The SEC will rise again, y’all.

I don’t think you’ll get too many arguments that 2016 was a down year for the conference.  I also think if you asked why that was the case, most people would point to two factors, quarterback play and coaching.

Barrett Sallee, in this post, suggests that’s on the mend for this season.  I’m not sure I find his arguments that convincing.

Here’s his argument for improvement at quarterback.

Georgia’s Jacob Eason (16 touchdowns, eight interceptions), South Carolina’s Jake Bentley (nine touchdowns, four interceptions) and Ole Miss’ Shea Patterson (six touchdowns, three interceptions) all evolved into starting quarterbacks as true freshmen as the season progressed, and had moments of brilliance.

The lumps taken by those young quarterbacks, combined with the departure of defensive studs like Alabama’s Jonathan Allen, Ryan Anderson and Tim Williams; Auburn’s Carl Lawson; Tennessee’s Derek Barnett; Florida’s Caleb Brantley; Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett and many other defensive studs should light a few more fuses in a conference in desperate need of offensive fireworks.

Toss in the arrival of former Baylor quarterback and hot-shot recruit Jarrett Stidham at Auburn, former Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire at Florida and Kentucky’s Stephen Johnson getting a full offseason to learn the Wildcat offense, and the SEC has its best crop of quarterbacks since 2013 when Manziel, Aaron Murray, A.J. McCarron, Zach Mettenberger and Connor Shaw were the headliners.

The problem with that is “best since” isn’t in the same ballpark as “same as”.  In 2013, those five quarterbacks Sallee cites all finished in the top twelve nationally in passer rating.  (Beyond that, McCarron and Murray went one and two in that category the previous year.)  Is anyone really expecting similar results out of the 2017 group?

That’s not to say some improvement shouldn’t be expected; Eason, Bentley and Patterson should be more polished as sophomores.  But let’s also not forget that last year’s top two quarterbacks in terms of passer rating, Dobbs and Kelly, are gone.  If last year was subpar (Dobbs’ 150.59 rating would have been only sixth-best in the SEC in 2013), perhaps the best way to describe what is coming in 2017 overall is “work in progress”.  I suspect that whatever programs benefit from above-average quarterback play this season are going to be among the conference’s top teams.

As far as coaching goes, I am not sure I understand the distinction Sallee makes when he writes,

There’s a prevailing thought that the SEC is down in the coaching department.

The real problem isn’t coaching talent, it’s coaching sustainability.

He explains that as follows:

Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin, Auburn’s Gus Malzahn and Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze have all enjoyed variable amounts of success early in their coaching careers. But they’re all still relatively new at this, unlike the 900-pound gorilla in the room known as Alabama coach Nick Saban.

Sumlin veered a little too much towards exotic offenses in the post-Manziel era and has been struggling to find the right mix of creativity and physicality over the last two seasons. Malzahn has bounced from hands-off to hands-on the Tiger offense like a pendulum ever since Auburn was within 13 seconds of a national title after the 2013 season. Freeze led Ole Miss to consecutive New Year’s Six bowl games despite massive offensive line issues — including a seven-game suspension to star left tackle Laremy Tunsil in 2015 — and a rushing attack that couldn’t gain traction between the tackles.

There’s pressure on those coaches for a variety of reasons. But it’s clear that they’re all dedicated to picking a lane and staying in it.

Again, what that means is unclear.  Freeze has run the same offense since he’s gotten there and is already on record as staying this season with what’s worked for him.  How you can acknowledge Malzahn’s hands-on, hands-off approach to his offense and go on to accept as a given that this year will be different strikes me as little more than a leap of faith.  Sumlin looks more and more like somebody who caught lightning in a bottle with Johnny Manziel, hardly someone for whom lane picking will make a big difference.

Beyond that, the argument doesn’t even touch on Kirby Smart, who sure seemed like he stayed in a lane last season, Butch Jones, who couldn’t take the preseason favorite to win the East over the finish line, Bret Bielema, about whom, whatever else you might say, failing to pick a lane and stay in it hasn’t been an issue, and a couple of coaching retreads in Muschamp and Orgeron.

Like it or not, as a group, there’s been a clear regression, and, just like the quarterback situation, it’s hard to see how this year’s bunch is going to reclaim the old magic quickly.  (Again, if any one of last year’s question marks breaks out of the pack, some program is going to rise up the conference ranks in a hurry.)

Maybe I’m being too pessimistic here.  Maybe it’s time for the SEC to be great again.  I don’t know.  From where I sit, it looks like there’s still a fair amount of heavy lifting to be done.

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29 Comments

Filed under SEC Football

29 responses to “The SEC will rise again, y’all.

  1. PTC DAWG

    I know folks like to harp on Kirby and “win now” or else…but it seems to me Butch Jones is the one who is truly on the verge of a hot seat.

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  2. Otto

    The SEC paid a price for programs trying to beat Saban which like him or hate him knows how to win and will be mentioned in any legendary coach conversation.

    However the SEC still finished to for 1st for team ranked in the AP with 5, a national title and is a year removed from winning the Bowl Challenge. I put this with a thousand other talking heads saying the SEC reign is over. The SEC may have lost a step to put it closer to level with whichever P5 program is on ration to challenge but even down the SEC can go head to head with the best of the other conferences.

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  3. Connor

    Agreed Senator. Clear regression, and no certainty that any of those programs are on the way back up. We can hope, but that’s all it is at this point.

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  4. Stoopnagle

    Does Les Miles coach again?

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  5. 69Dawg

    The FSU Alabama opener will either end the talk of a weak SEC or place the last nail in the SEC’s the greatest conference. If after losing to Clemson last game last year, Alabama gets beat by FSU the ship will hit the sand. The SEC only gets 85 per team and the ACC’s top programs are getting some great players. Oh and if the U finishes ahead of us in recruiting 2018 and in the final 2017 polls there will be a sh*t storm.

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  6. Bright Idea

    The SEC still has the best players but they have to start playing better. That’s on the coaches.

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    • Macallanlover

      Very true, better players all over the field. QBs are a question mark and coaches are indeed a cut below. Conference is still the best overall but at the top there are always other national powers that can play with anyone.

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  7. RCBRick

    The two best non-Nick Saban coaches (Miles and Richt) were just fired for not being Nick Saban. As long as schools employ that policy, the conference is going to continue being weak until Saban retires.

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  8. Keese

    Sumlin had a pretty high power offense at Houston with case keenum

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  9. Ron@gaynor.me

    Grasshopper, what goes around comes around.

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  10. lakedawg

    Believe Saban is 66, so surely he has only 4-5 more years to put up with the shyt he does not like putting up with.

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    • 69Dawg

      By that time we will have OJT’ed Kirby into a great coach and Alabama will pay him mountains of money to come coach them. We will then go about hiring another unproven assistant to train. It’s the Georgia Way.

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      • Mayor

        Sadly this^^ is so true. I’ve said from the beginning that if Kirby proves to be a good HC he’ll end up at Bama when Saban retires. Alternatively if Kirby is a bust he’ll be gone. Third option, he wins enough to keep his job for a while, but wins no championships, which leaves UGA sucking hind tit however it works out.

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      • Otto

        I have sad that since day 1. However, I can see Saban coaching into his mid 70s. Talking to people that have bumped into him at Lake Burton, I can’t see him enjoying retirement. He is a workaholic.

        If Saban retires in 4-5 years and UGA wins the SEC looking to be a national power, they will take a good look at him. Bama’s top 2 will come to him or Dabo as their 1st offer.

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      • David

        If Kirby wins there is no way in hell he leaves UGA for Bama. Yeah, sure they have tradition….but he’ll just be another succcessful coach in along history at Bama. Honestly I dont even see Dabo (their first choice) even going back. He built Clemson back up and besides, coaching Bama after Saban is going to be a tough for anyone, those fans are gonna make it a living hell….Nick has them in check, but only because he has the titles……as for Kirby, he takes UGA to Bama like heights, puts a fence around the state, wins some titles, and coaches UGA to dominance for 20-25 years ala Bobby Bowden or Tom Osborne….Kirby’s a bulldog, played here, grew up here and Mama called as the Bear once said!

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  11. DawgPhan

    The ACC has clearly upgraded their coaches and the SEC has clearly whiffed on their most recent hires.

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  12. JCDAWG83

    The SEC has become Bama and the 13 dwarfs. Unless a program like Auburn or Ole Miss cheats their way to contention, no other program is going to come close to unseating Bama in the near future.

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