It’s almost impossible to keep track of how much the college football landscape has shifted over the course of this season.
After looking like goners the first few weeks of the season, Kentucky coach Mark Stoops and Auburn coach Gus Malzahn both have chances to cement their jobs for the 2017 season with wins on Saturday. Across the conference standings, Georgia and Ole Miss have burned up early goodwill.
Here are the SEC coaches with the most to gain and lose in Week 9:
Gain: Mark Stoops
Kentucky at Missouri, 12 p.m. Saturday in Columbia, Mo. (SEC Network)
Don’t look now, but Stoops might have actually righted the ship at Kentucky. After a pair of brutal losses to open the season, the Wildcats now sit at 4-3 with sole possession of second place in the SEC East. Granted, the three conference wins have been against perhaps the worst teams in the SEC, but that still might be enough to get to a bowl game.
Kentucky will now travel to Columbia to take on the other team in the SEC’s lowest tier — Missouri. The Tigers got off to a blistering offensive start, but the defense has been brutal and results haven’t sustained themselves. If Kentucky can find a way to pull off its first road win of the season, the Wildcats will virtually lock up a bowl appearance for the first time since 2010.
Lose: Hugh Freeze
Ole Miss vs. No. 15 Auburn, 7:15 p.m. Saturday in Auburn, Ala. (SEC Network)
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Ole Miss went from the best one-loss team in the nation, to the best two-loss and best three-loss according to the AP poll voters. However, a 3-4 team finally became a little too underwhelming to rank in the latest rendition. Ole Miss’ signature win against Georgia looks more underwhelming every week.
If the Rebels lose this week at Jordan-Hare Stadium, Freeze’s team will shockingly pick up its fifth loss and top out at a seven-win season. It gets worse — the Rebels still have a road game against No. 9 Texas A&M on Nov. 12. It’s hard to believe some so-called “experts” had Ole Miss winning double-digit games this season (Read: Me). Now, the Egg Bowl could be a dogfight just for a bowl appearance.
Gain: Will Muschamp
South Carolina vs. No. 18 Tennessee, 7:15 p.m. Saturday in Columbia, S.C. (ESPN2)
South Carolina’s offenses looked a little too Muschamp-esque to start, but true freshman quarterback Jake Bentley impressed in his first start on Saturday as the Gamecocks scored 34 points against UMass. Little was expected of South Carolina this year, but the performance was encouraging.
The Gamecocks now host SEC East frontrunner Tennessee on their home field in a division rivalry game. To be clear, the Gamecocks have no business winning this game against a far superior opponent. However, if Muschamp’s team can score points against the No. 18 team in the nation, that in itself is a major win.
Lose: Kirby Smart
Georgia vs. No. 14 Florida, 3:30 p.m. Saturday in Jacksonville, Fla. (CBS)
Smart entrenched himself with his alma mater during his first offseason in Athens, but much of the goodwill he built up is on rocky ground after a disappointing loss to Vanderbilt during homecoming weekend. The Cocktail Party is a significant opportunity for the Bulldogs to get back on top, but the downside might be even more significant.
Georgia has been completely unable to run the ball this season, despite returning star running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. The inconsistent line play has forced true freshman quarterback Jacob Eason to throw the ball 28 times or more in four of his seven starts. The Bulldogs are 1-3 in those games. Going against perhaps the best secondary in the nation is absolute worst-case scenario for Smart.
Win: Gus Malzahn
No. 15 Auburn at Ole Miss, 7:15 p.m. Saturday in Oxford, Miss. (SEC Network)
Auburn’s offense is back. The Tigers rushed for an obscene 543 yards against Arkansas, which is the most ever in an SEC conference game. As if that’s not enough, Auburn was missing starting running back Kerryon Johnson, who was available but unused due to lingering injuries.
Now, Malzahn has an opportunity to pick up a third win over a team picked ahead of Auburn in the preseason poll. Ole Miss has imploded as of late and also proved against LSU it has major issues defending against the run. A win on Saturday would make Auburn bowl eligible, which didn’t happen until Nov. 21 last season after a win over Idaho. The next four games are all winnable before the Tigers play No. 1 Alabama.