Brian Kelly 1, Billy Napier 0: LSU Beats Florida, 45-35, In 1st 'LSU Candidates Bowl'

LSU's Brian Kelly won the first LSU Coaching Candidates Bowl over Florida's Billy Napier, 45-35, at Florida Field in Gainesville on Saturday night.

Kelly, who had been in last place in the standings of the coaches up for the LSU job after Ed Orgeron was fired last season, and his Tigers (5-2, 3-1 SEC) exited the cellar by beating Napier, who was in second to last. Napier, whose team had 56 votes among the teams not making the Associated Press poll last week to four for Kelly's team, fell to 4-3 overall and 1-3 in the SEC with the loss.

And Kelly will likely also pass Baylor coach Dave Aranda, who was a candidate for the LSU job last year. The Bears, who had 91 votes in the A.P. poll last week among the unranked, lost to West Virginia Thursday to fall to 3-3.

Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin and former Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley, whom USC hired last year just before LSU hired Kelly, remain at the top of the standings. Kiffin's No. 9-ranked Rebels (7-0, 3-0 SEC) beat Auburn, 48-34, Saturday and moved into first place in the SEC West after No. 3 Alabama (6-1, 3-1 SEC) lost 52-49 to No. 6 Tennessee (6-0, 3-0 SEC) of the East in a classic thriller on Saturday. No. 7 USC (6-1) lost to No. 20 Utah (5-2) on Saturday night.

Suddenly, the rising Kelly and LSU could tie for the SEC West lead on Saturday as they host Ole Miss at 3:30 p.m. on CBS in Tiger Stadium.

Napier was one of the hottest coaches in the country last year at Louisiana when Florida hired him just days before LSU hired Kelly. He had previously been up for jobs at Mississippi State, South Carolina and Missouri. The unranked Gators got off to a hot start under Napier, who shocked then No. 7 Utah, 29-26, in their opener. Florida, however, followed that with losses to ranked Kentucky and Tennessee before falling to the Tigers.

Kelly's Tigers started slowly as usual Saturday, falling behind 14-7 in the first quarter at Florida, but LSU turned it on in the second quarter behind quarterback Jayden Daniels.

Daniels played the game of his life, accounting for six touchdowns. He completed 22 of 32 passes for 349 yards and three touchdowns while rushing 14 times for 44 yards and three touchdowns.

Daniels put LSU ahead to stay at 28-21 late in the second quarter on a 54-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jaray Jenkins. The Tigers went up 42-21 early in the third quarter on Daniels' 9-yard touchdown run.

But it was not quite over. Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson got the Gators back in the game with an 81-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter to cut LSU's lead to 42-28. Then tailback Trevor Etienne of Jennings, la., finished off an 80-yard, 11-play drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to get Florida within 42-35 with 7:39 to go.

LSU's defense stiffened, and the Tigers iced the win on a 47-yard field goal by Damian Ramos with 1:52 left for the 45-35 final. Richardson gained 109 yards on nine carries for the Gators.

Florida is open Saturday before playing No. 1 Georgia (7-0, 4-0 SEC) in Jacksonville, Florida. The Bulldogs beat Vanderbilt 55-0 on Saturday.

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.