showcased his multi-faceted talents throughout fall camp and is now the favorite.
Winning the trust of Kelly, QBs Coach Joe Sloan, offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock and his teammates, Daniels developed strong chemistry alongside LSU's receiving corps & running backs over the past months.
During his latest press conference, Kelly also commented on how Daniels' impressive command of the Tigers' offensive line continues to become more evident.
Backed by freshman 5 star Walker Howard, LSU's quarterback room is a definite strength in the present and future. But because of Myles Brennan's retirement, one catastrophic injury could change the entire complexion of Joe Sloan's QB room.
As for the rest of Kelly's roster, uncertainty or absolute possibility alternate position to position, from worries to strength, transfers to returning Tigers.
Regardless, 2022 LSU remain an elite-level SEC outfit on paper, boasting a number of likely future NFL Draft picks such as Kayshon Boutte, Ali Gaye, BJ Ojulari, Malik Nabers, Jack Bech, Jaquelin Roy or Maason Smith.
Possessing a loaded defensive front and wide receiver unit, the Tigers carry enough pure star power to stay competitive in every game.
Approaching a season where the microscope on an unranked LSU and the target on Brian Kelly's back will both be enhanced, the Tigers will garner much of the college football world's attention or curiosity, but little of their sympathy.
For as much as LSU struggled mightily over their past two seasons, the college football blue blood world still lusts for 2019 vengeance.
Finishing under .500 for the first time since Y2K was still an ominous end of days acronym, LSU enter 2022's campaign unranked, but could that also mean underrated?
It's eye-opening how Kelly's current squad are maligned, overlooked and most of all, seemingly feared among college football analysts & rival fanbases.
Simply put, no one quite knows what to expect from Brian Kelly or his players this season. On the other hand, this lack of familiarity or outside knowledge could play to LSU's advantage.
Organizing a roster made up of returning veterans, younger elite prospects, and a variety of transfers, Kelly built this team from the ground up, not out of choice but necessity.
When LSU football strides into the New Orleans Superdome to face Florida State on September 4th, Brian Kelly and his LSU Tigers will have a major point to prove......not just to the expectant college football media or ravenous fanbases desperate for their failure, but to themselves.
Will this fall usher in a new era of consistency and annual championship contention for LSU football, or could this season become more of a proving / testing ground for how Kelly's program will be run over the next 5-10 years?
Opening with three non-conference games out of their first four opponents, all winnable outings (FSU, Southern and New Mexico State), Kelly's staff will likely use 90% of their roster in order to find out which Tigers will lead this team through the meat of the SEC gauntlet.
LSU's most obvious position still to be decided is quarterback.
Due to the importance of settling down a younger, less familiar roster, you would think once Kelly, offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock and quarterbacks coach Joe Sloan agree on their starting quarterback, much of the uncertain haze surrounding Kelly's debut Tigers squad will lift.
Understanding the identity of LSU's quarterback won't solve this team's every issue, although finding their next signal caller should help from a psychological point of view.
When looking for the identity of 2022 LSU's definitive playmakers, we stop right at Cortez Hankton's wide receiving corps.
Kayshon Boutte may not just be a Biletnikoff-candidate; If the stars align, he holds the exact caliber of effortless brilliance only the most talented football players can claim.
Much like Boutte's ability to eat up ground after the catch, Jack Bech, Malik Nabers, Kyren Lacy and Jaray Jenkins are all capable of big plays over the middle, through traffic, against tight coverage or when deployed in a wide range of formations.
However, the Tigers' offense are aiming for a more balanced attack, leaning on production from Frank Wilson's running backs on the ground and through the air.
With news of John Emery Jr's academic issues rearing their head once again, Kelly's offense will rely on former Penn State running back Noah Cain through the first few weeks. Coach Wilson now has just three active scholarship backs on roster right now (Armoni Goodwin, Josh Williams and Noah Cain).
On defense, first year coordinator Matt House will lean heavily on a rotating, attack-minded front seven led by NFL pedigree players BJ Ojulari, Ali Gaye, Maason Smith, Jaquelin Roy and All-SEC freshman transfer Mekhi Wingo.
At the back end, House will rely on his 7 year relationship with veteran safety Jay Ward for organization and alignment.
Meanwhile, DBU coaching tandem Robert Steeples and Kerry Cooks will focus on maximizing secondary standouts Major Burns, Jarrick Bernard-Converse, Mekhi Garner, Colby Richardson and versatile playmaking DB Sage Ryan.
Another major story surrounding this LSU team is the rise of their 2022 freshmen.
Left tackle Will Campbell, cornerbacks Laterrance Welch or Jordan Allen and 5 star linebacker Harold Perkins' development lies far ahead of their peers, equally in line for extended snaps.
In the end, LSU's younger squad or title-winning veterans can't do it all themselves.
Kelly's coaching staff must conjure the season of their careers if this team will contend for the SEC West, let alone a championship.
Already 10 months into the Brian Kelly project, half of that time spent cleaning up messes from the previous coaching regime, as the battles within the transfer portal and recruiting trail continued at a dizzying pace, I wonder if staff fatigue could play a factor later in 2022.
Can Kelly's debut staff find solutions mid-game to overturn adversity into victory?
Can LSU's 2022 coaches reinvigorate our roster with the energy, intensity and football IQ needed to contend?
We'll begin to find out the answers to those questions in less than 2 weeks.
By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
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