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Does Billy Napier have the edge on LSU’s Brian Kelly in his debut season?

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Florida football hit the reset button last fall when it fired former head coach Dan Mullen and his staff, replacing them with Billy Napier along with a cadre of coaches and other personnel. The regime change signaled not just a new skipper at the helm but also a complete change in how the program goes about its business — a culture change that has already rippled across campus to other sports.

Napier is not the only nascent coach in the nation next season as several big-name schools have had their own changing of the guard. Included on that list is Southeastern Conference rival LSU, which plucked away Notre Dame‘s head coach Brian Kelly after giving ol’ Ed Orgeron the boot following yet another lackluster performance in 2021. Many in the media have hailed the move for the bayou boys but maybe they have their focus on the wrong swamp.

CBS Sports’ Barrett Sallee recently published his opinion on the differences between Napier and Kelly, coming to the conclusion that the Gator will be mightier than the Tiger this coming fall in their debut campaigns — but perhaps not in the long term. Here is why Sallee thinks Napier has the edge.

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 Anthony 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.

While Sallee makes a good point about the talent that the Gators currently have at their disposal — especially in the potential that Richardson possesses — neither school really has an easy path to success and one could argue that Florida’s schedule is harder despite the home/away splits. UF opens up against a top-five team in Utah with just USF and East Washington as their “soft” opponents while LSU has Southern, New Mexico and UAB to kick around.

Either way, a strong start would be a huge boon to the program, giving Napier the credibility he will need to bring in a top-level recruiting class in 2023. The entire Gator Nation is counting on him.

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