With the regular season over, even before the SEC Championship Game Saturday in Atlanta, now is a great time to take stock around the SEC. We’ll cover the SEC East before the weekend. For now:
The Crimson Tide play Georgia Saturday for the conference title and the right to play Notre Dame for the national championship January 7 in Miami. If ‘Bama runs the table, they will own three of the past four national titles. Any questions?
Alabama gets to hand-pick 25 recruits from among the cream of the crop nationally every year. Then, Nick Saban and company coach them up to maximize their potential and synergize (I may have made that word up, but you know what I mean) their individual talents into a dominant team. As long as the recruiting and coaching remain at the current level, expect Alabama to be at or near the top of both the conference and the national rankings every year.
Just ended the disastrous and mercifully brief John L. Smith era. The Razorbacks were picked to be a Top 10 team but drifted aimlessly to a 4-8 record. They have talent returning next year, although they have to replace record setting QB Tyler Wilson and WR Cobi Hamilton.
Athletic director Jeff Long says he will name a new head coach within 2 weeks. This is a great job. I would list it eighth in the SEC pecking order (Alabama, LSU, Florida, Texas A&M, Georgia, Tennessee, Auburn, Arkansas). The Razorbacks need either a proven coach (Chris Petersen, Tommy Tuberville, Mike Gundy, Charlie Strong, etc) or a dynamic up-and-comer (Gus Malzahn, Sonny Dykes, Chad Morris, Butch Jones, etc).
Whoever comes to Fayetteville to be the new Head Hog needs to be a strong recruiter, preferably with strong ties to Texas or Florida. He also needs to find great coordinators to help him keep the offense rolling and build an SEC-caliber defense.
Just fired Gene Chizik two years after he coached the Tigers to a national championship. Many say that Chizik was less responsible for the title than Cam Newton and Gus Malzahn. At any rate, Chizik’s results this year—0-8 conference, 3-9 overall—seem to more accurately reflect his coaching prowess. He was 5-19 at Iowa State before moving to Auburn. Many people questioned his hiring at the time.
Auburn has talent and great facilities, fan base, etc. The ongoing NCAA investigation may make hiring a new coach more difficult. Add to that having to face in-state rival Alabama at their peak. Normally, this would be a premier destination job. Maybe not so much right now.
Bobby Petrino might be the best man willing to take on the challenges Auburn currently faces. He once coached there as an assistant and he’s not in a position to quibble about tough challenges. Auburn’s moneyed elite may nix Bobby P’s hire as too controversial, however.
Tigers are 10-2 this year and 85-20 with a BCS national championship (2007) and two SEC titles under Les Miles. The program is in good hands. If Saban wasn’t currently coaching at Alabama, Miles’ record would probably include another national title. One of Saban’s championship rings was earned when he was head coach at LSU, which shows the quality of the overall program.
LSU has everything needed to continue football excellence. Miles just has to figure out how to beat Alabama and now maybe Texas A&M since the Aggies appear to be poised to contend for the next few SEC West titles. The Tigers will finish just out of the BCS bowl derby and settle for a top-tier non-BCS bowl.
Just when everyone thought this was “the breakout year” for the Bulldogs under brash Dan Mullen, along came the brutal second half of the season. After jumping out to a 7-0 record, State was slammed to the turf and jolted back to harsh SEC reality with consecutive losses to Alabama, Texas A&M, and LSU. A final 41-24 loss to arch-rival Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl Saturday dropped the Bulldogs to 8-4 overall, 4-4 in the SEC.
Mullen has been building a solid program for four years. He has work still to do, but he has made State much more relevant. If he doesn’t get lured to a program with more championship potential (Tennessee, for instance), Mississippi State should remain a strong second-tier program.
It appears that the Rebels hit a home run when they hired Hugh Freeze. Under his leadership, Ole Miss rebounded from a Houston Nutt-induced 2-10 coma in 2011 to post a respectable 6-6 record this year. The Rebels played both Alabama and Texas A&M tougher than most and humbled arch-rival Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl last Saturday, winning that game for the first time since Nutt was hired (insert chuckle here).
Ole Miss will go to a middlin’ bowl, but rest assured their fortunes are on the rise with Freeze at the helm. The Rebs may even land the nation’s top recruit, DE Robert Nkemdiche from Loganville, Georgia, whose older brother plays linebacker at Ole Miss.
Johnny Football and Kevin Sumlin: a match made in Aggie Heaven! Freshman QB Johnny Manziel, aka Johnny Football, is a sure bet to at least place in the Heisman Trophy voting. Most agree that the unofficial ban on freshman winning the coveted trophy as national Player of the Year needs to be permanently lifted. Johnny Football is by far the most dynamic and productive player in all of college football. He has compiled 4600 yards of total offense and passed or run for 43 touchdowns! He deserves that trophy.
And first-year coach Kevin Sumlin may deserve National Coach of the Year honors. Sumlin coached the Aggies to a 10-2 record that included a stunning and convincing upset of then number one Alabama in their first season of SEC play. A&M has everything… money, fans, great facilities, tradition, and they can recruit without leaving their home state. With Texas struggling by Longhorn standards, A&M has the excitement of at least two more years with Johnny Football and playing in the best conference in college football as selling points. That should turn several outstanding recruits from possible Longhorns into signed, sealed, and delivered Aggies. Sumlin’s team should remain a force to be reckoned with for years to come.