Tag Archives: Will Muschamp

SEC’s First Spring Practices Headlined by Quarterback Questions

For each of the first five SEC football teams to start spring practice, one of the most interesting storylines is at quarterback. Maybe it’s a wide-open battle for the starting position or maybe it’s seeing how one player has progressed since last season.

In an attempt to finally truly embrace spring practice for the drama it can bring, I’m going to discuss the SEC quarterbacks we’ve already got our eyes on in spring practices. SEC quarterbacks haven’t been known to impress much lately (Dak Prescott aside). Hopefully this spring will help get our SEC quarterbacks off to a much better start for the 2017 season.

And let me be clear: These are not the only five SEC schools with intriguing quarterback predicaments. But all of these five schools that started practice before the beginning of March definitely do have this much in common.

South Carolina was the first team to commence its spring practices. To most, the question of who will start at quarterback had already been answered. Brandon McIlwain may have started the first few games last season, but Jake Bentley took over soon after. Bentley finished the season on a high note with his Birmingham Bowl performance.

Bentley’s hard work in the offseason has impressed head coach Will Muschamp. But in true Muschamp fashion, the coach had been saying Brandon McIlwain was still battling with Bentley for that starting position. As of March 1st, though, McIlwain has decided to transfer from South Carolina. That means that, barring injury or suspension, Bentley will be the starting quarterback for the Gamecocks. Bentley’s progression will still be something to watch this spring, though.

Vanderbilt was the next team to begin its spring practices. Vanderbilt, like South Carolina, doesn’t have a true quarterback battle. In fact, one of Vanderbilt’s quarterbacks won’t even be returning this season. Wade Freebeck, who occasionally started for the Commodores, has chosen to pursue the option to transfer to another school.

The starting job is then almost definitely left to Kyle Shurmur. To say the least, Shurmur was inconsistent last season. He’ll have a lot of work to do to cement his starting role with a few other quarterbacks waiting in the wings, especially freshman Deuce Wallace. Head coach Derek Mason seemed very excited about signing Wallace, and that may not bode well in the long run for Shurmur.

Auburn began its spring practice on the last day of February. Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham took reps with the first-team offense, which is an early indication that Auburn coaches have really opened up the quarterback competition. Sean White, the incumbent starter, had to sit out due to injury. Redshirt freshman Woody Barrett led the second-team offense. Last season’s backup, John Franklin III split reps between special teams and quarterback.

The biggest question remaining seems to be where Sean White will fit into this competition when he returns from his injury. Will he bump Jarrett Stidham to the second-team offense and retake his starting job? Or will Jarrett Stidham impress enough in spring practices to keep the starting job for now? And what about Barrett and Franklin? Will all four guys stick around for the season with so much competition for that starting position? This will easily be one of the most interesting quarterback races to watch this offseason.

Florida also began its spring practices on the 28th of February. And once again, the Gators are looking for someone to step up and claim the starting quarterback job. This seems to be a common theme for Florida lately. And heading into spring practice, the theme looks to be holding strong for yet another season.

The starting quarterback from the beginning of last season, Luke Del Rio, is sidelined after a shoulder surgery. That means redshirt freshmen Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask have a great opportunity to take the lead in the quarterback competition this spring. On Tuesday, Franks took snaps as the first-team quarterback. Many of those present commented on how improved his throwing motion was. Kyle Trask also took snaps at quarterback along with early enrollee “athlete” Kadarius Toney. Even after his injury is healed, I definitely don’t see Del Rio beating out all three players to regain his starting position. But Gator fans will undoubtedly be watching the quarterback competition closely this spring.

Ole Miss began its spring practices on Tuesday as well. The Rebels have their starting quarterback all but chosen for next season already. But there are still questions that Ole Miss fans will have about their quarterback this spring. Shea Patterson was originally going to observe Chad Kelly in all his glory last season but got thrown into the mix when Kelly tore his ACL. Patterson debuted well but the offense was inconsistent under his lead and the season went down the drain.

Patterson had taken very limited reps before being thrown into the game so the inconsistency is somewhat understandable. But will he become more consistent as he takes more reps with the team? And better yet, how will he respond to Coach Longo’s fast-paced offense? Patterson already had a lot to learn but will learning a new coach’s system prove to be too much? I don’t have the answers to any of these questions yet, but I suspect Ole Miss fans will be watching Patterson very closely through spring practices. After all, how can he live up to THE “Swag” Kelly?

E-mail Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @KristenBotica.

Featured photo courtesy of Gainesville Apartments.

Five Way Too Early Predictions for SEC Football in 2017

I know we still have a while to go until we get our beloved SEC football Saturdays back, but I just can’t wait. SEC football is on my mind all the time. So here are just a few of my recurring thoughts about this coming season.

Georgia will be the team to beat in the East

Let’s be honest, Kirby Smart’s first season in Athens was a little underwhelming. The worst moment of the season for the Dawgs had to be that last-minute loss to the Vols at home. Just when Jacob Eason had led them down the field to take the lead, Josh Dobbs and Jauan Jennings connected for an unbelievable Hail Mary. I fully expect Georgia fans to be able to put that pain behind them next season. Eason will have more experience, the defense will have more experience, and coach Smart will also have more head coaching experience.

South Carolina will have more than one good upset win

This past season wasn’t particularly impressive for South Carolina in its first year under Will Muschamp. But, the Gamecocks did manage to get a pretty nice upset win over the Vols. They were a huge part of why Tennessee never made it to Atlanta. The Gamecocks showed promise in most games, even many of the losses. The only game they might want to erase from memory is that Clemson thrashing at the end of the season. But with another year under Muschamp’s guidance and with his recruits coming in, I anticipate two upset wins out of the Gamecocks this season.

Butch Jones will get run out of Knoxville

This call may be a little early. But with all his press conference clichés, I think this might be the year Tennessee fans grab their pitchforks and run Jones out of town. Heck, after that Vanderbilt loss to end the regular season my dad had decided not to renew his season tickets for 2017. Guess he doesn’t want to be part of another championship of life. Or maybe he just doesn’t have that five-star heart. All this being said, the Vols may be in trouble next season. Their defense is a huge question mark and now they have a question mark starting at quarterback too. Just ask the Gators how well that second question mark works out in the SEC.

Alabama will win the West…again

No other team was truly a tough match for Alabama in the West last year, with the biggest challenges coming from LSU and Ole Miss. Ole Miss later lost star quarterback Chad Kelly to injury and its season tanked. The Rebels were more of a pretender than an actual contender. LSU had a slow start, but ended up in some good games under then-interim (now head) coach Ed Orgeron. But at the end of the day, Alabama was still dominant in the SEC. Alabama dominated all the way until the national championship game that it lost to Clemson. That loss may sting, but with quarterback Jalen Hurts having more experience, I expect Alabama to be number one in the West and headed right back to Atlanta again in December. Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Alabama still has Nick Saban.

But LSU will make it close

The LSU Tigers had arguably one of the most interesting seasons out of the entire SEC in 2016. Les Miles was fired and replaced on an interim basis by Defensive Line Coach Ed Orgeron. Orgeron led the team to a 5-2 finish (after starting the season 2-2 under Miles). Additionally, LSU dominated Louisville and its Heisman-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson in the Citrus Bowl. On top of all this, Orgeron put together a top ten recruiting class in his first time recruiting as LSU’s head coach. With Orgeron leading, talent returning, and talent coming in, the Tigers are poised to finish second in the SEC West and maybe even give the Crimson Tide a run for its money.

You can email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @KristenBotica.

Image courtesy of Sean Davis, Flickr.

Butch Jones is Winning the Championship of Life

When Butch Jones was hired in 2013 to be the head coach of the University of Tennesse football team, he brought with him all of the hopes and dreams that accompany all new coaches. Jones was going to restore the greatness of the Volunteer football program that hadn’t been seen since Phil Fulmer was leading the program to conference and national championship games.

But hopes and dreams don’t always turn out as planned.

Since arriving in Knoxville, Jones has collected an impressive array of talent. There have been high-profile recruits all over the field for Jones. Nevermind that much of that talent didn’t stick around Knoxville. Even with this level of attrition, there was still enough talent left that fans and the media began expecting and anticipating championship caliber years.

The fact-of-the-matter is that none of the championship expectations ever materialized. Since taking over the Volunteer program, Jones has lost the SEC East to Missouri and Florida. Both Missouri and Florida have each won the East twice. It’s far easier for Volunteer fans to accept losing the division to Florida as opposed to Missouri. Missouri is the team that Tennessee fans like to beat up on. But Missouri has had far more recent success than Tennessee. That has to be tough to swallow.

So what does Jones have to hang his hat on during his tenure on the Tennessee sideline? Life. In his recent press conference, Jones said that his team may not have ever won the SEC East, but in his mind, his team has won the championship of life.

This sounds ridiculous. Jones attempted to detract from his team’s on-field performance by talking about how mature his players are.  No, coach Jones, the perceived maturity of your players doesn’t balance the scales when weighed against the lack of high-level success.

Jones talked about this year’s senior class bringing Tennessee back. But Tennessee really isn’t back. The Vols haven’t won a divisional SEC East championship since 2007 and haven’t won the SEC championship since 1998. Tennessee isn’t back.

The graduation rate was also referenced by Jones. Yes, a high percentage of his players have and will graduate. We all know about the academic prowess of Joshua Dobbs. But the graduation rate of his players isn’t going to pacify the fans. As the years tick by, Tennessee fans won’t accept Missouri winning divisional titles even with the high graduation rate of Jones’ program.

Speaking of Dobbs, he had his coach’s back and defended the championship of life comment.

Dobbs should be commended for sticking up for his coach, but it doesn’t make Jones’ comment any less absurd. And in defending Jones the way that Dobbs did, Dobbs came off sounding just as ignorant as Jones. When Dobbs and his teammates look back on their time in Knoxville, wins and losses will matter. Dobbs’ record is what will define his Tennessee legacy. Not the relationships that he built or how he affected the people he came in contact with. And what will matter least in defining his legacy will be how much he enjoyed his experience at Tennessee. Dobbs will leave Tennessee with a warm and fuzzy feeling. Great. The fact remains that Tennessee never won as much as a divisional championship with Dobbs as the full-time starting quarterback.

Jones has to be savvier than this. He has to know that he can’t minimize the lack of championships being won in Knoxville. Especially this year. Tennessee should have run away with the East. The Vols had talent and depth and Jones should have been considered the gold standard of coaches in the East. Remember, Barry Odom and Kirby Smart have never been head coaches before this year and Will Muschamp is in his first year at South Carolina. Jim McElwain is a fine enough coach, but his Florida team doesn’t have an offense that anyone trusts. This is what Jones and Tennessee lost the division too. Jones continues to be unable to win a division that is often times referred to as “hot garbage.”

Jones seems content to take a We Are The World attitude as his team wins championships of life. He needs to acknowledge the reality of the situation. His teams haven’t been good enough to beat “hot garbage.”

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

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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The SEC East, Where Even the Winners Are Losers

In case you’re just now joining us, we have weekly articles that we run for “Smackdown Friday” here at Campus Pressbox. I have happily smacked down many teams throughout the season, and I’ve had my fair share of fun doing so. But when I looked to this week, there was no smackdown piece I wanted to write; there was no more fun. And who is to blame for this? The SEC East. It has sucked the fun out of everything.

The SEC East has been struggling for years now to keep up with the formidable teams in the SEC West. That’s no secret. But this year, more than any year of late, I am especially disheartened by the play of all of the SEC East teams.

You see, I couldn’t write a smackdown about any of the SEC East games (or the one cross-divisional game in the SEC), because no matter who wins these games, the SEC East is still a bunch of losers.

Too harsh? No. Maybe not even harsh enough at this point. With the results of last week’s games, we are on track for the possibility of a six-way tie in the SEC East. No, this is not a joke. The SEC East, on the other hand, really is a joke.

In the spirit of smacking down a team (or seven), let me get to the fun part. Let me really explain how the SEC East teams lose this weekend, even if they do win. And no, there was no exaggeration there. I am actually going to smack down every team in the SEC East. Let’s face it; they all deserve this.

Florida hosts South Carolina this weekend. That means the seniors will be playing their last home game against the coach who recruited them, Will Muschamp. Crazy how things work out! What’s crazier: Either team winning this game does not change how awful the two teams have been (at times) this season.

Florida just had one of the most gut-wrenching losses at Arkansas last weekend. The Gators had almost no offensive production, and the defense (after being on the field most of the night) was exposed. This win would be nice to bounce back but at the end of the day, the Gators still have been incredibly disappointing.

South Carolina has done pretty well with its new quarterback. Yes, Will Muschamp has finally figured out what a good QB looks like. But, South Carolina is still nowhere near where they were earlier this decade. South Carolina could get this road win and satisfy its fans, but to the rest of us the Gamecocks will still be losers.

Georgia hosts Auburn this weekend. With the way the SEC East has been playing against the West, this game is almost guaranteed to be ugly for the Bulldogs.

Georgia narrowly beat Kentucky last weekend, couldn’t get anything going in a loss against Florida the weekend before and lost to Vanderbilt in its game before the bye week in October. What I’m saying is: Georgia has four losses and deserves to be ripped into for these losses. And even if by some miracle the Bulldogs do beat the Tigers, they still shouldn’t be ranked. They’re still going to be losers.

Kentucky pays Tennessee a visit this weekend, too. And the fact that there are a number of Vol fans who are concerned about possibly losing this game says almost all that I need to say.

Kentucky will always be a basketball school in the eyes of the rest of the SEC and probably even the rest of the country. Somehow, the Wildcats have managed to put together a season that’s actually pretty impressive by Kentucky football standards. If the Wildcats beat the Vols, they will be celebrating. But that would all but guarantee that Florida returns to the SEC Championship Game (if the Gators beat the Gamecocks). So Kentucky still loses.

And on the other side of this, Tennessee actually really needs this win. There are plenty of fans concerned that the Vols won’t get it either. My dad is one of those fans. And while Tennessee may very well win this game, after some of their recent losses (including injuries) the Vols will ultimately still be losers.

Missouri hosts Vanderbilt this weekend. This game is truly the battle of the two worst teams in the entire SEC, not even just in the SEC East. The Loser Bowl, perhaps?

Missouri has taken too many L’s too count this season. The Tigers have yet to win a conference game. And they have three of those left, including this one. Not to mention, they also lost to MTSU in October. Who even does that? Are you actually allowed to do that in the SEC? No victory could redeem Mizzou at this point. The Tigers will still be the biggest losers in the SEC this season.

Vanderbilt is only one conference win ahead of Missouri. That being said, the Commodores really have no room to talk here. They have had some “moral victories” in the numerous close games they have forced. But even those moral victories combined with an actual victory this weekend would not make Vanderbilt a winner. That record doesn’t lie.

No matter which way you look at things, every SEC East team will be a loser this weekend. That, my friends, is why I decided to smack down the entire SEC East. Bless their hearts.

Email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @OGKristenB.

Photo: Joni Vanhoecke, Flickr

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Florida Gators Will Beat Mizzou and Prove They Aren’t Afraid of Tigers

Contrary to what seems to be popular opinion lately, the Florida Gators are not scared of Tigers. They are not scared of the LSU Tigers and are definitely not scared of the Missouri Tigers.

Due to Mother Nature having a mind of her own, the Gators were not able to host the LSU Tigers last weekend. Because conspiracy theorists are everywhere nowadays, a hurricane postponement somehow morphed into the storyline of Florida being scared to play a football game. Ha. The internet trolls must’ve been incredibly bored last week.

The Florida Gators are in the AP Top 25. They have no reason to be scared of anybody.

Apparently losing one road game in an SEC East rivalry with the Tennessee Volunteers means that the Gators are just going to be scared from now on. Not only do the Vols get credit for being a top 10 team, this was also the first time they had beaten Florida since 2004. For some reason, I don’t think that all adds up to mean the Gators should be frightened by the remainder of their opponents. That moonshine up in Tennessee must be great, because countless Vol fans would disagree.

So, now that we know the Gators have no reason to be scared of the LSU Tigers, let’s talk about why they also have absolutely no reason whatsoever to be scared of the Missouri Tigers.

Last year Florida marched into Columbia, Missouri, and beat the Tigers 21-3. This year’s team seems pretty similar to last year’s except with far more potential on offense, especially now that Luke Del Rio is back at quarterback. This Florida team also now has a great kicker in social media sensation Eddy Pineiro.

The Tigers have been all over the place this season. They started out with a 15-point loss on the road to the West Virginia Mountaineers. The next week they hosted the Eastern Michigan Eagles and beat them by a whopping 40 points. After that, they hosted the Georgia Bulldogs and eventually lost that game by only a point. Not surprisingly, the Tigers then beat up on the Delaware State Hornets the next week, winning that one 79-0. Two weeks ago, the Tigers traveled to Baton Rouge and lost to some other “scary” Tigers, 42-7.

That puts the Missouri Tigers at 2-3 overall. Meanwhile, the Florida Gators are 4-1, even though they’ve been missing some of their defensive line as well as their starting quarterback for the last two games.

When you look at it that way, the Gators have absolutely nothing to be afraid of this weekend. There are a lot of other ways you can look at it that will support that same Gator confidence.

Missouri’s biggest strength is its passing game. Florida’s biggest strength is probably its group of defensive backs led by likely first-round draft picks Quincy Wilson and Teez Tabor. No SEC team has more interceptions so far this season than the Gators. Georgia also has eight interceptions but has played one more game than Florida has. Only one SEC team has more sacks than Florida and unsurprisingly that team is Alabama. Texas A&M also has 19 sacks but, again, they have played an extra game comparatively.

By the way, as far as yardage goes, Florida has the fourth-best passing defense in the country. Do I hear a “DBU” chant starting?

Even though Missouri’s rushing attack hasn’t been its biggest strength, Florida is also ranked in the top ten in rushing defense. And even beyond that, Florida has only allowed an average of 11.6 points per game this season. With a defense like that, the Gators have nothing to be scared of when it comes to this Missouri team.

The Missouri defense, on the other hand, has been shaky at best. The Florida offense has performed similarly. But, now that Luke Del Rio will be starting again, I expect Florida’s offensive production to improve at least marginally.

Florida’s special teams? Well, kick returning hasn’t been great. Like I said before, Florida finally has a solid kicker in Pineiro. Florida also has a great punter in Johnny Townsend, who has averaged 50.2 yards per punt this season.

Basically, no matter which way you look at it, Missouri is the team that should be (and probably is) scared. I know that the last time Missouri came to town for homecoming, things didn’t go so well for Florida. But that was the Muschamp era and this is the McElwain era. Coach Muschamp is currently 2-4 at South Carolina, if you really needed any explanation on why the difference in head coaches is significant.

So, after a week off and a week of ridicule from LSU Tigers and Tennessee Vols fans alike, the Gators are going to remind everyone just why we aren’t scared of anybody. Championship teams often have one loss anyway, so you can’t count out the Gators just yet.

You can email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @OGKristenB.

Photo of student ticket from Kristen Botica.

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SEC Quarterbacks Are Downright Unimpressive

Anybody who knows me at all knows that I have a special place in my heart for SEC football. I really do. But I can’t sit by and be silent about this. The SEC quarterbacks, once again, look overwhelmingly bad. At the risk of sounding cliché, watching the SEC quarterback play so far this year is like watching paint dry.

I can’t think of a single SEC quarterback who actually excites me right now. Meanwhile, I can think of four or five ACC quarterbacks that do. This is madness. How does the conference with the most ranked teams have the worst quarterbacks? I just don’t get it.

Usually, the SEC East is a mess and the SEC West is great. This year, everybody except for Alabama (and maybe Texas A&M) is a mess. Yet somehow there are still eight teams ranked in the AP top 25 at the moment. I’ll let you in on a little something, though—they definitely aren’t ranked because of their quarterbacks.

So here is where I go through every SEC team, by division and in alphabetical order, to prove a point. I’ll keep the assessment for each team brief.

The Florida Gators have been starting Luke Del Rio at quarterback. On the season so far he has 762 passing yards, 6 touchdowns, and two interceptions. But unfortunately for the Gators, he’s sidelined due to a knee injury and they’ll have to rely on Purdue graduate transfer Austin Appleby for now. Just when they were getting some momentum…

The Georgia Bulldogs seemed pretty well-off as far as quarterbacks go when the season started. Both Greyson Lambert (who was solid last year) and Jacob Eason (who’s a true freshman) have taken snaps for the Dawgs, with Eason taking the majority of the snaps. Eason has racked up 643 yards passing, five touchdowns, and two interceptions. Not bad…and also not fantastic.

The Kentucky Wildcats have played both Drew Barker and Stephen Johnson at quarterback, but Barker went down against New Mexico State and Kentucky has had more success with Johnson now anyways. He has 355 yards passing, three touchdowns, and no interceptions. In the second week at Florida, Drew Barker actually threw three interceptions to the Florida defense and only completed two passes to his own players. Oops!

The Missouri Tigers have mostly stuck with quarterback Drew Lock so far this season. A bright spot in the East, he has 1106 passing yards, nine touchdowns, and three interceptions. But, the Tigers are still struggling, only managing to win one of their first three games this season.

The South Carolina Gamecocks haven’t had all that much luck at quarterback between Brandon McIlwain and Perry Orth. McIlwain has been slightly better than his competition, with 356 yards passing, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. He also added 80 yards rushing and two more touchdowns on the ground. But with Muschamp at the helm, I don’t know if they’ll ever have great quarterback play.

The Tennessee Volunteers have had pretty much the same Josh Dobbs they’ve been behind for a couple years now. So far his passing game leaves a lot to be desired with 486 passing yards, six touchdowns, and three interceptions. On the bright side, he has added 161 yards rushing and three touchdowns on the ground. He’s also been a great leader despite being behind a shaky offensive line.

The Vanderbilt Commodores have struggled offensively (as always) behind Kyle Shurmur so far this year. He’s had 335 yards passing for two touchdowns and one interception. If Shurmur could get it together, maybe they could actually win a couple conference games this season.

But wait…there’s more! We still have another division full of mediocre quarterbacks to go.

The Alabama Crimson Tide have had Jalen Hurts take the majority of their snaps at quarterback this year. He has 563 passing yards, four touchdowns, and one interception. He’s also added 197 rushing yards and two more touchdowns on the ground. Plus, they’re Alabama. Their quarterback play won’t make or break their season.

The Arkansas Razorbacks have stuck with Austin Allen as their quarterback so far this season. Allen has 655 yards passing, seven touchdowns, and two interceptions. He’s been good so far; he just hasn’t been outstanding.

The Auburn Tigers had some fun at quarterback against Clemson to open the season, but Sean White is now taking the snaps. He has 510 passing yards, three touchdowns, and one interception so far. Meh.

The LSU Tigers started off the season behind Brandon Harris at quarterback but have since given the nod to Danny Etling. Etling has 315 passing yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. He also does have one rushing touchdown. He may not be great, but I think he’s better than Harris.

The Mississippi State Bulldogs have played both Nick Fitzgerald and Damian Williams at quarterback so far this year. Fitzgerald has edged out Williams with 298 passing yards, two touchdowns, and one interception to Williams’ 237 passing yards and two touchdowns. Additionally, Fitzgerald has 219 yards on the ground and Williams has 88 yards as well as a touchdown. While they seem fairly evenly matched, neither is too exciting at this point.

The Ole Miss Rebels have Chad “Swag” Kelly, who was supposed to be the best quarterback in the nation. Kelly does have 953 passing yards and ten touchdowns, but he also has four interceptions. The Rebels will live and die by Kelly this season so those mistakes are costly.

The Texas A&M Aggies have Trevor Knight at quarterback. Knight has 830 passing yards, five touchdowns, and two interceptions. He also has 151 rushing yards and three more touchdowns on the ground. He’s no Lamar Jackson, but he’s better than most SEC quarterbacks.

Now that you’ve made it through that, maybe you can understand why I’m just unimpressed with the SEC quarterbacks at this point. You know things are rough when Missouri arguably has the best quarterback at the moment. Missouri…a team that has lost two of their first three games. I guess you could argue that Trevor Knight is just as good since he’s more of a dual-threat quarterback. But either way, those two are the best the SEC has to offer right now and that’s not good.

Now, I understand that just looking at these stats isn’t really fair in a lot of ways. Offensive lines not giving time to throw or space to run can be absolutely devastating for quarterbacks. Receivers dropping passes can be just as bad. And facing good secondary units can also be incredibly tough for a quarterback. But even with those things in mind, there isn’t a single quarterback in the SEC that has really impressed me or excited me the way quarterbacks in other conferences have. I didn’t expect there to be a Heisman trophy-winning quarterback from the SEC, but I also didn’t expect the performances to be this lackluster.

Fortunately for SEC fans and our quarterbacks, football isn’t just about that one player taking the snaps. In the SEC it tends to be more about running backs and defenses. That’s probably why there’s still a whopping eight SEC football teams ranked in the AP Top 25, like I mentioned before. And as much as quarterback play can be fun to watch, I prefer watching some hard-hitting SEC defense anyways. So maybe I should save my complaining for the day the defenses are weak.

Here’s the big question for this year will SEC teams be able to compete in the postseason when these SEC quarterbacks are playing like this? If you ask me, it depends on the team. If you have a great defense, a solid offensive line, and a good back or two, then you can compete with anyone. That’s why Alabama is virtually unstoppable. But otherwise, you’ll just become another overrated SEC team. And nobody wants that.

And then there’s the other big question. Why is this such a problem for the SEC and will it continue next year? In all honesty, I still haven’t figured out why the SEC doesn’t have the same quarterback depth that the other major conferences do. But this isn’t something new by any means. And while it may get a little better next season as some of the guys mentioned above take more snaps and gain experience, I don’t expect the SEC to have phenomenal quarterback play anytime soon. I’ll leave that to the ACC for now.

You can email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @OGKristenB.

Image courtesy of Ken Lund.

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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.

Ten Reasons Why I Can’t Wait for the Return of SEC Football

It has come: the time of the year when the football world starts to get boring. The college football season is over. The bowl season is over. The NFL season is over. The Super Bowl has been won. The high school recruits have made their decisions. The NFL combine has showcased our athletes. In the football world, this is the time of the year when we do a lot of waiting. And the more I think about it, the harder it gets for me to patiently await the start of the 2016 season for SEC football teams. I can think of countless reasons I am anxiously awaiting SEC football returning to my screen and to my college town, but I have decided to only subject you to ten of those reasons.

  1. The tailgating: I know, tailgating is a common practice for football fans everywhere. But a tailgate in SEC country is something that is often imitated but never duplicated. If you have ever lived in an SEC college town, then you know this. Sure, our teams are better so we don’t need to be as drunk to tolerate however they play that weekend, but we all know football and beer go hand-in-hand anyways. Or football and bourbon…that, too.
  2. The match-ups: We also all know by now that there are some obvious perennial powerhouse teams in the SEC (I’m looking at you, Bama). But that fact does not prevent us from watching interesting matchups every single week, especially those deep-seeded rivalries in our conference like the Iron Bowl. Even in a down year, either team can win one of those rivalry games. And that unpredictability is just plain awesome.
  3. The defense: There are rules by now that take out a little bit of the excitement that has come along with defensive hits in college football. But even though they have softened the game up, we still get to witness some pretty amazing defensive plays down here. The defensive talent on SEC football teams is unparalleled. And everybody knows the key to winning, especially in the SEC, is defense.
  4. The anticipation: This one is pretty self-explanatory. We wait all off-season until our team gets to kick off their season. We wake up too early that day and wait until our game starts. Then, before we know it, the game is over. So almost every week, we get an entire week of down time. During that down time we can scout the opponents and our anticipation for the next game grows. And with the teams we play throughout the season down here, that anticipation almost never fades.
  5. The playoffs: The BCS was a flawed system. The playoffs are a flawed system as well. But at least they are a bit less flawed. There are always going to be a number of biased voters involved in choosing the “best” teams. So having the teams that were deemed part of the top four face off at the end of the year is much better than just giving that chance to the supposed top two. Not that it was a problem for SEC football before, but we almost definitely will be represented on a yearly basis now.
  6. The coaches: College football coaches are a special breed. The coaches in the SEC are even more special. Just last week, a couple of the SEC coaches and a couple Big Ten coaches had a little fun on Twitter. But how can we forget Nick Saban’s extremely embarrassing dance moves, Les Miles and his affinity for grass, or Will Muschamp’s very colorful language? Week in and week out in either half of the conference, you are sure to be entertained by the whole cast of coaches.
  7. The Saturdays: To be completely honest, I am not really sure what to do with myself on most Saturdays. But once the football season starts, I know what I will be doing for hours on end every single Saturday. Even on my team’s bye weekends I know I will be able to find another good conference game to watch. Ahh, the joys of the SEC!
  8. The tradition: If you have ever been to an SEC football game, then you will understand how incredible the tradition is. Tennessee fans will be drunkenly singing Rocky Top, Bama fans obnoxiously yelling “Roll Tide,” Auburn fans constantly saying “War Eagle,” and Ole Miss fans adding their “Hotty Toddy” (whatever that means) to the mix. Any true SEC fan can agree that being a part of their team’s tradition is an experience like no other. That tradition forms an immediate bond between every single fan in the stadium and even fans across the country.
  9. The emotions: An SEC fan can experience the full range of emotions in just a matter of minutes. The perfect example: last year, Tennessee visited Florida. The Vols took a convincing lead over the Gators. My dad was a little smug and definitely very happy. Meanwhile I was visibly upset. Then Florida mounted a crazy comeback and won the game. I was in a state of disbelief; I could barely even form a sentence. Meanwhile my dad could barely stomach a single bite of food. That game caused both my dad and me to experience more emotion than we would have watching an Oscar-nominated drama. And SEC football does that for the rest of the fans on a regular basis too.
  10. The pride: Last but not least, here in SEC Country there are two kinds of pride that many of us can understand. There is the obvious pride that goes along with your favorite team winning a game or having a good season. Then there is the SEC pride that comes from the realization that your team is a part of the best conference in college football. I prefer Gator pride any day, but my SEC pride will do when my Gators are not able to deliver.

I am a woman of my word. I said that I would only subject you to ten of my reasons, and that is what I did. But if you want some more SEC love you can interact with me on Twitter, @OGKristenB! Or even if you are just as bored as I am waiting for football to come back into your life then you can find me on Twitter to empathize. After all, misery loves company.

O Defense, Where Art Thou?

“ I am a man of constant sorrow.”

Surely you remember that great song, done by the Soggy Bottom Boys, from the movie whose name spawned the title of this piece.

The opening line of that traditional American folk tune surely seems to ring true for the Auburn family, and particularly where defense is concerned.

Just when things began to appear to take shape… BOOM! … Coach Will Muschamp is named head coach at South Carolina. And, he takes defensive back coach, Travaris Robinson, with him. Good for them. Godspeed and good luck!

But that leaves Auburn back at square one… Again.

This will be the eighth defensive coordinator change on the Plains since Gene Chizik left, after the 2004 season, to take the same position at the University of Texas. That’s more turnover than the apple pie variety at a 24 hour diner. But not as tasty.

David Gibbs, Will Muschamp (round one), Paul Rhoads, Ted Roof, Brian VanGorder, Ellis Johnson, Will Muschamp (deux), and, fill in the blank, compose the merry-go-round that has been churning at Auburn during that time span. Auburn has not, truly, had a salty defense in the Auburn tradition since Tommy Tuberville made his exit following the 2008 campaign.

Speaking of Tommy Tuberville, he was also, in good part, the inspiration for this humble column.

I was in Atlanta, this past weekend, soaking in the SEC Championship Game festivities in and around the Georgia Dome. I was joined by four Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity brothers from my days at Troy University, circa 1974-76. One is a Gator (the gracious brother who pulled this all together). Another is a Georgia Bull-DOGGIE. The third, a Bama fan, and I pulled up the rear as the representative War Eagle.

To say a good time was had by all would be a gross understatement. More on that later over coffee, of the Irish sort, if any one of you so desires.

Back to Tubby.

After we brothers parted ways I made my way down to the College Football Hall of Fame, which is right there near CNN Center and the Dome. I am ashamed to say I had never been there prior to to this time. And let me say that it is a MUST, A+++, Five star, whatever. Go! Now! Drive! Fly! Just do it!IMG_2452

I upgraded to a season pass after I completed my, four hours of bliss, visit.

And, you don’t have to be a rabid fan, like myself, to enjoy the experience. Casual fans and non-football fans should enjoy it immensely. Everyone should enjoy it.

Enough of that endorsement. Let’s try again to get back to Tubby.

My host guided me through the sign-up process and my Auburn helmet lit up on the gargantuan wall in the spacious entry area of the Hall. I was then informed, by another host, as I was looking lost while gawking at the splendor of it all, that coaches David Cutcliffe, Bill Curry, and Tommy Tuberville were seated nearby. They were signing autographs before they were to participate on a panel for an event that takes place, weekly, on the “field” in the adjacent room.IMG_2455

That was the jolt to my system that I needed after two nights of revelry in downtown Hotlanta!

I made my way to the table and chatted, briefly, with each coach. Hog Heaven!

My conversation with Coach Tuberville consisted, partially, of thanks for his time in The Loveliest Village. I told him that we miss him, and what we really, REALLY miss is his defense. ( He brought up the six-game winning streak over Alabama). 😉

The fact-of-the-matter is, we haven’t had a good defense since Thomas Hawley Tuberville patrolled the sidelines at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Humor me. Here are the the defensive stats, total yards and points per game, since Tubs departed Auburn.IMG_2457

2010 368.4 ypg and 24.07 ppg (and remember, Auburn won the National Championship Game that year with Nick Fairley and company on D)
2011 408.0 ypg and 28.9 ppg
2012 420.5 ypg and 28.3 ppg
2013 420.7 ypg and 24.7 ppg (played for the Natty)
2014 398.8 ypg and 26.7 ppg
2015 421.8 ypg and 27.3 ppg

That’s grim, folks.

But take heart! We’re not Kansas! (561 ypg and 46.1 ppg) Mercy!

Tuberville’s best D was in 2004 with Gene Chizik as defensive coordinator-273 ypg and 11.3 ppg.

Yes, O defense, where art thou?

So, where do we go from here? First of all is the hiring of a good defensive coordinator. One of the first names to surface is Charles Kelly, the DC at Florida State. He played for Auburn and finished in 1990. He would be a good one. We shall see.

And then there’s the matter of the upcoming bowl game. It ain’t far folks! Get your tickets and head to Birmingham to support the Tigers! Gus Malzahn is at a critical juncture in his tenure at Auburn and needs all hands-on-deck.

Auburn’s opponent, as most of you know, is Memphis. Tigers vs. Tigers. It should be a dandy! (We miss you, Keith Jackson!)

The practice time Auburn gets to prepare for this contest is valuable. Muschamp will not coach the defense, obviously, as he has taken the head coach position at South Carolina. It would be nice to get someone on board to familiarize himself with his future talent on defense.

One reason Auburn struggled on defense in 2015 is the offense. It was nowhere near Gus Malzahn standards. That HUNH has not been hurrying and, last season, it didn’t score points as it has in past years under Malzahn. THAT MUST CHANGE!

I wrote, a couple of weeks back, that these are the times that try men’s souls. They absolutely are that.

The past is the past.

It is what it is.

The time is now.

And now is the time for all good fans to come to the aid of their football team.

Stay tuned, folks. Good, bad, or indifferent, there are some interesting times in front of us.

But, in closing, let me say this. If the other team can’t score, they have no chance to win the football game. That 11.3 ppg would be fantastic, but those days are a distant memory. Gone with the wind, if you will. I will “settle” for something under 20 ppg. 😉

O defense, where art thou?

Auburn: To Be Or Not To Be… Consistent

The 2015 regular season is now in the books for the Auburn Tigers. It was a disappointing one, but the problems and inconsistencies did not begin on September 5, 2015, when Auburn played Louisville in the Chick-fil-a Kickoff Game. They began, at a minimum, on November 8, 2014, when Auburn played Texas A&M at home. At least that’s when the problems reared their ugly head.

Since that fateful afternoon on The Plains the Tigers’ record stands at 7-10. The SEC record is far, far worse. It stands at 2-9. 2-9!!! Chew on that for a moment. Two and NINE.

Prior to kickoff on January 6, 2014, when Auburn was about to play Florida State for the final BCS National Championship,  everything appeared to be bright and “Rose-y”.

Since then, and in the aftermath of The Tigers’ gallant, but sobering, loss in the 2015 Iron Bowl… not so much.

Even the most pessimistic of Auburn fans could not see coming what has, since, transpired.

That would be a 14-11 overall record and 6-10 in the SEC.

I have mentioned before, in this slot, that the 2015 edition of the Auburn Tigers is not ‘2012 Deux’. Obviously. But let’s hope they respond to adversity as the 2012 team did in 2013.

The 2015 group that left EVERYTHING on the field this past Saturday is to be commended for a great effort against what appears to be the best team in the country. The “best team in the country?” did have able assistance from an acutely inept Tom Ritter SEC officiating crew. No holding calls? Seriously? Look at the tape.

That’s not the first time that Ritter and his gang of blind mice have been accused of being less than efficient. The groans and complaints on Mr. Magoo’s gang resonate loudly, from Columbia to Gainesville to Baton Rogue to Knoxville, each and EVERY autumn.

http://www.foxsports.com/college-football/story/alabama-tennessee-sec-officiating-replay-review-102514

But that is not the point. Alabama was the better team and they deserved to win. Good for them.

And Florida, don’t think that you have a snowball’s chance in the bowels of Hades in the SEC Championship Game, you don’t. Not that you haven’t overachieved and had an SEC East best season, you  have.

But there is not a remote possibility the the SEC powers-that-be are going to stand by twiddling their thumbs and allow their best shot at a Natty go by the wayside. They won’t.

Alabama has a very, very good football team and has every opportunity to become a great one. They could. They should beat the Gators, handily, under any circumstances.

But you can bet that if, somehow, the SEC Championship Game turned out to be a nail-biter, that the crimson and white could very well get close, and/or, questionable calls.

No, this is not sour grapes. This is the reality in which Auburn and the other twelve SEC participants live. I have watched it with my own eyes for the past fifty-five years. “If you need a yard against Alabama, you’d better get three.” That, according to Pat Dye.

And, let me reiterate, The University of Alabama has an excellent football team and I consider them the premier program in the country. They have the most talent and the best head coach in college football today.

I congratulate them on that and I wish them good luck in the future.

I digress.

Let’s get back to the Auburn Tigers and the reality of the universe in which the Tiger faithful live here on December 1, 2015.

But first we will take a look at the Auburn program since Pat Dye retired in 1992. (And Dye’s record in HIS final two years were 5-5-1 in 1991 and 5-6 in 1992).

Terry Bowden

1993  11-0

1994  9-1-1

1995  8-4

1996  8-4

1997  9-3

1998  1-5

(Bill Oliver went 2-3 after Bowden’s departure in the ’98 season)

Tommy Tuberville

1999  5-6

2000  9-4

2001  7-5

2002  9-4

2003  8-5

2004  13-0

2005  9-3

2006  11-2

2007  9-4

2008  5-7

Gene Chizik

2009  8-5

2010  14-0

2011  8-5

2012  3-9

Gus Malzahn

2013  12-2

2014  8-5

2015  6-6 ( to this point)

So, what’s the take on all that?

There have been some good years, some very good years, some great years, and some phenomenal years (’93, ’04 & 2014). But the one thing that stands out to me is inconsistency. Auburn simply has not been able to put together consistent stretch runs as it did, however briefly, during the Pat Dye Era when they won 4 SEC Championships from 1983-1989. ’87-’89 saw them win three-in-a-row.

Up and down and mediocre has BEEN the consistent theme.

Auburn is going to have to somehow develop that consistency that has eluded them over the past twenty plus seasons. How do they do that?

Well, you start with recruiting. Recruiting has been quite good for the past five or six classes but it does appear that they have whiffed on a few prospects that were hoped to be dynamic and impactful players. And two of those players were quarterbacks, Kiehl Frazier and Jeremy Johnson.

That hurts. It really hurts.

Again, I’ve quoted this before, Pat Dye (yes, quoting him again and with good reason) once said that, “It all starts at quarterback.” It does. And missing, for whatever reason, on that critical position has been, IMHO, one of THE most damning issues Auburn has had in attempting to put together a great program that wins consistently.

Certainly there have been other issues such as developing players, injuries, and just plain bad luck, but much of the problem in 2011, 2012, and 2015 was the play at the quarterback position. And Auburn is, at some point, going to have to recruit AND develop quarterbacks and not keep bringing in JUCO talent. The best they have done, lately, is with Cam Newton and Nick Marshall… JUCO players.

So what about defense?

I think Auburn has their man in Will Muschamp. The defense has begun to really turn it around under his leadership. They are communicating much better. They are tackling much better. And they are playing with that ferocious intensity that you would have expected them to develop under Muschamp.

The defense really got after it in the Alabama game. The overall effort in the Iron Bowl was superb. I think the team really grew up this past Saturday. Now, going into bowl season, they truly have something to build on as they approach the 2016 season.

2016 will be a pivotal year. Make no mistake about it. Gus Malzahn, and his staff, might or might not be coaching for their jobs in the next campaign. I hope they are not. But if the team does not show marked improvement next season there will be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Of that, you can be sure.

6-6. 2-6 in conference play. Last place in the division. What team would you have attributed those stats to prior to the 2015 season? Vanderbilt? Kentucky? Mississippi State? It sure as hell would not have been the Auburn Tigers.

But, I have faith in Gus Malzahn. I have faith in Will Muschamp (No, I don’t believe he’s going anywhere). And,  I have faith in the players that will return in 2016. They became men in the Iron Bowl.

Also, there is some great looking talent coming in the next recruiting class. That group may wind up as another top ten class.

I can see the pieces falling in place for Auburn, much as they did prior to the 1993 and 2004 seasons.

No, I’m not suggesting that the 2016 Auburn Tigers will go undefeated. But next season could go a long way in propelling the program toward consistency that is long, LONG overdue.