There was a great slate of games around the country this weekend. Oklahoma took down Baylor, Oregon surprisingly took down former top-10 member Stanford, and Indiana took Michigan to double overtime. However, inside the Southeastern Conference, it was much calmer, save for Arkansas’ upset and Gary Pinkel’s retirement, both of which we’ll touch on later. Alabama went about their business and defeated Mississippi State 31-6, Florida escaped South Carolina 24-14, Vanderbilt got their second conference win, and Georgia and Missouri both won toss up games, but were by no means important games.
Normally, I would intro this column with a multi-paragraph lead, but I ended up writing much more in my thoughts section than I had originally intended, so I’m keeping it short and brief. Let’s get on with my thoughts from around the SEC.
1. Gary Pinkel will be retiring come December 31st.
Missouri’s head coach announced Friday that he had diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma back in May and had been receiving treatment for it. His form of lymphoma had no cure, and Pinkel decided that after this season he wanted to spend more time with his family, rather than coach six days a week, nine months of the year. Pinkel’s departure will make 15 years of steadfast improvement and remarkable consistency. In only four of Pinkel’s 15 seasons as head coach did the Tigers not qualify for a bowl game, and made seven consecutively starting in 2005 through 2011. This achievement is underscored by the numerous players who have come back to coach for him as assistants. Throughout Pinkel’s career, he’s shown incredible loyalty to both his staff and players, which has shown over the past few days with many former players offering the best wishes to Pinkel.
This Missouri team currently sits at 5-5, and you’d better believe that Pinkel’s players will want to make a bowl game for their coach. Insert the “Pinkel-Factor”. Watch Pinkel’s post-game interview from Saturday which was hijacked by his players, who swarmed him on the field yelling, “GP…GP aay!” and you’ll see that these players really love their coach. With Tennessee and Arkansas their only remaining opponents, they’ll be doing everything in their might to win at least one of those.
Now for Pinkel’s replacement. Pinkel stated in his press conference that’d he’d be willing to give Athletic Director Mack Rhoades any help he needs during the search for Pinkel’s replacement. Outside of maybe USC or Miami, Rhoades might be in the best position to land a quality coach. Missouri has shown the willingness to pay their coaches well, evidenced by Pinkel’s yearly base salary of $3.1 million. Rhoades also has in-roads to the two most sough after coaches in college football, Tom Herman and Justin Fuente. This time last year, Rhoades was the athletic director at Houston, and was the man who hired Herman. Rhoades also has the benefit of having Barry Odom on the coaching staff (a head coach candidate if Rhoades decided to keep things in house), who was the defensive coordinator at Memphis last year for Fuente.
If Missouri’s final choice boils down to between Fuente and Herman, it could come down to money. If either coach were to leave for Missouri, they’d have to pay a buyout penalty, for which Missouri would foot the bill. Fuente’s buyout is a mere $500,000, small change for a school reaping the benefits of the SEC Network. However, Herman, by Rhoades doing, has a buyout penalty of just over $2 million. Missouri will pay their coach, regardless of who it is, but $2 million is a steep price to pay just to hire him.
2. We live in a world where Arkansas can finish 2nd in the SEC West.
Arkansas, the same team who finished the first half of the season 2-4, now has an opportunity to finish second in the SEC West. This is the same team that lost to Toledo and Texas Tech in back-to-back weeks. Welp, that team went on a ludicrous four game win streak in which they’ve won two of those in overtime, beat LSU, and averaged 50 points per game over that stretch. They have only Mississippi State and Missouri remaining on their schedule, and a full head of steam after throttling LSU 31-14 on Saturday in Baton Rouge.
Now the question is, does Bielema get fired? Can you fire a head coach who comes in second place in the SEC West? How are we debating this? The fact of the matter is, Bielema has been a not-so-great head coach during his time at Arkansas. His record there now stands at 16-19, and would need to win out the season plus a bowl game to get to .500 after three years. My personal opinion would be to fire him. This may sound crazy, but I would never bet on Bielema to consistently win seven games a season in the SEC. He’s shown severe deficiencies as an in-game strategist, and loses games he absolutely shouldn’t. The guy has a decent quarterback, an All-American tight end, and a 1,000+ yard rusher, and is just now putting all those together to put those pieces together…after three years. Like I’ve said before, fire him this offseason, take the criticism, and hire one of the many quality coaches who will be floating around on the market.
3. Fournette vs. Henry
Last week, I still steadfastly remaining in Fournette’s corner. He had one bad (ok, really bad) game, but it was against the best front seven in the nation and he still had been the workhorse for LSU. After his 91 yard performance against unranked Arkansas on Saturday, and Henry’s 204 yard performance against #17 Mississippi State, Fournette has pushed himself out of the race. Fournette’s recent struggles may simply be because of the workload. Last season, Fournette had only 187 carries, 64th in nation. This season, he’s on pace for 256 carries during the regular season, not to mention bowl games. 256 carries on the season would’ve put him at 18th in the nation last year. Asking a 20-year-old to carry that much more work is a lot to ask of a player, regardless of how physically dominant they are. At a certain point, the body slows down simply because it can’t take it anymore. Keep in mind, that Fournette has been in a college nutrition and weight-lifting plan for only a year and a half, and he’s being used like someone who’s been in that plan for double that time.
Fournette’s Heisman will come next year, but for now, Henry is the frontrunner and it looks like it’ll stay that way.
4. Reviewing my breakout player predictions.
In September, I published my list of guys who I thought would finally have their breakout season and live up to the hype. Now that the season is winding down, let’s take a look at how each of them have performed.
Hunter Henry, Arkansas TE: 37 receptions, 490 receiving yards, 1 TD. Henry is on track to surpass both his career highs in catches and receiving yards, but still has lacked in the scoring department. He hasn’t been exactly the force I’d hoped, but still a better overall season than last.
Ricky Seals-Jones, Texas A&M WR: 37/473/2. Seals-Jones hasn’t lived up to his hype or physical gifts (he’s 6-5, 235lbs.), but like Henry, he’s on track to have career highs in receptions and receiving yards. Seals-Jones has also increased his yards per catch, too.
Jeremy Johnson, Auburn QB: 71-114 completion-attempts, 710 passing yards, 6 TD:7 INT. Johnson was the preseason hype champion, and was benched three games in, before being resurrected over the past two games. Perhaps unfairly, Johnson was lauded as the next Cam Newton, but he clearly doesn’t have his passing or running ability
Alex McCalister, Florida DE: 6.5 sacks, 9.5 TFLs, 0 FF. McCalister has been somewhat inconsistent this season, with 4.5 sacks coming in two games. He’s already surpassed his career highs in sacks and tackles for loss, but injured his foot against South Carolina Saturday to it remains to be determined how long he’ll be out.
Skai Moore, South Carolina LB: 94 tackles, 6.5 TFLs, 4 interceptions. Moore has been about the positive for South Carolina’s season. He picked off UNC’s Marquisse Williams twice in the endzone to start the season and give the Gamecocks one of their three wins. Outside of Missouri’s Kentrell Brothers and Florida’s Antonio Morrison, Moore has been the best overall linebacker in the conference
Cameron Sutton, Tennessee CB: 24 tackles, 0 interceptions , 4 pass deflections. Sutton has hurt his draft stock just about as badly as one could with his performance this season. Sutton finished 2014 with 13 knockdowns and three interceptions en route to being voted Third-Team All-SEC as a sophomore. Sutton’s production has vastly dropped off this year, and the Vols secondary has given up two game-winning touchdowns this season
Derrick Henry, Alabama RB: 1,458 rushings yards, 6.1 average, 19 TDs. This was a cop out pick, but Henry has increased his production from 990 rushing yards to almost surpassing Fournette for the NCAA lead. Henry looks to be the inevitable Heisman winner.
5. College Football Playoff Predictions.
I’m a firm believer that given what we saw last year, the last two weeks of the regular season are massively more important for the selection committee than any other period of the year. Yes, a bad loss or close win holds sway over their decision, but I think ultimately they want to see which one-loss or undefeated team is playing the best football over the last two weeks. So, over the next three weeks I’ll be giving my predictions as to who makes the playoff.
- Ohio State
- Notre Dame
- Oklahoma State
Alabama didn’t just beat Mississippi State, they absolutely demolished them. The defense held Dak Prescott to 14 rush yards on 26 carries and didn’t allow him to score a touchdown on the ground or in the air. They’ve played like the best team in the nation for three weeks now, thus deserving the main top spot. Clemson hasn’t done anything that would remove them from being in the playoff, and I don’t see them losing to either Wake Forest or South Carolina.
The third and fourth spot are a more fluid situation. Ohio State has to play Michigan State and Michigan, and could drop one of those two games, particularly Michigan. Ohio State hasn’t played particularly well this season, and a loss could force them out of a playoff spot. I put Oklahoma in the fourth spot because of their victory over Baylor, but the fourth spot is up for grabs. Any combination of Oklahoma, Notre Dame, or Oklahoma State could make the fourth spot, depending on how their season shakes out. Oklahoma has TCU and Oklahoma State left on their schedule, Notre Dame plays Boston College and Stanford, and Oklahoma State has Baylor and Oklahoma. All three teams could lose a game in that scenario, but Notre Dame has the most likely chance of coming out unscathed. If that were the case, the committee would have to put them in.