A Tale of Two Seasons

Saints, LSU football teams flipped scripts in 2022 and Tulane surprises
Illustration by Paddy Mills

Chris Price is an award-winning journalist and public relations principal. When he’s not writing, he’s avid about music, the outdoors, and Saints, Ole Miss and Chelsea football.

It’s not quite the best of times or the worst of times for football fans in Southeast Louisiana, but the 2022 football season had plenty of drama and intrigue.

The New Orleans Saints and LSU Tigers had many similarities at the beginning of the campaign. Both had new head coaches who were replacing leaders who previously led the teams to championships. Both had questions at quarterback. Both appeared to be headed in opposite directions.

The Saints entered the fall with high expectations; some prognosticators thought the team was good enough to battle for a division crown and possibly reach the Super Bowl.

The most noticeable difference in the 2021 and 2022 teams has been the play of the defense. Fourth in the NFL in total defense in 2021, the team slipped to 22 in mid-December. What was expected to be an elite unit was often pushed around in the running game, had an inconsistent pass rush, gave up big passing plays, and missed too many tackles.

At the end of the season, the team’s future is unclear. There is speculation about Head Coach Dennis Allen’s future with the team. There are questions at QB, RB, and at WR1 with Michael Thomas again missing a large part of the season. The salary cap is again an issue. The team will have a top 10, maybe top five, overall draft pick, but it’s going to Philadelphia as part of a trade that netted the Black and Gold two first-round selections in the 2022 draft — Chris Olave and offensive tackle Trevor Penning. The Saints own the rights to Sean Payton, so if he decides to return to coaching, the team will receive a haul of top draft choices over the next few seasons from whichever team he signs with.

It’s odd that a former coach taking a new job may be the team’s biggest potential for excitement in the offseason, but that’s the type of year it’s been for the Saints.

Meanwhile, upriver in Baton Rouge, LSU lured head coach Brian Kelly from Notre Dame to take over the program from Ed Orgeron. It was a splash hire, but Kelly had a bit of a rough transition thanks to a hokey attempt at a Southern accent and cringy recruiting videos.

Not much was expected of the Tigers going into the season. At the annual SEC Media Days in late July, writers, broadcasters and bloggers predicted the Bayou Bengals to finish fifth out of seven teams in the SEC’s western division. While some giggled, Kelly went to work landing Arizona State transfer quarterback Jayden Daniels and signing freshman linebacker Harold Perkins Jr., who became one of the SEC’s best players.

The season got off to a rough start with early losses to Florida State and Tennessee, but the Tigers turned their season around with wins against Alabama and Ole Miss and found their way to the SEC West Division crown, an unexpected appearance in the SEC Championship and an invitation to the Citrus Bowl.

Kelly came into Baton Rouge with expectations of quickly becoming a National Championship title contender. Going into 2023, his bluster can’t be laughed off. These Tigers are right back where they want to be.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t include a note on Tulane’s amazing 2022 season. Head Coach Willie Fritz led the Green Wave to an 11-2 record, American Athletic Conference Championship, and an appearance against USC in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic — the school’s biggest bowl game since it played Texas A&M in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, 1940. Led by quarterback Michael Pratt, running back Tyjae Spears and a smothering defense, the Wave went into bowl season ranked 14th in the Associated Press Top 25, 16th in the College Football Playoff Committee ranking, and 17th in the AFCA USA Today Coaches Poll.