Scooter Hobbs column: Navigating opt-out season

Published 9:46 am Saturday, December 17, 2022

Sounds like a brewing ringer situation, even at 43 years of age (and wisdom).

And surely it was no coincidence that the news came shortly after the Boilermakers learned that they will be without starting quarterback Aiden O’Connell, who’s a casualty of the opt-out craze.

Mmmmm.

Really?

But not to worry.

So the Saints legend and beloved adopted idol of Louisiana will only be a coach in the game. And not the head coach. An assistant coach. An interim assistant, at that.

So, just to clarify: Brees will not be throwing any passes against the Tigers in Orlando. He might be the best quarterback on the field come Jan. 2, but he’ll remain on the sideline for his first coaching gig outside of his sons’ flag football days.

It will be nostalgic and nice to see him sporting the black and gold again, which are also Purdue’s colors of choice, but nothing more.

This must be a relief for the Tigers.

It may be tough to accept for some LSU fans, whose knee-jerk reaction is always to cheer on Brees no matter what he’s doing.

But remember, he never attended LSU or played a down for the Tigers. It seemed like he got rather chummy and supportive with the 2019 national championship team, particularly Joe Burrow, but his heart remains where it should, with the school where he became a star.

Besides, Brees isn’t likely to have a big effect on the bowl game. He’s just helping out his old school in a time of need.

Purdue will also have an interim head coach in offensive coordinator Brian Brohm, who steps in for his brother Jeff, who has taken the Louisville head job. Former Illinois defensive coordinator Ryan Walters will take over after the bowl.

But that’s not the reason LSU has jumped to a two-touchdown favorite over a team that played Michigan tough for three quarters before losing in the Big Ten championship game.

In addition to their starting quarterback, the Boilermakers will also be missing their top two receivers, Charles Jones, who led the nation with 110 receptions, and Payne Durham, also opt-outs.

How much a new NCAA rule unveiled on Friday will help is anybody’s guess. But the one-time waiver exempts bowls from counting against the four games a player can participate in without losing a year of eligibility.

It needs to be permanent, if nothing else just to help the bowls themselves in the fight against the transfer portal.

But I guess LSU’s reaction would be: Where was this rule last year?

The Tigers have at least a dozen players in the portal this year, but thus far no starters or indispensable backups. The biggest losses will be defensive end B.J. Ojulari and receiver Jarray Jenkins, both opting to get a jump-start on the NFL combine.

But if the Tigers can keep a thumb plugging the opt-out dike and the portal blocked, they should be close enough to full strength to rule out any excuses.

Still, the new rule might have come in handy a year ago when LSU, depleted by opt-outs and transfers, had only 39 available scholarship players for the 42-20 Texas Bowl loss to Kansas State. Among them was converted backup wide receiver Jontre Kirkland, who did his heartfelt best to play Quarterback for a Night.

Had the bowl waiver been in effect, Garrett Nussmeier would have handled quarterbacking, but nobody wanted to burn his redshirt doing it.

Nussmeier, who’d already played in four regular-season games, even asked for a waiver but it did not seem to be taken seriously.

The LSU bowl coaching staff was patched together waiting for Brian Kelly to take over, similar to Purdue’s this year, minus the Brees factor.

The tables have turned for LSU.

So with all the chaos in the college game these days, maybe things even out over time.

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