BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Brian Kelly's second season as LSU's coach hasn't gone quite as well as the first, even as the offense he largely oversees has developed into one of the nation's best.
A 42-28 loss last week at Alabama virtually assured that the 18th-ranked Tigers (6-3, 4-2 SEC, No. 19 CFP) won't repeat as SEC West champions. That takes more than a little luster off of Saturday night's home date with unranked Florida (5-4, 3-3), which also is coming off a loss and faces a tough road just to become eligible for a bowl game.
Kelly, who has a 10-year contract, wants the Tigers to start moving from the ranks of the pretty good to that of the elite.
A step in that direction, he said, would be to win their final three regular-season games, followed by a bowl victory, which would give LSU 10 wins for a second straight year.
“If you want to start closing the gap toward being elite, back-to-back 10-win seasons starts to do that,” Kelly said.
Gators coach Billy Napier might prefer to be in Kelly's shoes. Florida hired him after he won a Sun Belt title at Louisian-Lafayette in 2021. But success hasn't come easily in his two seasons with the Gators.
Florida still needs one more victory to become eligible for a bowl game. But that would require posting an upset in at least one of its final three games against LSU, No. 16 Missouri or No. 4 Florida State.
“We’re still looking for all parts of our team to play (consistently) at the high level that they have played at times,” Napier said. “That’s the focus down the stretch.”
Prolific LSU QB Jayden Daniels returned to training and practice just days after being taken out of the Alabama game because of concussion symptoms following a heavy, penalized hit to the head by Crimson Tide linebacker Dallas Turner.
The Tigers were hopeful he'd feel well enough to play against Florida, but they expressed confidence in backup Garrett Nussmeier.
“Certainly, we’re gonna make sure that (Nussmeier) is ready,” Kelly said. "He’s up for it, and I’m sure he’s excited about it.”
Daniels leads the nation with 3,476 total yards. He has the second-most rushing yards by a quarterback with 684, and he ranks fifth nationally with 2,792 yards passing. Daniels is also second in touchdowns passing, with 27. Those numbers have put him in the Hiesman Trophy discussion. But his candidacy could be hurt if he's unable to play — or play well — in one of LSU's final two SEC games.
Nussmeier has seen little action this season, completing 17 of 33 passes for 196 yards and one touchdown.
LSU offensive lineman Garrett Dellinger said both QBs have had a lot of practice snaps all season and that the offensive scheme doesn't change much when one of the other is under center, even if the decision-making of each QB might differ.
"A lot of times, Jayden will decide to run the ball,” Dellinger said. “Maybe Nuss just launches a touchdown pass. Either way, we score.”
FRIENDS AND FOES
Florida receiver Ricky Pearsall might know LSU's Daniels as well as anyone on the field Saturday night. Pearsall and Daniels were in the same recruiting class at Arizona State in 2019 and were teammates for three seasons.
Both ended up in the transfer portal following the 2021 season, which included the Sun Devils being investigated for NCAA violations. Daniels landed at LSU, and Pearsall signed with Florida.
“He’s one of my close buddies,” Pearsall said. “We still talk to this day, and he’s a super talented dude. He’s putting a lot on tape. I’m extremely proud of him, and obviously he’s putting the world on notice. He’s an extremely gifted kid.”
The Gators are trying to avoid history. Florida has allowed 39 or more points in three consecutive games, the first time that has happened since 1917. The program has never done it in four straight games. LSU, meanwhile, leads the SEC in scoring at 45.2 points a game.
“Doing all the extra work we can, extra film, extra technique work and extra fundamentals and things like that,” defensive back Devin Moore said. “Just doing all those and trusting our coaching, we’ll be ready.”
AP Sports Writer Mark Long in Gainesville, Florida, contributed to this report.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll