Jayden Daniels won one round of poker, but now comes the big table

by Aug 19, 20220 comments

Early in the college football offseason, Jayden Daniels initially declared that he was returning to Arizona State for the 2022 season. Everyone in the college football industry wondered why he would do that. Herman Edwards is going down with the ship in Tempe, his program in tatters after a COVID-19 recruiting scandal ripped through the program and the 2021 season fell far short of expectations. The NCAA could soon bring the hammer. Players are transferring out of the program. There was no good reason for Daniels to stay.

Eventually, Daniels saw the light and ditched the Sun Devils. A curious decision was altered. The adjustment – not the original choice – made all the sense in the world.

Once Daniels reversed himself and chose to transfer, the next decision focused on his landing spot. He landed in Baton Rouge with Brian Kelly. Going to an elite football school indicated that Daniels relished a challenge. To that extent, his decision was bold and aspirational. However, did it represent the best choice Daniels could make?

Remember that Myles Brennan was part of the LSU program. He was going to give Daniels a battle for the starting quarterback job. Daniels could have gone to several other Power Five programs where he would have easily gained the starting job. He would not have had to put up a fight in the spring or summer (or maybe both) to become the QB1 at a prominent college football school.

If Daniels wanted a guaranteed starting position and guaranteed playing time, LSU was not the place to go. It seemed Daniels didn’t play his cards right.

Well, well, well. How quickly things change.

Myles Brennan stepping away from football has given Daniels the spotlight job without a grueling battle. He will be LSU’s starting quarterback. He will be Brian Kelly’s field general in Year 1 of a highly unlikely coaching tenure in Red Stick.

Brian Kelly provides a level of coaching which is far greater than anything Herm Edwards could possibly hope to offer. Daniels struggled profoundly last season at Arizona State, failing to grow into the position and make the leap NFL scouts are looking for. Yet, within this reality lies the fact that Kelly was not able to bring his offensive coordinator at Notre Dame, Tommy Rees, down to Louisiana. Mike Denbrock, a former Kelly assistant who was offensive coordinator for Cincinnati (and Desmond Ridder) last season, will be LSU’s offensive coordinator.

The Jayden Daniels Experience is another 2022 college football story with several branches into various schools and corners of the country. This story is centrally an LSU drama, but it will ripple across the nation into Tempe and Cincinnati and South Bend, even Boise. Why Boise? Zak Hill, who was Daniels’ offensive coordinator at Arizona State, previously worked at Boise State.

How well Daniels fares under Kelly and Denbrock will be closely studied at several other schools. Moreover, given how central the transfer portal has become in restocking and reshaping rosters across the FBS – just look at Caleb Williams transferring from Oklahoma to USC – it is acutely important for coaches such as Kelly to do a good job with incoming transfers. Success will lead to the next big transfer prospect considering LSU. Failure will force Kelly to home-grow his quarterbacks in Louisiana (where he is not a native and could face considerable challenges in locking up home-state prospects), or attempt to cultivate his second or third choices – not his preferred ones – from the portal.

Jayden Daniels’ decision to go to LSU turned out better than expected in the sense that Daniels will be the starting quarterback. That’s the first round of his high-stakes poker tournament. Now Daniels will move to the bigger table. Will his big bet on Brian Kelly pay off as handsomely as he hopes it will?

We can’t wait to find out.

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Matt Zemek

College football writer since 2001, editor of Trojans Wire, firm believer in the claim that the fumble off the pylon being a touchback is the worst rule in sports.

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