Thursday, October 15, 2009

Around SEC Football Week 7

Around the SEC

Ruminations on the Passing Scene ...

Best Since the Bear ...

Arguably the two best coaches to patrol Southeastern Conference sidelines since Bear Bryant growled on the gridiron meet in Tuscaloosa this weekend when Steve Spurrier and South Carolina face Nick Saban and Alabama.

Spurrier earns my vote as the greatest SEC football coach AB (after Bryant), and third greatest in conference history (behind Coach Bryant and General Bob Neyland of Tennessee). Although he is often erroneously credited with bringing the passing game to the SEC (please see a fellow named
Wally Butts to know better), Spurrier certainly modernized the conference and his Florida teams of the 1990s were terrific.

Saban typically garners less respect as a legendary conference figure than Spurrier, in part because he has spent less time in the league (leaving for a brief NFL gig between stints with LSU and Bama). Still, the man won a national championship in Baton Rouge, rolled the Tide to an unbeaten 2008 regular season in only his second year at the Capstone, and currently has arguably the most impressive team in the nation.

At least one other active SEC coach deserves to be in this conversation - Urban Meyer of Florida. With two national titles in four seasons, the youthful head Gator may simply need just a few years longevity to surpass both Spurrier and Saban.

Note: Vince Dooley (Georgia) and Pat Dye (Auburn) would rank fourth and fifth on my post-Bear list, although I consider Dooley more a contemporary of the Bear since their careers overlapped for many years.

Hot Seats and Cold Showers ...

Speaking of top coaches ... so, Georgia's Mark Richt is on the hot seat?

Come again.

The same Mark Richt with two SEC championships, two Sugar Bowl wins, a 6-2 bowl record, and a career record that stands at sixty games over .500?

The same Mark Richt who leads a life off the field that makes Tim Tebow look like a young Hugh Hefner?

The guy who takes mission trips to Central America during the off-season (where I don't remember reading that he ran into Lane Kiffin, Bobby Petrino, or Nick Saban), and has the Bulldogs build Habitat-for-Humanity homes in the spring and summer?

The guy with the pretty wife that serves as the team water girl, the same wife that went to Eastern Europe to adopt a child after she and Mark were moved to do so by their Christian faith ... and ended up bringing two new Richts home?

That guy is on the hot seat?

Because he can't beat Florida (who can)? Because he lost to Georgia Tech last season (for the first time in eight seasons)? Because he won't fire his coaches (the same staff that compiled all those wins and bowl trips)? Because Lane Kiffin and Tennessee threw some bootleg passes that Georgia couldn't stop and thumped the underachieving Dogs last weekend ... and now the Vols might sign a few more recruits from the Peach State?

Excuse me, but a soothing cold shower might be in order for anybody putting that man on the hot seat.

Last time I looked, a season lasts twelve games, not six; talented freshmen and sophomores dot the skill positions on the Georgia roster (including two highly regarded quarterbacks), Tebow reaches sainthood (or graduates) after this season so Florida will come back to the pack some, and Lane Kiffin seems as much Ron Zook as Urban Meyer.

Maybe the sky is not falling in Athens.

Coach in Waiting ...

Beware Kentucky, this coach-in-waiting strategy is turning into a joke (no offense Joker Phillips).

While it might be understandable for a moderately successful program like Kentucky to wrap up a good assistant by promising him the head coaching job, why would any well-established program do so?

Florida State named Jimbo Fisher heir apparent to Bobby Bowden when the Seminoles hired the LSU offensive coordinator a couple years ago, a decision all involved now seem to rue (possibly including Fisher himself). Well-respected though he might be, Fisher has never been a major college head coach, never a head coach at any level, and he will be walking into a minor mess (the Noles still have talent) when Bowden steps down (or is shoved aside).

Had FSU not pre-emptively named Fisher head coach, think Brian Kelly of Cincinnatti, Chris Peterson of Boise, Gary Patterson of TCU, or other young - but proven - head coaches might be intriguing?

At Texas, head Longhorn-to-be Will Muschamp and current head Horn Mack Brown seem to co-exist well ... but let the program skid a bit and see what happens.

Midterm Conference Rankings

12. Vanderbilt ... last season's bowl seems so long ago.

11. Kentucky ... don't count the Wildcats out of a bowl just yet because the schedule softens soon.

10. Mississippi State ... Dan Mullen has the Bullies playing hard and competing ... and that's about as much as can be expected this season.

9. Georgia ... the Bulldogs are inconsistent on offense and defense, have poor turnover margin (-11 worst in SEC), and rank as one of the nation's most penalized teams (9 per game - worst in SEC).

8. Tennessee ... Vols played a solid game on both sides of ball against Georgia and should win at least three of next six (and probably four or five).

7. Auburn ... Tigers season should not come undone because of loss to Arkansas, but I do expect two-three more hiccups along the way.

6. Ole Miss ... Rebels rank in the top tier of the conference is tenuous.

5. Arkansas ... the Razorbacks are probably a little high here, but trending up because the schedule has some winnable games after the visit to Florida.

4. South Carolina ... Gamecocks schedule looks more and more suspect as Georgia and Ole Miss falter, but the defense is sound.

3. LSU ... Tigers squandered great opportunity against Gators at home, and must regroup for a pretty challenging second-half schedule.

2. Florida ... the Gators may be struggling a bit offensively but they have guts and a great defense. Oh yeah, the guy named Tebow is pretty good too.

1. Alabama ... now that everybody has caught up to The Campus Game (this site had Bama ranked first in the nation before anybody else), the concern becomes overconfidence because this is a tough three game stretch for Tide (SC, Tennessee, bye, LSU).

Be sure to check back Friday for Professor's Picks!

Thursday Night Pick: Cincy over South Florida