Welcome to The Crock Pot, your one-stop shop for all the SEC football news, notes, quotes and mishaps you might have missed during the weekend. Here’s what we’re stewing over …
Let’s put Alabama aside for a moment and consider the state of the SEC East: A bumbling mass of mediocre coaching, offensive ineptitude and the tire fire that is Missouri football.
Hovering above that rubble heap is Georgia coach Kirby Smart, looking down on the mess from his big recruiting helicopter, smiling as the rest of the division stumbles about in the darkness, searching for an answer.
Smart is playing a different game: the Alabama game. That much has become apparent in the last three weeks, during which the Bulldogs have outscored Mississippi State, Tennessee and Vanderbilt by a combined margin of 117-17. And they’ve done it the way Nick Saban has for years — with a defense that thrives on executing the fundamentals and an offense that runs the ball down opponents’ throats.
Against Vanderbilt on Saturday, Georgia threw the ball just 14 times while racking up 423 yards on the ground. The defense held star Commodores tailback Ralph Webb to 47 yards rushing, and did so with two of its top three inside linebackers hurt (Reggie Carter) and suspended (Natrez Patrick).
This is what Smart was hired to do, of course. But stealing a Saban assistant in hopes of copying his success isn’t exactly a novel hiring strategy. Florida has tried it twice, with Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain. Now in Year 2 and Year 3 at their respective programs, neither Saban disciple is even close to where Smart has the Bulldogs.
To those who say Smart arrived in Athens well-positioned from a talent standpoint: That’s true … to an extent. Georgia only had one player taken in the 2017 NFL Draft (Isaiah McKenzie), and almost all of the 2016 starting lineup is back. But Smart and his staff are ensuring the program cupboard will be well-stocked for the next four years by absolutely killing it on the recruiting trail.
After securing the nation’s No. 3 recruiting class per the 247Sports composite in February, Georgia has assembled the foundation of what should be another elite class for 2018.
Justin Fields, the nation’s No. 1 dual-threat quarterback, committed to the Bulldogs on Friday. He is the third consecutive top-5 quarterback to give his pledge to Smart after Jacob Eason and Jake Fromm. I don’t think I’ve even managed to do that in NCAA Football 14. Smart really has set the recruiting difficulty to “Freshman.”
Of course it’s not just Smart. He has made shrewd hires when it comes to assistants, including running backs coach Dell McGee, whom Fields called “the best recruiter in the country.” Wideouts coach James Coley has done well to secure top talent, too, including the top two receivers in the Class of 2019 (Jadon Haselwood and Dominick Blaylock).
Fields is joined in the 2018 class by fellow 5-star prospect Zamir White, the nation’s No. 1 running back, along with seven other blue-chippers. And, as DawgNation’s Jeff Sentell notes, more big-time commitments are likely on the way. Top targets include 5-star Atlanta native Jamaree Salyer and 5-star defensive end KJ Henry.
Imagine what the Bulldogs will look like two years from now. Smart is taking steps toward owning the division long-term in a way Mark Richt never quite did in the later years. (Richt only won the SEC East twice from 2008-15.)
We’re not comparing Georgia to Alabama — not yet. But if Smart keeps winning and recruiting at his current pace, that may happen a few years from now.
Five other things you may have missed in Week 6
Auburn: College Football Playoff-caliber?
Now that Jarrett Stidham is finding his groove and the Kerryon Johnson-fueled run game is picking up steam, Auburn doesn’t look so much like a tweaked version of the 2016 team anymore. The Tigers dispatched Ole Miss with ease, 44-23, and led 41-10 entering the fourth quarter. The Tigers’ only blemish so far is an 8-point loss at Clemson, and they have plenty remaining opportunities to prove their mettle, starting with this Saturday at LSU.
The key area of improvement for Auburn has without a doubt been its offensive line — you know, the same one that allowed Clemson to sack Stidham 11 times. The Tigers only allowed 1 sack against the Rebels on Saturday, while their rushing attack has totaled more than 240 yards for three straight weeks.
Can Gus Malzahn guide this team through the tough back half of its schedule? We shall see, but with the offensive talent on hand and Kevin Steele’s lights-out defense, the tools are in place for him to do so.
By my count, SEC will have only 3 teams ranked in the AP Top 25 for the first time since Dec. 6, 2009.
(All 3 will probably be Top 10.)
— Alex Martin Smith (@asmiff) October 8, 2017
Ole Miss: Quite bad, and officially looking for its next coach
The Rebels might only have two more wins on their schedule this season: Louisiana-Lafayette and one of either Vandy or Arkansas. Neither of those SEC games are guarantees, either.
So it makes sense that Ole Miss would officially put its head coach job posting online this weekend, shortly after the end of Auburn’s 44-23 beatdown.
Which brings us back to the only question that matters for Ole Miss football in 2017: Who is the long-term answer? Who is going to guide the Rebels out of this mess Hugh Freeze enabled? It could be interim coach Matt Luke, a former Ole Miss player with strong school ties, but he shouldn’t be considered the most-likely option.
And before you ask: No, Les Miles, Lane Kiffin, Chip Kelly and whatever other big-name coach you’re thinking of is not in play. Miles may want the Ole Miss job, but the pairing would be about as awkward as it gets — a 64-year-old offensive dinosaur at a program that needs rejuvenation. Kiffin is a mess. And I can’t imagine Kelly clamoring for the job.
Here are three names that make actual sense, in our opinion:
- Neal Brown: The Troy head coach has guided his team to a 4-1 start, highlighted by the upset of LSU in Death Valley. The Trojans finished with 10 wins last season, and Brown knows Southeast recruiting grounds quite well.
- Charlie Strong: He has USF off to a 5-0 start and, according to USA Today’s Dan Wolken, may well be in the mix for a Power 5 job after the season. A no-nonsense, defensive-minded coach like Strong would certainly be a departure from Freeze.
- Frank Wilson: He has SEC experience at Ole Miss, Tennessee and LSU, to go with elite recruiting acumen. He’s also got UTSA off to a 3-1 start this season, highlighted by an upset win at Baylor.
Whoever it is, he should know that he’ll have to work “some evenings and weekends.” Key factor to consider right there.
— Alec Shirkey (@AShirkey) October 7, 2017
(Speaking of the coaching carousel, Ole Miss offensive coordinator Phil Longo is purported to be a candidate for the vacant UTEP position.)
Texas A&M: Through six weeks, Kevin Sumlin probably deserves to keep his job
UCLA collapse aside, Texas A&M has done about as well as fans might have hoped, given the talent Kevin Sumlin and his staff lost this offseason. A new quarterback and a mostly new receiving corps have not kept the Aggies from going 4-2. Were it not for a miraculous Bruins comeback, they’d be 5-1 with an 8-point loss to Alabama as the only blemish.
Freshman quarterback Kellen Mond is improving, and the defense has played reasonably well. Maybe the power-wielders at A&M want him gone even if the team wins eight games. It’s a program that could certainly attract a high-profile coach, given the resources and location.
But Texas A&M would be wise to think this through. Sumlin has never done worse than 8-5, and there’s no guarantee the replacement would be better. Look at Nebraska, which fired consistent winner Bo Pelini for … Mike Riley, who is 18-14 through two-plus seasons. The grass ain’t always greener.
Missouri: Beaten by Kentucky, or the referees?
You, knowledgeable football fan, know that officials don’t get every call right. In fact, sometimes they get calls very, very wrong.
This happened at the end of Kentucky’s 40-34 win against Missouri on Saturday, when refs missed a Kentucky player slapping the ball out of Tigers wideout J’Mon Moore’s hands as he was returning it to officials. That resulted in exceptionally long clock runoff as officials tried to spot the ball — one that essentially cost Missouri an extra play it could have run in a one-score game.
Moore, when asked about the incident after game, had taken it about as well as you’d expect:
J'Mon Moore was not happy postgame after a UK player swatted the ball from his hands causing time to wind down.
— Tyler Murry (@TylerMurry_) October 8, 2017
Florida: Talk s***, get hit
I’m not sure what led to the following exchange between Florida’s Duke Dawson and LSU’s Russell Gage, but it’s something.
— Deadspin (@Deadspin) October 7, 2017
LSU got the last laugh, of course, in its 17-16 win at The Swamp. The Tigers band, meanwhile, managed to infuriate a handful of Gators fans by playing a tribute to Gainesville, Fla., native Tom Petty. Seriously, people, simmer down.
Highlight of the week: The Osceola back-breaker
While Florida fans had to process losing to LSU on a missed extra point, thereby handing it a transitive-property loss to Troy, they could at least enjoy some good old-fashioned Florida State schadenfreude in watching Miami beat the Jimbo Fisher gang on an incredible touchdown pass with less than 10 seconds to play.
— Casey Baker (@CaseyBake16) October 7, 2017
SEC power rankings after Week 6
- Alabama: The Crimson Tide were leading 24-3 before a late surge by Texas A&M made the final score a much more surprising 27-19. But you know what? This imperfect performance will only further fuel Saban’s persistent, simmering anger and thereby make Alabama better. Even if the Tide had lost, they’d still be No. 1 in our eyes. (Last week: 1)
- Georgia: Another week, another SEC blowout. The Bulldogs look like your clear conference No. 2 right now thanks to elite defense and an unfair backfield trio of Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and D’Andre Swift. Did I already mention the nation’s top running back prospect is committed to Georgia? (Last week: 2)
- Auburn: An uneven second-half performance by the Tigers still netted them a big win over Ole Miss, which as we previously mentioned is a Bad Football Team. Auburn is certainly good enough to handle LSU next weekend. (Last week: 3)
- Mississippi State: Had a much-needed bye week after getting torched by Georgia and Auburn, but let’s remember MSU did whoop up on LSU in Week 3. At this point, are there any other teams definitively better than the SEC West Bulldogs? (Last week: 4)
- Texas A&M: As mentioned, the Aggies are one ridiculous collapse away from being 5-1, and their defense held Alabama to 4 for 14 on third down. The offense, meanwhile, is one of just two teams to surpass the 300 total yards-mark against the Tide this season. (Last week: 7)
- LSU: Maybe the Tigers are better than the team we saw lose to Mississippi State and Troy. Or maybe Florida, which narrowly beat Tennessee and Kentucky, is simply worse than we thought. Either way, LSU’s offense looked better against the Gators — Matt Canada’s sweep game was humming well enough that receiver Russell Gage led the team in rushing (6 carries, 52 yards, TD). (Last week: 8)
- Florida: The two worst college offenses in the Sunshine State this season are Florida and Florida State. UCF, USF and Miami are all ranked and undefeated. The Gators are 3-2 in their third year under McElwain, and the fan base is growing increasingly disenchanted with the latest Saban protégé to helm their football program.
- Kentucky: The Wildcats are somehow 5-1, with the only loss being the agonizing 1-pointer to Florida. At the same time, they haven’t beaten a single team by more than 11 points, and that includes Eastern Kentucky, Eastern Michigan and Missouri. But here’s the crazy thing: None of their next four opponents are that challenging; UK could legitimately enter the Georgia game 9-1. (Last week: 9)
- South Carolina: We’re really unsure what we’re going to get from the Gamecocks week-to-week, but hammering Arkansas at home was a nice way to rebound from the A&M loss. (Last week: 9)
- Vanderbilt: What a difference three weeks has made for the Commodores. Georgia imposed its will on Vandy, whose receivers really stood no chance in that one. (Last week: 6)
- Tennessee: The Vols might not be good, but I doubt they’ll lose to South Carolina by 26 points. (Last week: 12)
- Arkansas: The Hogs are now 2-3 and have lost six of their last nine games dating back to last season. Is that bad? That seems bad. (Last week: 11)
- Ole Miss: On the bright side, Shea Patterson is getting acclimated as a full-time SEC starter, and could be really good by the time Ole Miss is postseason-eligible. (Last week: 13)
- Missouri: A valiant effort against Kentucky that came up just short. Perhaps the Tigers can eke out a few more wins this season. And in fairness to Barry Odom, he was dealt a tough hand. (Last week: 14)
Interesting SEC stats from Week 6
- On third down this season, Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm is 20 of 34 passing for 274 yards and 6 touchdowns. That’s good for a 178.88 efficiency rating, which is fifth-best in the nation.
- Three of the five-worst Power 5 rushing attacks reside in the SEC. South Carolina (No. 122), Vanderbilt (No. 127) and Ole Miss (No. 128) are all averaging 3.33 or fewer yards per carry. Ole Miss is averaging a mere 2.88 yards per carry, and its second-leading rusher D’Vaughn Pennamon has just 78 yards this season.
- Three of the country’s top 10 sack artists play in the SEC, and they’re probably guys you’ve never heard of — Josh Allen (Kentucky), Charles Wright (Vanderbilt) and Landis Durham (Texas A&M) all have at least 5.5 sacks through six games. Neither Wright nor Durham recorded a sack last season; Allen had 7 during a breakout sophomore campaign.
Tweet of the week: Trash vs. trash
SB Nation’s Spencer Hall, a noted Florida fan, had some thoughts on the Gators’ clash with LSU:
Halftime summary pic.twitter.com/JB2J2Ai9MK
— BUM CHILLIPS (@edsbs) October 7, 2017