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The only two SEC jobs that opened up during this past coaching carousel cycle just happened to be among the league’s preeminent programs, and with the two teams facing annually — at least for the time being — and the fact that Napier’s name was thrown around as a possibility for the opening in Baton Rouge, the comparison invites itself.
That’s really the only thing the two coaches have in common though. Napier is a young and largely unproven coach despite a very impressive effort at the Group of Five level with Louisiana, and Kelly arrives as the winningest coach in Notre Dame history looking to win his first title. The pair hail from vastly different geographic regions and have unique personalities and strengths.
But like I said, the comparison invites itself, and CBS Sports’ Barrett Sallee was the latest to weigh in. He compared the two coaches to see which is better poised for immediate success in their new job. Here’s what he said about Kelly.
The good news for Kelly is that he has a very healthy quarterback battle going on in Baton Rouge. Three-year Arizona State starter Jayden Daniels moved to the bayou this offseason, former starter Myles Brennan reemerged from the transfer portal to compete for his former job and Garrett Nussmeier might have the most upside of the trio.
The running game is solid with John Emery Jr. back after a year off and Noah Cain coming in from Penn State. But the offensive line is replacing four starters and finished next-to-last in the SEC in sacks allowed per game last year with 2.92. Bottom line: it’s going to be difficult to put together sustained drives unless the new faces up front come together in a hurry.
The defensive front should be the strength of the 2022 Tigers, but the secondary has gone through a massive overhaul since the end of last season. That’s not a great sign in an SEC West that has become pass-happy at the top.
Kelly mentioned on the Texas Bowl broadcast that LSU’s roster needs to be beefed up from a quantity perspective. Graduation and attrition have taken a toll on the roster, and even though the transfer portal has made it easier to re-stock, it’s almost impossible to expect the massive influx of fresh faces to suddenly complete in the West.
Sallee’s point is understandable, given the roster turnover the Tigers saw this offseason, especially in the trenches on both sides of the football. There are intriguing transfer prospects that should play a major role, but those are far from guarantees.
That’s why he ultimately gives the edge to Napier and the Gators, though he makes it clear that he thinks both coaches will succeed in the long term — even giving Kelly the advantage in that regard.
While Kelly is more likely to have long-term success, Napier is better-positioned to see immediate success this season. He has a more stable foundation and an easier path to at least get the Gators back to relevance in the SEC.
If Richardson does emerge as a bonafide superstar as the offseason momentum indicates, he should be the catalyst for Florida to dictate the style and tempo of most games. Napier was ultra-successful with mobile quarterbacks at Louisiana, including last season with Johnson and dual-threat weapon Levi Lewis. Plus, the schedule sets up relatively well. Kentucky, South Carolina and Missouri — which constitute the beefy middle of the East — will all travel to The Swamp. LSU, on the other hand, has to go to Arkansas, Auburn and Texas A&M.
Luckily, there will be a head-to-head contest and some transitive property opportunities to compare the two. Kelly will square off with Napier in The Swamp, and both the Tigers and the Gators will battle with Florida State and Tennessee in 2022. Both also travel to Texas A&M. But the SEC West is stacked, which will make it challenging for the Tigers to make a decent bowl game this year.
Simply by virtue of having a player like Anthony Richardson, it makes sense why UF may have a higher ceiling in 2022. But with that being said, the Gators have their own roster deficiencies to deal with that rival (and in some cases, exceed) LSU’s.
We’ll have to wait until September to see what happens, but which new SEC coach has the more impressive Year 1 will be something worth watching this fall.
Follow Tyler to continue the conversation on Twitter: @TylerNettuno