Southeasy Conference? LSU's Brian Kelly Should Be National Coach Of The Year

BATON ROUGE - LSU football coach Brian Kelly has got to be laughing inside.

Because so far, this SEC thing - other than a Rocky Bottom against Tennessee - is basically the Southeasy Conference.

In three decades of the Southeastern Conference Championship Game, Kelly is only the fourth first-year coach to reach the SEC title game, and the first in seven years. The last one was Florida's Jim McElwain in 2015. Kelly is also the first since Auburn's Gus Malzahn in 2013 to inherit a losing team and reach the SEC title game. Auburn was 3-9 and 0-8 in 2021. LSU was 6-7 and 3-5 last year.

Kelly is the first coach to inherit a team coming off back-to-back, non-winning seasons and reach the SEC title game, as LSU was 5-5 in 2020.

LSU Tigers And Georgia To Meet In SEC Championship Game

The No. 6 Tigers (8-2, 6-1) will play No. 1 Georgia (10-0, 7-0) on Dec. 3 (4 p.m., CBS) for the overall SEC title. Only Malzahn won the SEC overall title in his first year with a 59-42 win over Missouri in 2013 before losing the national championship game to Florida State and coach Jimbo Fisher.

Should LSU win out to close at 11-2 with a win over Georgia, it could likely make the College Football Playoff final four to be named on Dec. 4. The Tigers host Alabama-Birmingham (5-5) Saturday (9 p.m., ESPN2) and play at Texas A&M (3-7, 1-6) on Nov. 26 (7 p.m., ESPN).

But as of now, Kelly is already a strong candidate for SEC Coach of the Year and national Coach of the Year. There are other strong candidates, obviously.

Tennessee second-year coach Josh Heupel is the favorite to win SEC Coach of the Year as the Vols (9-1, 5-1) are on pace for their best season since winning the national title at 13-0 in 1998. He is up for national honors as well as Tennessee could and probably should make the CFP final four, seeing as its only loss will be 27-13 to No. 1 Georgia should it win out.

If the SEC picked its title game by highest ranked teams instead of by division winners, which it will likely do when Oklahoma and Texas are added by 2025 or sooner, Tennessee would be in now. The Vols are No. 5 in the latest CFP rankings to LSU's No. 6. This after Heupel was 7-6 in his first season in Knoxville.

Georgia's Kirby Smart is another SEC and national favorite as he has followed last season's national championship with another great team. He has the best team in the country right now, which should be a valuable ingredient for every coach of the year award every year. It tends to go to authors of significant turnarounds, however.

Two Other First Year Coaches Under Consideration

TCU first-year coach Sonny Dykes has performed what many consider the most dramatic turnaround in college football. The Horned Frogs were 5-7 last season and were picked to finish No. 7 in the Big 12. They are 10-0 this season and ranked No. 4 in the nation. TCU has not been 10-0 since it went 13-0 in 2010.

And much like what Kelly inherited at LSU, Dykes took over a program that was 11-11 the previous two seasons.

USC first-year coach Lincoln Riley has also worked miracles. The Trojans are 9-1 and ranked No. 7 after a 4-8 season in 2021.

Among the non-first-year coaches, Tulane's Willie Fritz is 9-2 and ranked No. 21 after a 2-10 season a year ago. Kansas State coach Chris Klieman is 7-3 and ranked No. 19 after going 8-5 a year ago. Kansas' Lance Leipold is 6-4 after a 2-10 season last year. Illinois' Bret Bielema is 7-3 after a 5-7 finish a year ago, and UCLA's Chip Kelly is 8-2 and ranked No. 16 after an 8-4 campaign in 2021.

But Kelly has something on all of the above, particularly the first-year wonders like Dykes and Riley.

Brian Kelly Inherited Shortage Of Tigers on Scholarship

Kelly inherited a roster with just 39 scholarship players, the lowest of a major program in the country. Watch a tape of LSU's 42-20 loss to unranked Kansas State in the Texas Bowl on Jan. 4. Kelly wisely did not coach that game. He watched as interim coach Brad Davis, who was retained as offensive line coach, took over. Because of the roster exits and insignificance of the game, LSU played senior wide receiver Jontre Kirklin at quarterback. He had not played that position since his days at Lutcher High.

Then flip on LSU's 45-20 spanking of then-No. 7 Ole Miss on Oct. 22 and the Tigers' 32-31 overtime win over No. 6 Alabama two weeks later. That's enough. You don't need to watch the Arkansas game from last week.


What Kelly did to just get his scholarship players into high 70s and low 80s by August via recruiting and the portal has been remarkable, and he is not at the max of 85. How Kelly and offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock developed Arizona State dual-threat transfer quarterback Jayden Daniels was also impressive and critical. The Tigers remain average on the offensive line and in the backfield. What defensive coordinator Matt House did with an average secondary has also been significant.

What Kelly has done since losing 40-13 to Tennessee on Oct. 8 has been tremendous. No team in the country has come farther in the last month than LSU. And, arguably, no team in the country has come farther from its season opener - a sloppy 24-23 loss to Florida State. And without argument, no team has come farther from 39 scholarships.

I said back when Kelly was hired that if he won eight games, he should be SEC coach of the year. Even with a loss to Georgia, he could now win 11 with a bowl victory. I also said he would win a national championship at LSU. Never said he was a bad hire or that LSU should have hired Billy Napier over him.

LSU fans misread a tweet early this season that praised Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin for having the guts to take a risk and hire Napier from a mid-major like the University of Louisiana. Kelly was the safer hire, and certainly looks like the much better hire now.


Based on this season alone and what he inherited going in, Kelly is clearly the SEC and national coach of the year. He also inherited as bad of a situation at LSU as did Napier at Florida (6-7 and 2-6) and has obviously done much better, though the Gators (6-4, 3-4) are improved as well.

College Football Saturday Predictions

Austin Peay (7-3) at No. 8 Alabama (8-2, point spread unavailable), Noon, SEC Network+, ESPN+ ... Alabama 52, Austin Peay 0.

No. 4 TCU (10-0, 2.5-point favorite) at Baylor (6-4), Noon, FOX ... TCU 27, Baylor 13.

Illinois (7-3) at No. 3 Michigan (10-0, 18-point favorite), Noon, ABC ... Michigan 27, Illinois 21.

East Tennessee State (3-7) at Mississippi State (6-4, point spread unavailable), Noon, SEC Network+, ESPN+ ... Mississippi State 49, East Tennessee State 14.

Massachusetts (1-9) at Texas A&M (3-7, 33.5-point favorite), Noon, SEC Network ... Texas A&M 31, UMass 0.

Florida (6-4, 14-point favorite) at Vanderbilt (4-6), Noon, SEC Network ... Florida 27, Vanderbilt 24.

No. 1 Georgia (10-0, 22.5-point favorite) at Kentucky (6-4), 3:30 p.m., CBS ... Georgia 31, Kentucky 13.

Western Kentucky (7-4) at Auburn (4-6, 4.5-point favorite), 3 p.m., SEC Network ... Auburn 27, Western Kentucky 17.

Miami (5-5) at No. 9 Clemson (9-1, 19-point favorite), 3:30 p.m., ESPN ... Clemson 28, Miami 10.

No. 2 Ohio State (10-0, 27.5-point favorite) at Maryland (6-4), 3:30 p.m., ABC ... Ohio State 47, Maryland 14.

No. 11 Penn State (8-2, 19-point favorite) at Rutgers (4-6), 3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network ... Penn State 34, Rutgers 14.

Georgia Tech (4-6) at No. 13 North Carolina (9-1, 21-point favorite), 5:30 p.m., ESPN2 ... North Carolina 34, Georgia Tech 21.

No. 5 Tennessee (9-1, 22.5-point favorite) at South Carolina (6-4), 7 p.m., ESPN ... Tennessee 48, South Carolina 21.

No. 14 Ole Miss (8-2, 2-point favorite) at Arkansas (5-5), 7:30 p.m., SEC Network ... Arkansas 24, Ole Miss 23.

New Mexico State (4-5) at Missouri (4-6, 28-point favorite), 7:30 p.m., ESPNU ... Missouri 47, New Mexico State 17.

No. 7 USC (9-1, 2-point favorite) at No. 16 UCLA (8-2), 8 p.m., FOX ... USC 34, UCLA 31.

UAB (5-5) at No. 6 LSU (8-2, 15-point favorite), 9 p.m., ESPN2 ... LSU 38, UAB 10.

No. 10 Utah (8-2, 2-point favorite) at No. 12 Oregon (8-2), 10:30 p.m., ESPN ... Oregon 42, Utah 41.

SEC Rankings

1.Georgia (10-0, 7-0). 2. Tennessee (9-1, 5-1). 3. LSU (8-2, 6-1). 4. Alabama (8-2, 5-2). 5. Ole Miss (8-2, 4-2). 6. Florida (6-4, 3-4). 7. South Carolina (6-4, 3-4). 8. Kentucky (6-4, 3-4). 9. Mississippi State (6-4, 3-4). 10. Arkansas (5-5, 2-4). 11. Missouri (4-6, 2-5). 12. Auburn (4-6, 2-5). 13. Vanderbilt 4-6, 1-5). 14. Texas A&M (3-7, 1-6).

LSU 2021 Coaching Candidate Rankings

1.Brian Kelly, No. 6 LSU (8-2, 6-1 SEC) ... At Notre Dame in 2021.

2. Lincoln Riley, No. 7 USC (9-1, 7-1 Pac-12) ... At Oklahoma in 2021.

3. Lane Kiffin, No. 14 Ole Miss (8-2, 4-2 SEC) ... At Ole Miss in 2021 (Possibly at Auburn in 2023).

4. Dave Aranda, Baylor (6-4, 4-3 Big 12) ... At Baylor in 2021.

5. Mark Stoops, Kentucky (6-4, 3-4 SEC) ... At Kentucky in 2021.

6. Billy Napier, Florida (6-4, 3-4 SEC) ... At Louisiana in 2021.

Stat Of The Week

In its two losses this season, opponents have outscored Ole Miss 44-7 in the second half - 28-0 by LSU in a 45-20 loss and 16-7 by Alabama in a 30-24 loss. In the fourth quarters of those two games, Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin's offense was shut out 27-0.

Quote Of The Week

"For whatever reason, I'm not getting it done with this team."

-Kentucky coach Mark Stoops after losing 24-21 to Vanderbilt, which had lost 26 straight SEC games.

Written by
Guilbeau joined OutKick as an SEC columnist in September of 2021 after covering LSU and the Saints for 17 years at USA TODAY Louisiana. He has been a national columnist/feature writer since the summer of 2022, covering college football, basketball and baseball with some NFL, NBA, MLB, TV and Movies and general assignment, including hot dog taste tests. A New Orleans native and Mizzou graduate, he has consistently won Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) and Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) awards since covering Alabama and Auburn at the Mobile Press-Register (1993-98) and LSU and the Saints at the Baton Rouge Advocate (1998-2004). In 2021, Guilbeau won an FWAA 1st for a game feature, placed in APSE Beat Writing, Breaking News and Explanatory, and won Beat Writer of the Year from the Louisiana Sports Writers Association (LSWA). He won an FWAA columnist 1st in 2017 and was FWAA's top overall winner in 2016 with 1st in game story, 2nd in columns, and features honorable mention. Guilbeau completed a book in 2022 about LSU's five-time national champion coach - "Everything Matters In Baseball: The Skip Bertman Story" - that is available at, and Barnes & Noble outlets. He lives in Baton Rouge with his wife, the former Michelle Millhollon of Thibodaux who previously covered politics for the Baton Rouge Advocate and is a communications director.