LSU is optimistic about its future under new head coach Brian Kelly.
The Tigers were a combined 11-12 in Ed Orgeron’s last 2 seasons as head coach. Kelly won 74% of his games during a 12-year tenure at Notre Dame.
Things should get better.
Kelly has been busy using the transfer portal and cobbled together a pretty good roster under difficult circumstances.
But this is just the first step in a challenging rebuilding process.
Orgeron was fired during last season not just because of the won-lost record, though that certainly was the bottom line, but also because the program had gone significantly backward since the 2019 CFP championship season.
ESPN’s FPI projected win total for LSU in 2022 is 7.7, which would represent marginal improvement over last season.
But the Tigers still have many question marks and don’t be surprised if Kelly’s first team falls short of the projection – as well as the record of Orgeron’s last team.
Here is a skeptic’s guide to LSU’s 2022 season:
The players have to unlearn (at least to some degree) the way they’ve been taught to do things whether they last played for Orgeron, another college coach or a high-school coach.
Then Kelly and his staff have to teach them how they want things done. Both coordinators – Mike Denbrock (offense) and Matt House (defense) – have said they’re still polishing their systems because they’re still trying to figure out how to tailor them to their new players.
The extensive getting-acquainted period will put the Tigers behind opponents that haven’t undergone a coaching change. Only 2 of LSU’s opponents – Southern and Florida – have a first-year head coach.
One positive about this transition is that the players (at least the ones not from South Louisiana) should catch on quicker listening to Kelly than they would have trying to work through Orgeron’s thick accent.
The Tigers feel good about the talent they have on their starting defense.
The depth isn’t as good as Kelly expects it to be in a couple of years, but there are backups with enough ability to compete in the SEC.
The problem is that a lot of the more talented backups are inexperienced.
LSU knows the importance of depth in the SEC because of the physicality of the league, the heat and humidity early in the season and the inevitable injuries.
The Tigers need a lot more than 11 dependable defenders and many of those who will be called upon will be receiving on-the-job training.
The Tigers have a bunch of good wide receivers. It might even be the deepest position on the team.
That group could be even more effective if they had a reliable tight end to complement them.
But they don’t.
In fact Kelly’s best option at tight end might be to move Jack Bech there, but that would diminish their receiver corps by losing the top returning pass-catcher.
LSU has several viable candidates for carries in John Emery II, Penn State transfer Noah Cain, Armoni Goodwin, Tre Bradford and Josh Williams.
They all have potential.
Each has had effective moments – some longer than others – but none has demonstrated that they can be effective as someone with a dozen or more carries week in and week out.
And in the SEC, most of the good teams have at least 2 of those guys.
None of these guys have rushed for as many as 500 yards in a college season.
The Tigers have 4 quarterbacks that they like in Myles Brennan, Jayden Daniels, Garrett Nussmeier and Walker Howard. Their competition to be the starter will extend into preseason camp.
The fact that no one has established himself as a front-runner indicates that each has question marks.
If any one of them had the arm strength, athleticism, experience, maturity and familiarity with the system required of an effective starter in the SEC, LSU would have a front-runner.
Kelly recently told Tiger Rag that his concern before spring practice was that the offensive line was going to be “an unmitigated disaster.”
After spring practice, he said he was more encouraged about the unit’s potential.
But the line was one of the major problems in the Tigers’ drop-off the past 2 seasons and this season it’s not going to be anywhere near where Kelly wants it to ultimately be.
It’s the primary reason that LSU’s ceiling is of average height in 2022.