It always seemed if Brian Kelly ever ditched Notre Dame, it would not be for another college job. He had flirted with the NFL a few times, so coaching at the pro level was a temptation. But what happened in late November was a complete surprise.
Before anyone knew they were dating, Brian Kelly and LSU announced their marriage. Within a week, the grumpy Kelly transformed into a fun-loving guy with a new Cajun accent.
It’s an odd couple, Kelly and LSU. It’s college football’s version of Lyle Lovett and Julia Roberts, except Kelly is expected to last longer than two years with the Tigers.
“I like the Kelly hire,” ESPN analyst Chris “The Bear” Fallica said. “I’m one of the few.”
I always have liked Kelly as a coach, and the circus atmosphere at LSU needed a disciplinarian to restore order, so I like the hire too. But it’s still a strange fit.
Kelly had tens of millions of reasons to make the move to the Southeastern Conference — a 10-year, $95 million contract plus performance incentives. He’s not being paid to go 6-6, which brings us to his honeymoon year in Baton Rouge.
Excuses are available, if needed. LSU won six games in former coach Ed Orgeron’s final season and lost a lot of talent, so this is a rebuilding job. Kelly is allowed some time to make the program his own. He’s also capable of a quick fix, however.
Kelly has three quarterbacks — Myles Brennan, Garrett Nussmeier and Arizona State transfer Jayden Daniels — competing for the top job and that’s a good start. Kelly is a sharp play caller and QB mentor, so his pro-style offense should be effective. He also inherits Kayshon Boutte, one of the nation’s most explosive wide receivers.
Fallica noted Kelly “has recruited ridiculously well,” partly by using the transfer portal to reload.
“When Kelly has better players, he doesn’t get upset,” Fallica said. “Notre Dame won the games they were supposed to win.”
Fact check: The Fighting Irish went 40-1 straight up as a betting favorite from 2018 to 2021 for Kelly.
The Tigers open the season against Florida State in New Orleans, where the setting essentially will be a home game for LSU. After hosting Southern, Mississippi State and New Mexico, the Tigers could be 4-0 in September. A 3-1 record still would be an acceptable start before the schedule gets considerably tougher.
“Looking at their final eight games, the UAB game is the only one you can clearly say LSU is going to be the betting favorite,” handicapper Paul Stone said.
LSU’s regular-season win total of 6.5 at Circa Sports is the same number Stone made, but it looks a little low to me and at least one other person.
“I think Kelly could win 10 this year,” said Fox Sports college football commentator Tim Brando, who’s based in Louisiana and might be slightly biased. “I’d bet that in a heartbeat.”
I’m betting LSU Over 6.5 (-125) and banking on Kelly to coach up his new team. What makes this wager more appealing is the middle shot that’s available with BetMGM offering the Tigers’ win total at 7.5 (Under -140).
Here are four more of my win-total best bets, using lines from BetMGM and DraftKings:
Alabama Over 10.5 (-240): The Crimson Tide will be a double-digit favorite in all 12 games, so anything less than an 11-1 record would be a big disappointment. Most books have posted this total at 11.5, but I recommend laying this high price on the 10.5 posted at DraftKings in case coach Nick Saban gets stunned once. Alabama has arguably the nation’s best quarterback, Bryce Young, and best defensive player, Will Anderson. This team is so loaded that Saban should run the table in the regular season.
Colorado Under 3.5 (-135): It’s about to go from bad (4-8 last season) to worse for the Buffaloes, who project as underdogs in all 12 games. While the Pac-12 is relatively weak, it might take a miracle for Colorado to win four games, and coach Karl Dorrell is no miracle worker.
New Mexico Over 2.5 ( 120): The Lobos open the season at home against Maine and have at least four more winnable games on the schedule — UTEP, at UNLV, Wyoming, at New Mexico State. This could be a surprise team in the Mountain West if last year’s awful offense shows expected improvement. The defense will be strong with coach Danny Gonzales and coordinator Rocky Long calling the shots. When I bet Over a total, it’s always on a well-coached team. Gonzales and Long are good and underrated, and New Mexico is a team that’s slowly on the rise.
Oklahoma Under 9.5 (-120): Even with Lincoln Riley as coach and Caleb Williams as quarterback, the Sooners played with fire last year when winning six games decided by seven points or fewer. Riley and Williams left for USC. Brent Venables, the former Clemson defensive coordinator, is a first-time head coach. UCF transfer Dillon Gabriel will be his quarterback.
Gabriel should put up big numbers with wide receiver Marvin Mims and a stable of talented running backs, but it’s not Riley calling the plays for a new offense.
“The bigger issue for me is the defense,” said Fallica, who also played Oklahoma Under 9.5 wins. “Oklahoma basically lost the entire defense. I think it’s a team that has a lot of holes. You have the Venables factor, and we don’t know how that’s going to play out. If you look at that league, there’s a ton of 50/50 games.”
There are no pushover opponents in the Big 12. Aside from facing Texas on a neutral field, the Sooners play road games against Nebraska, TCU, Iowa State, West Virginia and Texas Tech. Home games against Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma State are not layups.
A 10-win season is asking too much of the Sooners. Of all the new coaches at high-profile programs, Venables is most likely to underachieve.