The honeymoon is over for Brian Kelly.

For all practical purposes, so is his primary rebuilding of the LSU football program.

That doesn’t mean the Tigers are where Kelly expects them to eventually be. In fact, he has been careful to remind everyone that there is more work to be done to establish ideal depth in the program.

Kelly has had only 1 recruiting class that he can call his own as his 2nd season as head coach in Baton Rouge gets underway Sunday against Florida State in Orlando.

The expectation is that the 2023 Tigers won’t be the best team that Kelly will put together.

But the reality is that Kelly’s 1st team won the SEC West, and his 2nd team should be better. LSU is in basically everyone’s preseason Top 10, although that hasn’t translated into a whole bunch of folks picking the Tigers to finish ahead of Alabama for a 2nd consecutive season.

It’s Tell the Truth Monday, and the truth about this season is that Kelly has LSU ahead of any reasonable schedule that might have been plotted when he arrived from Notre Dame to rescue the program from poor seasons under Ed Orgeron in 2020 and 2021.

The truth is that Kelly and the Tigers have completed the return-to-national-championship-contender phase of the rebuilding project.

That doesn’t mean they’re going to win the national championship for the 2023 season — or even the SEC championship, or even another SEC West title.

What it means is none of those accomplishments would be shocking, and none would be as surprising as the division title last season.

This program has come a long way in s short period of time.

More work remains before Kelly and LSU can attain the perennial national championship contender status that is enjoyed by the team the Tigers beat out for the SEC West title (Alabama) and the team that spanked the Tigers in the SEC title game (Georgia) last year.

But the legitimate qualifiers that Kelly inherited a year ago about the significant shortcomings he was handed and the amount of time it would take to ascend to the top tier in the most challenging conference in college football are gone.

LSU has returned as a legitimate SEC title contender, which automatically makes any such team a legitimate national-championship contender.

Kelly has one of the better and most experienced quarterbacks in the country in Jayden Daniels, who has a bevy of talented receivers to target. The experience and dependability of the offensive line as well as the depth at running back are much greater than they were a year ago.

The defense features a lot of new faces, but it is talented and deep at all 3 levels.

The special teams were shaky at best last season, but a coaching change and a focus on the units should produce improvement.

So there’s justifiable excitement around the Tigers’ program as well as a recognition that Kelly and his staff have cleared the highest hurdles left behind by Orgeron and his staff.

Still, it’s uncertain whether Kelly’s 1st season can be seen as the establishment of the floor for the rebuilt program. Or did it feature lightning-in-a-bottle elements that produced a false sense of just how far the program has advanced, which belies the 2 steps forward, 1 step back nature that often accompanies these types of projects?

The season opener against the No. 8 Seminoles presents a useful gauge of where the 2023 Tigers might be headed.

LSU and FSU met in the 2022 season opener in the Caesars Superdome. Both teams were hopeful but uncertain as to whether they were on the cusp of returning to Top 25 status or embarking on a multiseason journey toward it.

The Tigers put together an uneven performance, which would prove to be 1 of their worst of the season, that ended with them 1 point short after Damian Ramos’ extra point was blocked with no time left.

FSU, which was coming off 4 consecutive losing seasons, used the victory as a springboard to a 10-3 season.

So both the Tigers, who finished 10-4, and the Seminoles bounced back far enough to earn preseason Top 10 designations this summer.

This opener is the marquee game of Labor Day weekend. But the true gauge of the progression of Kelly’s program will be determined by how LSU fares as an SEC West and conference title contender as well as a potential CFP participant.