Courting of Cutcliffe

Arkansas' assumption might cost the Razorbacks the national Gatorade Player of the Year.

Arkansas told hot-shot quarterback Mitch Mustain, who committed to the Hogs during the summer, that it was on the verge of hiring David Cutcliffe as offensive coordinator.

Hogs coach Houston Nutt sang Cutcliffe's praises to Mustain, mentioning how Cutcliffe had developed Peyton and Eli Manning.

Arkansas was certain it would land Cutcliffe after offering him a three-year deal worth $400,000 annually, according to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. The Hogs even had a plane ready to pick up Cutcliffe in Knoxville.

But Cutcliffe took the job at Tennessee for far less money -- $300,000 a year over two years. It was a family decision - not a financial decision. Cutcliffe has a daughter who is a junior in high school and his wife is from nearby Harriman.

When Cutcliffe took the Tennessee job, that opened up Mustain's eyes. If Nutt said Cutcliffe was that good of a coach, maybe Mustain should explore playing for him. Plus, Arkansas fired its quarterbacks coach.

Mustain is also considering Notre Dame, where Cutcliffe served as quarterbacks coach for about five months before heart surgery forced him to resign.

Mustain passed for 3,817 yards and 47 touchdowns while leading his team to a state championship. He ran for six touchdowns and had just six interceptions.

By the way, Tennessee's pact with Cutcliffe has an interesting clause. While under contract at UT, if a doctor says Cutcliffe is medically unable to coach, UT would get him a job on campus at a pay commensurate with the new duties.

No Offense, But SEC is Defensive-minded

I have long argued that you don't have to have a great offense to win the SEC. You don't have to rank among the nation's top 30 to be championship contender.

That's because the SEC is a defensive league.

Last year, the Vols ranked No. 35 in the nation in total offense and won the East division. They scored more points against Auburn than any other Tiger opponent; the Vols lost 38-28 in the SEC championship game.

When Tennessee won the national title in 1998, UT ranked No. 32 in the nation in total offense.

Georgia won the SEC this season. Do you know where the Bulldogs rank nationally in total offense? Try 55th.

Last year, Auburn went 13-0 with an offense that ranked No. 25 in the nation.

I point this out because many fans still believe you've got to have a top 10 offense in the SEC to finish in the top 10. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

To illustrate what a tough defensive league the SEC is - compared to the defense-less Pac-10 - consider these numbers:

The SEC has nine teams that rank among the nation's top 36 in total defense; the Pac-10 has none. Tennessee's defense ranks 12th, the highest of any team with a losing record. The Pac-10 has seven defenses that rank No. 86 or lower - and each allows more than 400 yards per game. Only one team in the SEC -- Kentucky - allows more than 400 yards per game.

Offensively, the Pac-10 has seven teams that rank among the top 34 in total yards, and six that are among the top 26 in scoring. The SEC has one team - Auburn -- in the top 40 in total yards and scoring. The SEC has three teams that rank in the top 60 in total offense.

NOTEBOOK: Former UT offensive line coach Jimmy Ray Stephens said he has talked to South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier about a job, but said Spurrier must hire a minority after firing running backs coach Madre Hill. Stephens said he's not interested in the NFL and likely would return to college but wouldn't rule out high school. He and his wife spent many years in Gainesville, Fla., and he would like to return to that area. . Former Vols Kevin Simon and Jason Hall have been selected to play Jan. 21 in the East-West shrine game that has been moved from San Francisco to San Antonio. . Former UT assistant Kippy Brown, now with the Houston Texans, told UT last week he wasn't interesting in returning to Knoxville. But according to a source close to Kippy's family, Kippy is reconsidering.

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