Add Virginia Tech to the list of schools that will be employing a new head coach come the 2016 season. Frank Beamer said he would retire following this season, bringing the list of FBS schools with vacancies to nine. While the offseason will be plenty interesting with coaches crisscrossing the country for job interviews, a more subtle storyline to watch will be how this will affect recruiting. We saw an example of this last season, when top-ranked recruit Byron Cowart flipped to Auburn following the dismissal of Will Muschamp at Florida. There’s still plenty of time between now and Signing Day, but recruits that were once thought to be “locks” may now be not such a sure thing. Look out for more last minute official visits and more pressure from coaches as they try to flip recruits away from a program with an uncertain situation at head coach.
On another note, there won’t be any SEC Preview for this weekend. I’ll be traveling all of Friday and Missouri plays on Thursday, meaning my time to write will be limited towards the end of this week. Luckily other than LSU-Alabama, there aren’t many other juicy matchups or compelling storylines.
Anyways, on to my thoughts about the SEC from this weekend.
1. Jim McElwain went back to the Muschamp/Treon Harris offense.
Against Georgia on Saturday, Treon Harris attempted only 19 passes, and completed eight of those. Harris did have a passing touchdown, and he added 39 yards rushing on 10 carries. This game looked very similar to those from the 2014 season, which were defensive/special team affairs and had plenty of rough patches on offense. Harris executed the offense as efficiently as his physical abilities would allow him, but he really needs the read option to be a part of his game in order to open up an aerial attack. The problem with this comes from the fact that starting running back Kelvin Taylor has averaged 3.8 yards per carry this season. If the defense doesn’t have to worry about Taylor tearing them up, then they can focus more on taking away the pass. Taylor’s backups don’t have much going for them either. Both Jordan Cronkrite and Jordan Scarlett are true freshmen, and while Scarlett did have a nice game against Georgia, he hasn’t received any regular playing time and Cronkrite has yet to top 15 yards rushing in conference play. The read-option worked last year when Taylor wasn’t called upon to be the feature back, a role that fell to now NFLer Matt Jones, but Taylor’s lack of production will make it hard for Florida to move past the SEC Championship Game with Harris at quarterback.
2. Alex Collins reminds us he’s still around.
With a stable of running backs that consists of players like Nick Chubb, Leonard Fournette, and Derek Henry, it’s easy to forget that there are plenty of other good backs in the SEC as well. One of those is Arkansas’s Alex Collins, who ran for five touchdowns on Saturday. The caveat here is that it was against Tennessee-Martin, but running for five touchdowns on 16 carries is still no easy task, regardless of the opponent. With his game this Saturday, Collins matched his career-high of 12 rushing touchdowns in a season. Collins has also rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of his three seasons at Arkansas, and kept his yards per carry over 5.0. Collins has never put up eye-popping numbers, but once his career is over, he’ll be that guy who makes you say “wow, he rushed for over 1,000 yards in every season at Arkansas?” He’s never going to be elite, but he’d start for every team except for maybe ten or so other schools in the nation. So Mr. Collins, while you might be forgotten outside of Fayetteville in the swirling Bret Bielema quotes, here’s to you and your unfailing consistency of being very good.
4. Maty Mauk gets reinstated…then suspended six days later.
Missouri announced Sunday morning that former starting quarterback Maty Mauk would be suspended for the rest of the season and that his status would be revisited come the offseason. This doesn’t necessarily mean that Mauk’s time with the Missouri program has ended, but one would have to think that’s the case. Mauk was reinstated on Monday and had been splitting reps with the first team in practice all week, most likely meaning that he’d get to use Missouri’s game against Mississippi State on Thursday as an audition for the starting role. It’s doubtful that Mauk did anything along of the lines of disrespecting coaches or players in practice, especially if he was given the chance to earn back the starting job. It was released Monday morning that Mauk had been involved in a “small squabble” outside The Fieldhouse Bar early Thursday morning, but there’s always more to it than that. If Mauk had only been involved in a small altercation, he likely would’ve been benched for the first game of the Mississippi State game, or something else along those guidelines. The fact that he’s gone for the rest of the season tells me more to this story, and it’s likely that the other extracurriculars that occurred never see print.
4. JT Barrett and pay-for-play.
I try to keep this column related to the SEC as much as possible, but the JT Barrett suspension brings up a number of points that will end up affecting the SEC in the future, as well as the broader scope of college football. In case you weren’t aware, Barrett was arrested for an OVI this past weekend, and has been suspended for the Minnesota game and will forfeit his scholarship for a semester. However, it will not be for this fall semester, nor the spring, but rather the summer semester. For those Summer semester tuition is set up differently than a full semester, because it’s done by credit hours, which means it can fluctuate, rather than a set baseline. If Barrett were to only take one class (three credit hours) this summer, according to their 2015 fees, he’d end up paying about $1,200. Do you really believe that Barrett will ever pay this? $1,200 to boosters is a laughably small sum of money. Urban Meyer essentially suspended him for a powderpuff game and said he has to take a summer class, which total bullcrap. It’s just the way college football is today, which is really sad. The bigger point of this comes from the fact a player essentially was fined. You know who else gets fined for poor performance or bad decisions? Professional athletes, who are employed by their leagues. With this decision, Urban Meyer may have opened a can of worms in the case for paying college players. Down the road when college players ultimately end up profiting off their performance (as they should), this method of punishment for Barrett may represent one of the cornerstones of the argument.
5. Let’s take the coaching temperature of the SEC.
It seems like a good idea to just take a moment and make sure we know where all the head coaches in the SEC stand. With coaches being fired, retiring, or resigning, perhaps it’s a good idea to see who remains standing. I’m going to rank which programs are most likely to least likely to have a different head coach next fall.
- South Carolina – Given the plethora of quality candidates, it’s doubtful interim head coach Shawn Elliott continues on in the fall as head coach.
- Arkansas – Bret Bielema is rocketing towards another 5-7 season, which would put his overall record after three years at 15-22. Bielema failed to capitalize on last year’s strong finish by starting off this season 1-3.
- Kentucky – Mark Stoops is in a similar position as Bielema. He was brought in to turn around struggling program, and has yet to have any sort of consistent success. Kentucky was primed for a seven or eight win season, and are 4-4 after a three game losing streak, during which they’ve been outscored 124 to 64.
- Tennessee – Tennessee’s struggles have been well-documented this season, especially Butch Jones’s inability to correctly close out games. He may stick around with a strong finish in November and a nice bowl win, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Tennessee AD Dave Hart decides to go with another candidate.
- Georgia – It’s questionable to say that Mark Richt will be gone after this season, but I’d say there’s about a 35% chance he’s gone. He won’t fired, but may go with the Steve Spurrier route and step down. The Bulldogs have looked awful since Nick Chubb’s injury, and are 3-3. Richt hasn’t won an SEC since 2005, a surprising stat when you consider how good his recruiting classes have been.
- Texas A&M – The only reason I singled out the Aggies on this list is because there have been very quiet rumblings about Kevin Sumlin leaving for the NFL. However, if I were Sumlin, I’d stay in College Station. He’s got a team loaded with young stars and can compete for a national title over the next two to three years.
- Auburn, Missouri, Vanderbilt – Despite disappointing seasons for Auburn and Missouri, neither Gus Malzahn or Gary Pinkel will be fired, they’ve been around too long with too much success. Derek Mason has only been at Vanderbilt for two years, and is building a decent team considering what he has to work with.
- Ole Miss and Mississippi State – Yes, both teams have had a disappointing losses this season problems with consistency, but they both still only have two losses each. Neither football team was really relevant before their head coach got there, so while there has been regression from last season, they’re not going anywhere.
- Alabama, LSU, Florida – All three teams are competing for a playoff spot, so they’re fine.