COLUMN: Mississippi State is Brian Kelly’s first ‘must-win’ game at LSU

When Brian Kelly took the job at LSU, the expectation was a multi-year rebuild.

But after a slew of transfer portal additions and effective staff hires, LSU found success in Kelly’s first year, beating Alabama and winning the SEC West.

This wasn’t a rebuild. It wouldn’t be seen that way, at least.

LSU began this season ranked at No. 5 in the AP Top 25. At minimum, the expectation was a New Year’s Six bowl. Maybe even a playoff appearance.

A season-opening loss to Florida State dampened the hype, putting LSU at 1-1 entering conference play against Mississippi State on Saturday.

For the first time in his tenure at LSU, Kelly is facing a “must-win.”

A loss here would likely dash any New Year’s Six hopes and entirely eliminate LSU from playoff contention. You could probably throw the SEC West out the door too.

All of that gone after three weeks isn’t an acceptable outcome given the talent and experience on this team.

A 1-2 start would mean LSU isn’t nearly as good as we thought they were. It would be a troubling sign for a program supposedly trending up.

Serious questions would be raised about Kelly’s ability to prepare his team for games on a week-to-week basis.

You never want to boil an entire narrative down to “vibes,” but if LSU loses on Saturday, the vibes will be off. And we really haven’t had much of that since Kelly arrived. The upward trajectory has led to a program surrounded by optimism.

I don’t think a loss puts Kelly on the hot seat. Considering the buyout, the success last year and the young talent on the team, I don’t see Kelly getting fired this year unless LSU somehow finds a way to go 3-9.

But Kelly would be left answering questions. The media narrative surrounding LSU would drastically change and the staff would need to combat that in recruiting.

Of course, the easiest way to avoid all of this is to just win. The Tigers should, considering they’re 9.5-point favorites, but that’s just another reason why they can’t afford to lose this game.

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Story originally appeared on LSU Tigers Wire