Florida Gators: Nick Saban
Alabama’s Kirby Smart makes $1.35 million per year and, at least for now, is the second-highest-paid defensive coordinator in the state.
How is that possible?
This is how: The price for good defense in college football is skyrocketing, especially in this era of offense being played at breakneck pace and 57 FBS teams averaging more than 30 points per game this season.
It’s the reason Auburn went out and made one of Smart’s best friends, former Florida coach Will Muschamp, the highest-paid coordinator (offense or defense) in college football. Muschamp’s blockbuster deal will pay him in excess of $1.6 million per year, which according to USA Today’s recent study, is more than at least 60 FBS head coaches earned this season.
That’s some serious dough to be paying a coordinator, but Auburn is serious about establishing the kind of identity on defense that it has on offense under Gus Malzahn.
What’s more, there’s also the business of keeping up with Alabama, which outgunned Auburn 55-44 a few weeks ago in the Iron Bowl, sending the Tigers to their fourth loss. In all four of those losses this season, Auburn gave up at least 34 points.
Less than 24 hours after the loss to Alabama, Malzahn fired veteran defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, who has a pretty spiffy résumé of his own. But Auburn struggled to stop people most of the season, and even though the Tigers played for the national championship a year ago, Malzahn felt like he had to make a move on defense.
It was already a foregone conclusion that Muschamp was going to be one of the hottest free agents out there after getting the boot at Florida with two games remaining in the regular season, which made Malzahn’s decision to part ways with Johnson only that much easier.
South Carolina and Texas A&M had also set their sights on Muschamp, who had the luxury of sitting back and seeing how everything played out. He walked away from Florida with a $6 million parting gift and his reputation as one of the top defensive minds in the game fully intact.
Few defensive coaches around the country are more respected than Muschamp, who runs the same 3-4 defense Alabama does under Nick Saban and Smart and has a keen eye for the kind of player he’s looking for in his scheme.
Muschamp’s problems at Florida were on offense. The Gators were a load on defense every year he was there. In fact, they’re the only team in the SEC to finish in the top 10 nationally in total defense each of the past four seasons. They allowed just 4.45 yards per play this season; only four teams in the country were better (Clemson, Penn State, Stanford and UCF).
The Gators gave up 21.2 points per game this season, which was their highest average under Muschamp.
His true value goes a lot a deeper than numbers, though. His defenses play with a passion and a bloody-your-nose mindset that are infectious, and it also doesn’t hurt that he knows Alabama’s defensive scheme inside and out.
Saban has said the two guys who know how to run his defense exactly the way he wants it run are Smart and Muschamp.
The challenge for Muschamp will be incorporating his style of defense into Malzahn’s hurry-up, no-huddle system on offense. As a rule, the two don’t always go together, and one of the tricky parts is being able to find the right balance on the practice field, where, as a defensive coach, you feel like you’re able to be physical enough to keep your edge.
One of the reasons Muschamp was comfortable with signing on as Malzahn’s defensive coordinator was that Malzahn, for all the talk about his being a spread coach, believes deeply in running the ball. The Tigers are not one of these spread teams that’s going to throw it on every down.
It’s an offensive world right now in college football. Every game is on television, and the people who write the checks love points and love being entertained.
Most of the marquee head-coaching jobs are going to offensive guys right now. That’s no coincidence.
But it’s also no coincidence that the teams winning national championships are also playing championship defense. Only one of the past 10 BCS national champions (Auburn in 2010) has finished outside of the top 10 nationally in total defense.
The game’s changing, no doubt, but not to the point where defensive coaches of Muschamp’s ilk are devalued.
As Auburn showed us Friday night, people are still willing to pay top dollar to get them.
It didn't seem as if we'd ever get here, but in a couple of hours, the inside of the Wynfrey Hotel will be transformed into a circus. The arrival of SEC media days brings us ever closer to the start of the 2014 season. Remember, this is the first season in which we'll be seeing an actual playoff end the season. That right there might be too much to digest.
But before we dive into the nitty-gritty of the season, we're turning our attention to SEC media days. It's where you can have 1,000 media members all together -- along with a lobby jam-packed with ravenous fans (usually Alabama ones) -- crowding around kids and coaches.
It really is a beautiful thing, and here are 10 things to keep an eye on this week in Hoover:
1. Life without Marshall: Monday was supposed to be a chance for Auburn to truly introduce quarterback Nick Marshall to the world. Sure, we've all seen what he can do with a football in his hand, but this was where we were supposed to hear Auburn's quarterback talk about all he does with a football. After all, Marshall could be a Heisman Trophy candidate this fall. But after Marshall was cited for possession of a small amount of marijuana Friday, he's out for media days. Tight end C.J. Uzomah will take his place. Marshall should be here to own up to his mistake. He should be here to take responsibility, but he isn't. Now his coach and teammates have to do that.
3. Mason's debut: Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason is headed to the big leagues, but his first official stop as the man in charge of the Commodores is in Hoover. This ain't Stanford, and it definitely isn't the Pac-12. He'll meet a throng of media members inside a gigantic ballroom. He'll be bombarded with questions about replacing James Franklin, and we'll all wonder if he has what it takes to keep Vandy relevant. Will he wow us during his introductory news conference? Or will he take the businesslike approach and just try to get through such a long day?
4. Muschamp's hot seat: After a 4-8 season that saw an anemic offense and a loss to FCS foe Georgia Southern, Florida coach Will Muschamp is feeling the heat under his seat. While he has been very collected about the pressure he should be feeling, he knows that this is the most important season of his tenure. To be fair, Florida dealt with an unfair amount of important injuries, but that means nothing now. Muschamp has yet to take Florida back to the SEC title and is 0-3 against archrival Georgia. Muschamp knows he has to win, and he and his players will be grilled about it all day today.
5. Sumlin dealing with distractions: Johnny Manziel might be gone, but Texas A&M is still dealing with distractions away from the football. Before Kevin Sumlin could even get to media days, he had to dismiss two of his best defensive players in linebacker Darian Claiborne and defensive tackle Isaiah Golden, who were arrested on charges of aggravated robbery earlier this year. One of his quarterbacks -- Kenny Hill -- also was arrested in March on a public intoxication charge. Once again, Sumlin will have to talk about more than just football this week.
7. Mauk's composure: Speaking of Missouri's quarterback, he's an incredibly interesting character to watch. He went 3-1 as a starter in place of the injured James Franklin last season, and has the right attitude and moxie that you want in a quarterback. Is he ready to be the guy full time? Is he ready to lead without a stud like Dorial Green-Beckham to throw to or Franklin to help him? A lot of veteran leadership is gone, so all eyes are on Mauk. He's also a very confident person who isn't afraid to speak his mind. Let's hope he's on his game.
8. Players and the playoff: This is the first season of the College Football Playoff, and we've received just about everyone's opinion on the matter. Well, almost. We haven't heard much from the people who might be playing in it. What do players think about it? Are there too many games now? Not enough? Do they care about the bowl experience? Do they even care about the playoff?
9. What do players think about getting paid? With the Power Five a real thing and autonomy becoming more of a reality, what do the players think about it all? What are their thoughts on the prospect of getting some sort of compensation from their schools? Are they getting enough now? How much is enough?
10. What will Spurrier say? Need I say more? We all want to know what Steve Spurrier will say. Will he take shots at Georgia or Saban? Will Dabo Swinney come up? Will another coach be a target? Who knows, and who cares? We just want him to deliver some patented Spurrier gold!
As of Friday, the SEC has seven teams ranking within the top 15 of the ESPN's RecruitingNation team rankings. Five of those teams -- Alabama, Texas A&M, Auburn, LSU and Tennessee -- are ranked inside the top 10. Alabama, which has 18 verbal commitments (16 ESPN 300 members), is No. 1, while Texas A&M (13 verbal commits/nine ESPN 300 members) is ranked second.
Here's a complete look at how the SEC is faring on the recruiting front, as we enter the month of June:
2015 verbal commitments: 18
Spotlight: You know that Nick Saban loves collecting gems in the secondary, and that's exactly what he has in four-star cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick of Jersey City, N.J. He's a very smart corner who has good size -- with room to grow -- to compete with bigger receivers.
ESPN 300 members: 16 (Fitzpatrick; WR Calvin Ridley of Coconut Creek, Fla.; WR Daylon Charlot of Patterson, La.; DT Jonathan Ledbetter of Tucker, Ga.; TE Hale Hentest of Jefferson City, Mo.; OLB Mekhi Brown of Columbus, Ga.; OG Lester Cotton of Tuscaloosa, Ala.; S Deionte Thompson of Orange, Texas; S Shawn Burgess-Becker of Coconut Creek, Fla.; RB DeSherrius Flowers of Prichard, Ala.; OG Richie Petitbon of Washington, D.C.; DE Christian Bell of Birmingham, Ala.; DT T.D. Moton of Shreveport, La.; OG Dallas Warmack of Atlanta)
2015 verbal commitments: 8
Spotlight: Defensive tackle Hjalte Froholdt of Warren, Ohio, is exactly what Bret Bielema wants and needs along his defensive line. The ESPN 300 member could add some weight, but has nice strength and quickness to make him a valuable get for the Razorbacks.
ESPN 300 members: 2 (Froholdt; DE Jamario Bell of Junction City, Ark.)
2015 verbal commitments: 15
Spotlight: Athlete Kerryon Johnson of Madison, Ala., is not only the third-ranked athlete in this class, he's the No. 1-ranked player in the state of Alabama. With his combination of size, speed and strength, Johnson could line up all over. He could be a running back or safety for the Tigers.
ESPN 300 members: 6 (Johnson; OLB Jordan Colbert of Griffin, Ga.; S Ben Edwards of Jacksonville, Fla.; OG Kaleb Kim of Hoschton, Ga.; ATH D'Anfernee McGriff of Tallahassee, Fla.; OG Marquel Harrell of Fairburn, Ga.)
2015 verbal commitments: 8
Spotlight: The Gators need to upgrade in the offensive playmaking department and athlete Derrick Dillon of Franklington, La., has made a lot of noise as a quarterback, but will likely play receiver at the next level. With his speed and explosiveness, he'll fit right in with Kurt Roper's up-tempo, spread offense.
ESPN 300 members: 4 (Dillon; OG Tyler Jordan of Jacksonville, Fla.; WR Tristan Payton of Jacksonville, Fla.; S Deontai Williams of Jacksonville, Fla.)
2015 verbal commitments: 9
Spotlight: Athlete Terry Godwin of Hogansville, Ga., could hit a couple positions of need for the Bulldogs. He has excellent ball skills to be a cornerback and his hands yell wide receiver. His speed and athleticism should only get better as the year progresses.
ESPN 300 members: 4 (Godwin; DE Chauncey Rivers of Stone Mountain, Ga.; DE Natrez Patrick of Atlanta; S Rico McGraw of Nashville)
2015 verbal commitments: 9
Spotlight: As the Wildcats look to enhance their defensive talent, outside linebacker Eli Brown of Bowling Green, Ky., is exactly what Mark Stoops needs. With questions and depth issues at linebacker, Stoops needs top-flight players to come in at that position, and Brown could be a great pass rusher for the Wildcats in the future.
ESPN 300 members: 1 (Brown)
2015 verbal commitments: 12
Spotlight: Cornerback Kevin Toliver II of Jacksonville, Fla., is the nation's top-rated corner prospect and has the build of that prototypical, elite LSU corner. He has great size and instincts, and excels in man coverage.
ESPN 300 members: 5 (Toliver; OG Maea Teuhema of Keller, Texas; RB Nick Brossette of Baton Rouge, La; RB Derrius Guice of Baton Rouge; S Kevin Henry of Baton Rouge)
2015 verbal commitments: 16
Spotlight: Outside linebacker Timothy Washington of Yazoo City, Miss., could provide some very good depth if junior linebacker Benardrick McKinney decides to leave early for the NFL. He's still a little raw, but has the speed and quickness to be a real threat off the edge.
ESPN 300 members: 1 (Washington)
2015 verbal commitments: 7
Spotlight: Quarterback Drew Lock of Lee's Summit, Mo., could come in handy for the Tigers in the future. This is Maty Mauk's team, but once he's gone, let the battle begin. Lock is more of a drop-back passer than Mauk, but knows how to buy himself time in the pocket.
ESPN 300 members: 1 (Lock)
2015 verbal commitments: 6
Spotlight: The Rebels will have to help their depth at running back, and Eric Swinney of Tyrone, Ga., is a quick, strong, explosive back who has the ability to hit the home-run ball at any moment. Swinney's natural talent and upside could give him the opportunity to compete for playing time early.
ESPN 300 members: 2 (Swinney; ATH Willie Hibbler of Sardis, Miss.)
2015 verbal commitments: 11
Spotlight: Defensive end Arden Key of Lithonia, Ga., has great size at 6 feet 5 inches, and has plenty of room to grow with his 210-pound frame. He also has solid speed to cause trouble as a pass rusher and has the patience/strength to play well against the run.
ESPN 300 members: 5 (Key; ILB Sherrod Pittman of Jacksonville, Fla.; CB Mark Fields II of Cornelius N.C.; DE Shameik Blackshear of Bluffton, S.C.; WR Jalen Christian of Damascus, Md.)
2015 verbal commitments: 11
Spotlight: Preston Williams of Lovejoy, Ga., is the prize of the class, as the nation's No. 2-ranked wide receiver. The Vols might have signed a couple of impressive receiving talents in the last couple of classes, but getting a big, physical and fast player like Williams on campus would be extra icing on the cake.
ESPN 300 members: 4 (Williams; DE Andrew Butcher of Alpharetta, Ga.; OG Jack Jones of Murfreesboro, Tenn.; ATH Jauan Jennings of Murfreesboro)
2015 verbal commitments: 13
Spotlight: Don't be surprised by all the foaming at the mouth from Aggies fans after the commitment of quarterback Kyler Murray of Allen, Texas. He's the nation's No. 1 dual-threat QB for a reason. He isn't the biggest player at 5-11, 170 pounds, but he has tremendous speed and athleticism and delivers a beautiful ball inside and outside of the pocket.
ESPN 300 members: 9 (Murray; DT Daylon Mack of Gladewater, Texas; S Larry Pryor Jr. of Sulphur Springs, Texas; WR Kemah Siverand of Houston; OT Trevor Elbert of Heath, Texas; TE Jordan Davis of Houston; OT Connor Lanfear of Buda, Texas; RB Jay Bradford of Splendora, Texas; S Justin Dunning of Whitehouse, Texas)
2015 verbal commitments: 3
Spotlight: Cornerback Donovan Sheffield of Nashville would fill a hole at a position of need once on campus. He's a very patient and smart player, who has exceptional coverage skills.
ESPN 300 members: 1 (Sheffield)
“I am not an agenda guy,” Bielema said. “I believe in playing by the rules and what it is. I love up-tempo offenses, I love going against them, I love competing against them, I respect coaches that believe in that system because it’s so much different than mine.
“I had one agenda: player safety. And that was the only thing that really became frustrating for me.”
With or without the silly 10-second rule, debate will rage on between coaches when it comes to up-tempo offenses and how it affects – or doesn’t affect – players’ health.
The fact is teams are trying to play faster. Even Florida coach Will Muschamp is jumping into the up-tempo ring, as new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper will have Florida going more no-huddle and pushing the tempo in 2014.
“It is, I think, growing, and it’s a fun brand of football for people to watch,” said Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze, who has really only known up-tempo offenses during his coaching tenure.
Cue more frustration from traditionalists.
Alabama coach Nick Saban talked this week about the number of “exposures” (how many plays, hits and contact practices players are involved in during a given season) players get and how going faster can affect them.
Saban said you can limit the studies to just concussions and “how many exposures a guy gets relative to how many concussive hits that he takes.” As he dove deeper into the subject, Saban injected some sarcasm into his feelings on how up-tempo offenses are making games longer for players because of the number of actual plays they run now.
“We act like the game doesn’t matter and most of the time our guys hit harder and play harder and it’s more physical in the games than it is in practice,” he said. “We have a longer game now when you play 85-90 plays a game. We used to average 65 plays a game. That’s three more games over the course of a season, so I guess it’s not logical at all to think that if guys are playing three more games -- 15 games instead of 12 -- there’d be any chance for more injuries.”
“Saban and Bielema said that studies are either out there or are being done about the dangers of hurry-up offenses, but to Freeze, he hasn’t seen them and doesn’t believe up-tempo offense provides any more health risks.
Our officials in our league do the best job in the country. They play fast, and the teams in our league, including ourselves moving forward, are gonna play fast, but let's just make sure the game's administered the right way and doesn't get out of control. Let the officials control the tempo of the game. Don't let the offenses control the tempo of the game.” -- Florida coach Will Muschamp
“I don’t think that it’s a fact,” Freeze said. “Certainly, you can keep up with injuries on teams that run tempo, as oppose to those that don’t. I’d love to see how that measures up. I don’t believe that it’s going to be a big difference. We train for this, just as they train for their type.
“As far as tempo offenses causing more injuries, I just haven’t seen it. Again, I’m not trying to be stubborn, hardheaded or totally biased to my way. I’d love to see it. I just don’t see that there’s a big difference.”
Muschamp sees this argument differently. He’s already discussed the player-safety agenda and said the real issue is the placement of officials on the field. His concern is that faster offenses mean slower officials and less time for either side to get set. What he’d like to see is better administration of the game.
If a substitution needs to be made, hold the ball and let both sides get set. If not, then Muschamp says go as fast as you want. What he doesn’t want is a ref jogging over to him while the ball is being snapped.
“Is that really what we want? I think what we all want is a good administration of the game,” he said. “Our officials in our league do the best job in the country. They play fast, and the teams in our league, including ourselves moving forward, are gonna play fast, but let’s just make sure the game’s administered the right way and doesn’t get out of control. Let the officials control the tempo of the game. Don’t let the offenses control the tempo of the game.
“If we want to play fast -- I’m not trying to slow anybody down, including ourselves -- I’m just saying let’s make sure we administer it the right way where guys are lined up, guys got their cleats in the dirt, and are ready to play. Once we’re able to do that, you can still play fast.”
Luckily for Muschamp, SEC officials are making speed a priority this fall. SEC coordinator of officials Steve Shaw said Thursday that officials are hurrying up to catch up and keep up with faster SEC offenses.
Shaw said he certainly doesn’t want officials walking to spot the ball, but he also doesn’t want them sprinting. Something right in the middle should be good enough to help both sides of the ball.
“We expect a crisp job,” Shaw said.
- SEC coaches seem to be split over continuing to schedule FCS opponents in the College Football Playoff era.
- Tennessee coach Butch Jones said he does not expect quarterback Riley Ferguson to return to the program.
- Arkansas coach Bret Bielema spoke to reporters in Destin Tuesday and said his rivalry with Auburn's Gus Malzahn has been blown out or proportion.
- Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity said UGA has made some progress attempting to schedule games against Notre Dame within the next decade.
- Bielema said Tuesday he isn't certain whether freshman cornerback Chris Murphy will remain a Razorback after completing high school early and enrolling at Arkansas prior to spring practice.
- Nick Saban, who gave Florida's Will Muschamp his first job coaching with a Division I team, said he is confident Muschamp's Gators will bounce back from a disappointing 4-8 season last year.
- Muschamp told reporters that he doesn't feel like he's under fire at Florida and rattled off a list of reasons why he's confident about his team for 2014.
- Michigan transfer J.J. McGrath hopes to eventually become a scholarship kicker at Mississippi State.
- Missouri and Arkansas will play their new cross-divisional rivalry game on Black Friday this season.
- SEC commissioner Mike Slive insisted that the NCAA's rules governing athlete-agent interactions create more problems than they solve.
- Some SEC schools have expressed an interest in selling beer inside their football stadiums. Georgia isn't one of them.
DESTIN, Fla. -- In a week that could be light when it comes to real news, a few coaches made their feelings known on the future of SEC schedules, and for once it had nothing to do with the number of conference games.
Now that the eight-game conference schedule format will live on for the foreseeable future, coaches were asked about the possibility of ending play with Football Championship Subdivision schools. This year, all 14 SEC teams play at least one FCS opponent.
If Florida coach Will Muschamp had it his way, the Gators would no longer play FCS teams.
The irony is that Florida lost to FCS opponent Georgia Southern (at home no less) 26-20 last season, but Muschamp understands that with strength of schedule now playing a factor in the selection process for the College Football Playoff, getting rid of FCS opponents will help his team’s chances in the future. It’s also something that greatly improves the product on the field for the people in the stands. You know, the people who don’t show up to watch the cupcakes.
“I think our fan base as much as anything wants to see better opponents,” Muschamp said. “So that’s kind of where we are with it.”
Make all the jokes you want about Georgia Southern’s win. Snicker about Michigan getting upset by Appalachian State a few years ago. Giggle about Virginia Tech getting shocked by James Madison.
Those games were great for the Cinderellas of the world, but they are nothing more than blips on the radar when it comes to the annual poundings those schools take from power five programs. They lessen the excitement for games and keep people out of seats.
“The first people that need to be taken into consideration here, who get no consideration, are the fans and the people who support the programs -- the quality of games for them -- so they want to come to the stadium and come to the games and support the programs and make it exciting for the players,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said Tuesday. “No, we do not want to play those types of teams. Sometimes we don’t have a choice.”
Earlier this month, Saban talked about the idea of the teams in the power five conferences (SEC, Big 12, Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12) playing only one another. His idea was spot on, and it's one that could help the SEC lose its FCS partners.
But eliminating FCS play isn’t going to be easy. There are still some coaches who want to continue to play FCS opponents. It also isn’t easy to schedule 12 teams every year.
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze wants his Rebels to play FCS opponents because he understands firsthand how beneficial it is for those schools on and off the field.
“I think me coming up through the route of smaller-school ball to this point, I know the value that it adds to those programs also,” Freeze said. “I kind of always try to look at that aspect of it also. I just find it hard to believe that one game like that, out of the schedule that we play in this league and agreeing to play another BCS conference opponent, that that one game over the totality of the season would really hinder you if you perform well in those other games.”
Georgia coach Mark Richt, who works with FCS representatives as one of the board of trustees members with the American Football Coaches Association, agrees with Freeze when it comes to helping FCS schools out financially.
“I think college football is too important at all levels to hurt them by setting criteria that would not allow you to play them,” Richt said. “I’m for doing it.”
I understand that. These schools get paid thousands upon thousands of dollars to suit up and usually get pummeled. But with the power five looking to make its own rules without pushback from schools outside of the five major conferences, why should they care about FCS opponents? Why should FCS schools' well-being be a concern for SEC or Big Ten schools?
Honestly, it sounds like schools continue to play these smaller institutions because they have to fill space when scheduling ideas fall through. As Saban said, it’s not like organizing a golf game. You can’t just call up a school, ask it to play and expect the game to happen.
“I understand what Will's saying: In a perfect world, you play all D1 schools,” Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said. “But also you have to have 12 opponents.
“I understand Will's point of view, and when I hear from the fans, I understand their point of view. Some years, you've got to have 12 games."
SEC commissioner Mike Slive said that discussions of FCS opponents didn't come up in Tuesday's meetings and that the decision to play them would be institutional.
“I’m in favor of our strength of schedule being as good as it can be," Slive said.
“We have not told our schools that they can’t play FCS schools and we don’t have any plans to tell them that.”
With the creation of the power five and the bigger role strength of schedule will play going forward, the SEC could be moving away from FCS opponents. It would be a good move, but it will likely start small and branch out. The good news is that coaches are speaking out about it.
- Last week, Nick Saban made SI’s ‘Most Disliked People in Sports’ list. On Tuesday, the Alabama coach responded to his inclusion, though he said he hadn’t seen the list.
- The Athlon Sports preseason Top 25 rolls on, and Auburn is ranked No. 5 behind one of the top offenses in college football, though the defense is still a work in progress.
- During a local stop on his speaking tour, Will Muschamp fielded questions from uneasy Florida fans concerned about the Gators after last season's 4-8 campaign.
- Mark Richt is not worried about Georgia’s defense. He believes a simple defense can be great.
- There are two barriers that second-year coach Mark Stoops must clear to make Kentucky football matter in the SEC.
- LSU athletic director Joe Alleva is excited about the expansion of Tiger Stadium which will put capacity numbers over 100,000. His message to Alabama fans: Nice seats, eh buddy?
- ESPN 300 defensive end Shameik Blackshear committed to South Carolina a year ago. To celebrate, he’s keeping his commitment 100 percent.
- Tennessee’s 14 early enrollees have already helped pave the way for the rest of the 2014 class which is expected to arrive on campus next week.
- Former Texas A&M offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury said Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel was a "huge reason" why he landed the Texas Tech head coaching job.
If the league's not going to play nine conference games (and it should), then the only sensible way to make eight conference games work is to play six divisional foes and two rotating cross-divisional foes -- a 6-0-2 format -- and punt the old 6-1-1 format for good.
A conference really isn't a conference when you go eight years without playing a team that's supposed to be in your conference. And, yet, that's the warped reality of the SEC schedule, at least through 2025. The league office announced Monday a 12-year rotation of cross-divisional opponents for all 14 SEC schools.
Some of the highlights or lowlights:
- Alabama and South Carolina won't meet again until 2019 in Columbia, S.C. The two teams last met in 2010, also being in Columbia, when the Gamecocks upset the then No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide 35-21. Moreover, South Carolina won't play again in Tuscaloosa until 2024. The Gamecocks' last visit to Bryant-Denny Stadium came in 2009.
- Alabama will play Florida in the Swamp again in 2021, a decade after they last met in Gainesville in 2011. Tim Tebow and Nick Saban might both be in the broadcast booth by then.
- Auburn and Florida won't play again until 2019 when they meet in the Swamp. The Gators' next visit to Jordan-Hare Stadium will come in 2024. Auburn and Florida played every season from 1945-2002. They last met during the 2011 season. Talk about a rivalry slowing fading away.
- Texas A&M, heading into its third season in the SEC, won't make its first appearance in Neyland Stadium to take on Tennessee until 2023. Heck, by then, Texas might be in the SEC, too.
- Tennessee won't venture back to Tiger Stadium to face LSU until 2022. Tennessee's last visit to Death Valley came in 2010. That's 12 years in between visits. The Vols have had four head coaches in the last six years.
- Remember how entertaining that Georgia-LSU game was a year ago with the Bulldogs out-gunning the Tigers for a 44-41 win? Well, they won't play again in Athens until 2025. Uga's grandson could be patrolling the Dawgs' sideline by then.
Get the picture?
Saving the annual Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georgia rivalries were important, which is why the league presidents voted to keep the 6-1-1 format and permanent cross-divisional opponents. But the conference has simply become too detached when certain teams go so long without playing each other in the regular season.
Every player who stays for four years should get the opportunity to face every team in the league at least once. And as a fan, it would be nice to see every team come to your home stadium at least a couple of times before you're too old to climb up to your seats.
Maybe we'll still get to nine conference games at some point, which would solve a lot of problems.
The coaches in the league, except for Saban, don't want any part of nine games. In their mind, eight is plenty, especially if everybody is going out and also playing one nonconference game against a team from one of the other four power conferences.
It's worth mentioning that none of the coaches liked the idea of playing an SEC championship game back in the early 1990s when that subject was first broached by then-SEC commissioner Roy Kramer. More than two decades later, it's fair to say they've warmed up to the idea, particularly since it's aided more than a few teams' paths to a national championship.
Here's a look at the cross-divisional rotation for all 14 teams over the next 12 years.
It's a statistic that can be skewed because if you play a ranked team in the first few weeks of the season that bombs the rest of the way, does that really count as a quality win? For example, Florida was a top-10 team in both polls heading into the 2013 season and finished 4-8.
The most accurate gauge if you're tracking wins against ranked opponents is to add up those wins against teams that finish the season ranked in the final polls. We at the SEC blog have done that over the last three seasons, and some of the results are telling.
Only three SEC teams over the past three seasons have finished above .500 against teams that finished the season ranked nationally. In addition to South Carolina, Alabama is 8-4 during that stretch and LSU 9-5.
On the flip side, there are three SEC teams over the past three seasons that have failed to beat a team ranked nationally in the final polls -- Kentucky (0-13), Mississippi State (0-15) and Vanderbilt (0-12).
Even though the Commodores won nine games overall each of the past two seasons for the first time in history under former coach James Franklin, who's now at Penn State, they didn't beat a team either of those seasons that finished ranked in the final polls. Vanderbilt's last win over a team that finished the season ranked in the Top 25 came during the 2008 season, a 23-17 win over an Ole Miss team that finished 14th that year in the AP poll.
Alabama and Vanderbilt have played the fewest games against ranked opponents in the final polls over the past three seasons, each with 12 games. Auburn, Florida, Ole Miss and Tennessee have played the most, each with 17 games.
Nobody in the league has played more games against top-10 foes in the final polls over the past three seasons than Tennessee. The Vols are 1-12 with the lone win coming last season against South Carolina, which finished fourth nationally. LSU has six wins over top-10 teams in the final polls over the past three seasons, which is tops in the SEC during that span.
Marquee nonconference games can also be deceiving, especially with teams scheduling some of these games so far out. Alabama, for instance, has played a traditional power during the regular season every year Nick Saban has been there, but only one of those teams finished the season in the top-20 nationally. Virginia Tech finished 10th in both polls in 2009. Four others that the Tide have faced since Saban's arrival -- Clemson in 2008, Penn State in 2010, Penn State in 2011 and Michigan in 2012 -- were ranked in the top 20 at the time of the game but dropped out by season's end.
Below are the records for all 14 SEC teams over the past three seasons against teams that finished the season nationally ranked in one of the final polls. In parentheses are the records against top-10 foes.
1. South Carolina: 12-3, .800 (5-2)
2. Alabama: 8-4, .667 (4-4)
3. LSU: 9-5, .643 (6-5)
4. Texas A&M: 5-10, .333 (1-6)
5. Georgia: 5-11, .312 (2-9)
6. Florida: 5-12, .294 (3-7)
7. Auburn: 4-13, .235 (3-8)
8. Missouri: 3-12, .200 (0-8)
9. Arkansas: 2-11, .154 (1-8)
10. Ole Miss: 2-15, .118 (0-9)
10. Tennessee: 2-15, .118 (1-12)
12. Vanderbilt: 0-12, .000 (0-8)
13. Kentucky: 0-13, .000 (0-8)
14. Mississippi State: 0-15, .000 (0-9)
- Alabama coach Nick Saban says Big Ten is "a really good conference" in rare trip back to Ohio, the state where his coaching career began.
- Despite being a proponent of the 10-second rule, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said this week that he loves playing pace-of-play teams like Auburn.
- Will Muschamp OK with SEC schedule but disappointed not to see Florida-Auburn rivalry continued on a regular basis.
- Q&A with Greg McGarity: The Georgia athletic director talks about the 6-1-1 scheduling format, the Georgia Tech rivalry and potential nonconference games down the road.
- Spring practice is over and coach Mark Stoops is still not ready to name Kentucky’s starting quarterback.
- Draft expert says former LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger will be a middle-round pick in this month’s NFL draft.
- The new rule requiring SEC teams to schedule a power foe in nonconference could prove difficult for Mississippi State, who has had trouble scheduling teams in recent years.
- Tennessee signed a top-5 recruiting class in February and coach Butch Jones is pleased with new rule that allows him to spend time with them this summer.
- Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin says quarterback competition between Kyle Allen and Kenny Hill will continue into two-a-days this fall.
- Missouri coach Gary Pinkel says the dismissal of wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham was about more than football.
- Success runs in the family for Mizzou linebacker Michael Scherer.
- Former Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray says he's "ready to go" as he prepares for Georgia's pro day.
- Auburn is having "ups and downs" at the H-back position this spring.
- Former LSU linebacker Tahj Jones' condition improves after he was shot in the abdomen last Friday.
- LSU quarterback Brandon Harris will head to California in May to train with former LSU quarterback Craig Nall and quarterback guru George Whitfield.
- Kentucky's defensive line gets some positive feedback.
- Florida safety Marcell Harris left his mark on the Gators this spring.
- Here are five young Texas A&M players who could make an impact for the Aggies in 2014.
- "Freaky talented" Tennessee wide receivers end spring on a high note.
- After early-spring criticism, Alabama coach Nick Saban assesses his defensive line entering the final week of spring practice.
- No arrests will be made in the burglary investigation that involved Missouri receiver Dorial Green-Beckham but that doesn't necessarily mean he will escape further discipline (he already is suspended indefinitely by Gary Pinkel) based on the details that have emerged.
- Meet the Bag Man: Stories from someone who claims to deliver cash to football recruits.
- Alabama linebacker Dillon Lee was arrested Thursday on a DUI charge and running back Altee Tenpenny could get a marijuana possession charge dropped if he can stay out of trouble for a year.
- Vanderbilt's spring football game may determine the leader in the quarterback battle between sophomore Patton Robinette and redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary.
- Sophomore Brandon Greene and freshman Cameron Robinson are the two players battling for the right to replace Cyrus Kouandijo as Alabama's left tackle.
- Jay Prosch was a key member of Auburn's offense, so the Tigers are searching high and low for replacement candidates at H-back.
- Mississippi State unveiled new uniforms that it will wear for its season opener against Southern Miss on Aug. 30.
- Arkansas' receivers are making progress this spring, particularly Drew Morgan.
- There's a report that former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel scored highest among quarterbacks on his Wonderlic test.
- Some notes from Tennessee's final fully padded practice before its spring game on Saturday.
- Florida receiver Andre Debose is ready to show he has NFL potential in his sixth and final season.
- Steve Spurrier took in the Masters for a few hours before South Carolina's Thursday practice.
- A ranking of all 128 FBS coaches (spoiler: Nick Saban tops the list).
Watching Malzahn, you got the feeling he wasn’t playing coy. This was the difference a year makes. Last spring was an anxious time for Auburn. There was no quarterback, no depth chart and no sense of expectations. Malzahn and Co. were simply trying to pick up the pieces left behind from the previous staff.
This spring has a much different tone. All one needed to do was look at the long-sleeve, collared shirt Malzahn wore after practice, the one with the SEC championship patch on its left shoulder. The building phase of Malzahn’s tenure is over. The questions are much fewer this year than the last. And with that, the sense of urgency is far more diminished.
“We've got more information now, so we're not as urgent,” Malzahn said. “We pretty much know a lot about the guys returning.”
Not every coach in the SEC is in the same enviable position.
“You've also got to keep in mind next year," Malzahn said. "You want to get your guys as much reps as you can moving forward for next year, because that's what it's all about ... but I would say, probably, for the most part, that we've got guys in the position that we want them to be in."
Not every coach can afford to look ahead this spring. Not every coach has the time.
With that said, let’s take a look at the programs with the most to accomplish this spring, ranking all 14 schools by the length of their to-do list.
Vanderbilt: Any new coaching staff has the most work to do, from determining the roster to installing new schemes on both sides of the ball. Throw in a new starting quarterback and the raid James Franklin put on the recruiting class, and it adds up to an enormously important spring for Derek Mason.
Kentucky: Mark Stoops has done a lot to turn around the culture at Kentucky. In fact, veteran defensive end Alvin Dupree said it feels like more of a football school now. But the fact remains that Stoops has a very young group to deal with, so inexperienced that true freshman Drew Barker is in contention to start at quarterback.
Tennessee: The Vols are facing many of the same challenges in Year 2 under Butch Jones. He has brought in a wealth of talent, including a remarkable 14 early enrollees. Considering the Vols lost all of their starters on both the offensive and defensive lines, there’s a lot of work to do.
Florida: The hot seat knows no reason. All is good in Gator Land right now as a new offense under a new coordinator is installed, injured players -- including starting quarterback Jeff Driskel -- return, and expectations creep upward. But a bad showing in the spring game could change the conversation quickly for Will Muschamp.
Arkansas: There’s nowhere to go but up for Bret Bielema after a 3-9 finish his first year with the program. The good news is he has young playmakers on offense (Hunter Henry, Alex Collins, etc.). The bad news is the quarterback position is unsettled and his defensive coaching staff is almost entirely overhauled from a year ago.
LSU: A depth chart full of question marks is nothing new for Les Miles, who has endured plenty of underclassmen leaving for the NFL before. But missing almost every skill player on offense (Zach Mettenberger, Jeremy Hill, Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry) hurts. He has to find replacements at several key positions, and we haven’t even gotten into the defense.
Texas A&M: Cedric Ogbuehi can replace Jake Matthews at left tackle. The combination of Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil can replace Mike Evans at receiver. But who replaces the legend of Johnny Football? Determining a starter under center won’t be easy, but neither will be overhauling a defense that was far and away the worst in the SEC last year.
Georgia: Jeremy Pruitt should breathe some new life into a struggling Georgia defense. Having Hutson Mason to replace Aaron Murray helps as well. But off-the-field problems continue to plague Mark Richt’s program. With stars such as Todd Gurley, the players are there. The pieces just need to come together.
Missouri: After 13 seasons in Columbia, Gary Pinkel knows how to handle the spring. Maty Mauk appears ready to take over for James Franklin at quarterback, and even with the loss of Henry Josey, there are still plenty of weapons on offense. The real challenge will be on defense, where the Tigers must replace six starters, including cornerstones E.J. Gaines, Kony Ealy and Michael Sam.
Alabama: The quarterback position won’t be settled this spring, so we can hold off on that. But still, Nick Saban faces several challenges, including finding two new starters on the offensive line, replacing C.J. Mosley on defense and completely overhauling a secondary that includes Landon Collins and a series of question marks.
Ole Miss: Hugh Freeze has his players. Now he just has to develop them. With emerging stars Robert Nkemdiche, Tony Conner, Laremy Tunsil, Evan Engram and Laquon Treadwell, there’s plenty to build around. Include a veteran starting quarterback in Bo Wallace and there’s a lot to feel good about in Oxford.
Mississippi State: It’s a new day in the state of Mississippi as both state institutions have high expectations this spring. Mississippi State returns a veteran defense, a solid offensive line and a quarterback in Dak Prescott who could turn into a Heisman Trophy contender. A few months after Dan Mullen was on the hot seat, he now appears to be riding high.
Auburn: Losing Tre Mason and Greg Robinson hurts, but outside of those two stars, the roster remains fairly intact. Nick Marshall figures to improve as a passer, the running back corps is well off, and the receivers stand to improve with the addition of D’haquille Williams. The defense should get better as youngsters such as Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson gain experience.
South Carolina: Steve Spurrier would like to remind everyone that Dylan Thompson was the only quarterback in the country to beat Central Florida last season. Sure, Thompson wasn’t the full-time starter last year, but he has plenty of experience and is ready to be the man. Throw in a healthy and eager Mike Davis and an improving set of skill players, and the offense should improve. The defense has some making up to do on the defensive line, but there’s no reason to panic, considering the rotation they used last year.
While we’ll have to wait a few months until a playoff takes over college football, we thought we’d have a little fun with our own SEC tournament now that the first weekend of games have concluded in this year’s NCAA tournament.
As a tribute to the Big Dance, Chris Low and I have seeded all 14 SEC teams in a tournament of our own to crown our rightful spring SEC champion(s). We’ll spice things up by having different seedings for all 14 teams in our individual tournaments. We have different sites, the top two seeds will receive an opening-round bye and we’ll have an upset or two.
Our first round will feature the No. 3 seed facing the No. 14 seed and the No. 4 seed playing the No. 13 seed, etc.
I’ll debut my bracket first, while Chris will have his prepared later Monday.
After countless hours of deliberation with the selection committee, namely my cat Meeko, here’s what my seedings look like:
1. AuburnFIRST ROUND
4. Ole Miss
6. South Carolina
7. Mississippi State
8. Texas A&M
In Nashville, Tenn.
No. 3 Georgia vs. No. 14 Kentucky: The Bulldogs might be without Aaron Murray for the first time in a long time, but Hutson Mason has plenty of offensive options to pick from. Not having Todd Gurley as an option hurts, but Georgia has enough to get past the Cats in Nashville. Winner: Georgia
No. 6 South Carolina vs. No. 11 Tennessee: You'd better believe the Gamecocks are still fuming after that loss to the Vols that eventually cost them a chance to go to Atlanta for the SEC title game last fall. A lot is different for the Gamecocks, but Dylan Thompson works some magic late to avoid the first upset of the tournament. Winner: South Carolina
In Kansas City, Mo.
No. 4 Ole Miss vs. No. 13 Arkansas: The Rebels could be a dark horse to win the SEC this fall, and with so much talent coming back on both sides, Ole Miss could make a nice run in this tournament. Arkansas just has way too many questions on both sides to pull the shocker. Winner: Ole Miss
No. 5 Missouri vs. No. 12 Vanderbilt: Ah, the classic 12-5 upset. There's always one. But the Tigers still have a lot of firepower returning on offense, a stout defensive line and are playing in front of what should be a home crowd. Also, James Franklin and Jordan Matthews are both gone. Winner: Missouri
In Tampa, Fla.
No. 7 Mississippi State vs. No. 10 Florida: The Bulldogs are a team on the rise after winning their last three to close the 2013 season. They return a lot from their two-deep and could have a special player in quarterback Dak Prescott. The Gators suffered a rash of injuries, but have quarterback Jeff Driskel back with an offense that fits his skills more. Playing close to home will give the Gators an advantage and the defense will make a stop late to pull our first upset. Winner: Florida
No. 8 Texas A&M vs. No. 9 LSU: Both teams are breaking in new quarterbacks and playmakers at receiver. LSU's defense is getting revamped again, but there's still a lot of athleticism across the board. This one is coming down to the wire, but LSU's young, yet stealthy corners will be the difference in another upset. Winner: LSU
In Orlando, Fla.
No. 1 Auburn vs. No. 9 LSU: Last fall, this was the game the served as the emotional turning point for Auburn, even though it was a loss. Auburn has a lot to work with once again on the Plains, and while the defense still has its questions, these Tigers will get revenge in a fun one in the Sunshine State. Winner: Auburn
In New Orleans
No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 10 Florida: The Gators will be more consistent on offense in this one. Alabama is still looking to find its defensive playmakers, but will have the advantage in the running game. This one is coming down to the fourth quarter, where corner Vernon Hargreaves III seals it for the Gators with a pick in the end zone on a Cooper Bateman pass intended for Amari Cooper. Winner: Florida
No. 4 Ole Miss vs. No. 5 Missouri: Two fast offenses take the field, and the Rebels would love to get back at the Tigers after last season's loss. Maty Mauk has what it takes to direct this Missouri team to a deep run, but Ole Miss' defense is the difference in this one. Keep an eye on that defensive line, which gets a major upgrade in the return of end C.J. Johnson. Winner: Ole Miss
In Charlotte, N.C.
No. 3 Georgia vs. No. 6 South Carolina: The hope in Athens is that the defense will be improved with Jeremy Pruitt running the show, but watch out for Mike Davis. South Carolina's pounding running back gets the edge in this one with Gurley on the mend. Expect a lot of points in this one, but Davis grinds this one out for the Gamecocks in the fourth quarter. Winner: South Carolina
No. 1 Auburn vs. No. 4 Ole Miss: You want fast, fast, fast? How about these two teams playing? I mean, Ole Miss got to see tons of speed against Mizzou, and now has to take on Auburn? Expect marathon of scoring, but Bo Wallace is the hero in the end. A gritty fourth-quarter performance puts the Rebels in the title game. Winner: Ole Miss
In Arlington, Texas
No. 6 South Carolina vs. No. 10 Florida: It's been a fun run for this spring's Cinderella. Florida's offense is catching up to its defense, but the Gamecocks will find holes in the Gators defense. Thompson hits a few big plays to receiver Shaq Roland and defensive end Gerald Dixon forces a late fumble on a sack of Driskel to run out the clock. Winner: South Carolina
No. 4 Ole Miss vs. No. 6 South Carolina: Steve Spurrier is back in Atlanta with a gritty team hungry for a title. The Rebels have the advantage with that high-flying offense and will get some huge catches out of Laquon Treadwell against the inexperienced secondary. Thompson and Davis will keep the Gamecocks in this one for most of the game, but true freshman safety C.J. Hampton seals it for the Rebels with a game-ending interception at midfield. Winner: Ole Miss
- Four Georgia players were arrested and charged with multiple counts of theft by deception on Monday. Safety Tray Matthews, defensive linemen Jonathan Taylor and James DeLoach and receiver Uriah LeMay are alleged to have “double-dipped” stipend checks.
- The Bulldogs begin spring practice, and here are five things to know.
- Alabama coach Nick Saban doesn't feel a mobile quarterback is ideal for the Crimson Tide's style and explains why here.
- Fans who follow Auburn know about coach Gus Malzahn's affinity for an up-tempo offense. He said he wants his unit to go even faster this fall.
- Missouri cornerback Aarion Penton and safety Shaun Rupert were among four Tigers student-athletes arrested on suspicion of marijuana possession on Saturday (the other two were basketball players). All four athletes have been suspended.
- Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze addressed the status of suspended linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche after a video surfaced that allegedly showed Nkemdiche cursing at what appeared to be Mississippi State fans.
- Florida receiver Solomon Patton shined on a rainy pro day for the Gators.
- A host of notes from Auburn's first spring practice today.
- Mississippi State's full spring practice schedule. Of the 15 practices, 14 are open to the public. And there are holes to fill for the Bulldogs, including at running back and offensive line.
- Discussing the SEC's best defensive linemen.
- Ole Miss guard Aaron Morris talks about his progress from rehabilitating his ACL injury and how tough it was to miss last season.
McElwain discusses new Florida football
TBD Bowling Green Tennessee TBD Wisconsin Alabama TBD UTEP Arkansas TBD Louisville Auburn TBD New Mexico State Florida TBD Louisiana-Monroe Georgia TBD Louisiana-Lafayette Kentucky TBD McNeese State LSU TBD Southeast Missouri State Missouri TBD Tennessee-Martin Ole Miss TBD Mississippi State Southern Miss TBD Arizona State Texas A&M TBD Western Kentucky Vanderbilt