Scooter Hobbs column: Waiting to see what portal takes in, spits out

Published 11:33 am Wednesday, December 7, 2022

We will still trudge on through these murky waters.

But right now I’m not sure how you grade it.

Still, with all the assumptions that Kelly has fashioned a complete overhaul for the program’s culture, it’s this next week or so that will tell the true tale.

It will be interesting to see what LSU’s roster looks like when the Tigers play Purdue in the Citrus Bowl.

For as the holiday season approaches, in this day and age ‘tis also the opt-out season and the lure and good cheer of the transfer portal.

Let’s go out on a limb, however, and assume that Kelly will not be down to 39 scholarship players for the Citrus Bowl like LSU was this time last year en route to the Texas Bowl.

But where is the bar set? You almost have to grade on a curve. Yet where is the median?

You’re going to lose some, that’s inevitable. We know that.

There are well over 1,000 college football players in the transfer portal just two days after it officially opened for customers.

Side note: I still can’t help but imagine what this portal thingie would look like. Maybe like the beam-me-up-Scotty contraption from “Star Trek?”

Anyway, it’s already bulging and there will surely be many more.

Kelly says he has some clear ideas about how he plans to use the incoming side of it, as he said last week, “top off the tank.”

We’ll discuss that another day.

But just as telling will be how many fleeing Tigers the portal takes on.

Kelly said immediately after the SEC Championship Game that he thought he’d have a better handle on the big picture in 24-48 hours.

From LSU’s perspective, there will be two kinds of players heading to the portal. There are the kids who have read the writing on the wall, don’t foresee much playing time after counting noses, and really just want to get on the field somewhere.

Hard to blame them. They just picked the wrong depth chart to challenge. Especially a quarterback, where generally everybody but the starter is limited to mop-up duty.

Then there are the key contributors who just aren’t happy with the coach or the situation or whatever. Maybe they figure (or someone is telling them) that their talents are being wasted or they just don’t like the place and want to search for some greener grass to better display that talent.

You’d worry if a lot of that is happening.

Alabama, for instance, already has (as of Tuesday afternoon) 19 players in the portal. I seriously doubt that Nick Saban is losing control of his program. It’s probably just freeing up space to take on more five-star recruits.

Texas A&M, as was widely predicted, already has 16 already announced — and everybody nods knowingly given the turmoil in the program this season.

Thus far, LSU had two leave, receiver Jack Bech and cornerback Damarius McGhee. But LSU got even bigger news when star receiver Kayshon Boutte said he’d be back for his senior year. He would be turning down both the portal and the lure of the NFL.

Bech is sort of in the gray area. After making a splash as a freshman, this sophomore season injuries and a deep wide receiver room cut down on his catches. He surely would have continued to contribute, but might be a bigger fish elsewhere.

McGhee never cracked the secondary rotation. It’s telling as to how bad the situation deteriorated last December that his lone career start (or appreciable playing time) was a last-man-standing deal for that Texas Bowl last season.

There will surely be more to come.

But Boutte is a true victory. Rightly or wrongly, there was the perception that, particularly among the LSU stars, he was among the slowest in “buying in” to Kelly’s way of doing things.

Apparently, if that was ever the case, it’s not now. His decision suggests the locker room is in good shape. He had a somewhat disappointing season but came alive against Georgia and might still have been a NFL first-rounder.

LSU will always lose juniors to the NFL draft. It’s a big selling point of recruiting.

It will be more interesting to see if Kelly can slow down the recent LSU fad of NFL-bound players opting out of bowl games when they don’t involve the College Football Playoff.

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