Blue and Gold Illustrated

January 2023

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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4 JANUARY 2023 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED O ne year ago this month, Marcus Freeman was introduced as the new Notre Dame head coach. While at the same time, about 1,000 miles due south, Brian Kelly was busy organizing his new corner office in Bayou country at LSU. And what an avalanche of interest and intrigue — and frankly, a lot of fun — these two coaches provided since taking their new posts, one fleeting year ago. Freeman finished his 2022 regu- lar season 8-4, with eight wins in his last 10 games, including one over No. 4 Clemson. Kelly went 9-4, pulled a 32-31 overtime win over No. 6 Alabama, won the SEC West Division and played in the SEC Championship Game, where he lost 50-30 to No. 1 Georgia. Both coaches lost their 2022 season opener — Notre Dame to Ohio State, LSU to Florida State — but stayed panic free, stabilized their programs, and ex- pressed some level of satisfaction fol- lowing their first regular seasons in their new jobs as they prepared for their bowl games. No. 21 Notre Dame plays No. 19 South Carolina in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl Dec. 30. No. 16 LSU plays the unranked Purdue Boilermakers in the Cheez-It Citrus Bowl Jan. 2. "You don't become a new person be- cause of your title or role. You continue to attack challenges being the person you are," Freeman said. "That's what I've learned." "It's been an incredible first year as the head coach of LSU," Kelly added, "and one of the most enjoyable years that I've had in my career." Kelly took over a program that failed to win more than six games in 2020 and 2021. But in 2019, it went 15-0 and won the national title with Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow at quarterback. Freeman inherited a program that won at least 10 games in five consecu- tive seasons under Kelly and made two College Football Playoff appearances in the last four years (2018 and 2020). Freeman and the Irish went 3-2 in their five games against ranked op- ponents this season. Notre Dame beat No. 4 Clemson, No. 16 BYU and No. 16 Syracuse. It lost at No. 2 Ohio State and at No. 6 USC. Kelly and the Tigers went 2-2 in four games against ranked foes. LSU beat No. 6 Alabama and No. 7 Ole Miss. It lost to No. 1 Georgia and No. 8 Tennessee. RECRUITING MATTERS While Freeman faces the challenge of recruiting nationally, Kelly's player pool is annually filled and stocked just out- side of his back door. Ten players from the 23-member LSU recruiting class of 2023 come from home-state Louisiana, four others are from Georgia and three hail from Texas. Yet, the two coaches are having simi- lar recruiting success, despite their dif- fering regional and logistical challenges. According to mid-December Consensus Recruiting Rankings, Notre Dame's 26-member 2023 class ranks No. 3 nationally with one five-star player (safety Peyton Bowen, Denton, Texas), along with 20 four-stars and five three- stars. LSU's 23-man class stands at No. 6 nationally with no five-star players, 17 four-stars and six three-stars. Kelly was recently asked to revisit the previous comments he made about the regional recruiting advantages LSU holds over Notre Dame, and he offered this. "This is the flagship university. Kids want to go to LSU. They grow up want- ing to be a Tiger," he said. "That's a big advantage right out of the gates when it comes to recruiting. "We didn't have that at Notre Dame. It was much more national. You've got to go into each state and pull out their best players, whereas you have it right here in the state of Louisiana." Looking ahead a year, Notre Dame's six-man 2024 recruiting class was ranked No. 5 nationally as of mid-De- cember, while LSU's eight-man class was No. 8. Improving LSU from 6-7 in 2021 to 9-3 this season — with an Alabama up- set, and a spot in the SEC Champion- ship Game — endeared Kelly to Louisi- anans during his first season there. And even after a couple of awkward social media moments upon his arrival, Kelly got the job done. As did Freeman. The latter began 0-2 and 3-3 in a six- game start for the Irish that shrouded the second half of this season in skepti- cism and uncertainty, but never broke the spirit of Notre Dame's rookie head coach. "Continue to be who you are, work tirelessly, love with your heart," Free- man said. "It's never going to be perfect, but if you work at it, you continue to find different ways to improve." ✦ Brian Kelly and Marcus Freeman navigated up-and-down seasons at LSU and Notre Dame, respectively, but expressed some level of satisfaction following their first regular seasons in their new jobs. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER Two Head Coaches, One Year In The Books UPON FURTHER REVIEW TODD D. BURLAGE Todd D. Burlage has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2005. He can be reached at

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