Bernie’s Chicken-Fried SEC Questions, Week 12: Why Does the SEC East Stink?

Five SEC Chicken-Fried Questions, Week 12

1. Is there any hope for the pathetic SEC East?

barry-odom-2
Barry Odom and Georgia’s Kirby Smart are each in their first head coaching seasons.

Short term, probably not. Long term, to be determined. The SEC East is really foul this season and has been for a while. But this is probably the bottom for a division that has impacted the SEC’s overall reputation, giving critics a chance to whine about the league being overrated. There’s nothing overrated about the SEC West. But there’s no defending the SEC East, either.

In head-to-head matchups, the SEC West is 9-1 vs. the East this season. Nothing new here; the West is 33-7 (.825) versus the East over the past three seasons and 22-3 (.880) over the last two years. I think it’s safe to say the SEC East representative will be getting slapped around in defeated in the conference championship game for the eighth consecutive season.

But it’s even more embarrassing  in non-conference games, with SEC East teams losing games to Southern Miss and Middle Tennessee. And there were too-close-for-comfort wins over Nicholls, Appalachian State, Western Kentucky, and UMass.

Just terrible. According to SB Nation, the SEC East is at No. 9 in the nation in efficiency ratings behind the SEC West, ACC Atlantic, Big Ten East, ACC Coastal, Pac 12 North, Pac 12 South, Big Ten West, and the West division of the Mountain West. Yep. The SEC East is behind a Mountain West division.

According to CBS Sports, The SEC East and MAC East are the only divisions that don’t have a top-45 scoring offense among its members.

Where have you gone Phil Fulmer?

That’s part of the problem, actually. The SEC East has a young, relatively inexperienced group of head coaches. Going into this season Georgia’s Kirby Smart and Mizzou’s Barry Odom had never been head coaches. Vandy’s Derek Mason had two years experience. Kentucky’s Mark Stoops had three.  Florida’s Jim McElwain and South Carolina’s Will Muschamp each had four seasons as a head coach. The most experienced leader, Tennessee’s Butch Jones, is in his ninth season as a head coach.

Not too long ago, the SEC East was the domain of successful coaches such as Urban Meyer, Fulmer, Steve Spurrier, Mark Richt, James Franklin, Gary Pinkel, Lou Holtz and Rich Brooks.

You look at who’s leading SEC East teams now and for the most part all of these guys are unproven, still developing, and trying to find their way. We already know this but coaching makes a huge difference.

2. Among all SEC coaches, which guy has the most misleading record?

In my opinion, that’s Brett Bielema at Arkansas. Yes, he’s only 24-23 overall in Fayetteville. But he took over a chaotic program, and had to clean it up. After going 3-9 in his first year, Bielema led the Razorbacks to winning seasons and bowl games in 2014 and 2015. And this year Arkansas is 6-3 against one of the toughest schedules in the nation. Bielema has faced an intense schedule since taking over at Arkansas.

When Arkansas hosts LSU on Saturday it will be the Hogs’ fifth consecutive game against a ranked opponent. This will be Bielema’s 48th game at Arkansas, and 25 of the 48 will have been played against a ranked team. Since Bielema took over the Razorbacks in 2013, only Nick Saban and Alabama has played more ranked foes than Arkansas among all FBS division teams. Bielema is 7-17 in the 24 games against ranked opposition. But he’s a damned good coach.

3. Last week Mississippi State upset No. 4 Texas A&M in Starkville. Will the idiots finally stop murmuring  about Dan Mullen’s job security?

Good grief, you would think so. One of the dumbest story lines of the SEC season has been Mullen’s hot-seat status at Mississippi State. C’mon, now. How stupid is that?

In eight seasons Mullen has a 59-40 record at State, a winning percentage of .596. In the 23 seasons before Mullen took charge of the program, Mississippi State coaches Rockey Felker, Jackie Sherrill and Sylvester Croom all had losing records and a combined winning percentage of .433.

So let me get this straight: you go through a quarter-century of football winning 43 percent of your games … and now you want to dump a coach, Mullen, who has exceeded every expectation — and then some — at Mississippi State? Mullen had Mississippi State ranked No. 1 in the nation for a time in 2014. Four other teams have been ranked in the top 20. He’s taken them to bowls six times in his first seven years.

After losing Dak Prescott, who is starring for the Dallas Cowboys, Mullen had to rebuild this season. And he’s doing fine. In fact, Mullen is developing another potentially special quarterback in sophomore Nick Fitzgerald. It’s Mississippi State. Mullen is 4-5 in a transition season in 2016, and three of his losses came at the wire. He’s done excellent work in Starkville. So shut up, already.

4. We all know that Alabama is great. But in terms of winning a national championship, is ‘Bama vulnerable in any way?

Yes. I think winning — or losing — a national title will come down to true freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts. He’s so talented, so poised. And he’s a gifted runner that can break a game open at any moment. Just as LSU about that. But for all of his talent and intelligence and composure, Hurts is very much in the early development phase as a passer.

Hurts eventually helped Alabama overcome LSU’s defense for a 10-0 road win, but he completed only  10-of-19 passes for no touchdowns. And he threw a terrible early interception that could have set up an easy score for LSU, which flubbed the opportunity. Later on Hurts lost a fumble that could have led to trouble, but the Bama defense made another big stop.

Earlier this season, Hurts’ turnovers were a factor in Alabama falling behind 24-3 at Ole Miss — but Bama recovered to win against a horrendous Ole Miss defense.

Think of an Alabama vs. Michigan matchup. Think about Michigan’s exceptional defender, Jabrill Peppers, tracking and shadowing Hurts to take away those dangerous runs or out-of-pocket passes. Then what?

Hurts has 11 touchdown passes and six interceptions this season. He’s lost a few fumbles. Here’s my question, and we won’t know the answer until later on: if Alabama is playing Clemson, Ohio State or Michigan for the national championship and trailing by six points late in the game and must rely on the pass to score a touchdown — can Hurts deliver? I love watching Hurts. But in a desperate situation against a great team, I doubt that he can win it with his arm. At least not yet.

5. Does Auburn have a chance to make it to the College Football Playoff final four?

Yes. Even with two losses already. If No. 9 Auburn wins out, Auburn will have the strongest case among the two-loss teams. And War Eagle has been tremendous in recent weeks, winning six in a row and mashing defenses with a revitalized rushing attack. But winning out is the key. And there’s a rather imposing game up ahead. Let’s put it this way: we’ll reconvene and chat about this again after Auburn’s game at Alabama. I don’t think Saturday’s game at Georgia will be a walkover. Granted, Georgia is nothing special but Auburn’s offensive line is in a battered state right now. Quarterback Sean White and running back Kamryn Pettway are banged up, and they’ve been paramount in Auburn’s charge.

But the “winning out” test is the hardest part. Auburn has that little game coming up at Tuscaloosa on Nov. 26 … going against No. 1 Alabama in the annual Iron Bowl. If War Eagle can take care of business at Georgia, avoid getting ambushed by Tennessee Chattanooga, topple mighty Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium, then proceed to a victory over the SEC East winner in the SEC title game — well, that’s the ticket to the playoff.  But unless Auburn wins at Alabama’s yard, this is nothing more than a practice-round, Hot Take! warm-up session.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie 

More: Miklasz – A Look at Ian Desmond, a Potential Cardinals’ Free-Agent Candidate for 2017