Gotta agree with you about MSU. The problem with them is that a high percentage of their fans are happy with the limited success that Mullen has had and don't believe that they can do better. He has spent more time running his mouth than getting his offense in gear.
What went on around the Southeastern Conference this weekend? Pull up a chair and we’ll break a few things down for ya. From the wins and losses to Vandy’s James Frankin and A&M’s wake-up call. Plus, the most costly losses in the SEC this year — both involving South Carolina. And woes of the SEC’s rebuilding projects.
Here goes, your SEC Weekend Wrap is served…
Mississippi State 24, Arkansas 17 in OT (Our prediction: Mississippi State 28-27)
There are people calling for Dan Mullen’s scalp in Starkville. This after a win over Arkansas. Sure, it was silly for Mullen to boast of his team’s first ever win in the state of Arkansas (it’s not like they’re really played that many games in the Natural State historically). But the guy got the win. In a matchup of poor teams, his team was less bad. And that’s often the case with Mullen. It’s how he’s led State to three straight bowls in an era when anyone poor or better goes bowling. If his team can upset Ole Miss at home on Saturday he’ll be the first man in school history to lead MSU to four consecutive bowls. That’s never happened in Starkville where a facilities upgrade is already underway. Stadium expansion plus a bowl game = Mullen’s return. What potential coach wouldn’t ask: “So why’d you fire a guy whose gone to a bowl four years in a row?” Now, if Mullen loses to the Rebels and Bulldog boosters start threatening to withhold cash from the school, well, that’s a different story. But we still think Mullen will be back in 2014. As for Bret Bielema, welcome to the SEC. The Razorbacks — who are in need of a massive talent injection — have now lost eight games in a row for the first time in school history. New coach or not, fans don’t react to well to those kinds of streaks. In the end, his team fought, but they couldn’t stop freshman (third-string) MSU quarterback Damian Williams from racing 25 yards for what turned out to be the game-winning score in overtime. With LSU up next, it’s likely Arkansas will open the 2014 season riding a nine-game losing streak. They’ll open with Auburn before facing Nicholls State which means the Hogs could go a full 51 weeks between victories. Ouch.
South Carolina 70, Coastal Carolina 10 (Our prediction: South Carolina 38-14)
If you read this site you know we’re not fans of SEC teams playing FCS squads. It’s embarrassing. And as we wrote on Friday, we like the idea of a David toppling a Goliath from time to time (more on that very shortly). So we’re not impressed in the least with Carolina’s scrimmage against an outclassed Coastal Carolina squad. Seventy points? That’s classless in our view. Either a team is trying to run it up — Carolina did not, inserting its third-string QB by mid-third quarter — or a team has scheduled a team it has no business playing — which is the case in this one. As for the silly argument that teams like USC are just trying to help their state’s economy, puh-lease. What happens when the SEC nixes all games with FCS foes, something Mike Slive should have done long ago? Guess Steve Spurrier will have to start taking the money out of his pocket and giving it to Coastal and Wofford rather than to his players as he’s often theorized. Big win. Big whoop.
Georgia Southern 26, Florida 20 (Our prediction: Florida 28-14)
First, we feel sorry for Will Muschamp and his battered and beaten football team. But not much. Here’s hoping Jeremy Foley enjoys writing Georgia Southern a check for coming into Gainesville and shaming his football program. Last week we warned that GSU was nothing to laugh about. As we pointed out, in 2011, the Eagles put more rushing yards and more points on eventual national champ Alabama than any other team the Tide played. That triple-option stuff is not to be taken lightly. Perhaps Foley will remember that the next time he tries to line up a tomato can for his coach — whoever that might be — to kick over.
Alabama 49, Chattanooga 0 (Our prediction: Alabama 50-0)
Our prediction couldn’t have been much closer, but who the hell cares? Chattanooga? Alabama goes out and typically plays one traditional non-conference power per season. This year it was Virginia Tech. Credit them for that because some SEC schools don’t ever schedule a quality non-conference foe. But the good of playing VPI was undone by the bad of playing both Chattanooga (FCS) and Georgia State (first year in the FBS) in the same stinking year. Here’s hoping Nick Saban didn’t blow up at Tide fans for failing to treat a game with Chattanooga like an Iron Bowl. If Alabama wants fans to stick around for 60 minutes, perhaps they should schedule a few more teams that can at least hang around for 60 minutes. AJ McCarron is perhaps the best leader in the nation and he’s certainly had a great career as Bama’s quarterback. But more than half his schedule to date has consisted of Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi State, Chattanooga and Georgia State. Sorry, but he’s not earned a Heisman against that laughable lineup.
LSU 34, Texas A&M 10 (Our prediction: LSU 44-41)
Color us surprised. Not by LSU winning, we had that part right. But we sure didn’t see a young Tiger defense that has struggled at time this year shutting down a Texas A&M attack that had scored 40 in every other game. Throwing into the teeth of defensive coordinator John Chavis Mustang 3-2-6 Mustang package. LSU’s variation of the dime defense held Johnny Manziel to pedestrian-type numbers (16-of-41 for 224 yards, one TD pass, two INTs, and 54 yards rushing). And if Manziel is not firing and Mike Evans is not catching (four catches for 51 yards), the Aggies aren’t going to beat much of anyone. Not with that defense. LSU hung 517 yards on A&M including 324 on the ground. Who would’ve predicted such a fantastic defensive display against Manziel — bye bye, Heisman — a month ago when Ole Miss was rolling up 525 yards in an upset victory over the Bayou Bengals? And that is why the MrSEC.com crew doesn’t spend much time betting on college football.
Georgia 59, Kentucky 17 (Our prediction: Georgia 41-10)
This was ugly on two fronts. First, Kentucky was drubbed again. Total offense: Georgia 602 yards, Kentucky 211. Oh, and UK had to flip-flop quarterbacks again as Jalen Whitlow left with a shoulder injury on the Cats’ fourth play from scrimmage. The loss was UK’s 15th in a row in SEC play dating back to a 2011 streak-busting win over Tennessee (who’ll limp into Lexington themselves this weekend). The game was also ugly in that one of the SEC’s all-time greatest passers saw his career come to an end. Aaron Murray tore his ACL, played 13 more snaps, and finally left the field with the help of the UGA training staff. Not only was it a sad end to a great career — and yet another injury to add to Georgia’s long list — but the injury comes at such a time that it could hurt Murray’s NFL draft stock. An ugly game in just about every way.
Vanderbilt 14, Tennessee 10 (Our prediction: Tennessee 27-24)
Jordan Matthews left Knoxville on Saturday with a second straight win over Tennessee and the SEC’s all-time receptions mark for a career. Despite what Vol fans might think, no, he did not have all of his 246 catches on Saturday. He did have 13 for 133 including a 25-yarder late in the game to set up the Dores’ winning score in what was one of the most error-filled, unappealing games ever played. If Hell has television, the VU/UT bunglefest must’ve been on every channel. The loss keeps Tennessee out of a bowl for a third straight season. Vanderbilt hadn’t won two in a row against the Vols since 1926. More importantly, James Franklin now has his team within striking distance of a second consecutive 9-4 season. Just a remarkable coaching job by a guy no one had really heard of at the time of his hiring. Howz ’bout a round of applause for VU athletic director David Williams. They might have had some trouble finding the right guy over in East Tennessee, but the man doing the hiring in the Music City uncovered the right guy at the right time. The more Franklin wins, the more Williams looks like he fits right in with the finest pickers in Nashville.
Missouri 24, Ole Miss 10 (Our prediction: Missouri 31-30)
Who knows if those fans who mocked Mizzou’s inclusion in the SEC have accepted the Tigers into their ranks at this point? It matters not. Gary Pinkel’s team is as “for real” as a team can get and it shows no signs of slowing down before reaching Atlanta as East Division champs. Missouri gobblee up clock and territory with a ground game that mustered 260 yards at Ole Miss in what figured to be a tricky game. It wasn’t. Missouri took the opening kickoff and back-as-stater quarterback James Franklin led MU 72 yards for the games first score. The Tigers added a field goal to go up 10-0 (on a Maty Mauk-led drive) and the Rebels were forced into comeback mode for the rest of the night. Mississippi’s offense wasn’t bad (378 yards, one turnover), but the unit wasted too many chances, settling for three field goal tries (two of which were missed). Ole Miss will now try to find victory #8 in Thursday’s Egg Bowl at Starkville. Mizzou has its eyes on bigger things.
Vandy’s Franklin Getting It Done… Somehow
The Commodores aren’t a pretty team to watch. There’s not talent oozing from every corner of the Dudley Field. At times, they look downright bad, especially on offense. But they win. In fact, Vandy has won five of its last six games without ever gaining more than 337 yards of total offense. That’s their high-water mark (not their average). And for the season only Florida is averaging less than 337 yards of offense per game. Against Florida and Kentucky the Dores forced eight turnovers and scored on four drives of 26 yards or less. James Franklin’s team forced three more turnovers on Saturday, but they themselves gave the ball away four times. Yet when a long drive was needed with just four minutes to play, suddenly Austyn Carta-Samuels and his receivers suddenly perked up. If nothing else, Franklin has changed the attitude in VU’s program. They might not be the most talented bunch in the SEC, but they will put up a fight for 60 minutes and they will capitalize on opponents’ mistakes. The Commodores also proving to be a thorn in the sides of their neighbors. This year Vandy has beaten Georgia and Florida. That last two years they’ve beaten Tennessee (and lost to the Vols in overtime in 2011). Franklin owns a three-game winning streak over Kentucky, too. Vanderbilt might not look like your typical top 25 football team… but for the second year in a row they might wind up with a record so good voters can’t keep them out. Big kudos to the job Franklin has done.
Success Can Come And Go Fast, A&M
Back on August 3rd of last season, we wrote a note for Missouri and Texas A&M fans. We tried to show them — and fans from all over the SEC — that no one stays on top or on bottom for long in the SEC. No team had repeated as league champs since 1998 (and that held true last year as well). While everyone thinks of programs like Florida being steady, they’ve proven twice more that they yo-yo like so many others (11-1 last year, 4-7 this year). Perhaps Alabama will become the first back-to-back SEC champion in 15 years this December in Atlanta. Still, our point 15 months ago is every bit as true today and the SEC’s newest fanbases have already learned it for themselves. Last season, Texas A&M shot toward a top 10, two-loss season with a Heisman-winning quarterback and a wide-open offense. Missouri was undone by injuries, stumbling to a 5-7 record. This offseason the reactions were predictable. Aggies fans were upset with us for daring to suggest A&M wouldn’t compete for the SEC title this year. Tiger fans emailed to tell us that we should stop taking up for Gary Pinkel, that he did so deserve to sit on a hot seat. With the season coming to a close, A&M already has three losses and could fall for a fourth time at Missouri this weekend. Some A&M’ers are upset with a Kevin Sumlin team that has “underachieved.” Mizzou, on the other hand, has bounced all the way back from a seven-loss season into the BCS top five. The Tigers, with two more wins, some voter love, and some aid from the BCS computers could find themselves in the BCS title game, better even than A&M a year ago. Our lesson from last August — that one year doesn’t have a whole lot to do with the next in the rough n’ tumble SEC — has been proven out again. Only Alabama sits on top of the world these days. And they’ll still have to get through Auburn and either Missouri or South Carolina to reach the summit again. Perspective, people. Perspective.
Carolina Has A Hand In The SEC’s Two Most Costly Upsets
South Carolina fans have experienced the highest highs and the lowest lows when it comes to the SEC’s two most costly upsets this season. They’ve found themselves on the winning side in one and the losing side in the other. Both have been uber-costly for the loser. Back on October 19th, Carolina rolled into Knoxville at 5-1 on the season. Their only loss had come to Georgia and the Gamecocks were very much alive in the SEC East race. But Carolina was upended by Tennessee and first-year coach Butch Jones 23-21 on a last-second field goal. If not for that game — for that one field goal, even — USC would already be ticketed to Atlanta as SEC East champs and probably sitting no lower than 4th in the BCS standings with an outside chance at a national crown. That’s because Carolina rebounded from that loss to UT and upset Missouri at Faurot Field the following week. Trailing 17-0, Connor Shaw did his best Roy Hobbs imitations, came off the bench, and led the stunning comeback victory. Mizzou couldn’t stop prevent Carolina from scoring 17 straight in the fourth quarter. The Tigers couldn’t stop a 4th and goal from the 15 in overtime or convert a 24-yard field goal of their own, either. If not for that loss, Missouri would already be East champs and would still be undefeated headed into Saturday’s game with Texas A&M. So Mizzou was thisclose to an undefeated season and Carolina was thatclose to already being East winners. The most costly upsets (to date) in the SEC: Tennessee 23-21 over South Carolina and South Carolina 27-24 over Missouri on consecutive October weekends.
Rebuilding Teams Are Who We Thought They Were
By now you sharp folks out there realize that Gus Malzahn inherited a wholly different situation than the new guys at Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee. Auburn had talent — talent specifically recruited for Malzahn’s system — but they squandered it last year under Gene Chizik. Malzahn simply returned and kickstarted the motor he’d built between 2009 and 2011. Those other three teams — the Hogs, Cats and Vols — needed depth, speed and all-around talent to compete. Not surprisingly, those three teams are currently a combined 9-24 overall and just 1-20 in SEC play. Twenty-one SEC games played. One win. Total. By Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee combined. In hindsight, the Volunteers’ upset of South Carolina — a team that’s been hovering around the top 10 all year — appears to have been the biggest longshot winner in the SEC in a long time.