Bowl season is meant to be a celebration of a good season, but it won’t be for every SEC football program.
While the SEC didn’t have any coaches fired after the regular season, that doesn’t mean the offseason will be peaceful. Whether it comes from underwhelming regular-season performance or issues surrounding the program, multiple SEC teams could be in the news for all the wrong reasons.
Here are the three programs who have the worst offseasons ahead, and why it will be so subpar:
Ole Miss Rebels
Record: 5-7, 2-6 SEC
Hugh Freeze is in the argument for second-best coach in the SEC, but this season was not ideal. The Rebels lost plenty of star talent, but quarterback Chad Kelly was expected to be enough to keep Ole Miss competitive. When he went down, Shea Patterson showed flashes of brilliance. It didn’t matter. Ole Miss failed to get a bowl bid for the first time under Freeze.
Things could get even rougher on the field next year. Star defensive end Marquis Haynes should be heading to the NFL and the Rebels will need to replace running back Akeem Judd. While the true freshman Patterson is talented, it’s a far cry from starting the 2017 season with the best quarterback in the SEC, like Ole Miss had with Kelly this year.
But what could be an even bigger distraction could be the off-the-field issues. Before the 2016 NFL Draft, texts were released that seemed to imply All-American tackle Laremy Tunsil was receiving payment from the school. It was far from the first allegation of improper benefits at the school. Ole Miss has not announced any sanctions or punitive action, but it could be on the horizon. If the Rebels can stay out of the headlines, they’ll consider that a win.
Record: 8-4, 4-4 SEC
This was meant to be Tennessee’s breakout season. Quarterback Josh Dobbs and defensive end Derek Barnett are two of the biggest stars in the SEC, while a running game centered around Alvin Kamara and Jalen Hurd was expected to be among the best in the conference.
Cracks starting showing the first game against Appalachian State, but the Vols still managed to get out to a 5-0 start and top-10 national ranking. But then Butch Jones’ team lost three games straight, including an embarrassing one against South Carolina. Finishing the year with a loss to in-state rival Vanderbilt won’t help either.
There’s already been some indication that Tennessee fans want Jones fired. It appears the administration is opting to keep him on board for the time being, but fans won’t quiet down. This is a historical SEC program, but Jones has yet to reach double-digit victories in a season during his time there. Another good recruiting class should help, but the offseason will be spent trying to win back the fan base. With the mess at Baylor last offseason, don’t be surprised if the Title IX lawsuit at Tennessee rears its ugly head too.
Texas A&M Aggies
Record: 8-4, 4-4 SEC
On the surface, this doesn’t seem fair. The Aggies easily made a bowl game and were No. 4 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings. But after Trevor Knight got hurt, this turned into just another underwhelming Texas A&M season.
The Aggies lost to Mississippi State, Ole Miss and LSU down the stretch to finish with the same disappointing 4-4 record in conference play. In fact, after moving to 6-0 with a big win over Tennessee, Texas A&M went 0-4 against SEC opponents.
Even though the Aggies have an elite recruiting class, head coach Kevin Sumlin will have to reassure the fan base that the program is heading in the right direction. Since going 11-2 his first season with the Aggies, Texas A&M is just 15-17 in SEC play. That’s awfully disappointing for how much they are paying him. Sumlin will need to close out a strong recruiting class and find a quarterback before the 2017 season. Things won’t be easy, considering the Aggies lose Myles Garrett, Josh Reynolds, Shaan Washington, Justin Evans and Daeshon Hall.