Oct. 15, 2016
SECond or Third in the Nation? Examining SEC's Team Issues
I mentioned in my weekly recap that the SEC is lo longer the top dog in the college football world. I really gave a small glimpse of it in my post. That honor does go to the Big Ten again and right now I would make a strong argument the ACC is also ahead of them. Yes, the ACC. If you are thinking I am going by just the "ACC teams won 3 of 4 against the SEC" then you're part right. Yes, probably the likes of Duke, Boston College, and Syracuse probably would get thumped by almost everybody (save maybe the Mississippi schools and South Carolina), and Georgia fans will point out they did beat North Carolina the first week, but remember Georgia fans, you just lost to Georgia Tech, who got thumped by North Carolina about a month ago. So, what does that say? Anyway, I probably liken the SEC third in the college football world now, behind those two. They're ahead of the PAC-12 given how only half of the conference finished over .500 and let's not kid ourselves on the Big 12.
Don't get me wrong, I like the SEC. The fan bases for the most part are great and going to a college football game on Saturdays has been nothing short of an amazing experience (been to 10 of the 14 schools for a game), but you have naive fans still screaming because Alabama is in the conference it automatically makes the rest of the conference the best. Sorry, not the case.
The conference is made up of one powerhouse squad with 13 other good-to-great squads. That isn't what the SEC is. You had in the past, especially 6-7 years ago the likes of Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, and even Arkansas were running things with South Carolina on the cusp. Now? It is just Alabama. So why are we in the spot of seeing Alabama or bust in the SEC for really the last 3 years (save for Ole Miss)? Each program right now has its situation and a downfall from either a on-field game or an off-field move and a reason why they're not back at the top with the Tide. So you can probably pin it post-2012 when many could argue that the National Championship was the SEC Championship between Georgia and Alabama with the Tide winning in a nail-biter before throttling Notre Dame. So really the beginning of 2013 when the stranglehold on the national title ended for the SEC.
DOWNTURN: When Bobby Petrino got into his motorcycle accident and covered it up because of an affair.
ISSUES: Okay, this started technically the year before I mentioned the SEC was falling. But Petrino really ruined the program for lying on this. The thing was, Arkansas was just starting to become a threat to the SEC West, though Saban & Alabama had his number as well. Petrino gets fired and John L. Smith tried to salvage the Razorbacks year. Epic fail. The team lost to Louisiana-Monroe early and got crushed in nearly every game that season. The Razorbacks hired Bret Bielema from Wisconsin to turn the ship. Bielema helped the Badgers win a couple of Big Ten Conference titles in his time, but the issue resided was that Bielema's Badgers ran the conference when Michigan was down, Michigan State had yet to really get going, and Ohio State was in trouble with NCAA violations. He did get the Badgers out of the mess Petrino left, but he hasn't replicated much success since, and he's continuously getting beat on the lines, which was a big problem in Madison when he was there in Rose Bowl games as well. So really he brought the Big Ten that was down mentality to Arkansas and he's barely keeping afloat.
SOLUTION(?): Bielema had 4 years in Arkansas and Razorbabck fans are getting restless. A fifth year is more than likely but any more 7-5 or 6-6 seasons and he's gone. It might be what they need actually.
DOWNTURN: 41-38 loss at home to Texas A&M in 2014
ISSUES: I would actually say the Kick Six ironically might have been Auburn's downturn, but would get grief from it. But let's face some facts. 2013 everything fell into place, whether it was Johnny Manziel playing stupid against the Tigers in 2013 and giving Auburn a big in in College Station, the crazy touchdown pass agianst Georgia after blowing a big lead or the Kick Six itself. And despite a valiant effort loss to a dominant Florida State team (where Auburn nearly won), the Tigers had more lady luck go on their side than any other program. The defense was shoddy, the passing game was okay, and they had some key plays go in their way whether the refs called it or not. In 2014 more of the same was happening, with winning on a Laquon Treadwell broken leg, Kansas State's bobbling in the end zone interceptions, etc. It all ended with the Texas A&M game when the luck was reversed. The Aggies, who a week earlier were bombed 59-0 by Auburn's chief rival Alabama got lady luck go their way with a blocked FG return for a TD, 2 fumbles on the goal line, etc. and it spiraled outward from there. Malzahn's "shrewd" offense got stuffed against Georgia after, and then the shoddy defense went completely crash & burn to Alabama and then continued to fall to a crummy Wisconsin offense in the Outback Bowl. The Tigers hired Will Muschamp to run the defense in 2015, thinking they would foil Kiffin's offense in Alabama, but Auburn continued to crash. The defense did improve, but the Auburn's offense is now figured out. Not good. Auburn this year went with Rhett Lashlee to run the seemingly predictable offense. And the Tigers got back to a strong offense until teams who have physical defensive lines such as Clemson, Georgia, LSU, Texas A&M, and Alabama went against them and with no adequate passing game, the Tigers fell against the likes of those teams (yes, they beat LSU, but it wasn't because of the offense). At least the defense showed life this season.
SOLUTIONS(?): They're going to have to change the offense. I love a great ground game, but if you cannot balance it with the pass, you are a one-trick pony. And doing those kinds of runs where they run to the outside to the likes of Arkansas, Mississippi State, and weak out-of-conference teams is one thing. Doing it to Alabama, LSU, Georgia, and Clemson are totally different.
DOWNTURN: 2013 season in general.
ISSUES: The 2013 campaign itself was a disaster and losing to then-FCS school Georgia Southern (who wasn't the same powerhouse as it was 13 years previous) was rock bottom. The Gators probably kept Muschamp one year too long as he was not the man for the job. Even in 2012, Florida, who won 10 that season had issues with the mediocre offense and couldn't move it all that well. 2013 made up for some of their close wins. Muschamp stayed in 2014, but he was in over his head at Gainesville with inept offenses. The Gators hired Jim McElwain, a Saban assistant in his days at Alabama, and has turned things around. He got the Gators to the SEC Championship in 2015 and 2016, but lost in 2015 and are heavy underdogs against Alabama in 2016. The offense still has major issues, but the defense is fine. However, key out of conference games agianst Florida State have been beatdowns won by the Noles and the Capital One Bowl last year against Michigan was been an epic disaster. McElwain has been good but might be the default champion of a very bad division.
SOLUTIONS: Honestly, recruiting a quality quarterback will go far for the Gators. McElwain has the team on the right side and it might be another year or two, but Doug Nussmeier might need to go as offensive coordinator. The Gators run a predictable offense and for those who say Alabama won under Nussmeier, even that offense was stagnant at times.
DOWNTURN: 2012 SEC Championship Game
ISSUES: Georgia was 5 yards away from beating Alabama in 2012, and probably their first national championship since 1980. Many thought that 2013 would be their year, but given the Mark Richt Era, it was snakebite after snakebite, whether that was to injury, or just bad luck. Georgia went 9-3 in 2015 but two embarrassing losses to Alabama (notice a small trend here?) and Florida thus sending Richt packing. Part of me thinks they fired Richt so they could jump on Kirby Smart before South Carolina could (Smart was rumored for the job there first). And Georgia did. Whether the fans, boosters, or the administration thought Smart's years with Saban would make him to be another Saban, Georgia thought they landed a gold mine. Smart comes in with great fanfare (packs G-Day Spring Game) and a hope never had with Richt while never have been a head coach on any level. And then has losses to the likes of Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech while having near losses to FCS Nicholls and a woeful Missouri school. It soured on Smart fast. Worse, the same people praising him have turned on him and want him gone and some want Richt back. And it is just a high expectation to a program that has scuffled with transfers, players leaving early via NFL or getting kicked out off the team. Smart wants to do things the way Saban did, but it seems like Georgia's higher ups want him to do it the Georgia way, not the Saban way.
SOLUTION: Can't replace an entire program, administration, or a booster club. Georgia in the SEC glory years was near the top of the conference but the "Bridesmaid" of the conference, unable to make it to a championship game. Seems like the powers that be at UGA want it done their way and not the coach's way. If you could, you just need an overhaul at the top, starting with the Georgia Athletic Director. If Smart doesn't pan out by the 2019 season, then get a new coach but let the guy have a shot.
DOWNTURN: Have to be up for a while to be down, but 2014 a loss at Florida where it went to 3OT and could have ended a 35 year drought in Gainesville and a 28 year drought overall to the Gators really stung a program that had been making strides int the recruiting area. That set them back.
ISSUES: The problem with Kentucky is just they haven't been able to win. And they suffer embarrassing losses to the "other 5" programs. They've taken some strides this year actually with a nice win in Louisville, but they have to worry about their own backyard (Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee).
SOLUTION: Have the recruits pan out, or else it is over for Stoops at Kentucky.
DOWNTURN: 2012 Chick-Fil-A Bowl vs. Clemson
ISSUES: Les Miles. I put this as the downturn because Miles did an absolute horrific job down the stretch calling that game, pretty much handing the game to Clemson (i.e. passing late and all incomplete passes). The problem was despite Miles hoisting a crystal football in 2007, the Tigers have failed to live up to expectations despite having top 5 recruiting classes yearly. Add on that Miles kept players who had been arrested and jailed felt like it was an "inmates running the asylum" mentality down at Baton Rouge. Yet at the same time, Miles did crazy antics somewhat putting him in front of the team which I think was an issue. His stubbornness of his in-game calling might have led to wins that were too close for comfort and losses to teams that shouldn't have happened. To add on top of everybody having a "source" down in Death Valley, life was tough for Miles and LSU (especially whenever they lost to Alabama). Also, how the Tigers handled the situation with him over the past year was not exactly a shining moment. It could have played a factor in their loss to Wisconsin earlier this season. Now that he is gone, the Tigers brought in Ed Orgeron, a guy that is opposite of Miles. Time will tell if it works out. So far, so good.
SOLUTION: They brought in a Louisiana native in Orgeron to run things in Baton Rouge. Now if these "sources" don't spew BS to the media, who loves to pick up every word on it, maybe Orgeron can coach and LSU can get back to being a serious threat to Alabama and the national championship.
DOWNTURN: When Dak Prescott left.
ISSUES: Despite having good recruiting classes, the Bulldogs will always be in the same region as Alabama, Ole Miss, LSU, and Tennessee. Not easy at all. And those recruits have not panned out at all outside of Dak. The South Alabama game this season was a signal that the short glory period the Bulldogs had was over.
SOLUTION: Pray Ole Miss has a massive probation. Right now the only way the Bulldogs could get a recruiting edge in their own home state.
DOWNTURN: Maty Mauk
ISSUES: Some have said Missouri won the SEC East 2 years in a row thanks to Florida and Georgia falling apart and South Carolina scuffling while Tennessee wasn't close to being ready for a run. That is true. However, Missouri's speed really frustrated teams they played on both sides of the ball in 2013. However, the Missouri as the default champ in 2014 has merit. They lost to Big Ten cellar dweller Indiana at home and squeaked by against poorer teams on more than a few occasions to win the East. A big part of it was Maty Mauk and his inconsistent play. Mauk compared himself to Johnny Manziel as being a dual threat QB like Manziel was at Texas A&M. However, Mauk couldn't pass for anything and the only thing that was similar to Mauk was his off-field issues, notably with motor vehicles as well as a video of him snorting a white substance. While he got kicked off the team for that, it seemed like Gary Pinkel let Mauk run things in Columbia and later on the rest of the players since they nearly boycotted a football game. Since then the Tigers can make the argument of being the worst team in the SEC.
SOLUTION: Pinkel is gone so you can't fire him. Odom will have to recruit players who are not major knuckleheads. The ones he has aren't necessarily doing much to help the team as it is.
DOWNTURN: Recruiting violations surrounding Laremy Tunsil
ISSUE: Tunsil, who was considered the top offensive line prospect out of high school in 2012 was almost a lock to go to Georgia, a top recruiting program as opposed to Ole Miss, who hadn't gotten going just yet. Tunsil visited Oxford and changed his mind immediately saying it was a "done deal" to go to Ole Miss. Nice usage of words. Georgia fans cried foul and they are likely right as the NCAA has founded major violations regarding the Rebels athletic programs in general of giving impermissable benefits to players and one has been with Tunsil. It has probably played a key factor in the Rebels ungluing in 2016 of getting destroyed by the likes of Vanderbilt and Mississippi State in back-to-back weeks (and a very bad Mississippi State squad at that) And just think they had TWO 20 point leads on Florida State and Alabama to start the season.
SOLUTION: If the investigation leads to Ole Miss being on a major probation, the Rebels NEED to fire Freeze and start anew.
DOWNTURN: Letting Jadeveon Clowney run the show in 2013.
ISSUE: The Gamecocks were probably the heavy favorites to win the SEC in 2012 and 2013, but a few issues happened: they had a hiccup in LSU and Florida in 2012 thus sending Georgia (a team they throttled 38-7 in that same season) to the SEC Championship and then 2013 happened. Marcus Lattimore had another knee injury (a disgusting one at that) and it affected star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney big time. Lattimore probably would have been a major star in the NFL with his running ability, but never happened because of his knee injury. Clowney, knowing he would be a top pick (if not being THE top pick), was not going to take many chances. He avoided a lot of workouts South Carolina had, thanks to Steve Spurrier giving him the OK to do so. Because of it, the Gamecocks in 2013 got off to a very slow start as Clowney look winded and worn out in the early games against North Carolina and Georgia. It showed Spurrier lost his touch somewhat and probably gave the Gamecocks players the vibe of "if Clowney could do it, so can I." The next two seasons South Carolina fell from grace and fast as they just looked like the old Gamecock teams from the 90's where they barely won many games. Spurrier stepped down midway through 2015. Will Muschamp of all people was brought in to steer the ship. And he actually fared okay in his first year in Columbia. But the same problem persists of a struggling offense (56-7 loss to Clemson?) so this doesn't seem like a match made in heaven.
SOLUTION: The thing I have heard was that South Carolina's administration has been more about saving money in their pockets and bringing in their guys to run the show in a spoils system of sorts. If this is the case, there won't be a future for South Carolina football ever. However, new changes at the top probably is what is needed for the Gamecocks to get going. If not, they will be near the bottom of the SEC for a long time again.
DOWNTURN: Sneaking by Appalachian State in Overtime
ISSUE: The Volunteers were a heavy favorite in the SEC in 2016 with a great recruiting squad over the last few years and many have penned that this year was "their year" to take down Alabama. However, the Vols came up flat over & over starting with Sun Belt squad Appalachian State. They were down by double digits for most of the game, and had the Mountaineers played to win and not lose, they would escaped Knoxville with a win. But Tennessee escaped in OT, though it took a lot out of the Vols. Unimpressive wins against Ohio and even Virginia Tech didn't help matters while Georgia outplayed them as well as probably should have losing to Texas A&M big (though sending it to OT) didn't help matters. Then Alabama crushed them 49-10. It sent the Vols into a downward spiral, also falling to lowly South Carolina. The season ended with an embarrassing loss to rival Vanderbilt, losing by 11 and irritating fans. Most have blamed Butch Jones for his inability of play-calling and his antics of yelling, screaming, and the whole "Champions of Life" moniker he gave his team. He is coming off as a clown and taking over Les Miles spot of putting him before the team.
SOLUTION: Fire Jones. Yes, he can recruit, but he isn't an SEC caliber coach. He just comes off as too much of a clown and antics like his wear thin on a team very quickly. If the Vols don't watch it, they will be near the bottom of the SEC as well and soon.
DOWNTURN: 2nd year of Johnny Manziel
ISSUE: Ironically, beating Alabama in 2012 might have stunted the Aggies from being a power. Yes, they won and exposed Alabama's defense, but it seemed like the success of 2012 went into the heads of the Aggies players and Kevin Sumlin. The one guy that really went overboard was Johnny Manziel, who had an amazing game against Alabama that year and winning the Heisman Trophy. However, his partying reached new levels and found himself in trouble numerous times, whether with the law or the NCAA. The response from Kevin Sumlin was, suspend him for the first half of the first game against a far weaker Rice squad. It showed that Sumlin allowed his stars to do whatever and it really plagued the Aggies. Players, both incoming and current, weren't happy with it and recruits started to split Texas A&M as they went from a key player in the recruiting battles to a "yeah, they're okay, but..." in that aspect. To add on top, Sumlin's inability to handle adversity after a loss is well-documented. They get off to hot starts, partly because of a weak out-of-conference schedule, where the media (and yes, myself included this year) puts them near the top of the nation only to have epic collapses.
SOLUTION: Time to end ties with Sumlin. He is not the answer. They need a guy who is more of a no-nonsense style coach.
DOWNTURN: James Franklin leaving
ISSUE: Nothing really as Vandy is a program that is "just there" in terms of it is a major academic school. They have been historically bad, but when Franklin was there, he showed he can coach and get some good recruits into Nashville. The Commodores in 2012 and 2013 were actually a tough team and possibly could have snuck in to an SEC Championship had they took care of a little bit more business. But the Commodores just cannot keep up with the rest of the SEC in recruiting and Franklin knew it. And you are also going to a major football school like Penn State as Franklin did, you can't blame him. When Franklin left, Derek Mason took over, hoping to catch that same magic. But in his first two years, Vandy was typical Vandy, being the punching bags to the rest of the SEC. However, this year the Commodores enjoyed some nice wins over Tennessee and Georgia while giving Florida & Auburn all they could handle. However, losing to Georgia Tech and Southern Mississippi gave the Commodores-and the SEC East, major black eyes.
SOLUTION: Hard to give one unless Mason becomes a magician with his players like Franklin was. Who knows at this point.
Overall, the SEC has some hope in certain spots. Georgia has a good recruiting class coming up (but we've said that before), LSU looks to finally reach that potential with Orgeron. Kentucky might see some of their recruits pay off in the next few seasons. And the likes of Auburn and Florida could make more steps. But as we've seen, coaches, violations, higher ups of AD's and administrations, and just the ability of letting players run the show at these schools have set the SEC back and propelled the Big Ten.............and maybe the ACC ahead of them overall. Time will tell if the SEC returns to form, but changes need to be made at most schools.
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat