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Where does Brian Kelly rank among SEC coaches heading into Year 2 at LSU?

LSU stunned the college football world just over a year ago by hiring longtime Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly away from the team.

Under Kelly — the winningest coach in program history — the Fighting Irish had consistent success, but the program had stagnated a bit which led some to wonder how a transition to the SEC would suit Kelly.

However, after a 10-win season in Year 1 that featured an SEC West-deciding upset against Alabama and surpassed even fans’ wildest expectations, Kelly’s stock is at an all-time high. In On3’s latest SEC head coaching power rankings, Jesse Simonton lists Kelly third behind Georgia’s Kirby Smart and Alabama’s Nick Saban.

After going 10-4 in Year 1 at LSU, Brian Kelly won at double-digit games for the 14th time as a head coach in 2022 — including six consecutive seasons. LSU, which had won a total of 11 games the previous two years combined, wasn’t supposed to even compete for the SEC West in Kelly’s first year in Baton Rouge, but the Tigers won the division and upset Alabama in a classic.

The Bayou Bengals have the makeup of a College Football Playoff contender this fall, as Kelly has assembled a roster — with a Top 5 recruiting class and one of the nation’s best transfer portal hauls — and a staff — both coordinators return — good enough to win the SEC.

It’s hard to argue with this placement. Saban is arguably the greatest coach in college football history, and Smart is well on his way to legendary status after capturing back-to-back national titles. Only one other league coach has won a title — Jimbo Fisher, who ranks just eighth after a head-scratchingly bad season in College Station.

Kelly is directly ahead of Tennessee’s Josh Heupel, who is coming off a breakout season with the Vols, Kentucky’s Mark Stoops and South Carolina’s Shane Beamer.

This is a league with great coaching, and it’s hard to compete with the likes of Saban and Smart. Still, Kelly looks like the best coach right now outside of that tier, and he could solidify that if this team can take a leap to CFP contention this fall.

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Story originally appeared on LSU Tigers Wire