Scooter Hobbs column: Indulging in a game of What if?

Published 6:32 am Thursday, October 13, 2022

It’s kind of a silly parlor game, but what else have you got to do in the midweek during college football season?

So let’s call this week’s LSU-Florida game the Billy Napier Appreciation Bowl presented to you by The Sigh of Relief.

There doesn’t seem to be a lot else at stake for what is, year in and year out, traditionally one of the better and most interesting games either school plays.

And we don’t really know how much longer it will be an annual affair, what with the Southeastern Conference soon to rearrange its scheduling model.

So enjoy it while you can. It’s brought both schools a lot of joy and heartbreak, even occasional embarrassment over the years.

Short answer: It probably shouldn’t, but don’t let that deter you. We live by our own rules around here.

Besides, fans can turn anything they please into bragging rights, taunts and all.

So go for it.

Anyway, you’ll recall that both LSU and Florida were looking for a head coach last season, two of a host of high-profile schools trying to make a splash to get their proud houses back in order.

Napier’s name came up a lot in both searches.

Sort of.

Florida was actively wooing him. LSU’s connection was more social media-driven (i.e., click bait).

It was obvious Florida was interested in him from the start. LSU never offered him the job. As far as we know Athletic Director Scott Woodward never talked to him. The Tigers may not have even considered him, even though he was only 55 miles away at Louisiana-Lafayette and was one the hottest names on the market, up-and-comers division, with a penchant for winning consistently at a place not really accustomed to it.

Nobody even knew Kelly was on the market. Shocked everybody when he left Notre Dame for LSU.

He’d done about everything with the Irish except with the national championship, so he went to a place that is somewhat familiar with it.

But it’s still a choice two schools made and, unfairly or not, is fair game for debate about who made the better hire.

For that matter, we don’t know that Napier would have taken the LSU job if it had been offered. He fell off the Saban coaching tree (former assistant at Alabama) with no other ties to Louisiana beyond the ULL success.

But maybe the pressure is more on LSU in this faux grudge match. Never mind that a lot of Tigers fans would have had to swallow hard to take a coach nurtured by the Ragin’ Cajuns.

Wouldn’t it be even more embarrassing — and give Florida more taunting power — if Napier turns out to be the better hire and the Gators recognized it and took the chance from afar, even though he was there on LSU’s back porch the whole time?

And who cares if it’s not a fair comparison with both in the first year at new digs, both taking over programs that are a shadow of their glory days. Again, our rules.

There’s early reconstruction at both places in front of fan bases not known for patience. Tim Tebow or Joe Burrow isn’t walking out of either tunnel this year.

The same weekend LSU was flubbing the works in a one-point loss to Florida State, Florida opened the Napier era with a somewhat fortunate upset of Utah.

Early advantage, Napier — some even declared the competition over at that point. But since then it’s been about even, with enough ups and downs and growing pains to go around for two 4-2 teams.

Florida played Tennessee much closer than LSU, but much of the 38-33 final was late window dressing by the Gators, who also were dominated at home by Kentucky.

LSU won’t soon live down last weekend, but the win over Mississippi State looks better and better.

Florida, by all accounts, needed a miracle to keep from losing to South Florida, and the Kelly Tigers haven’t flirted with anything that embarrassing.

When in doubt, go head to head.

So, for now at least, Saturday’s winner will have made the better coaching hire. Taunting allowed.

Them’s the rules.

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at scooter.hobbs@americanpress.com