The Tigers’ athletic department has a proud tradition of contending: not just in football, but in sports across the board.
When I began covering this team back in March, it seemed like the program was at something of a low point. The football team had just brought in Brian Kelly after back-to-back disappointing campaigns, while the basketball program was closing up a disappointing finish to a season that started strong and ultimately ended with the dismissal of Will Wade.
To add onto that, the baseball program had a new coach in Jay Johnson, who was tasked with replacing the legendary Paul Mainieri, and Kim Mulkey was in her first season trying to take the women’s basketball program to the next level. Change was the defining theme of this athletics department under Scott Woodward just a few months ago.
But eight months later, and there seems to be an entirely new outlook for a number of LSU sports. With so much change in 2022 — much of it positive — here’s what Tigers fans have to be thankful for this holiday season.
An SEC West title in Year 1...
Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
Despite all the roster turnover Kelly had to undertake in Year 1, it was clear this team had some talent and the opportunity to surprise observers in 2022. But even the most ardent believer likely didn’t expect what happened this fall for the Tigers.
Kelly knocked off Alabama in Year 1, leading to an SEC West title and a chance to make it to the College Football Playoff if LSU can win its next two games against Texas A&M and Georgia in the SEC Championship Game.
Regardless of how the rest of the season ultimately plays out, it’s hard not to be impressed with what Kelly has done with this team in Year 1. The future is bright in Baton Rouge.
...with the chance to raise the ceiling even higher next year
Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
As good as the Tigers have been in Kelly’s first season, that’s not the only reason to buy stock in this team over the next few years. Kelly did a great job of accumulating talent in Year 1, and with a top-five class in 2023 and a 2024 class that already ranks No. 1, it certainly feels like Kelly has a real chance to become the fourth-straight Tigers coach to win a national title.
He’s proven he can find good players in the portal to supplement elite recruiting, and LSU is compiling a lot of talent. [autotag]Harold Perkins Jr.[/autotag] will be back next year and could be one of the best players in college football, while the offense will likely return [autotag]Jayden Daniels[/autotag] and several other pieces.
This team has overachieved in Year 1, but it’s just the beginning of what Kelly is building in Baton Rouge.
A bright future for both basketball programs
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
LSU’s men’s program may face some NCAA sanctions down the line, but it’s hard not to be impressed with the work McMahon did this offseason to rebuild a heavily depleted basketball roster. Whether or not you agreed with the way the Wade era came to an end, McMahon has put this team in a position to land on its feet.
On the women’s side, the sky could be the limit as Woodward managed to pull one of the sport’s best coaches in Kim Mulkey. Mulkey went 26-6 last year, and despite a second-round exit, the Tigers are off to a 5-0 start and rank in the top 15 this season.
A chance to compete for a baseball national title in 2023
AP Photo/Matthew Hinton
It’s never easy to follow up a legendary coach, and Jay Johnson’s first season was a bit of a disappointment as the Tigers fell in the Hattiesburg Regional. But Johnson has put together a monster offseason with the best transfer and recruiting classes in the nation.
The star of the class is [autotag]Tommy White[/autotag], who dominated as a freshman at NC State last fall and should be the source of a lot of LSU’s offense on the diamond this spring. Pitchers [autotag]Paul Skenes[/autotag] and [autotag]Christian Little[/autotag] should raise the ceiling considerably, as well.
This is one of the best rosters in college baseball, and it should be a team poised to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
LSU didn't hire Jimbo Fisher
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
LSU’s rocky history with Fisher certainly hasn’t made the program look great over the last few years. On several occasions, the program has tried (and failed) to bring Fisher in, most recently last fall. That search also reportedly targeted Lincoln Riley before settling on Kelly.
But given the way things have played out in 2022, LSU is likely thanking its lucky stars Fisher never said yes. He would almost certainly have a similar contract to his current deal at A&M — or Kelly’s at LSU, for that matter — which nets him a fully guaranteed $95 million over the next 10 years.
I suppose it’s fine to spend that kind of money when you’re winning, but what happens when you’re 4-7 without much hope for the long-term but also can’t afford to pay $86 million for your coach to hit the road? The Aggies are finding that out right now.
It’s a bleak situation in College Station and one that could be playing out in Baton Rouge right now, had things gone down a bit differently. Given how Kelly’s first season is going, I don’t think there’s an LSU fan alive that would make that trade.