Tag Archives: Kevin Sumlin

Kevin Sumlin Is On Borrowed Time At Texas A&M

Texas A&M’s game against UCLA had everything. It had an electrifying first half for Texas A&M and it had an unbelievable second half for UCLA. This game even had a pimp cane.

In the end, Josh Rosen and UCLA erased a 34-point deficit to beat the Aggies 45-44 in the closing seconds of the game.

For Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, this game encapsulated what his Aggie career has become known for in the SEC and that is complete meltdowns. Texas A&M started 2016 off with a 6-0 start only to finish the season at 8-5. 2015 was similar as the Aggies started off 5-0 and then limped to a record of 8-5. The story was the same in 2014 as Sumlin shot out of the gate with a 5-0 record only to finish with a record of 8-5. The best year in the SEC for Texas A&M was 2013 when the Aggies went 9-4.

Sumlin’s Aggies have become notorious for fast starts and broken down finishes. The loss and performance against UCLA could have come against just about any other team and it would have been easier to accept. Jim Mora Jr. is one of those coaches, like Sumlin, who seems to always do less with more. Don’t forget, as these teams went into halftime, UCLA fans were ready to fire Mora on the spot. By the end of the game, everyone was proclaiming Josh Rosen to be The Chosen One and it was Sumlin’s job that was up for debate.

It’s one thing for fans and social media experts to call for a coach’s job. Everyone not named Saban is arguably on the hot-seat. But placing a coach on the hot-seat takes on a completely different dynamic when a Board of Regents member, Tony Buzbee, is the one issuing the lack of confidence vote.

What Buzbee saw against UCLA is what all of us witnessed from 2014-2016 and that is an inability for Sumlin’s teams to finish. Not only that, but Buzbee’s statement opens a can of worms against Sumlin that many people were already quietly grumbling about; maneuvering for a more lucrative contract (in the face of under performance), the mishandling of player controversies, and the inability to develop the premier recruits that Sumlin brought to College Station.

Buzbee is only one vote, but he can’t possibly be the only Board of Regents member who feels this way. And even if he is the only Board of Regent who currently feels this way, which I doubt, you know he is talking with the other members to get them on his side. Sure, Sumlin has a huge salary but scraping together the money to buy-out his contract is doable. And Buzbee and his cohorts can come up with the money to hire a guy like Chip Kelly or Les Miles. It’s Texas. It’s football. They’ll make it happen.

I’ll say this in defense of Sumlin; Texas A&M offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone and defensive coordinator John Chavis are getting off the hook easy after the loss to UCLA.

The Aggies were running at-will against UCLA in the first half. There was no reason to stop running especially with a 34-point lead. But that’s what seemed to happen. And it’s not like the Aggies were having success passing the ball.

John Chavis is a highly respected defensive coordinator, but his second half defense was a complete dumpster fire. Chavis’ defense allowed Rosen to orchestrate a miraculous comeback that was capped off with a fake spike touchdown pass. To add additional insult to this mind numbing loss is that the Texas A&M defense fell for the fake spike even though the clock was already stopped.

This loss to UCLA was a total team effort. Responsibility not only falls on Sumlin but also Chavis, Mazzone, and the players. But Sumlin is the head coach so ultimately the responsibility rests on his shoulders. I’m seldom in favor of in season coaching changes and I’m not advocating for Sumlin to be let go today. Having said that, Sumlin was on a simmering seat before the season started and now at least one Board of Regent is publicly casting his lack of confidence vote. Another 8-win season isn’t going to cut-it in College Station. I’d be surprised to see Sumlin still employed the day after the final 2017 game. Short of winning the SEC, I don’t see how he is still at Texas A&M in 2018.

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E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

SEC Champions? Oh Lord, Won’t You Take Me to Mercedes-Benz Stadium

Rejoice! Kickoff is one week from tomorrow! Actually, the Arkansas Razorbacks will tee it up on Thursday. Their “competition?” The mighty Rattlers of Florida A&M. And then on Saturday, some of the other SEC related games include Missouri playing Missouri State, Georgia hosting Appalachian State,  Charleston Southern will play at Mississippi State… ad nauseum.

But! There are some big games on the slate for opening weekend with the monster clash between Alabama and Florida State headlining them all.

Now it’s time for me to summon my crystal ball and look into the future. I hope gazing at the eclipse didn’t blur my powers of prognostication.

Onward!

SEC EAST 

Florida (8-4, 6-2) I like the Gators’ big uglies, their defense, and their skill position players. But, just like everybody else, the quarterback position is the key. They will plug in someone who is more than capable to put them at the top of the East.

Tennessee (9-3, 5-3) The Vols will have more total wins than anyone else in the division but they will also have more conference losses than the Gators. That head to head matchup will decide which team makes the trek to Atlanta.

Georgia (8-4, 5-3) You gotta love the Dawgs’ running backs and their overall talent, but it will be their inconsistent play at quarterback and in the trenches that will cause the East title to elude them.

Kentucky (8-4, 5-3) I like the Cats as the sleeper to win this division. There is talent in Lexington but probably not enough SEC quality depth to carry them to Hotlanta. I’d love to see it though!

South Carolina (6-6, 3-5) Will Muschamp’s second year in Columbia will find an improved team, but the record will not reflect that. They’re in good shape at quarterback with Jake Bentley.

Vanderbilt (3-9, 1-7) Derek Mason has the Commodores playing pretty well. I like Kyle Shurmur as their signal-caller. But do not expect Vandy to rise any higher than sixth in the division.

Missouri (4-8, 0-8) The upside is the offensive potential, and QB Drew Lock, in Columbia. Overall, though, Barry Odom’s second year might not turn out any better than his first.

SEC West

Auburn (11-1, 7-1) Talent, depth, experience, and coaching will combine to make this one of those highly memorable seasons down on the Plains. Jarrett Stidham will, indeed, turn out to be the straw that stirs the drink. And the home finale with Alabama will finally go Auburn’s way again.

Alabama (10-2, 7-1)  Loaded. Every year. But the season will begin and end with losses which will keep the Crimson Tide from their fourth straight College Football Playoff appearance.

Texas A&M (9-3, 6-2) Kevin Sumlin steps down off the hot seat with a very good season in College Station. And the Aggies pick up some big wins on the way to a solid 9-3 campaign.

LSU (9-3, 5-3) Coach O won’t be able to bring home a ring in his first full season in Red Stick. I still have my doubts about the Tigers’ long term prospects, as well, in spite of their talent level.

Arkansas (7-5, 4-4) Bret Bielema and his Hawgs continue to battle the mediocrity that has beset them in Fayetteville. This year will bring no relief. Austin Allen provides great talent, tenacity, and leadership behind center, but the West is too strong to allow for a climb up the ladder.

And then… the Mississippis. The six and seven slots in the division are interchangeable.

Mississippi State (5-7, 1-7) I’ll go with State, Dan Mullen, and Nick Fitzgerald to keep the Bulldogs out of the cellar. And, they will probably notch more than the one conference win I have allowed them.

Ole Miss (4-8, 1-7) Two words. Dumpster fire.

So there you have it! According to my mighty powers of perception, note that I never use the term “reality” in my fearless forecast, the Auburn Tigers will meet the aforementioned Florida Gators in Atlanta, GA on December 2nd for the championship of the Southeastern Conference.

Who will win that contest? Yes, it will be my Tigers! And they will go on to make the College Football Playoff, along with the Florida State Seminoles, the Ohio State Buckeyes, and the Washington Huskies.

You may now wipe those tears away, whether they be tears of joy or of sadness. My guess is you might have sprayed your morning coffee or evening cocktail all over your phone or computer screen at the sheer hilarity of such humorous predictions! That’s ok.

For again I say, rejoice!

College football is upon us!

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E-mail Bird at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Autull.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Ramblin’ Around the SEC, Something’s Burning

Occasionally, I do a column on my personal website which I call Ramblin’. It’s a stream of consciousness, word association, hodge-podge type of thing on which I bemuse on any number of subjects. Today, we’re going to ramble around the SEC a bit. This one will be more organized and structured but it is ramblin’ nonetheless.

One topic of discussion that tends to circulate throughout college football, in the off-season, concerns coaches who are on the hot seat. Some of those coaches’ fannies are truly scorching, for others it’s just a matter of speculation on the part of the media and fans.

Here is my take on the SEC coaches who appear to be feeling the most heat, in no particular order.

Gus Malzahn

I’ll start with Gus because I’m an Auburn guy and his situation is, obviously, the most important to me. I do not believe Gus’ hiney is as hot as many might think. Now. But, if Auburn loses 4 or 5 games it probably will be; however, I don’t think that will be the case. The Tigers appear to me as the second best team in the conference and their record should, ultimately, reflect that.

Kevin Sumlin

 A similar situation to Malzahn. A&M needs to have a big year. Sumlin needs to break the pattern of winning his first 5 or 6 games and then crashing and burning in the second half of the season. The Aggies’ boss definitely needs to take care of business or climb down off of the porcelain throne.

Hugh Freeze

 Whether the Ole Miss powers-that-be or their fans like it or not, his rump is hot. How can it not be? Regardless of the Rebels’ on-the-field performance, their NCAA situation screams for someone to take the fall in Oxford. In the end, doesn’t that fall on the head coach?

Butch Jones

 In spite of being “Champions of Life” and having “Five Star Hearts”, the Tennessee Volunteers need to win a lot of football games. Talk is, indeed, cheap, especially when the product on the field consistently fails to meet expectations.

Bret Bielema, are you listening?

Onward to some talk about some actual football games. SEC Media Days is just around the corner, July 10-13, and polls will then begin to pop up everywhere. Speculation will be like wildfires spreading across the nation. And here in the Southland is where things seem to always burn with the greatest intensity.

Yeah! Let’s keep on with that hot theme!

Here are the ‘smokinest’ games in the SEC on opening weekend. Again, in no particular order.

Florida vs. Michigan

 Both teams will be ranked (Yes, I think Florida should and will be ranked). SEC vs. Big Ten. Gators and Wolverines. Jim vs. Jim. The flamboyant Harbaugh and the steady McElwain. Jerry World.

Alabama vs. Florida State

 The biggest one of the weekend. Two top five teams, at minimum. The ACC and the SEC. The Tide and the Noles. Hotlanta, GA. First college game at Mercedes-Benz stadium. Playoff preview?

Texas A&M vs. UCLA

 Two coaches on the hot seat. Huge for both teams. Rose Bowl. Bruins house. Prime Time. Sunday! Sunday! SUN-DAY!!! Be there!

Tennessee vs. Georgia Tech

Rocky Top and Ramblin’ Wreck. Great jump-start for someone. Mercedes-Benz, again. Hotlanta Deux. Jones and Johnson.

Disparate styles. A shootout?

Missouri vs. Missouri State

Just messin’ with ya!

And now, we might as well conclude with more hot topics or burning questions.

Will Alabama keep its playoff streak alive? Will Ole Miss be sanctioned into certain, long term mediocrity? Will Georgia win the East for the first time in five years? Will Coach “O” deliver? Will Vanderbilt go bowling again? Does anybody care? Will Muschamp?

All of this and more… later!

Picking Up the Pieces of the 2016 SEC Football Season

The championship games are now in the book as well as a few straggling regular season games. Army-Navy remains. That being said, let’s do some housekeeping and tidy up a few odds and ends concerning the SEC.

First, we’ll saunter back to SEC Media Days and review how the scribes’ picks turned out.

As you see in this article, Alabama was picked to win the SEC West and Tennessee was the choice to represent the SEC East in Atlanta. Alabama, obviously, held up their end of the deal but the Vols did not. The Florida Gators managed to take the division by default. The Crimson Tide steamrolled the West in dominant fashion. They won their division by three games over who? The Auburn Tigers.

Auburn was picked not second, or third, of fourth, or fifth. They were picked sixth in the West behind LSU, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, and Arkansas.

Bravo for the Tigers! And they were rewarded with a trip to the Big Easy and the Sugar Bowl. They will take on Big 12 champion, Oklahoma. It could be one of the better games of the entire bowl season. More on that, and other bowls, in later columns.

What about the cellar dwellers? South Carolina was the choice to bring up the rear in the East, but the Gamecocks, modestly exceeded expectations and came in fourth. Missouri had the distinction of finishing last in the “Easy.”One of the Mississippi teams was tagged by the media to sink to the bottom in the grueling West. But it was the Bulldogs of Mississippi State that was chosen for that “honor.” Ole Miss, much to the surprise of most every football fan in the country, plummeted to the number seven spot while predicted to come in third.

Here is a complete look at how the standings shook down in 2016.

Here is how the media sized up the All-SEC selections.

And here are the coaches’ choices (the only one we have when this article was composed) for All-SEC.

Glaring discrepancies on the first team offense? Chad Kelly at quarterback, Leonard Fournette at running back, Nick Chubb at running back, Calvin Ridley at wide receiver, and O.J. Howard at tight end.

Jalen Hurts, Kamryn Pettway, Derrius Guice, ArDarius Stewart, and Evan Engram took those slots.

Defense? As you peruse the lists you will note that things went pretty much as expected. Good job media!

The coaches individual award winners on offense, defense, and coach went to Jalen Hurts, Jonathan Allen, and Nick Saban. As Gomer Pyle used to say, “Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!”But, in all fairness, who’d a thunk Jalen Hurts would walk off with the offensive player of the year? No one could have seen that coming.

In this interim, between the regular season and bowl season, and beyond, there are some questions we look forward to seeing answered.

What will the NCAA decide in the way of punishment for Ole Miss?

Will Nick Saban retire? (Wishful thinking)

What underclassmen might surprise us by succumbing to the lure of dollars and the NFL?

How hot is Butch Jones’ fanny?

Kevin Sumlin’s?

Will Lane Kiffin take a head coaching position? (More wishful thinking)

How about Rhett Lashlee?

Will Jim McElwain ever find a quarterback?

Will Gus Malzahn?

Will Kirby Smart be a bust?

Will Barry Odom?

Who might be the next Jalen Hurts or Kamryn Pettway?

Is anyone capable of bridging the gap between Alabama and everybody else?

And… is the SEC still the top of the heap in the world of college football.

The bowl games are upon us and, with their conclusion, the season of 2016 will be but a memory.

What does 2017 hold for us as college football fans?

In the words of a wise man… we shall see.

 

E-mail Bird at bird [dot] lecroy [at] campuspressbox [dot] com or follow him on Twitter @Autull.

 

SEC Links: Coaches, Dawgs and Cats

Kevin Sumlin probably has as much heat on him as any coach in the SEC this year. Questions, both on and off the field, have been swirling around him and the program like a Texas tornado this offseason. In spite of winning 36 games over the past four years, the pressure to win more continues to mount. And on top of that, he lost his father back in March.

Sumlin recently sat down with Pete Thamel, of Sports Illustrated, and candidly spoke on these and other topics, such as Johnny Manziel.

The Aggie coach is doing everything he can to improve his team by hiring Noel Mazzone away from UCLA to be his offensive coordinator, and making changes to the strength and conditioning program. There is a new athletic director, Scott Woodward from Washington, and, of course, Kyle Field was completely renovated prior to the 2015 season, and is now one of the great show palaces in all of college football.

There is no doubt that there is elite talent at A&M, it’s just a matter of pulling all of these moving parts together into one cohesive unit. Can that be done? Yes. Will that be done? It remains to be seen.

Brandon Adams, a contributor to SEC Country, thinks the Aggies could be poised to make huge strides upward in 2016. Strides that could carry them to the top of the SEC West.

Say what? Yes, Trevor Knight might work out for them at quarterback. And yes, Myles Garrett is a beast, but it’s going to take more than him to get the defense turned around and stop yielding points in bunches. The D has been the Aggies’ Achilles heel during Sumlin’s tenure and it must improve dramatically in order for them to even approach the pinnacle of the toughest division in all of college football.

I remain of the opinion that Texas A&M will finish behind Alabama, LSU, Ole Miss, Auburn, and Arkansas in the West. That leaves them ahead of only Mississippi State. Something is a wee bit off kilter in College Station and I don’t think all the pieces will fit so snugly together this fall.

Everyone is optimistic in May. Prove it in September. That opportunity will present itself on the opening weekend of the season when the Aggies go head-to-head with the UCLA Bruins, in College Station, on September 3.

Pressure. There’s that word again. Kirby Smart says he is feeling the pressure of the entire state of Georgia on him as he approaches his first fall as the head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs.

“Let’s be honest. Georgia, if you get the best players in this state, you should be winning championships,” says Smart, who hasn’t slowed down since he returned to his alma mater in January.

Bingo!

How are Georgia fans and a new puppy similar? You can’t get either of them to stop whining.

And whine they will if Smart does not win the East soon. Yes, they are on a honeymoon that is hot and heavy, as we speak, but if the Dawgs don’t find themselves in Atlanta on the first Saturday of December, soon, that whining will become a deafening howl.

I have the Bulldogs penciled in as second in the division in 2016. If they do, somehow, manage to dethrone the already-anointed Tennessee Volunteers, then the honeymoon will transition into a full- blown love fest unseen since the early eighties.

But wait! What’s this? Is that a cat that I see sneaking up on those Dawgs?

Jay Clemons, of SEC Country, along with Kirk Herbstreit, see the Kentucky Wildcats as having a coming out party of their own. Clemons actually calls for the Cats to claw the Dawgs into submission on November 5.

Now, what was that I was saying about honeymoons and love fests? If that does transpire, in Lexington, that deafening howling will commence.

I do think Kentucky will continue to improve, and make a lower tier bowl game, but I do not see them toppling Georgia or Tennessee. Florida is a better possibility, but that game is in Gainesville. I’ll take the Big Blue to beat Southern Miss, New Mexico State, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, Missouri, and Austin Peay. In the last game of the season, Louisville will be favored to down the Wildcats, in Louisville, but I believe Kentucky has a very good shot in that one.

We began this thing with coaches and now let’s end it with coaches. Edward Aschoff, of ESPN, presents his list of the five best coaches in the SEC of the past ten years.

I’m with him on Saban, Meyer, Spurrier and Les, but I’ll quibble with Fulmer for the sake of argument.

First man on his “just missed the cut” is Gene Chizik. I do love Chiz and I will be forever grateful for him bringing home a crystal football to Auburn, but the 3-9 season, in 2012, simply won’t allow that. I would take Gus over Chiz. And I thought Tommy Tuberville was a damn good football coach when he was on the Plains.

How about Derek Dooley? Just kidding!

James Franklin did a remarkable job at Vanderbilt. And sure, Freeze, Mullen, Pinkel, and Richt all deserve careful consideration.

Ok, I can see The Great Pumpkin (as the AJC’s Jeff Shultz was want to call Fulmer) as one of the top five.

That’s another edition of SEC Links in the books.

Adios!

SEC Links: And This Is Only May

How do you think college football’s Power 5 conferences’ coaches rank, from best to worst? CBS Sports analysts took a stab at this and created a poll in which coaches were rated, one through sixty-five.

In a recent column, I ranked the SEC coaching jobs, bottom to top. But the CBS poll just considers the the head coach and not the entire array of factors that go into making that job what it is.

Let’s take a look at how some of the SEC head coaches fared in the eyes of the people at CBS.

Guess who’s number one? Bingo! Nick Saban. Now that we have the obvious out of the way we’ll take a gander at the more difficult task of slotting the men who rank behind Saban in the Southeastern Conference.

Les Miles is number seven, Gus Malzahn thirteen, Hugh Freeze twenty-one, Bret Bielema twenty-two, Jim McElwain twenty-seven, Dan Mullen thirty-one, Kevin Sumlin thirty-two, Butch Jones thirty-three, Will Muschamp forty-four, and Kirby Smart forty-six. Derek Mason, of Vanderbilt did not poll in the top sixty-five and neither did Mark Stoops, of Kentucky, or newcomer Barry Odom, of Missouri.

Here’s my take on this. I love Gus, but I don’t know if I would rate him as the third best coach in the SEC. I would have after the 2013 season when Auburn came within thirteen seconds of winning the BCS National Championship and he won coach-of-the-year honors on almost every front. Gus has a lot to prove in 2016. We can revisit this after the season has completed.

Dan Mullen has done more with less, at State, than Kevin Sumlin has at Texas A&M. And why would Kirby Smart be ranked at all? The Georgia Bulldogs have yet to take the field with him as their leader.

That brings us back to Kevin Sumlin down in Aggieland. Wednesday was, yet another, tough day in College Station. Their top quarterback recruit de-committed and Aggie assistant coach, Aaron Moorehead, threw a tantrum on Twitter. Moorhead said the de-committment and the Twitter outburst were not related.

If that were not enough, two Aggie wide receiver commits also decided that they would not spend the next few years at Texas A&M.

I, for one, am quite curious as to how all of this will shake down. Stay tuned.

But hold on! We’re not completely done with the Aggies, just yet! Also on Wednesday, Johnny Manziel turned himself in to the proper authorities on the misdemeanor assault offense that he had, previously, been charged with. He was to appear in court on Thursday. As I stated in my Wednesday blog, I truly hope that Manziel’s story ends up being one of redemption.

The land of sin and salvation. Nobody does it better than the Bible Belt and Texas could be considered the buckle of said belt.

Back to Saban and Alabama, it might not be as crazy in Tuscaloosa as it is in College Station, but all is not well on The Capstone. As you probably know, assistant coach, Bo Davis “resigned” recently and that situation has yet to be resolved. Most experts speculate that this will not turn out to be huge and that Alabama will have it contained well. But, NCAA recruiting violations have been committed and penalties, however severe, will be levied.

Let’s move on to the coaches ranked numbers twenty-seven and thirty-three. That would be Jim McElwain and Butch Jones, respectively.

McElwain thinks Jones, and Tennessee, should beat the hell (Okay! “heck”) out of the Florida this fall. Interesting.

Players from the Gators and Vols are also weighing in on the matter. Butch thinks his guys should do this talking on the field. I couldn’t agree with him more.

I will conclude with this. This is all fun and games for us SEC fans, but I’m ready for the real games to begin.

117 days remain until Vanderbilt and South Carolina kick it off on Thursday, September 1.

SEC Links: Finding Gunslingers in the Wild, Wild West

Former Auburn football head coach, and College Football Hall of Fame honoree, Pat Dye once stated, “It all starts at quarterback.” It does. The quarterback is the the leader of the offense and, often, the face of the football team. He usually receives an over-abundance of praise if the team is doing well, and he gets more than his share of the blame if his team is performing poorly.

A quarterback needs to take command of the huddle, gain the confidence of his teammates, and inspire his fellow warriors to have confidence in themselves. He needs to know not just what his assignments are, but also the particulars of those who surround him.

If the quarterback works as hard, or harder, than anyone else on the team by staying after practice to throw with his receivers or just do a little extra work on the details of his job, then that could make the difference as to how the team finishes the season in terms of wins and losses. It could determine whether that teams wins a championship or finishes lower in it’s conference standings.

In short, the quarterback is the man.

Spring practice has, for all intents and purposes, wrapped up across SEC country, and the burning question in the minds of fans is who will serve as the signal-caller for their beloved squad.

Let’s take a look at how some of the crucial races for field generals are shaping up in the SEC.

We will first turn our eyes to the best division in all of college football, the SEC West. Let’s begin with SEC and national Champion, Alabama.

It appears that Nick Saban and his offensive coordinator, Lane Kiffin, have their hands full in deciding who will be at the helm of the Crimson Tide offense. They have strong candidates but there is not an abundance of experience at the position. Kiffin worked magic with Blake Sims in 2014 and also with Jake Coker in 2015. I don’t have any idea who will emerge from what looks like a four-man pack, but I do think Kiffin will find the right guy. His track record points to that scenario.

Bama, more often than not, winds up with someone who can manage the offense. They don’t tend to find an all-world type of guy like Johnny Manziel or Cam Newton. History tells us that Bama will be just fine at the position.

Across the state, Auburn is also, desperately, in search of the player to lead the Tigers’ offense. Jeremy Johnson did not become the quarterback that he was highly-hyped to be. Sean White was serviceable but certainly not dynamic. John Franklin III, a JUCO transfer, has the skill set to become the dual-threat type of player that has succeeded in Gus Malzahn’s system at Auburn, but he needs a great deal of development to step into the role. He has a great arm and blazing speed but needs to really work on his accuracy. As much as I want Franklin to succeed, I don’t see him taking the SEC by storm and leading Auburn back to, or near, the pinnacle of the West… in 2016… 2017, maybe?

Les Miles and LSU fans are hoping Brandon Harris will finally emerge as the answer down on The Bayou. Harris has the tools to do this and his friend, former Mississippi State star, Dak Prescott, thinks the third year will be the charm for Brandon. I tend to agree with Dak on this matter. Harris will have a big year and LSU will be very much in the thick of it in November.

Speaking of Dak. What’s going on in Starkville? Mississippi State is in the unenviable position of replacing, arguably, the most outstanding player in Bulldog history. That will not be an easy task. When you throw in the factor of State’s residence in the West, then one finds little reason to believe that it will be a contender in the West. In my initial SEC column I picked the Bulldogs to finish last, and basically, having to sort through four inexperienced hopefuls at quarterback will make that a reality.

Let’s make the obvious transition to the hated in-state rival of the Bulldogs, Ole Miss. Up in Oxford things are much less complicated when it comes to quarterback. They have one. His name is Chad Kelly. Kelly had a great year in 2015 and, barring injury, he could find himself the the top quarterback in the SEC and beyond. The sky is the limit for him and Ole Miss. They will be in hot pursuit of the University of Alabama for the West crown.

Bret Bielema has an Allen returning to lead the Razorbacks in 2016. The problem is, it’s not Brandon Allen. Over the course of his career, Brandon Allen became the player and leader that everyone hoped he would be and had a very good senior campaign in Fayetteville. It’s his brother, Austin, who will now be given the reigns to help Bielema continue to build the type of program he envisions for Hawg fans. The younger Allen may be the chosen one but it will take a year of getting a true feel in the starter role before Arkansas can make a move upward.

College Station, TX will be our last stop on this tour of quarterbacks in the SEC West. Kevin Sumlin’s fanny is definitely getting warm out there in Aggieland and he needs a great signal-caller to relieve that pressure. Trevor Knight, a transfer from Oklahoma, is the man Sumlin has chosen to lead the Aggies. He had his ups and downs throughout his career in Norman and he needs his upside to assist in cooling his head coach’s backside. I don’t think it will happen. There is too much turmoil in College Station.

So, will there be an known comodity to emerge from the West and lead his team to the SEC  promised land? Could another Newton or Manziel come out of nowhere and shock the football world? Or will the SEC East produce a quarterback?

That will wrap it up for this week. Next week we take a gander at the SEC East and the interesting battles that are in progress for starting quarterbacks in that division.

Pac-12 Football Early Preview: UCLA Bruins

The UCLA Bruins have had a ton of expectations placed upon them every year since the beginning of time in the Pac-12. They are one of the premier programs in the Pac-12 and one of the premier destinations for many athletes. If the Bruins come knocking on your door you listen to them. Playing in Pasadena would be an amazing thing for any athlete, but in the recent past the Bruins haven’t won anything of consequence and are looking to change that outlook with their 2016 squad.

Coaching/Personnel:

Expectations are always high at UCLA and with a returning quarterback that is pretty good in Josh Rosen, the replacement at offensive coordinator will scrutinized in a big way. Noel Mazzone is gone and nobody that is a fan of the Bruins is sorry to see him go. He had good offenses, but not great and only had one year out of the four ranked in the top 20 of college football in offense. Mazzone went to coach the offense with his long time friend Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M. Who takes his place?

Running backs coach, Kennedy Polamalu, who many consider the best coach on staff, takes over the offense. He had one year as OC while he was at USC but many people thought he was having Lane Kiffin make the calls. Polamalu is known as a “tough” coach and wants to put his stamp of toughness on the Bruins. How quickly can he do that will be something that people will be looking at as the Bruins get to spring and summer practices.

The other big change for the Bruins on the offensive side of the ball is that they think they finally have a quality quarterback’s coach. Marques Tuiasosopo gets to mold his star pupil in Josh Rosen.  Rosen will be looking to stay away from the dreaded “sophomore slump” in 2016 and Tuiasosopo will be a big part of whether or not that happens. The other big part of Marques is that he does very well as a big time recruiter, not that it’s tough to sell a big time recruit on the benefits of coming to play in Pasadena. His talent in recruiting will be a welcomed addition to the program.

One of the big changes that the Bruins will have to contend with is player personnel on the offensive line. They have lost three starters off the O-line from 2015 and that means replacing all that experience. They lost four-year starter Jake Brendel, three-year starter Caleb Benenoch, and another three-year starter Alex Redmond. With the departures on the O-line, do the Bruins have an idea of what the line will look like? They do have an idea.

The biggest returning offensive line player is Conor McDermott. McDermott had a good 2015 season and did stay pretty healthy for UCLA, so they are expecting the same in 2016. If Conor has a similar season to his 2015 season then he may be one of the top O-line prospects for the 2017 NFL Draft.

The Bruins are getting University of Texas graduate transfer Jake Raulerson after he graduates from Texas in May. He won’t be there for spring practice but most Bruin sources think that he will take the center position from current Bruin center, Scott Quessenberry once summer/fall camp starts. If that happens, Jim Mora will probably move Quessenberry over to guard where he has experience playing in the past.

The other position that is interesting is running back. All-American Paul Perkins is gone, so the Bruins have to figure out who will take the pressure off the passing game with Josh Rosen. UCLA has three players to choose from to replace Paul Perkins. They will pick from Soso Jamabo, who had four touchdowns and 6.1 yards per carry in 2015, and has a very smooth running style which makes people think he may be as fast as he actually his. The second guy is Nate Starks who has slightly better stats than Jamabo. He had five touchdowns, a 6.4 yards per carry average, and showed great potential in the offense for the Bruins in 2015. The next guy who will get a chance is Bolu Olorunfunmi who didn’t have as many carries or as much playing time as Starks and Jamabo, but still showed some solid stats when he did get his chance. He racked up 200 yards with a 5.9 yards per carry average.

With all these changes on the offensive side of the ball, from the coaches to the players, UCLA has some challenges in front of it that it has to start getting squared away when spring practice gets underway this week.

Schedule:

The schedule for the Bruins does not include two pretty good teams in Oregon and Washington, which is certainly a benefit for them. Still, the rest of the tough Pac-12 schedule is right in front of them for 2016.

The three non-conference games that they have are Texas A&M (away), UNLV(home), and BYU(away) which are not all that bad. They should beat UNLV, but the other two games will be fun, challenging games to watch the Bruins in. Coming out of the non-conference part of the schedule 2-1 or even 3-0 would obviously be optimum for UCLA because the next five games will be tough for them. They open Pac-12 play with a home game with Stanford on September 24, then they get the Arizona Wildcats at home, followed by a road trip to Arizona State, then a roadie to Washington State, then they come back home to play Utah to end this five game stretch.

The positive aspect for the Bruins with this stretch of games is that three out of the five games are at home. This stretch of games will determine what kind of season the Bruins end up having. The Stanford and Washington State game will be the toughest out of the bunch because of the talent that they will have coming back, but that doesn’t mean the other games are cupcakes for them. Arizona, Arizona State, and Utah just have more questions about them than the other two teams. Obviously, coming out of that stretch undefeated would be amazing, but reality says, it may be more of a 3-2 type of record for them.

Final Thought:

UCLA is like many other Pac-12 teams in that they are going to be battling changes in player and coaching personnel in 2016. When you have a lot of turnover in personnel it may take a while for everybody to come together and that’s not something that fans like to hear because they tend to think it should all come together after only a few practices. Reality dictates that it takes a while for a team to gel, but here’s the thing that UCLA has going for them, Jim Mora and Josh Rosen. Mora provides the stability for the program and gives them their identity and Rosen gives them the ability to be in most games with his talent. Rosen will be better than he was in 2015 and that will be nothing, but a positive for the Bruins. He’s learning what he is comfortable with and Mora is learning that same thing from his star player. Is UCLA going to the College Football Playoff? No, but I don’t think there is a playoff team in the Pac-12 this upcoming year. Will they have a winning season? Yes, I think they end up 8-4. It’s always for tough for fans and coaches to view anything but a National Championship at UCLA as a success though. Welcome to UCLA.

 

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Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Texas A&M vs. Louisville

Of the bowl games that are essentially meaningless, this is one that I would like to go to simply because it’s in Nashville. Nashville is a place that I’ve always wanted to go because of the music. It is home to the Grand Ole Opry and, if that weren’t enough, legendary live performances and studio recordings in Music City included the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Etta James, Bob Dylan and Simon and Garfunkel.

Simon and Garfunkel recorded part of Bridge Over Troubled Water in Nashville. That title describes Texas A&M and Kevin Sumlin perfectly. The 2015 season had a “same song, different verse” type of feel for Kevin Sumlin. Just as the Aggies did in 2014, they started out 2015 at 5-0 and then they hit the skids. The second half of their 2015 included a 3-4 record. The second half of their 2014 season included a record of 2-5.

If their poor showings down the stretch weren’t enough, each season has included quarterback controversy. Kenny Hill made headlines in 2014 before ultimately transferring to TCU. As for 2015, the soap opera from 2014 just continued for Sumlin as both Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray have decided to transfer.

It’s anybody’s guess as to who will play quarterback for the Aggies in this bowl game.

And what about Louisville?

To be honest, I expected more from Louisville this year. This was a team that I expected to challenge for the ACC title. Instead they finished at 7-5. Bobby Petrino really only had one loss that could be considered somewhat embarrassing and that was Louisville’s loss to Auburn.

Who would have thought going into the season that a loss to Auburn would be considered embarrassing?

Unlike Texas A&M, there is no soap opera surrounding Bobby Petrino and Louisville. There have been no backwoods motorcycle rides, volleyball players or neck braces.

Keep up the solid season coach Petrino. In comparison to Sumlin, you’re actually #winning.

As for what to expect out of this game, that’s a roll of the dice. Texas A&M has both on- and off-the-field problems to deal with. Sumlin’s bridge over troubled water starts with the quarterback controversy and extends to his own job security. Texas A&M administrators may be in the process of making a pitch to Tom Herman.

So the question for the Aggies is this: how many players and coaches are truly invested in this game?

On the flip side of this conversation, Petrino and Louisville are a calm, cool and collected team of players and coaches. As is the case with most Petrino teams, Louisville has an offense that can score. Defensively they do enough to be in most games, but aren’t going to put the clamps down on most teams.

I’m inclined to pick Louisville in this game. They aren’t dealing with controversy and they can score. Texas A&M has controversy which includes uncertainty at the quarterback position, so I don’t trust the A&M’s ability to keep up against a Petrino offense.

Prediction: Louisville 35 Texas A&M 17

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SMerenbloom.

Photo: Anne Swoboda/Flickr

Flagship Programs in Texas

When you think of a “flagship” program, you probably think of a recognized brand with a lot of tradition. People may hate or love the “flagship,” but they almost always respect them.

Texas and Texas A&M are the two flagship programs in the state of Texas, traditionally, but both programs are undergoing some major issues as we head into the New Year. Texas’ issues might finally be sorting themselves out, but A&M’s appear to just be beginning.

Ever since the Mack Brown/DeLoss Dodds/Bill Powers regime ended, the Texas program has been a borderline disaster. Fans, boosters and alumni of the program have been embarrassed and somewhat ashamed at the actions that have taken place.

There can be a whole separate article on how Steve Patterson’s reign as AD at Texas began and ended, but we aren’t even touching that today.

Focusing strictly on football, Charlie Strong hasn’t been given the support that he’s needed from day one. Plain and simple. There are big issues behind the scenes that a casual fan can’t see, but they are becoming clearer every day.

The lack of production on the field is one thing, but when you can’t convince a coach from an in-state rival school (TCU’s Sonny Cumbie) to leave his gig to coach at the “flagship” program in Texas for more than twice his salary, it screams that something fishy is going on.

It all came to a head when Strong went to plan “B” for his offensive coordinator search. It appeared that Sterlin Gilbert was set to be the OC, and then something fell through that forced Strong, AD Mike Perrin and President Greg Fenves to fly to Tulsa in an attempt to clear the air. The fact that all three men had to be involved just shows how discombobulated the program really is.

Supposedly Gilbert did not sense and receive a vote of confidence for Strong, which is why he didn’t take the job initially. The severe lack of communication was evident. Yes, they eventually hired Gilbert, but they set an unprecedented standard of desperation that resonated on Twitter throughout the country. That should never happen at Texas.

Texas A&M has enjoyed the issues that their former rival has been going through, but it appears that they may be headed down a similar path soon.

Kevin Sumlin lost two five-star quarterbacks in a span of a week. Both Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray transferred from the program for similar reasons. The main reason was that they did not trust Sumlin.

Most people assumed that whoever lost the starting job would transfer, but no one predicted that both would within the same week. That shows that there are some major issues in the locker room and behind the scenes.

Now A&M boosters are having a hard time trusting Sumlin, and there’s a chance that he could be fired if the Aggies don’t win their upcoming bowl game against Louisville. Talk about a fall from grace.

The most embarrassing part about the situation is the national attention that it’s receiving. Problems like this extend past just the current players. It also affects recruits. As we near the peak recruiting season, Sumlin is going to have to answer a lot of questions that he would rather not address.

So with all of these issues that two of the most respected programs in the state of Texas are having, can we really still consider them the “flagship” programs?

TCU and Baylor have performed better on the field over the past few seasons overall, and Houston is on its way up too. Each program has its upsides and its downfalls, but it almost seems like the administration and some coaches at Texas and Texas A&M don’t realize the magnitude of the programs they are trying to run.

What Texas and A&M are going through at the same time is rare to see. However, the issues are magnified because they are the “flagship” programs in the state.

Both programs will be fine over time, but the near future outlook doesn’t look very promising. It’s difficult to say anything good about either program right now, and it doesn’t have anything to do with the student athletes.

If the main problems were on the field and in the classroom, then we’d be talking about a different monster. But we are talking about trust at the highest levels, whether it is the players trusting the head coach or the head coach trusting the administration. Either way you look at it, it’s downright embarrassing for both programs to deal with and it could take some time to move forward and put it all behind them.