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Fox Goes From Hot Seat To Contract Extension At Georgia; SEC A.D.s Starting To Wise Up

gfx-honest-opinionYesterday the University of Georgia announced that it was extending the contract of head basketball coach Mark Fox.  Back on New Year’s Day, most would’ve predicted Fox would be cleaning out his office this month, not putting down new carpet.

Overall, Fox is 84-76 in five years at Georgia.  He’s reached one NCAA Tournament (in his second year) and his SEC record is just 40-44 overall.  But his team began the 2014 season 6-6 in non-conference play.  The Bulldogs were stuck in the 300s in RPI and strength of schedule.  They’d already lost to Georgia Tech, Davidson, Temple, Nebraska, Colorado and George Washington.  Their only victories were over Wofford, Appalachian State, Chattanooga, Lipscomb, Gardner-Webb and Western Carolina.

For a coach in a make-or-break fifth season, Fox quickly found himself with his back to the wall.  And then came the turnaround that would save Georgia’s season — leading to an NIT bid — and save the coach’s job.

Fox’s team finished 12-6 in the SEC, tied with Kentucky and trailing only Florida.  You might’ve heard that UK and UF will be taking part in this weekend’s Final Four.  The Dawgs managed to add another victory in the SEC Tournament and one more in the NIT to max out at 20-14 on the year.  That was good enough to save Fox and land him a two-year extension that will tie him to Georgia for four more seasons through 2017-18.

Now, that’s hardly a huge reward.  No raise was announced.  And some might say that UGA was stuck between a rock and a hard place.  Athletic director Greg McGarity couldn’t very well fire a coach who finished tied with Kentucky for second place in the league, but he wasn’t ready to give Fox a lifetime contract either.  So he gave him a two-year extension — which will make recruiting a tad easier — and stressed that more improvement is expected.

This from McGarity’s press release:

 

“The improvement our team made throughout the 2013-14 season was very encouraging, and with the loss of only one starter, the expectations for the coming season will be very high.  Mark and I discussed not only this past season, but spent the majority of our time focused on the next four-year period.  We discussed our recruiting plans, scheduling, academic progress and continued development of our program moving forward, and Mark fully recognizes the expectations in these key areas.”

 

In other words, “We want better than 20-14 overall and better than a 6-6 non-conference record.”  And, “NCAAs instead of NITs, please.”

But the reality is this: McGarity has seen enough of Fox to feel that building with him is a safer bet than starting from scratch with some other up-and-comer (which is likely the exact type of coach Georgia would have had to hire).  A similar scenario has played out at Tennessee this week as Vol AD Dave Hart announced that Cuonzo Martin — who turned down the Marquette job early Tuesday morning — will remain at UT with an extension and a raise (though contract details have yet to leak).

Martin has led the Vols to two NITs and the Sweet Sixteen of this year’s NCAA Tournament.  While many fans have demanded that he win at the same clip as Bruce Pearl, the fact is Martin inherited a mess.  He faced NCAA sanctions that impacted recruiting.  He had to clean up what was a poor culture inside the program.  And he had to do it all in Pearl’s shadow with fans clamoring for his return.

Hart, like McGarity, might not have absolute faith in his current head coach, but he has seen enough to give him the benefit of the doubt.  Again, the message seems to be: “Tis better to build with a guy who’s got a winning record at this school than to rush out and start all over with someone who’s got a winning record at some smaller school.”

Fans want championship banners and anything less is viewed as “settling.”  The truth is it takes time to build a program.  Fox will be in Year Six next season and the expectations will be higher.  Martin’s new contract at Tennessee should afford him a Year Five and Year Six, too.

In a league where only three coaches have been in place for more than five seasons — Billy Donovan at Florida, Kevin Stallings at Vanderbilt and Andy Kennedy at Ole Miss — it’s a wise move, in our view, for schools like Georgia and Tennessee to start erring on the side of stability for a change.

(CORRECTION — Andy Kennedy was initially left off the list of coaches with five-plus years of tenure.)

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Where The Talent Came From: SEC Signing Day 2014 (Part 2)

where the talent came fromEarlier today we showed you a full breakdown in table form of where each school went to land its talent this year.  Below, we’ll break things down a bit more simply, school by school and state by state.

Let’s start with the states producing the most SEC talent in 2014.  The league added — as of this moment — 344 new athletes.  Sixty-five of those were from outside the SEC footprint.  That means 279 of the league’s 345 newcomers are from the SEC region.  That’s 81.1% of all the new talent entering the conference.  Wonder why the SEC is so strong every year?  Because its 14 schools averaged fewer than five outsiders a piece this season.  Homegrown talent, folks.

So which states in the SEC zone produced the most newcomers?  Here the list…

 

  SEC State   SEC Newcomers   Thoughts
  Georgia   52   A lack of FBS schools allows SEC rivals to mine the state for talent
  Florida   50   More talent overall, but FSU, Miami, USF, UCF, etc to compete with
  Mississippi   38   Totals boosted by the number of junior colleges in the state
  Texas   36   16 to A&M so other 13 SEC schools just pulled 20 from the state
  Alabama   27   The state’s best are typically gobbled up by Alabama, Auburn
  Louisiana   25   LSU, for the most part, keeps the cream of the crop at home
  Tennessee   17   The state’s numbers have been on the rise as HS football improves
  S. Carolina   13   Clemson grabs a good number of players from this state
  Missouri   11   One would think the St. Louis metro area would produce more talent
  Arkansas   6   Traditionally a talent-poor state
  Kentucky   4   The SEC’s poorest state for talent each year

 

Alright, so what about the schools?  Where did the programs go to bring in the biggest chunk of their new 2014 talent?  Here’s the answer…

 

  School   Leading Talent State   % of Total Class   In-State Talent   % of Total Class
  Alabama   AL (7 of 27)   25.9%   7 of 27   25.9%
  Arkansas   AR & FL (5 each of 24)   20.8%   5 of 24   20.8%
  Auburn   GA (10 of 23)   43.4%   7 of 23   30.4%
  Florida   FL (14 of 24)   58.3%   14 of 24   58.3%
  Georgia   GA (11 of 21)   52.3%   11 of 21   52.3%
  Kentucky   OH (11 of 28)   39.2%   4 of 28   14.2%
  LSU   LA (12 of 23)   52.1%   12 of 23   52.1%
  Miss. State   MS (15 of 23)   65.2%   15 of 23   65.2%
  Missouri   MO (8 of 28)   28.5%   8 of 28   28.5%
  Ole Miss   MS (14 of 26)   53.8%   14 of 26   53.8%
  S. Carolina   SC (9 of 21)   42.8%   9 of 21   42.8%
  Tennessee   TN (10 of 32)   31.2%   10 of 32   31.2%
  Texas A&M   TX (16 of 22)   72.7%   16 of 22   72.7%
  Vanderbilt   GA (5 of 22)   22.7%   3 of 22   13.6%

 

Not a lot of surprises on that there list, huh?  Texas A&M (72.7%), Mississippi State (65.2%), Florida (58.3%), Georgia (52.3%), LSU (52.1%) and Ole Miss (53.8%) all brought in the majority of their new additions from inside their own home states.  Massive advantage if you’ve got it.

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Plenty Of Possibilities As Both SEC Division Races Heat Up

There’s a good month of Saturdays between today and the SEC Championship Game.  (As opposed to a good month of Sundays.)  We thought a look at the stretch run might be of interest as the battles for the East and West division heat up.

 

SEC East Race

  School   Record   Nov. 9   Nov. 16   Nov. 23   Nov. 30th weekend
  Missouri   8-1, 4-1   @ Kentucky   OPEN   @ Ole Miss   Texas A&M
  S. Carolina   7-2, 5-2   OPEN   Florida   C. Carolina   Clemson
  Georgia   5-3, 4-2   Appy State   @ Auburn   Kentucky   Georgia Tech
  Florida   4-4, 3-3   Vanderbilt   @ S. Carolina   Ga. Southern   Florida State
  Vanderbilt   4-4, 1-4   @ Florida   Kentucky   @ Tennessee   Wake Forest
  Tennessee   4-5, 1-4   Auburn   OPEN   Vanderbilt   @ Kentucky
  Kentucky   2-6, 0-4   Missouri   @ Vanderbilt   @ Georgia   Tennessee

 

Missouri controls it’s own destiny at the moment.  No offense to Kentucky, but the Tigers’ final two games (at Ole Miss and hosting Texas A&M) will likely decide the East Division.  If Missouri loses once and finds itself in a two-way tie with South Carolina (who should beat Florida in its final SEC contest), the Gamecocks will head to Atlanta as East Division champs by virtue of their head-to-head win over Mizzou.

If Carolina beats Florida, Missouri loses to either Ole Miss or A&M, and Georgia wins out, the three-way tie would go to Mizzou.  The Tigers would have an SEC East record of 5-1 while the Cocks and Dawgs would stand at 4-2.

But Georgia isn’t completely out of the picture just yet.  Yes, they still have what currently looks to be a loss at Auburn on their schedule.  But if they upset the Tigers and take care of business against Kentucky, they could find themselves en route to Atlanta.

If Missouri loses twice (giving them three losses in league play), that could leave Carolina (if they beat Florida) and Georgia (if they beat Auburn and Kentucky) tied atop the East with 6-2 records.  UGA beat USC head to head and would therefore grab the East Division slot in the SEC Championship Game.

Follow all that?  Good, because the West could be even wilder.

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Was UNC Looking At The SEC When Maryland Broke Ranks? It Doesn’t Seem So

001uncfansLast week — sorry that we’re only now getting wind of this — The Raleigh News & Observer reported the following: “Emails show UNC doubts about ACC after Maryland’s departure.”  You know the drill from there — the paper did an open records request and then scanned all of the email communications of North Carolina’s top brass, looking for any talk of the ACC and conference realignment.

The gist of their findings is simple: Yes, Carolina officials were worried about the ACC’s television revenue when long-time rival Maryland jumped to the Big Ten.  UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham emailed one Tar Heel fan last November to say: “We are looking at all options.  But keeping the ACC strong is our number one choice.”

Nearly 12 months later, the Atlantic Coast Conference has added Louisville and re-worked its own television deal with ESPN.  Pittsburgh and Syracuse have become official members.  And perhaps most importantly, a grant-of-rights agreement has been inked between the league and its 14 members.

So for the moment things look pretty stable, if not particularly lucrative, along the Eastern Seaboard.  But We know what you’re interested in learning.  After Maryland’s move, did UNC peek longingly toward the SEC or any other conference while “looking at all options?”

Not according to Cunningham’s emails.  The News & Observer’s report only mentions the SEC a couple of times:

 

1.  A financial adviser in Athens, Georgia emailed Cunningham about a meeting he had had with an SEC athletic director.  (We’ll guess that he met with UGA’s Greg McGarity.)  The financial adviser, Joe Frierson, wrote:  “He said the SEC pays out around $20 (million per) team right now.  Thinks it will approach $35 (million per team) when TV contract is renegotiated in a couple of years.  He said the SEC just signed a contract for the Sugar Bowl (between teams from the SEC and Big 12) for 2015 that will pay $40 (million) to each conference… That is ridiculous money.”

Cunningham’s response:  “It really concerns me.  If these trends continue I’m not sure how the ACC (can) compete financially.”

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What Each SEC Team Has Really Accomplished Through Four Weeks

gfx - by the numbersWith four weekends of college football action now in the rearview, fans and pundits are now getting a feel for which teams are good and which aren’t.  Or are they?

Below, we’ll take a closer look at the records of the SEC’s teams in an attempt to better understand who’s really accomplished to date.  First, let’s start with the overall records of each SEC squad:

 

SEC Overall Records

1.  LSU 4-0

2.  Alabama, Missouri, Ole Miss 3-0

5.  Arkansas, Auburn, Texas A&M 3-1

8.  Florida, Georgia, South Carolina 2-1

11.  Mississippi State, Tennessee, Vanderbilt 2-2

14.  Kentucky 1-2

 

If you’re a fan of any of those 10 squads boasting records of 2-1 or better, you have to feel pretty good at this stage of the season.  But let’s take a look at the records with wins over FCS opponents removed:

 

SEC Overall Records Without FCS Wins

1.  LSU 4-0

2.  Alabama 3-0

3.  Auburn 3-1

4.  Missouri, Ole Miss 2-0

6.  Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Texas A&M 2-1

11.  Kentucky, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Vanderbilt 1-2

 

Looks a bit different when you yank victories against inferior competition out of the mix, doesn’t it?  Well, let’s whittle things down to each team’s real accomplishments.  Below we look at each team’s record against BCS-level competition.  For each win an SEC squad has recorded against a BCS foe, we’ve awarded a point to the SEC team for each win their vanquished foe has recorded.  For example, South Carolina is 2-1 against BCS competition (beat North Carolina and Vanderbilt, lost to Georgia).  UNC and Vanderbilt have combined for three victories this season.  That’s Carolina’s tally.  The Gamecocks get no points for losing to Georgia.

Here’s how it looks:

 

SEC Records Vs BCS Opponents

1.  Alabama 3-0 overall, 2-0 vs BCS — 6 points (Virginia Tech and Texas A&M have three wins each)

2.  Auburn 3-1 overall, 2-1 vs BCS — 5 points (Washington State has three wins and Mississippi State has two)

3t.  LSU 4-0 overall, 2-0 vs BCS — 4 points (Auburn has three wins and TCU has one)

3t.  Ole Miss 3-0 overall, 2-0 vs BCS — 4 points (Vanderbilt and Texas have two wins each)

5.  South Carolina 2-1 overall, 2-1 vs BCS — 3 points (Vanderbilt has two wins and North Carolina has one)

6t.  Florida 2-1 overall, 1-1 vs BCS — 2 points (Tennessee has two wins)

6t.  Georgia 2-1 overall, 1-1 vs BCS — 2 points (South Carolina has two wins)

6t.  Missouri 3-0 overall, 1-0 vs BCS — 2 points (Indiana has two wins)

9.  Texas A&M 3-1 overall, 1-1 vs BCS — 1 point (SMU has one win)

10t.  Arkansas 3-1 overall, 0-1 vs BCS — 0 points

10t.  Mississippi State 2-2 overall, 0-2 vs BCS — 0 points

10t.  Tennessee 2-2 overall, 0-2 vs BCS — 0 points

10t.  Vanderbilt 2-2 overall, 0-2 vs BCS — 0 points

10t.  Kentucky 1-2 overall, 0-1 vs BCS — 0 points

 

Considering only what SEC squads have done against BCS foes (and the success of those foes), Alabama and Auburn have accomplished the most to this point of the season.  That’s appropriate.  Together they’ve won every BCS championship since 2009.  Most impressive for Bama is the fact that both of their BCS wins have come against three-win squads and both have come away from Bryant-Denny Stadium.

LSU, Ole Miss and South Carolina follow closely behind the Alabama schools.  That schools have each done more on the field than Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Arkansas or Texas A&M, five schools with good overall records, but so-so BCS records.

Through four weeks, naturally there are some teams that look better than other.  But when peer at the SEC through a BCS-only lens, it’s easy to realize that looks can sometimes be deceiving.

CORRECTION — Texas A&M’s win over SMU — now a member of the AAC which is still a BCS conference this season — gives the Aggies a point in the chart above.

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(Blank) Is To Basketball As Alabama Is To Football

kentucky-alabama-statesSorry to start your morning with an SAT-style analogy, but the answer to the query posed in our headline should be quite simple.  With Louisville cutting down the nets in Atlanta last night, the Commonwealth of Kentucky is to basketball as the State of Alabama is to football.

The Yellowhammer State is home to the last four BCS championships.  After Alabama won the national crown in 2009, rival Auburn followed up in 2010.  Since then, Bama has captured two more titles.

The Bluegrass State won its first title since 1998 last year under John Calipari.  Last night, their rival, Louisville, won the NCAA Tournament.  Rick Pitino was behind last night’s run and a ’96 UK title, for what it’s worth… becoming the first college basketball coach to ever win national titles at two different schools.

Moving forward, expect both states to be named favorites to keep the hardware within their state boundaries next season.

Alabama under Nick Saban has become the winningest dynasty since Nebraska won or shared national titles in 1994, 1995, and 1997.  The Crimson Tide inked another highly-ranked signing class in February and there’s little doubt that — despite playing in a tough conference — Vegas will make them the BCS favorites in college football again this fall.

Next basketball season, Kentucky and Louisville should both be among the top title contenders as well.  The Wildcats aren’t likely to do another bellyflop, especially not after signing six McDonald’s All-Americans in what some are calling the greatest class in the history of college hoops.  Louisville will lose Peyton Siva, but the Cardinals are bringing in a four-man signing class that’s loaded with backcourt talent.

Chemistry and injuries should serve as caveats to any speculation regarding future national titles.  Calipari’s team had issues with both this past season.  Saban’s 2010 squad didn’t have the same mental makeup as his 2009 team, opening the door for Cam Newton and Auburn to capture their crystal football.

But on paper, Alabama, Kentucky, and Louisville should once again be back in the mix for their respective sports’ national crowns in the 2013-14 academic year.  For that matter, as long as Saban, Calipari, and Pitino are coaching those programs, they will likely be in the mix for a national championship just about every year.

Alabama in football and Kentucky in basketball.  When it comes to college championships, SEC fans don’t have to look to other regions to see where the finest programs reside.

 

CORRECTION — Kentucky’s last NCAA Tournament win came in 1998 under Tubby Smith, not in 1996 under Rick Pitino as initially noted.

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Court Won’t Dismiss The ACC’s Lawsuit Against Maryland

gavelThe ACC scored an expected win yesterday when a North Carolina judge refused to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the league against the University of Maryland.  The school had argued that that a court in the Tarheel State — which happens to be the home state of the ACC’s league office — held no jurisdiction over a school in the state of Maryland, meaning the league’s $52 million lawsuit/exit fee should be tossed.

Yesterday’s ruling simply sets the stage for another court case.  Planning an escape to the Big Ten, the University of Maryland has no intention of paying the $52 million exit fee the ACC agreed upon last year.  A spokesman for Terrapins’ lawyer Douglas Gansler said last night that “the state is going to be considering its options in light of this ruling.”

Gansler had stated when filing his motion to dismiss that the ACC’s enormous exit fee was “an antitrust violation and an illegal penalty.”  He had also said that his motion “in North Carolina will insure that a Maryland court will rule on the case.”

D’oh.

Multiple sources have told MrSEC.com that Virginia and Georgia Tech have had conversations with the Big Ten, but all parties involved are waiting to see the outcome of the ACC/Maryland battle before deciding to wed.  There have been other reports that the Big Ten has had contact with North Carolina and Duke as well.

Jim Delany’s league and any ACC schools on its wish list could announce plans to wed before Maryland’s case is settled, but at this point that seems unlikely.  So this not-so-unexpected delay in the courts might slow down — for a bit — the inevitable expansion/realignment shuffle to come.

To date, conference exit fees have been negotiated down as schools have found legal loopholes.  But keep in mind, they’ve been negotiated down.  They’ve not been thrown out altogether.  Schools have found enough reason for leagues to believe they could lose a court battle… so rather than risk a court defeat, force schools that want out to stick around, and slow their own re-growth plans, conferences have been willing to negotiate lower settlements.  But the ACC’s exit clause might be more ironclad than other leagues’ contracts.  Again, the exit clause was re-worked last year after the ACC saw school after school talk their own settlements’ down with other conferences.  It’s possible the ACC learned something by watching those other leagues buckle.

Also, seeing as most believe Maryland’s departure could be the first domino to fall in a potential ACC collapse, John Swofford’s league might be more willing to fight this thing in court than other conferences would be.

The irony is that representatives from ACC schools are talking to other conferences about exiting at the exact same time those schools are trying to prevent Maryland from exiting.

 

(CORRECTION — The original headlines said the “NCAA” won’t dismiss the ACC’s lawsuit.  Total bungle on my part.  Had just been reading up on the NCAA/Miami case and my brain did its typical early morning flub thing.  Apologies.)

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New A&M Assistant Won’t Rein In Johnny Football

gfx - they said itNew Texas A&M co-offensive coordinator Clarence McKinney made it clear yesterday that he has no intentions of hindering Heisman-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel:

 

“We’re going to let Johnny do what he does best.  We’re not going to try and control him.  We’re going to give him the system and let him play football…

I don’t see a reason to change much.  We’re going to add some things to get better, but our philosophy offensively is to take what the defense gives us.”

 

McKinney has been with Kevin Sumlin since serving as his running backs coach at Houston.  In other words, he knows the offense and he knows how Sumlin wants it run.

Listen closely and you can hear a deafening sigh of relief emanating from College Station.

 

(CORRECTION — An earlier version of this story said that McKinney came to A&M from West Virginia after serving on Sumlin’s Houston staff.  In fact, it was Jake Spavital — the other co-offensive coordinator — who was hired from Dana Holgorsen’s staff.  Apologies.)

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D’oh! Memphis-UT Talking About New Hoops Contract

josh-pastner-yellsMemphis coach Josh Pastner has put himself front and center this week by repeatedly stating that he would kill off the Memphis-Tennessee basketball series after the two teams meet tonight in Knoxville.  No surprise.  He’s been saying for the past couple of years that he doesn’t want Arkansas, Mississippi State, Ole Miss or Tennessee coming into his city, playing basketball, and possibly wooing a recruit or two while there.

A few of Pastner’s quotes regarding the Tigers-Vols series:

 

1.  “The facts are, this will be the last year of the series unless we play them in the postseason.  Now obviously, if any of my bosses want to play them, that’s… Me, as the head coach, the series is over, the contract is over, let’s move on.”

2.  “We will not play Tennessee anymore as long as I’m the head coach and I’m doing my scheduling.”

3.  “The contract’s ending, we have a new athletic director and he and I are on the same page with it.”

 

Three strikes, you’re out.

Someone might need to get a spatula to help Pastner get the egg off of his face.  As it turns out, Memphis AD Tom Bowen said yesterday — one day after Pastner’s Quote #3 above — that he and UT athletic director Dave Hart are still discussing a continuation of the series.

Bowen told The Memphis Commercial Appeal, “We are re-evaluating everything.”  He added: “The Tennessee game is important.  They’d come to our place next.  So there’s an advantage there.”

D’oh!

Pastner’s response when The Commercial Appeal caught up with him about the apparent flip-flop: “I’d rather you call Tom Bowen on that.”

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Observations On Florida’s Nightmarish Sugar Bowl

observation-pointA few thoughts and tidbits that ran through the noggin during Louisville’s 33-23 win over Florida in last evening’s Sugar Bowl:

 

*  Florida fans shouldn’t complain too much about the loss.  No, really.  They shouldn’t.

Because they didn’t take Louisville any more seriously than the Gator players did.

That won’t actually prevent grumbling, of course, but the fact is, many Gator fans moaned about having to play a Big East team.  UF also failed to sell out its bowl allotment by a pretty good chunk.  So if a fan — who could afford to go — didn’t take the Cardinals seriously and didn’t go to the game, I don’t see how that fan can whine too much about his team not showing up, either.

 

*  Florida went 11-1 against the season’s toughest SEC schedule.  They did so with a heckuva defense and a penchant for taking care of the ball (they were plus-17 going into last night’s game).  In our game preview, we wrote that with Florida’s depth and talent, turnovers were the only thing that could undo the Gators’ chances in New Orleans.  One fumble and two interceptions later — including an INT returned for a touchdown 15 seconds into the game — and UF had another loss on its ledger.

UF went 11-0 when it turned the ball over two or fewer times in a game this past season.  The Gators were 0-2 when they turned it over more than twice (six turnovers versus Georgia, three versus Louisville).  Even simpler, Florida was 11-0 when it won the turnover battle, 0-2 when it lost it.  Which goes to show…

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