Brian Kelly can recruit like a champion at LSU, and he’ll have to deliver a championship

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Brian Kelly did everything but win a national championship with the Fighting Irish.

He will need to take the next step with the Tigers. Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel reported that Kelly will leave Notre Dame for LSU, with an announcement expected for Tuesday.

That’s the second shakeup in as many days after Lincoln Riley left Oklahoma for USC. The basic premise of the Kelly hire is simple.

BENDER: Riley will revive USC QBs | Where does OU turn?

Kelly will deal with less recruiting restrictions at LSU than he did at Notre Dame, and that should produce a national championship team.

According to 247Sports’ Composite recruiting rankings, Notre Dame had a better recruiting class than LSU two times since 2010. The Irish’s average class ranked 12.3. LSU’s average class ranked at 6.7. Here is a look at those classes side by side.

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LSU vs. Notre Dame recruiting since 2010

Year LSU Notre Dame
2010 10 15
2011 8 9
2012 13 17
2013 6 5
2014 2 11
2015 5 13
2016 2 15
2017 7 10
2018 15 10
2019 5 15
2020 4 18
2021 3 9

In that stretch, LSU is 114-39, a half-game better than Notre Dame at 113-40. So, it stands to reason Kelly could recruit better with the SEC base and win his first national championship.

Kelly handled the pressure of coaching at Notre Dame. He passed Knute Rockne as the program’s all-time winningest coach this season and led the program to a BCS championship game and two CFP appearances. Notre Dame could make the CFP this year with a little help on conference championship weekend.

MORE: Is there a viable path for Notre Dame to the College Football Playoff? Yes

Yet the knock was the poor track record against top-10 teams. Kelly had a 3-10 record against top-10 teams, and that included this year’s loss to No. 7 Cincinnati. After last year’s 31-14 loss to No. 1 Alabama in the CFP semifinals, Kelly said “We just needed a little more firepower.”

He will have that at LSU, but the question stands: Why leave Notre Dame for the last-place team in the SEC West, aside from the reported $100 million contract?

It’s the chance to win a national championship. Notre Dame has not won a national championship since 1988. Nick Saban (2003), Les Miles (2009) and Ed Orgeron (2019) all won national championships with the Tigers in the 21st century. Kelly, 60, won a pair of Division II national championships at Grand Valley State from 2002-03, and an FBS national championship would be the capper to a Hall of Fame-caliber career.

With that, however, comes increased expectations. LSU just parted ways with Orgeron two years after one of the Joe Burrow-led Tigers put together one of the best seasons in college football history. The Tigers are still 4-12 against Saban since he took over at Alabama in 2007. Every SEC West school made a bowl game in 2021. Fox analyst and former Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn had a pointed reaction to the hiring with a question: “Why?”

Kelly is putting himself into an all-or-nothing pressure-cooker. Anything short of a national title means this gamble did not pay off.

This will be a lot more difficult than the five-game ACC arrangement Notre Dame has, and that means more top-10 opponents are coming on a regular basis. Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher, a coach with a national championship at Florida State (2013), has the same to-do list at Texas A&M. He beat Alabama this year and still finished 8-4. After four years, Fisher is still looking for a division title, never mind a national title.

A national championship is the expectation now for Kelly, one that will be every bit as difficult as the path he had at Notre Dame. Kelly might have more firepower at LSU.

But he’ll be expected to do more with it.



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