1. I don’t want to get on a soapbox, but …

Here we are, in the middle of another unhinged wash cycle of social media, and we’ve zeroed in on a contrived southern accent.

Instead of the fact that LSU has a true-blue ball coach for the first time since Nick Saban.

Let that sink in for a moment.

While keyboard heroes on social media mock Brian Kelly for a faux accent (granted, it was awful), while they scoff at his 3-minute goodbye to his Notre Dame team (there’s no good way to do it), while he has suddenly become the guy who – take your pick – can’t recruit, was a tyrant coach whose assistants hated him and he underachieved at Notre Dame, guess who wins in this follow the idiot social media narrative dump?


The program with as many inherent advantages as any program in college football just got a coach who has won big everywhere he has been – despite inherent obstacles he couldn’t avoid at every single stop.

Including Notre Dame.

Kelly won national titles (that’s plural) in the NCAA lower divisions at Grand Valley State, when he would line the field before practice.

He won a conference championship at Central Michigan, in a conference (MAC) that spends so little on football (and coaches), there’s a history of head coaches leaving for coordinator or position jobs at other schools to make more money and be in better professional situations.

He won a BCS conference championship at Cincinnati (the Big East), setting a school record for wins (12, just broken this season at 13) and completing the first unbeaten regular season in school history (tied this season). Much has changed since Kelly coached Cincinnati, including a significant upgrade in facilities and money spent on the program.

And Kelly won big at Notre Dame, the toughest job in college football. With 113 wins in 12 years, he’s the all-time winningest coach at the storied program. He won 54 games in the past 5 years and led the Irish to 2 College Football Playoff appearances in the past 4 years.

He had to beg for artificial turf at Notre Dame Stadium. Beg for a replay board. Both were near mortal sins at Notre Dame, which places tradition above all else.

In the age of posh standalone football facilities at most Power 5 programs, the football program at Notre Dame shares an outdated facility with all sports.

Five years ago, I was in South Bend for a story I was working on about Kelly reinventing himself after a 4-8 season — another social media-induced panic attack; he didn’t reinvent anything, he just got better — and we spoke in his office about how the Notre Dame job wears on coaches. So many outside influences, so many people who should have no control or input over football, yet have the ability to find a way to exert influence.

In this era of high school recruits arriving for recruiting visits and seeing multimillion-dollar facilities, and huge dining halls with personal chefs and sports nutritionists, we walked out of Kelly’s office and had to walk around a line of tables that were set up for training table dining.

Sterno fluid cans, and all — steps from the office of the head coach at Notre Dame. What kind of message do you think that sets?

“We’re working on it,” Kelly said then.

Guess what? It hasn’t changed since (though, to be fair, the ND administration is still “working on it”).

So the coach who has more career wins (284, including all divisions) than any active coach – and who did it in more difficult circumstances than anyone – gets a call from LSU athletic director Scott Woodward with an offer of a guaranteed deal that will pay him more than $10 million a season with bonuses.

He gets to coach at the top of his profession again (because that’s where Notre Dame is), he gets to do it in the best conference in college football, and he’s given every possible advantage at LSU that he never had in nearly three decades as a college coach.

Sure, just turn that down and wait for Notre Dame to work on it.

Turn that down and keep trying to break through and reach the CFP at a school whose very identity (an independent) is a significant hurdle in reaching the Playoff.

Turn that down for a conference that has placed 2 teams in a single Playoff season twice in 8 years (no other conference has), and for a conference that could place as many as 3 or 4 in the soon to be expanded Playoff.

And you’re laughing at Brian Kelly because he’s pandering to a home crowd with a manufactured southern accent?

They’ll be the same keyboard warriors who praise Kelly when LSU is 8-0 or 7-1 heading into a titanic game against 2-time defending national champion Alabama.

2. A change at the top

Even though other SEC West schools would like to think differently, all things being equal, the biggest obstacle to Alabama in the SEC West has always been LSU.

Even before Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa in 2007, it was LSU. Not Auburn. Not Arkansas, not the Mississippis. And most recently, not Texas A&M.

Since Saban began his unthinkable run of success at Alabama, he has had to deal with two coaches at the one program with the money, facilities and investment in winning to match Alabama: Les Miles and Ed Orgeron.

Now he has to deal with Brian Kelly.

From two coaches high on recruiting and rhetoric to a genuine ball coach – a motivated megalomaniac (and I say that out of admiration) — and a threat to everything Alabama holds near and dear.

The two coaches before Kelly, the guys who recruited elite players inside the fertile state of Louisiana and nationally, who put together talented coaching staffs (at times) and won national titles, have been replaced by a coach who will do the same annually – with a detailed operational plan.

Miles won a national title in 2007 after a convergence of events in the final week of the regular season somehow got LSU in the BCS national title game after it lost (at home) to Arkansas 2 weeks earlier.

Orgeron won a national title in 2019 because he recruited so well (more on that later) and landed a transfer quarterback so talented (Joe Burrow), his team steamrolled everything in its path.

Neither won consistently at that level, and neither could consistently slay the Alabama beast (to be fair, who has?).

LSU now has something unique in Kelly, a wildly successful coach who has been waiting his entire professional life to have everything he could possibly want in a job – with no obstacles.

Except, that is, the one staring back at him from Tuscaloosa.

You want to know why none of Kelly’s assistants followed him from Notre Dame to LSU? The same reason none of Nick Saban’s assistants followed him from Michigan State to LSU.

Kelly, like Saban, demands perfection and refuses to settle for mediocrity. Saban’s favorite saying is mediocre people don’t like high achievers, and high achievers don’t like mediocre people.

Kelly is hard on his assistant coaches because little things become big things, and big things lose games.

Big things get you fired.

3. Talent wins games

Let’s not forget LSU played a majority of this season with significant injuries at quarterback, offensive line, defensive line and the secondary. And without the team’s No. 1 receiver, who was having the best season of any receiver in the SEC.

The Tigers also played with a bright, glorious fireball at head coach, who was quickly fading into oblivion.

Things, everyone, are about to get real.

It is here where we address Brian Kelly, the recruiter and talent developer. But before we go further, understand that there might be a handful of FBS programs (Stanford, Duke, Northwestern) with more stringent academic standards than Notre Dame.

Yet when Kelly told Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick he was leaving for LSU, the Irish had the No. 5 recruiting class in the nation, according to the 247Sports composite.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me be very clear on this one, critical point: Kelly will go from sipping through a recruiting straw at Notre Dame, to gulping through a firehose at LSU.

He can get anyone in school at LSU, and the footprint not only is similar to Notre Dame (LSU can recruit nationally, too), it has a stronger foothold in the South – where a majority of the elite high school players are.

Kelly will go from an average recruiting ranking of No. 13 in the nation over the previous 4 seasons – with the inherent obstacles of recruiting to a school with high academic standards and without a conference affiliation – to recruiting to the 16-team SEC in a footprint that includes some of most fertile states in the nation.

Meanwhile, he inherits a roster built with 3 straight top-5 recruiting classes. LSU is currently 15th in the 247Sports composite despite 2 months of turmoil, and Kelly has 2 weeks to improve it.

As Championship Weekend wound down, one television bobblehead actually said Notre Dame got, “younger and cooler” when Marcus Freeman replaced the 60-year-old Kelly.

OK, LSU got stronger and smarter. And will get better, quickly.

“He’s not here to simply fit into our culture,” Woodward said during the introductory press conference. “He’s here to transform it.”

4. The QB quandary

Kirby Smart, everyone, has a blind spot. And it’s getting worse by the week.

What’s more disconcerting? That Smart, Georgia’s elite coach, once again has bungled the quarterback spot at Georgia — or that he refuses to move off the spot?

If Smart truly did believe there’s no difference in the practice performance between Stetson Bennett and JT Daniels (as he has said), he would’ve played Daniels in two meaningless routs to end the season (Charleston Southern, Georgia Tech) to keep him sharp and ready to play.

Instead, Smart kept doubling down on Bennett – who got his first taste of a legitimate defense in the SEC Championship Game (and chasing points against that defense), and it wasn’t pretty.

Forget about the touchdowns in the SEC Championship Game loss to Alabama, they’re misleading. One was a 5-yard jump ball to TE Darnell Washington, another was a slip screen that WR Ladd McConkey turned into a 32-yard touchdown, and the last was an 18-yard catch-and-run by TE Brock Bowers.

All 3 were throws any FBS quarterback makes. When Bennett had to stay in the pocket and go through progressions and make throws on time and with anticipation, there were problems.

Even the most ardent of Bennett backers can no longer deny that Georgia will not win a national title – much less a semifinal game against Michigan – with Bennett. He’s a liability against elite defenses. Michigan has a top-5 defense.

Bennett had a pick-6 and a red-zone interception against Alabama, and now has 5 interceptions in 2 games against the Tide. In 2 games against Florida – the other legitimate defense he has faced that can rush the passer – he has 3 interceptions in 2 games.

That’s 8 interceptions in those 4 games over the past 2 seasons. This can’t be lost on Smart, or the offensive staff at Georgia.

It’s time to make the move to Daniels. Forget about Bennett’s psyche; you’re trying to win a national title. You have the defense to do it.

More important, you have the offense to do it – everywhere but quarterback. Until Daniels plays.

When Daniels played against Clemson in the season opener and the offense struggled, star WR George Pickens didn’t play. WRs Kearis Jackson and Dominick Blalock, and Washington, didn’t play. McConkey wasn’t playing with confidence like he now does.

All will be healthy and ready for the CFP semifinal to play with a quarterback who hasn’t lost a game as a Georgia starter (7-0).

Smart called the loss to Alabama “a wake-up call” to the team.

The players aren’t the only group that needs it.

5. The Weekly Five

Five reasons Bryce Young will win the Heisman Trophy with one of the biggest margins in the history of the award.

1. The Drive to beat Auburn (the 4th-down conversion, the perfectly thrown 28-yard TD pass to Ja’Corey Brooks – that could only have been better if he placed it in Brooks’ hands.

2. The huge performance in the biggest game of the season (SEC Championship) against the best defense in college football over the past 10 years.

3. The 7-game run since Alabama’s loss to Texas A&M, which made every game win or go home: 23 TDs, 1 INT.

4. The 17 TDs and 1 INT in 5 games – 5 wins — against ranked teams.

5. The completion rate of 72% on 3rd- and 4th-down throws.

6. Your tape is your résumé

An NFL scout breaks down an SEC player. This week: Alabama WR John Metchie III.

“You hate to see injuries like that. He’s 3 games from finishing his career and leaving early (for the NFL Draft) and getting selected in the first round. I don’t think he goes back. Depending on the severity of the (ACL) injury — they all are different, they all heal different – I would think he rehabs and his tape is his résumé. You watch the tape, and he’s a first-day pick. Gets off the jam, explosion out of cuts, and knows the game. A real professional already. And he can run. He’s not (Jameson) Williams fast, but he’s plenty fast.”

5. Powered Up

This week’s Power Poll, and one big thing: 2022 recruit of impact (currently committed).

1. Alabama: 5-star TB Emmanuel Henderson. Not your typical sturdy Tide tailback (6-1, 185), but a tough runner with game-breaking speed.

2. Georgia: 5-star CB Jaheim Singletary. Will start immediately in shaky secondary.

3. Ole Miss: 4-star DT Zxavian Harris. The renovation of the defense continues with a massive (6-8, 335) interior presence.

4. Arkansas: 4-star OT E’Marion Harris. Huge potential from a huge body (6-7, 370) and wingspan.

5. Texas A&M: 5-star DT Walter Nolen. DC Mike Elko’s defenses begin and end with interior run stuffers/pocket crushers. Nolen is the No. 2 overall recruit in the nation.

6. Mississippi State: 4-star WR Marquez Dorth. Bulldogs finally get a receiver who can stretch the field with deep speed.

7. Kentucky: 5-star OT Kiyaunta Goodwin. QB Will Levis dodged too much traffic all season. Goodwin changes that.

8. Tennessee: 4-star DE Joshua Josephs. Vols must get better in the pass rush, and Josephs needs more heft (6-3, 215) but is quick off the edge.

9. Auburn: 4-star S Tre Donaldson: Won head-to-head battle with Alabama for dynamic safety who can hit and cover.

10. LSU: 5-star OT Will Campbell. Tackles struggled all season, and Campbell will help LSU get nasty again on the o-line.

11. Missouri: 5-star WR Luther Burden. No. 1 receiver on some boards is the jewel of No. 4-ranked SEC recruiting class.

12. South Carolina: 4-star S Keenan Nelson Jr.: Gamecocks need help all over the secondary.

13. Florida: 4-star DE Chris McClellan. Force off the edge who will play immediately at a position of need.

14. Vanderbilt: 3-star LB Langston Patterson. Vandy is desperate for active, athletic linebackers.

8. Ask and you shall receive

Matt: Is it possible Alabama was playing possum all along and was saving this type of game in the biggest game of the season? — Mary Shelley, Atlanta.

Mary: No. Not even close. Saban’s problem this season is the same issue he faces every season: convincing players who have already reached the mountain to make the long, difficult journey back up the following season.

He does it better than anyone, and it’s why he’s the greatest coach in college football history.

It’s easy for young players to taste success, and then not work as hard to achieve it again. It’s human nature. Saban’s motivational tactics aren’t unique, but year after year (despite the clear advantage in talent) he continues to find ways to push the right buttons.

He jokes about “rat poison” – but he thrives when others doubt Alabama. That gives him the angle he needs to dive into their collective psyches. He learned from Bill Belichick, who learned from Bill Parcells – who once left an empty gas can in front of the locker of Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor, insinuating that the season was long and Taylor was running out of gas.

It’s those types of motivation ploys that make Saban what he is. He talks about players building value for themselves to push and get the most from them. The long-term goal is the NFL, and it must be used as a motivational ploy within the team concept — not as an end result of individual play. No one does it better than Saban.

9. Numbers

.868 New Florida coach Billy Napier led Louisiana to the Sun Belt Championship Game in his first season in 2018 and finished with a 7-7 record. In the next 3 seasons, the Cajuns won 33 of 38 games (.868 winning percentage), and got back to the Sun Belt Championship Game last weekend – and beat Appalachian State.

10. Quote to note

Georgia coach Kirby Smart on what the staff learned from the loss to Alabama: “It was an eye-opening experience. Sometimes you see those flaws, and you see brutal truths, and the best way to handle those is to have optimism and go to work.”