Big changes for LSU football, SEC heading into 2024 season

BATON ROUGE — A lot has changed for LSU football and the SEC as a whole since the Tigers finished their season with a bowl win over Wisconsin on New Year’s Day.

Two days after the bowl win, LSU coach Brian Kelly fired nearly the entire defensive staff, headlined by the departure of defensive coordinator Matt House. Defensive line coach Jimmy Lindsey, safety coach Kerry Cooks, and cornerback coach Robert Steeples were the other coaches fired.

Defensive line coach John Jancek and outside linebackers coach Bob Diaco were the only defensive assistants who remained. On Jan. 10, Kelly announced Bo Davis would return to LSU as a defensive line coach.

Davis played for the Tigers in the early 1990s, served as a graduate assistant with the football program from 1995-97 and was a member of the strength and conditioning staff when LSU won the 2003 national championship.

The Tiger defense underachieved tremendously. LSU’s defense was tied for 78th in scoring defense, giving up 28 points per game. In the team’s three losses, the defense surrendered 47.3 points per game.

On Jan. 5, Kelly named Blake Baker as the new defensive coordinator. Baker was the defensive coordinator for the last two years. Baker coached the linebackers at LSU in 2021.

LSU’s offense was one of the best in the country last season but the team will be without heisman winner Jayden Daniels, as well as standout receivers Malik Nabers and Brian Thomas Jr. who have entered the NFL draft.

New SEC foes

Former Big 12 powerhouses Texas and Oklahoma are set the join the SEC on July 1. The programs were initially scheduled to join in 2025 but reached an early-exit agreement to join the SEC one year earlier.

Texas is coming off a season where the program reached the College Football Playoff as the No. 3 ranked team. The Longhorns finished the regular season 12-1 before losing to No. 2 Washington in the semifinals.

Oklahoma finished No. 12 in the last College Football Playoff rankings.

Saban retiring

One of the games that most LSU fans look forward to every year will have a different feel in 2024. The man who has coached the University of Alabama for the last 17 years and has a 13-5 record against LSU, announced his retirement.

Legendary head coach Nick Saban announced his retirement Wednesday, which shocked the college football world. Saban, 72, led Alabama to nine conference championships and six national championships, the last coming in 2019.

“The University of Alabama has been a very special place to Terry and me,” Saban said in a statement Wednesday. “We have enjoyed every minute of our 17 years being the head coach at Alabama as well as becoming a part of the Tuscaloosa community. It is not just about how many games we won and lost, but it’s about the legacy and how we went about it. We always tried to do it the right way. The goal was always to help players create more value for their future, be the best player they could be, and be more successful in life because they were part of the program. Hopefully, we have done that and will always consider Alabama our home.”

Saban’s retirement will affect recruiting

Shortly after Saban announced his retirement, Ryan Williams, a five-star recruit and the No. 9-ranked prospect (No. 3 wideout) on ESPN’s 300 2024, de-committed from Alabama.

Williams was the first big-time recruit to decommit, but many don’t expect it to be the last since most of them were heading to Tuscaloosa to play for the legendary coach.

Some of the athletes may open up their recruiting if they haven’t signed, and other schools like LSU, may have a chance to get those players.

The retirement may also lead to some athletes entering the transfer portal, which may shift the balance of power in the vaunted SEC.

Saban has been at the top of college football for the last 17 years at Alabama but also has ties to LSU. He coached the Tigers from 2000-2004. He led LSU to the 2003 national championship.

LSU Athletic Director Scott Woodward issued a statement on Saban’s retirement Thursday.

“I first met Nick Saban in 1999 when he arrived in Baton Rouge, and it did not take long for him to make his mark on our university – and on me,” Woodward said. “While I was sad to see him leave LSU in 2004, I was not surprised at all by his unprecedented run at Alabama. Coach Saban set a new standard for excellence in college football and steps away with seven national championships, record-setting wins, rankings, and draft picks, and the admiration of his peers and the thousands of young men whose lives he helped transform. Simply, there is no greater coach in the history of the game of college football than Nick Saban. Whether he was coaching on your sideline or the opposite, he brought out the very best in all of us who love this sport because the best is what he demanded of his teams, his peers, and himself. I congratulate him and Miss Terry and wish them all the best in retirement.”

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