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Florida State vs. LSU Prediction: Brian Kelly's Tigers Debut Comes in Big Easy vs. Seminoles

Florida State and LSU meet on Sunday night in New Orleans for a high-profile showdown in Week 1 of the 2022 college football season. In addition to starting the new year off on the right foot, both programs hope this season represents a turning point. The Seminoles and Tigers have won national titles during the CFB Playoff era but are just 20-25 since the ’20 season. A win in the Caesars Superdome won’t solve all of the woes for both programs. However, a victory by Florida State would show this team is clearly on the right path under coach Mike Norvell, while LSU would make an early statement under new coach Brian Kelly.

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Florida State was one of a handful of teams that started the 2022 season last Saturday in Week 0. As expected, the Seminoles didn’t have to sweat much in a 47-7 beatdown of FCS Duquesne. The task on Sunday is significantly more difficult, but Norvell’s team at least knocked off the rust and got a chance to play several players to develop depth before this matchup. Last week’s win also moved Florida State to 6-3 in its last nine games. After a slow start to Norvell’s tenure and a needed rebuilding of the roster, the Seminoles seem to be turning a corner. With 15 returning starters, optimism is running high in Tallahassee for the program’s first winning season since ’17.

Between the arrival of Kelly and just six returning starters, LSU enters ’22 as a mystery or wild-card team in the SEC. Talent certainly isn’t an issue in Baton Rouge, but the Tigers have uncertainty at quarterback, no returning starters on the offensive line, and a transfer-infused secondary that ranks as the biggest question mark on defense. Kelly has won everywhere he’s been, and while it may take some time to adjust from Notre Dame to LSU, his track record suggests it may not be long before the Bayou Bengals are comfortably back in the Top 25.

LSU and Florida State have met nine previous times. The Seminoles hold a 7-2 edge in those matchups. However, these two programs have not met since 1991.

Florida State vs. LSU (New Orleans)

Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 4 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Where: Caesars Superdome (New Orleans)
TV: ABC
Live Stream: fuboTV (Start your free trial)
Spread: LSU -3

When Florida State Has the Ball

Florida State’s chances of a victory on Sunday night likely hinge on two factors: The play of quarterback Jordan Travis and how well the offensive line performs against a standout LSU defensive front. The Seminoles didn’t show too much in the Week 0 win, but this unit averaged 8.4 yards per play and scored on eight out of 10 drives.

Travis holds the keys to success for Florida State’s offense. In the nine games, he’s started since the beginning of the 2021 season, the Seminoles averaged 34.4 points a game and 6.4 yards per play. In the four contests he did not start, Florida State only managed 17 points a game and 5.1 yards per snap. The junior has made considerable progress as a passer over the last two seasons. After throwing for 1,056 yards and completing only 55 percent of his throws in ’20, Travis completed 62.9 percent of his passes for 1,539 yards last fall.

Upgrading the receiving corps was a priority for Norvell this offseason, and the early returns are positive. Mycah Pittman grabbed four receptions in Week 0, and fellow transfer Johnny Wilson caught one pass for 51 yards. Those two players, along with Deuce Spann, Malik McClain and Ontaria Wilson give Travis a deeper (and more talented) collection of playmakers on the outside. LSU usually has one of the deepest defensive backfields in the SEC, but the outlook going into ’22 is different. The Tigers could start three or four transfers here on Sunday night, so meshing all of the new faces in a high-profile matchup is a test for coordinator Matt House.

LSU’s defensive front is arguably the best position unit on the field and could cause problems for a Florida State offensive line that’s improving but still remains a question mark. The ‘Noles ran for 406 yards last week and are set to deploy three backs — Trey Benson, Treshaun Ward and Lawrance Toafili — against this front. Additionally, Travis ran for 535 yards and seven touchdowns last year, and his mobility is an x-factor against LSU. The Tigers played better on defense as ’21 progressed. After allowing 4.4 yards per rush in the first eight games, they held teams to 3.04 in the last five contests. Keeping lineman Maason Smith and linebacker BJ Ojulari out of the backfield is the top priority for Florida State’s offensive line on Sunday night.

Related: Ranking All 83 College Football Games in Week 1

When LSU Has the Ball

How LSU looks and performs on offense is one of the biggest mysteries for Sunday night’s matchup. Kelly isn’t naming a starting quarterback, so the uncertainty between Arizona State transfer Jayden Daniels and Garrett Nussmeier is likely to continue up to kickoff. Also, the Tigers may not have running back John Emery Jr. due to a suspension, and the offensive line begins the season as a major concern.

Regardless of whether Daniels or Nussmeier starts, the overall operation of LSU’s offense shouldn’t change a ton. Both quarterbacks are mobile (although an edge goes to Daniels here) and can make throws outside of the pocket, although their accuracy has been uneven at times. Daniels threw for 6,025 yards and ran for 1,288 yards in 29 contests at Arizona State. Nussmeier has impressed this offseason and got valuable seasoning with appearances in four games (29 of 57 for 329 yards) last year. With this a close battle throughout the fall, both quarterbacks could see time on Sunday night.

Whether it’s Daniels or Nussmeier under center, expect both quarterbacks to look early and often in the direction of Kayshon Boutte. Before a season-ending injury, Boutte was off to a blistering pace (38 catches for 508 yards and nine touchdowns) and ranks as one of the top returning receivers in college football. As a whole, LSU should have one of the top receiving corps in the SEC. Jaray Jenkins (34 catches), Jack Bech (43), Malik Nabers (28) and Brian Thomas (28) all return in ’22. Florida State finished fifth in the ACC in pass efficiency defense last season and brings back a preseason All-American at safety (Jammie Robinson) and a rising star at cornerback in Omarion Cooper.

Similar to when Florida State has the ball, the battle in the trenches is crucial to LSU’s hopes of a victory. The Tigers have experience up front, but no player qualified to be a returning starter in ’22. Also, true freshman Will Campbell is expected to start at left tackle on Sunday night. Establishing a consistent ground game (3.3 yards per carry in ’21) and pass protection (38 sacks allowed) was a challenge for the Tigers last season. Has line coach Brad Davis improved this group with an offseason of work? The Seminoles have questions off the edge after Jermaine Johnson II departed to the NFL, but UAlbany transfer Jared Verse had a strong showing in the opener against Duquesne. Also, the interior pairing of Robert Cooper and Fabien Lovett will present challenges for the LSU front.

Final Analysis

Everything points to a relatively even matchup on Sunday night. The Seminoles are trending in the right direction under Norvell and a win here would provide a boost before getting into ACC play against Louisville on Sept. 16. With just six returning starters, coaching turnover and quarterback uncertainty, LSU is a hard team to get a read on for Week 1. Whichever team wins the trenches is likely to come out on top. Both offensive lines are likely to be shaky, and the quarterbacks could be under duress early and often. LSU’s defensive front has the potential to be more dominant on Sunday, so a slight edge goes to Kelly’s team, as it wins a close one in New Orleans.

Prediction: LSU 27, Florida State 24

Podcast: Week 1 Preview and Predictions + Betting and Picks Against the Spread