The 2022 SEC coaching carousel hasn’t rotated as quickly as previous years, but two Clydesdales have entered the league. Brian Kelly moved south to join the LSU family after a successful 12-year stint at Notre Dame. Florida chose the younger path with Billy Napier, long considered one of the top young coaches in the country, after re-recognizing Louisiana as one of the top Group-Five-level programs.
Both freshmen are tasked with bringing their respective schools back to national prominence and both should be fine in the long run.
Kelly’s track record at Notre Dame, which included two college football playoff appearances and a 2013 BCS National Championship Game appearance, is unmissable. His 92-39 record on one of the most prestigious and high-pressure programs in the country has firmly established Kelly as one of the nation’s finest coaches.
Napier, meanwhile, led the Ragin’ Cajuns to three straight seasons of double-digit wins and consecutive straight/split Sun Belt championships. His pedigree under Alabama coach Nick Saban has only contributed to his rise to the top of the coaching ranks.
So yes, both will likely be fine in the long run, but today we’re here to decide which first-year SEC coach has the best chance of instant success. So let’s examine the situations for each to help us decide.
Billy Napier, Fla
Napier ended up in one of the most coveted spots in the country – certainly from an offensive standpoint. Multidimensional quarterback Anthony Richardson showed brilliant flashes under former coach Dan Mullen last season. The redshirt sophomore threw for 474 yards, rushed for 374 yards and eight touchdowns in six games as backup for Emory Jones. Despite his relative inexperience, the Gainesville native has finished in the first round of many NFL 2023 mock drafts, including CBS Sports Draft Analyst Chris Trapasso.
The running back room has four downs, with Nay’Quan Wright likely taking the lead early in fall camp. Lorenzo Lingard and Demarkcus Bowman are well-respected within the system and have received many replays in Wright’s absence this spring, and Louisiana transfer Montrell Johnson is well-versed in what Napier is asking of his running backs, having rushed for 838 yards and 12 touchdowns ran the ragin’ cajuns last year. All four excel in a variety of different areas, which should allow Napier to get extremely creative with how he incorporates them into the game plan each week.
Defensive lineman Tyrreak Sapp looked like a potential star in the spring, Ventrell Miller is back to lead a highly diverse linebacking corps and, perhaps most importantly, ex-defensive coordinator Todd Grantham is no longer on the program.
The division Napier will train in also plays a big part in this discussion. It’s pretty much Georgia and everyone else in the SEC East. Granted, Tennessee’s offense is on the rise and Kentucky is always a tough hit, but it’s not as if the East’s second division is anywhere near the West’s. Kelly will have to contend with a top-10 roster from Texas A&M, Lane Kiffin’s Ole Miss offensive juggernaut and a likely top-20 preseason team in Arkansas as part of the nation’s toughest grind.
Brian Kelly, LSU
The good news for Kelly is that he has a very healthy quarterback fight at Baton Rouge. Three-year-old Arizona State starter Jayden Daniels moved to the bayou this offseason, former starter Myles Brennan reemerged from the transfer portal to fight for his former job, and Garrett Nussmeier may have the biggest advantage of the trio.
The running game is solid with John Emery Jr. back after a year out and Noah Cain coming from Penn State. But the offensive line replaces four starters and finished second-bottom in the SEC in sacks per game last year with 2.92. Bottom line: It will be difficult to put together sustainable drives unless the new faces at the top come together in a hurry.
The defensive front should be the Tigers’ forte in 2022, but the secondary front has seen a massive overhaul since the end of last season. That doesn’t bode well in an SEC West that has become a passer at the top.
Kelly mentioned on the Texas Bowl show that LSU’s roster needs a beef from a quantitative standpoint. Graduation and attrition have taken a toll on the roster, and while the transfer portal has facilitated replenishment, it’s almost impossible to expect the massive influx of fresh faces to be suddenly completed in the west.
Now the good news for LSU. Kelly will eventually win a national title with the Tigers. I repeat, Kelly will raise the CFP trophy in purple in gold – just like his three predecessors. He’s had double-digit winning seasons in six of his last seven seasons at South Bend, despite recruiting challenges unmatched by almost every other school in the country. He’ll likely still be there when Saban retires. In addition, as a flagship program in a talent-rich state, he only needs to open the door to the complex, and five-star players should go straight inside.
Why Napier comes out on top
While Kelly is more likely to find long-term success, Napier is better positioned to find immediate success this season. He has a steadier foundation and an easier path to at least make the Gators relevant again in the SEC.
If Richardson does emerge as a true superstar, as the offseason dynamic shows, he should be the catalyst for Florida to dictate the style and pace of most games. Napier has been extremely successful with mobile quarterbacks in Louisiana, including last season with Johnson and a double threat weapon Levi Lewis. In addition, the schedule is relatively well set up. Kentucky, South Carolina and Missouri – which make up the brawny Middle East – will all head to The Swamp. LSU, on the other hand, has to go to Arkansas, Auburn and Texas A&M.
Fortunately, there will be head-to-head competition and some opportunities for transitive properties to compare the two. Kelly will face Napier at The Swamp, and both the Tigers and Gators will fight Florida State and Tennessee in 2022. Both also travel to Texas A&M. But the SEC West is stacked, which will make it difficult for the Tigers to make a decent bowl game this year.
https://www.cbssports.com/college-football/news/why-floridas-billy-napier-has-the-edge-over-lsus-brian-kelly-for-instant-success-in-sec-debut-season/ Why Florida’s Billy Napier has the advantage over LSU’s Brian Kelly to find instant success in the SEC’s debut season