Now that all the head coaching jobs are filled and we’re starting to see movement of coaching staffs, here are the mid-December SEC power rankings:
1. ALABAMA (12-1): If you eliminate his first year on the job (7-6), Nick Saban is 96-12 in Tuscaloosa with three national championships and a chance to play for a third in the last six years. As long as Nick doesn’t get bored, Alabama is going to be really, really good.
2. FLORIDA (10-3): A year ago there were people second guessing Jeremy Foley for hiring Jim McElwain, wondering why UF didn’t replace Will Muschamp with a big name coach. Well, nobody’s wondering anymore. He has re-established Florida as a brand name in one year and it shows on the recruiting trail where the Gators are monster trucking anyone who gets in their way.
3. OLE MISS (9-3): Hugh Freeze has it going in Oxford. He’s resurrected the Rebels from the messes left by Coach O and Houston Nutt and is 33-18 in four years. If Bama sneezes, he might sneak Ole Miss into the top spot in the SEC West one of these years.
4. LSU (8-3): If Jimbo Fisher had said yes, Les Miles would be gone and FSU would be trying to find a new HBC. Jimbo got a nice raise and Les is still the coach at LSU, but for how long? If Les doesn’t fire OC Cam Cameron it will be like giving the finger to AD Joe Alleva.
5. MISSISSIPPI STATE (8-4): Dan Mullen is 54-35 in seven seasons. That’s nearly 8 wins a year. When you can do that in StarkVegas, you can flat out coach. You measure wins in StarkVegas sort of like you measure dog years. Eight wins at Mississippi State is like 12 in Tuscaloosa.
6. TENNESSEE (8-4): Butch Jones has taken the Vols to consecutive bowl games. Now he gets to live with the unrealistic expectations of the SEC’s most delusional fans. Remember: they fired Phil Fulmer one year after going 10-4 and winning the SEC East.
7. ARKANSAS (7-5): Two straight bowl seasons is progress but the folks in Fayette Nam are going to expect something in the realm of 9-10 wins next year and Bret Bielema better produce or else they’ll turn on him the way they did Houston Nutt and before him Ken Hatfield.
8. AUBURN (6-6): Since coming within 20 seconds of a national championship in his first year on the job, Gus Malzahn is 14-11 and he’s gone through two defensive coordinators. Does anyone remember what happened to Gene Chizik?
9. GEORGIA (9-3): Kirby Smart has never been a head coach and he’s taking over for a head coach who was fired after averaging just a hair below 10 wins a season. Yeah, that makes a ton of sense.
10. TEXAS A&M (8-4): Quarterbacks in Aggie-land are like rats jumping a sinking ship. Kevin Sumlin should think carefully before investing in real estate in College Station.
11. VANDERBILT (4-8): Derek Mason is a fine defensive coach and it shows. Vandy’s defense is excellent. The offense, on the other hand, better get better or else the faithful in Nashville will grow so impatient they will choke on the brie before they can wash it down with a nice chardonnay at the tailgate.
12. KENTUCKY (5-7): In Kentucky they’re fond of talking about how the bourbon they distill gets better with age. They wish they could say the same thing about Mark Stoops and the football program. Three years, three losing seasons and no bowl game for the program since 2010.
13. MISSOURI (5-7): The new head coach is former defensive coordinator Barry Odom. Yep, Mizzou got a defensive guy to fix an offense that was next to last in all of the NCAA.
14. SOUTH CAROLINA (3-9): Will Muschamp’s second chance to be a head coach begins without Pharoh Cooper (going pro), the only legitimate playmaker, a defense that stunk and the remnants of an offense that produced only 21 points per game. The Gamecocks need help. Everywhere.
TEXAS A&M NEEDS TO RE-EVALUATE KEVIN SUMLIN
More than one month ago I wrote that the locker room at Texas A&M is divided and unhappy and that both Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray were likely to transfer out. Allen pulled the plug on the Aggies last week and there are reports that Murray is likely to follow suit any day now. If Murray elects to bolt that will make three highly regarded quarterbacks (Kenny Hill, Allen and Murray) that Aggie head coach Kevin Sumlin has – for all practical purposes – run off in less than one year.
If Murray leaves – and smart money says he’s a goner – before the Aggies’ Music City Bowl game with Louisville December 30, Jake Hubenak (12-27, 92 yards, 1 TD) will be the only QB with any experience. The Aggies have no quarterbacks committed for the 2016 recruiting class.
It might be a good time for whoever is in charge at A&M to take a nice long look at Sumlin. The Aggies have been heading in the opposite direction ever since Sumlin’s first year in 2012 when he caught lightning in a bottle with Johnny Manziel, who won the Heisman. The Aggies have gone from 11-2 in 2012 to 9-4 to 8-5. A loss in the Music City Bowl would make consecutive 8-5 marks, which certainly won’t sit well with boosters who shelled out $500 million cash on the barrel to upgrade Kyle Field.
It’s obvious something is going wrong in a big way in Aggie-land and the first place to look is Sumlin. He’s not winning big, is driving top QB talent away and there are some whispers that perhaps there are serious character issues as well.
ON PAPER, COKER DOESN’T STACK UP
Fortunately, for Alabama, games are played on the field. If they were decided on paper, Bama wouldn’t stand a chance to win the College Football Playoff because quarterback Jacob Coker doesn’t stack up against Conner Cook (Michigan State), Deshan Watson (Clemson) and Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma). Take a look at their stat lines:
Coker: 222-338 passing (65.7%/7.4 yards per attempt), 2,489 passing yards, 17 TDs, 8 INTs; 94 rushing yards, 2 TDs.
Cook: 210-369 passing (56.9%/7.9 yards per attempt), 2,921 yards, 24 TDs, 5 INTs; 80 rushing yards.
Watson: 287-413 passing (69.5%/8.5 yards per attempt), 30 TDs, 11 INTs; 887 rushing yards (5.44 per attempt), 11 TDs.
Mayfield: 243-354 passing (68.6%/9.6 yards per attempt), 35 TDs, 5 INTs; 420 rushing yards (3.21 per attempt), 7 TDs.
If you measure Coker against any of the other three quarterbacks simply by looking at the stats, then he’s the least talented and easiest to dismiss as simply a guy who is in place to manage the game while more talented skill people get the job done. He doesn’t have Watson’s explosiveness, Mayfield’s ability to turn bad plays into big gainers or the steady efficiency of Cook.
But are any of those three as tough? Do any of those three inspire the linemen on both sides of the ball with his willingness to take a big hit if it means stretching the ball a foot farther to get a first down? It was after the Ole Miss game when Coker demonstrated to the rest of the Bama team that he’ll do whatever it takes to win a game that he became the unquestioned leader. Since then Alabama has morphed from a team that some considered overhyped into one that only loses if it uncharacteristically makes mistakes.
The fact is, Alabama wouldn’t be favored to bring home a national championship if Coker wasn’t getting the job done but there is this reality: While Bama doesn’t depend on Coker to win games, he’s certainly capable of losing one. There isn’t a lot of margin for error.
SEC BASKETBALL POWER RANKINGS
(National RPI ranking in parenthesis)
1. Kentucky 9-1 (14): The Wildcats have a quality November win against Duke but they looked terrible in a road loss to UCLA. As a team they’re hitting only 27.6% from the 3-point line and 7-0 Skal Labissiere seems to have been exposed as a softie – only 18 points and 7 rebounds in the last four games including a double donut (0 points, 0 rebounds) against Arizona State. This team isn’t anywhere close to last year’s team that made the Final Four.
2. South Carolina 9-0 (36): The Gamecocks are better than they were last year but let’s not be fooled by that 9-0 record. The only thing missing on the schedule so far is a win against the JV team from a Bulgarian convent.
3. Texas A&M 8-2 (35): The Aggies have a quality win at home over then #10 Gonzaga and there are good wins over Texas and Kansas State. The losses are to Syracuse and Arizona State. Freshman center Tyler Davis (11.4 points, 6.1 rebounds) is only going to get better.
4. Alabama 6-2 (24): Since an embarrassing 32-point loss to Dayton, Alabama has been constantly improving. There are quality wins over then #20 Wichita State, #17 Notre Dame and Clemson. Bama has won four straight. Dazon Ingram (7.7 points, 5.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists) wasn’t one of the league’s more highly publicized freshmen but he’s certainly one of the best.
5. Vanderbilt 6-3 (39): For all their good shooting, Vanderbilt’s hopes hinge on the play of center Damian Jones. If he isn’t a rebounding force, Vanderbilt will struggle to win. The best win so far is over an improved Wake Forest team while there are quality losses to Kansas, Baylor and Dayton.
6. FLORIDA 6-3 (8): The Gators could get union cards from the iron workers. Most of their shots clank off the iron instead of making string music. Fortunately, they play great defense. If they figure out a way to make some shots, the Gators have a chance to be one of the league’s top four teams.
7. Ole Miss 8-2 (101): The Rebels have been helped by a not so challenging schedule. They do have the league’s best scorer, however, in Stefan Moody (24.1 points, 3.7 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.3 steals per game). Ole Miss will look very ordinary when it starts playing teams who have size advantages inside.
8. Auburn 5-2 (64): The Tigers are as entertaining as any team in the league. They average 87 points per game and have scored at least 75 in all seven of their games so far. They have a nice 1-2 punch in transfers Kareem Canty (19.3) and Tyler Harris (17.0 points, 9.1 rebounds) plus they aren’t going to lose too many rebounding battles. Nobody will want to play the Tigers in February.
9. LSU 5-4 (208): The way LSU is playing, stud freshman Ben Simmons is probably asking himself “what the hell was I thinking?” He might be the best player in all of college basketball (19 points, 14.8 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 2.5 steals, 1.6 blocks) but he’s surrounded by inferior players. Other than Simmons there is no presence in the middle. The return of Keith Hornsby from injury (32 points, 6-10 on 3-balls in his first game back) will ease some of the pressure on Simmons but this is a team that is break even against a decent but not all that challenging schedule.
10. Georgia 4-3 (51): Georgia is solid at four of the five positions on the floor. Sophomore Yante Maten (16.9 points, 8.7 rebounds) is the best big Georgia’s had since Trey Thompson. J.J. Frazier (13.3 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.0 assists) does a great job of running the offense and Kenny Gaines (14.7 points) and Charles Mann (10.3 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.0 assists) are solid wings. It’s that fifth spot that’s a black hole and it’s going to cost the Bulldogs because they don’t have a capable player to fill it.
11. Arkansas 5-4 (146): Mike Anderson is going with four guards and 6-10 Moses Kingsley. The Hogs are scoring plenty of points (86 per game), shooting 47.2% from the field overall and 43.2% from the 3-point line. Texas Tech transfer Dusty Hannahs is the outside bomber (18.6 points, 50% from the 3-point line) and Kingsley is the league’s most improved player (15.2 points, 9.9 rebounds, 2.7 blocks per game). The Hogs are good enough to make the NIT.
12. Tennessee 4-4 (81): There are high school teams with more size than the Vols, who go with four guards and 6-7 Derek Reese most of the time. Rick Barnes will get the Vols to play hard and over achieve but it’s going to be a VERY long season in Knoxville.
13. Missouri 5-4 (96): That 88-52 loss to Arizona is telling. This is not a talented team and it’s going to struggle against athletic, talented teams moving forward. It’s going to be a very long year.
14. Mississippi State 4-4 (226): The three guys who need to hit shots – Craig Sword, I.J. Ready and Malik Newman – are a combined 31-115 from the 3-point line. Gavin Ware (19 points, 7.8 rebounds) is a nice inside presence but he’s the only one. The hype of Ben Howland is wearing off and reality is setting in.
BO RYAN RETIRES EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY
College basketball lost one of its best yet most underrated coaches Wednesday when Bo Ryan announced that he’s retiring effective immediately. This was supposed to be Ryan’s farewell season, but Ryan pulled off a mild shocker by calling it quits after the Badgers beat Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. Longtime Ryan assistant Greg Nard took over as the interim coach. Ryan always wanted Nard to succeed him, but reporters such as Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com say that wasn’t in the plans of Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez. By retiring even before the Big Ten conference schedule begins, Ryan is giving Nard a chance to prove himself worthy of the job.
Alvarez is likely to stick to his guns on this one and go outside the current staff. It would be a huge surprise is the top candidate isn’t Virginia head coach Tony Bennett, a former Wisconsin assistant whose dad Dick was the Wisconsin coach before Ryan.
Ryan finishes his coaching career with a 747-223 record. He never finished worse than fourth in the Big Ten standings. Included in his record are four NCAA Division III national championships at Wisconsin-Platteville, where Ryan had an astounding 353-76 record – 314-37 after the first three years on the job.
Now that the interim tag has been removed, Southern Cal coach Clay Helton is doing a complete overhaul of the coaching staff. Among those shown the door are defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox. There is a very good chance the new DC will be Coach O, currently the D-line coach at LSU.
Coleman Hutzler, who spent a year as special teams coordinator at Florida under Will Muschamp, is leaving Boston College to become Muschamp’s special teams coordinator at South Carolina.
Auburn plans to do a full scale renovation of the north end zone of Jordan-Hare Stadium with construction beginning after the 2016 season and completed prior to the start of 2018. Initial estimates are $145 million.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
When you look at the four quarterbacks in the College Football Playoff semifinals, which one do you think will deliver on the field and win the two straight games it takes to win a national championship?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
I had a roommate in Rocky Mount, North Carolina who was a confirmed Dead Head and that’s how I discovered the New Riders of the Purple Sage. NRPS was a brainchild of Jerry Garcia, who took up pedal steel guitar and brought together some of his buddies from folk singing days to form a country rock band in the mode of Dillard and Clark Expedition and the Flying Burrito Brothers. Today’s music is NRPS’ debut album from 1971