Brian Kelly won't let fairy tale determine LSU football's starting quarterback | Opinion

·4 min read

Brian Kelly rejects fairy-tale endings.

When Kelly’s Notre Dame football team positioned itself last November for a potential catapult into the College Football Playoff, he jilted the Irish in favor of a richer deal from LSU. That’s no fairy tale. That’s business.

Kelly had another chance to show he’s got a gooey center while determining LSU’s starting quarterback this preseason. Sixth-year senior Myles Brennan had rejected the transfer portal’s temptations to finish his career at LSU. Injuries derailed the former starter in back-to-back seasons. Reclaiming the starting job would have been an exclamation point to Brennan’s devotion to the Tigers.

Instead, with the competition trending in favor of Arizona State transfer Jayden Daniels or redshirt freshman Garrett Nussmeier, Brennan announced Monday he’s stepping away from football and won’t play for LSU this season,

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ANALYSIS: The biggest quarterback competitions for the college football season

LSU quarterback Garrett Nussmeier (13) talks to LSU head coach Brian Kelly during the Spring football game in Baton Rouge, La. Saturday, April 23, 2022. Photo by Matthew Hinton
LSU quarterback Garrett Nussmeier (13) talks to LSU head coach Brian Kelly during the Spring football game in Baton Rouge, La. Saturday, April 23, 2022. Photo by Matthew Hinton

I don’t fault Brennan for embracing "a new chapter" in life, as he wrote in his announcement, nor do I think Kelly should have felt compelled to reward Brennan’s loyalty with the starting job.

Kelly has one chance to make a strong impression at LSU, and his quarterback decision will become a scrutinized selection. If he believes Daniels or Nussmeier offers the highest ceiling, he must hand one of them the keys.

Brennan signed with LSU in 2017 as part of Ed Orgeron’s first recruiting class. If starting quarterback competitions were decided by resolve and commitment, Kelly would have named Brennan QB1 months ago. But, remember, Kelly embraces a business mentality over storybook endings.

While coaches decry the surging rate of transfers, Brennan became a study in the risk a player runs in not rebooting his career elsewhere, particularly after a coaching change.

In a different era, an accurate veteran like Brennan would have been a slam-dunk choice. These are different times. Coaches want players to refuse the siren’s call of the transfer portal, but that doesn’t stop coaches from shuffling veterans down the depth chart in favor of new toys. Twice, LSU added transfers who leapfrogged Brennan – first Joe Burrow, then Daniels.

I imagine Brennan would have looked good in a Louisiana or Louisiana Tech or Louisiana-Monroe uniform this season, but Kelly persuaded him to stay and compete for the job he really wanted.

Credit Kelly for retaining Brennan and Nussmeier into the preseason, even after adding Daniels, for a legitimate three-deep competition that stretched into August.

Like a lot of first-year coaches, Kelly wasn’t content with the options he inherited. He plucked Daniels, a 29-game starter at Arizona State, out of the transfer portal. Based on Daniels’ spring game performance, he’s an unfinished product as a passer and must finalize his grasp of Kelly’s offense. Based on the first-team reps Daniels is receiving, Kelly isn’t putting too much stock in the spring game.

Dual-threat Notre Dame quarterbacks thrived under Kelly. LSU offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock previously directed Cincinnati's offense, where dual threat Desmond Ridder flourished. Denbrock worked under Kelly at Notre Dame earlier in his career.

Plus, a mobile quarterback would aid an LSU offensive line that struggled in pass protection last season.

Nussmeier is no statue, either, and he’s armed with a howitzer and moxie.

Few coaches readily embrace a two-quarterback system. Kelly used the approach in the past, but he sounded averse to the idea in the spring.

"Nightmares," Kelly said in April when asked about a two-QB system. "It’s not easy. It has to be a situation where you have to do it. I’d much rather just play one quarterback and try to fit the offense to their traits over somebody else. The two-quarterback situation is so difficult to manage, honestly."

If juggling two quarterbacks is difficult, then three is undoubtedly a crowd. Someone had to be the odd-man out, and it’s not shocking it became the guy whose eligibility exhausts after this year.

Who can blame Brennan for not wanting to stick around for another season as a backup? He’s a 23-year-old engaged man with a college degree in hand.

I also don’t fault Kelly for opting for the quarterback he recruited or the strong-armed redshirt freshman. Let’s at least reserve judgment on Kelly’s decision until we see how LSU's offense performs on Sept. 4 against Florida State.

This tale has no villain. It’s just not a fairy tale.

Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at BToppmeyer@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: LSU football quarterback competition: Brian Kelly sticks to facts