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 …
The overhauled recruiting calendar approved by college football decision-makers this offseason has a slew of far-reaching implications for the sport. None looms larger than the early signing period, which takes place a mere three weeks after the 2017 regular season ends (Dec. 20-22).
For head coaches jumping to new jobs, that’s a tiny window for them to fill even major staff vacancies. Predictably, the time crunch has already had one clear effect: Schools are either firing or preparing to move on from their incumbent coaches sooner. (Schools cannot conduct official negotiations with prospective hires before the season ends, but they can sure gauge interest via “unofficial” channels.)
Florida fired Jim McElwain before Nov. 1. Texas A&M, if reports are true, has been mentally prepared to fire Kevin Sumlin since early November (and probably even before that). Ex-Tennessee coach Butch Jones’ fate was sealed after the Kentucky loss on Oct. 28. Arkansas is so eager to get rid of Bret Bielema that the board of trustees first got rid of his staunchest supporter, athletic director Jeff Long, in a likely bid to land Natural State native Gus Malzahn.
If you’re counting, that’s five expected SEC head coaching vacancies when you include Ole Miss. If Malzahn leaves Auburn, or if Florida/Tennessee somehow manage to court Dan Mullen away from Mississippi State (unlikely), nearly half the conference will have someone new atop its football program in 2018.
For the last few years, fans and media types have called this the Nick Saban Effect — schools pushing coaches out in a desperate bid to compete with ever-dominant Alabama. This year, Saban protégé Kirby Smart seems to have amplified that effect amid a breakout second season at Georgia.
All of that turnover, including Long’s ouster and the resignation of Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs, has created a cyclone of potential offseason chaos for the SEC. And, unfortunately, the uncertainty will overshadow what’s mostly a pretty weak Rivalry Week lineup for the league.
Of the SEC’s final slate of regular-season games, only two have any real importance: Alabama-Auburn and Georgia-Georgia Tech. South Carolina can play spoiler against Clemson. That’s it. The Egg Bowl, Battle Line, Florida-Florida State? Snoozeville. Vanderbilt-Tennessee? Can’t wait to see which one of those hapless teams gets their first conference win of the season. Texas A&M-LSU? Sumlin is probably gone, regardless of the outcome.
The annual rumored silliness and flight-tracking antics have already begun to trickle into the public purview, and it’ll only ramp up from here. Can you blame fans for being tempted to look past Rivalry Week?
Assessing the coaching searches at 5 SEC schools
1. Tennessee: Please, sweet football gods, shut the Grumors machine down
SB Nation has a fantastic recap of, among other things, a Knoxville BBQ restaurant claiming that Jon Gruden ate at the restaurant this weekend, before walking back its statement in a Twitter apology.
Gruden was actually in Seattle, many, many miles away from Knoxville.
The ultra-predictable Tennessee fan obsession with Gruden remains the funniest tri-annual tradition to emerge in recent SEC history.
(OK, Gruden did reportedly meet with John Currie “as a procedural move,” according to SB Nation. Reading between the lines: Excited UT boosters harangued Currie about meeting with the man, and Currie obliged so that he could presumably direct his search toward coaches who are actually interested in the job.)
If we had to bet on it: Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano, with Peyton Manning’s return taking place four years from now.
2. Florida: What happens if the Gators *don’t* get Scott Frost?
The Gators opening is one of the best in the country. Right? Or have those days passed?
The Sunshine State has long been a hotbed for recruiting talent, and the rapid ascendance of basically every FBS program not named Florida or Florida State underscores the perception that quick turnarounds are possible. But the Gators have been mired in offensive ineptitude for nearly a decade, and the SEC still has Alabama. Would Frost rather return to Nebraska, where expectations are also high but the competition is weaker?
I don’t think Chip Kelly is seriously interested in the Gators. Mullen, meanwhile, called Geoff Collins’ departure for Florida “a lateral move,” and we’re guessing that opinion hasn’t changed. His legacy shines much brighter in Starkville, anyway.
USF coach Charlie Strong makes the most sense if Frost passes, but that hire doesn’t answer the most important question: Who is going to fix Florida’s offense?
If we had to bet on it: Strong
3. Texas A&M: Be careful what you wish for
Here are the SEC West coaches ranked by winning percentages since 2012, the year Sumlin was hired by Texas A&M:
- Saban (.915)
- Les Miles (.709)
- Malzahn (.687)
- Sumlin (.671)
- Mullen (.632)
- Hugh Freeze (.604)
- Bielema (.468)
Consider that Sumlin has done no worse than 8-5 at Texas A&M and maintains a winning record in SEC play. Consider that Sumlin is also one of six coaches to beat Saban since 2012. The other five are Malzahn, Bob Stoops, Freeze, Urban Meyer and Dabo Swinney, three of which have won national championships.
Consider that … oh, you don’t really care, do you Aggies readers? You see the high salary, the November duds and Texas scooping up shiny new football coach Tom Herman, and you begin to seethe. The relationship between Sumlin and Texas A&M power-wielders is clearly strained. I get it, and I get why the Aggies appear ready to make this change.
But that doesn’t mean the next guy will be better, and that doesn’t mean Sumlin won’t land on his feet at a pretty good job.
If we had to bet on it: SMU coach Chad Morris
4. Arkansas: A barrel of laughs, potentially
The optimistic view: The BOT lures Malzahn back to his home state, where he selects Long’s eventual successor and quickly assembles a competent coaching staff. Or maybe the Hogs land Memphis coach Mike Norvell instead, who has quickly proven himself a winner in two years with the Tigers.
But if Arkansas doesn’t land one of its top options quickly — or if the BOT bungles this search process in any way — this could be a looong offseason for Razorback fans. It’s impossible to imagine that Bielema will return under any circumstance, but it’s totally plausible to think Arkansas winds up with Option C, D or E here.
If we’re betting on it: Malzahn or bust.
5. Ole Miss: Like a box of chocolates
As in, whoever takes this job really has no idea what he’s getting. Until the NCAA Committee on Infractions makes its final call on punishments, the Rebels really don’t have much clarity when it comes to recruiting and restrictions. That has pretty clearly hurt their recruiting efforts to date, as the Ole Miss 2018 class (just 10 commitments so far) ranks No. 78 in the nation per the 247Sports composite.
For those reporting Willie Taggart’s supposed candidacy, let’s think about this: Does he really want to leave Oregon after one season to take over at Ole Miss? Florida is another story, given his Sunshine State roots and success at USF, but Oxford feels like a weird cultural fit for Taggart. Same goes for Strong. Norvell makes more sense, but something tells me he’ll have more appealing suitors.
If we’re betting on it: Troy coach Neal Brown, who is 8-2 in his third season at the helm.
Highlight of the week: Pogo stick
Mississippi State receiver Deddrick Thomas caught the go-ahead touchdown against Arkansas on Saturday, a play that was reviewed and ultimately upheld. His celebration had me rolling.
— Alec Shirkey (@AShirkey) November 18, 2017
Interesting SEC stats from Week 12
- Alabama is 11-0 for the third time in the last five seasons. The last two times the Tide started 11-0, however, they didn’t win up winning a championship; 2013 produced the Kick Six, and 2016 gave us Deshaun Watson’s title game heroics.
- The most explosive team in the country might be Missouri. The Tigers have an FBS-best 20 plays of 50-plus yards this season, and their 7.3 yards-per-play average is No. 4 in the country behind only Oklahoma, UCF and Louisville.
- Let’s take the flip side of that, which is limiting big plays and keeping everything in front of you. Four SEC teams have been among the top 10 in the country at doing that: Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi State and Auburn, all of which have allowed 105 or fewer plays of 10-plus yards. The Bulldogs and Crimson Tide rank No. 2 and No. 3, respectively.
- History tells us the Iron Bowl should be another good one. Nine of the last 15 meetings between Alabama and Auburn have been decided by 10 points or less.
- The same has held true for Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate (Georgia vs. Georgia Tech). The last four games have all been decided by seven points or fewer, and two of them went to overtime. The Yellow Jackets are 2-2 in those games.
SEC power rankings after Week 12
- Alabama: Almost surely making the College Football Playoff, even with a loss to Auburn this weekend. (Last week: 1)
- Auburn: The Tigers are a win-and-in CFP contender, but a fourth straight Iron Bowl defeat may hasten Malzahn’s exit on The Plains. (Last week: 2)
- Georgia: Whooped up on Kentucky to the tune of 381 yards and 5 touchdowns on the ground, giving the Bulldogs a clean sweep of the SEC East. (Last week: 3)
- Mississippi State: Sleepwalked through parts of the Arkansas game coming off the heartbreaking near-upset of Alabama. Still a clear top-20 team. (Last week: 4)
- LSU: Dispatched Tennessee with ease for its fifth win in the last six games. (Last week: 5)
- South Carolina: North Carolina State losing to Wake Forest dings the Gamecocks’ résumé a bit, but South Carolina can ruin Clemson’s CFP hopes with an upset on Saturday night. (Last week: 6)
- Texas A&M: The Aggies appear on track for another 8-5 finish, but hey, they’re 2-1 in November right now. (Last week: 7)
- Missouri: Five straight wins for the Tigers, who are one bad Arkansas team away from finishing 7-5. What a turnaround for Barry Odom. (Last week: 10)
- Ole Miss: A.J. Brown is an absolute beast, but the Aggies largely held this offense in check. (Last week: 8)
- Florida: Beat UAB in the world’s longest football game. This was the Gators’ first win since September. Seriously. (Last week: 11)
- Kentucky: Have the Wildcats peaked at seven wins? Beating Louisville would help Mark Stoops’ case that they haven’t, but UK simply looked overmatched against Georgia. (Last week: 8)
- Arkansas: Gave Mississippi State a fight, but this program is in dire need of a retooling. (Last week: 12)
- Vanderbilt: The Commodores rank 97th in scoring defense this season, allowing an average of 32 points per game, but Mizzou torched them in all three phases. (Last week: 13)
- Tennessee: Losing to Vanderbilt at home next weekend would be the fitting end a truly awful 2017 season. Keep praying for Gruden, Vols fans. (Last week: 14)
Tweet of the week
Lane Kiffin naming his son Knox will never not be funny. Ever.
— Lane Kiffin (@Lane_Kiffin) November 15, 2017