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Cutcliffe’s Duke Revival Poses What-Ifs In The SEC

cutcliffe_david025David Cutcliffe was once an SEC man.  Graduated from Alabama.  An assistant at Tennessee.  A head coach at Ole Miss.  Coaching All-American, Heisman-candidate quarterbacks like Heath Shuler and Peyton and Eli Manning.

You don’t get much more Southern than that.  If any man has SEC DNA, it’s David Cutcliffe.  Yet Cutcliffe got only one shot as an SEC head coach and he was fired from that gig despite winning the majority of his games.

Well, his current success at Duke should have a pair of SEC schools questioning their decision-making with regards to his employment

For those who haven’t been keeping up, the Blue Devils knocked off Miami over the weekend — Miami of Florida not Ohio — to hit the eight-win mark.  It’s Duke’s first eight-win campaign since 1994.  Ninety-four also happened to be the last time a Duke team found itself in the national ranking.  Until now.  In addition, the Blue Devils will be going to back-to-back bowls (they finished 6-7 after losing to Cincinnati in last year’s Belk Bowl).  They’re also currently in line to play in the ACC Championship Game as Coastal Division champs.  And if Cutcliffe somehow leads Duke to 10 wins, he’ll be the first man in school history to accomplish such a feat.  Neither Wallace Wade nor Steve Spurrier accomplished that one.

Pretty good for a guy Ole Miss tossed aside and Tennessee looked past.

From 1995 through 1998, Tommy Tuberville led Ole Miss to records of 6-5, 5-6, 8-4 and 6-5.  That 25-20 mark was good enough to land him the Auburn job.  Cutcliffe then improved UM’s winning percentage from 55.5% to 60%, lost out on a West crown by one game, and was canned following a 4-7 rebuilding year.  Under Cutcliffe, the Rebels won eight, seven, seven, seven and 10 games before that final year drop-off.  Their 2003 team went 7-1 in league play and lost a tight game to LSU that cost them the West Division title.  No Ole Miss team has ever come closer to reaching the SEC Championship Game.

But Cutcliffe wasn’t viewed as a great recruiter and he wasn’t the king of gab when it came to dealing with Rebel boosters.  Nope, all he did was win at a better clip than predecessors Tuberville, Joe Lee Dunn, Billy Brewer, Steve Sloan, and Ken Cooper.  To put it in historical terms, Cutcliffe’s six seasons in Oxford were just about the best stretch since Johnny Vaught coached the Rebs, and Ole Miss named its stadium after him.

Mississippi wanted an upgrade and when Cutcliffe refused to let go of some of his key staff members, he was scrapped.  In came Ed Orgeron (28.6% wins), Houston Nutt (48.0% wins) and now Hugh Freeze, who looks to be a keeper.  But what if Ole Miss had hung on to Cutcliffe?  It’s likely he would have inked a top-flight quarterback at some point and once again competed for a West Division title a time or two.  The second coming of Bear Bryant?  No.  Better than the up-and-down mess Ole Miss has endured before and since?  Without question. Read the rest of this entry »

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SEC Headlines 6/21/2013

headlines-friSEC Football

1. The biggest losers at Tennessee? A breakdown of who has lost and gained the most weight.

2. Travel expenses are up and ticket revenue is down at Tennessee.

3. Praise for South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward.  ”Only a matter of time…that he won’t be considered one of the top coordinators in the country.”

4. Stadium enhancements in Jacksonville not expected to impact seating capacity for the Florida-Georgia game.

5. What’s the outlook at inside linebacker for Georgia? “There’s going to be competition all the way up until the time we start getting ready for Clemson.”

6. One of the best games on the SEC schedule this year – LSU makes a rare appearance in Athens.

7. Does Missouri open with the SEC’s easiest schedule? “This first four will give coach Gary Pinkel a little job security. A very little.”

8. Future SEC Power Rankings: From No. 1 Alabama to No. 14 Missouri.

9. What’s the outlook in Fayetteville? “Arkansas needs to step up its game to keep pace in the West Division.”

10. Kicked off Vanderbilt’s team for a violation of team rules, defensive tackle Jared Morse has rejoined the Commodores.

11. Coach Hugh Freeze prefers to focus on the advantages at Ole Miss: “The same people that (talk about our disadvantages are also) writing that it’s in the top five of most beautiful campuses in the nation…”

12. As a wide receiver and punter for the 1989 Henderson State team, Gus Malzahn was the only married guy on the team.

13. A question mark for Auburn? ”Our punt return game in the past, that’s one area I haven’t been real pleased.”

14. Alabama lineman Cyrus Kouandjio had arthroscopic surgery on his shoulder.  

SEC/College News

15. Dueling reports dispute whether an arrest warrant has been issued for current New England Patriot and former Florida Gator Aaron Hernandez

16. Mike Bianchi: “When Hernandez was at UF, he was once questioned, along with three other Gator football players, about a shooting in Gainesville.”

17. Police release two videos that may provide clues to the Howard’s Rock vandalism at Clemson.

18. Judge orders lawyers in the Ed O’Bannon case against the NCAA to revise the lawsuit. Expected to get ruling in the next few weeks, then “we’ll get a better gauge of just how radically that business might change.”

19. Andy Staples: “The Curt Flood of major college sports is probably on a campus somewhere in America right now.”

20.  ”Larger athletics scholarships are not a part of the push for a new division…It is the entire issue.”

21. Missouri A.D. Mike Alden is the 2013-2014 president of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics.

22. Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez likes it fast. ”I’d like to have less stoppages and play faster.” See the MrSEC breakdown of what faster offenses do for defenses.

23. Former LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell – before and after.

24. Texas A&M and Notre Dame join other schools in releasing their own fragrance lines.

SEC Basketball

25. Agent for former Kentucky center Nerlens Noel responds to rumors and chatter of  ”massive, massive red flags.”

26. Texas A&M’s Elston Turner was the third-leading scorer in the SEC last season.  How does his game project to the NBA?

27. Does former Missouri center Alex Oriakhi have a shot at the next level?

28. Will Marshall Henderson be a leader for Ole Miss?

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MSU’s Mullen Verbatim: “We’re Not Very Far From The National Title”

It’s been stated again and again and again — Dan Mullen in three years in Starkville has three wins over Ole Miss, zero wins over the rest of the SEC West.  It was pointed out by a questioner that of MSU’s 12 losses to those other West Division foes, four of them have come by a touchdown or less.  Mullen took things from there:

 

“We’ve had the opportunity to beat every one of those teams right down to the fourth quarter, last plays of the game.  The big difference for us is we have to make those game-winning plays.  We have to have guys step up and make those game-winning plays.  I think three of those teams have won the national championship (Alabama, Auburn and LSU).  So when you look, the great thing I guess in our program in the SEC West — we’re not far off from there.  Which means we’re not very far from the national title.”

 

Mullen said his players see how close they are to the best teams in the nation and that is helping to build confidence.  “And when you have that confidence you start winning a lot of those games, you make that big play that one play difference.”

While State has gotten close on occasion with the four top teams in the West, eight of those 12 losses have come by more than a touchdown.  For that reason, State’s probably not quite as close to a national title as Mullen suggests.  The next step is take down one of the big boys, maybe two.  Then BCS title talk might seem a whole lot more realistic.

Can’t blame a coach for sending a positive message about his program, though.

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More Schedule Whining: This Time From Carolina

Vanderbilt’s Kevin Stallings isn’t the only person in the SEC who doesn’t like the league’s scheduling practices.  The folks at South Carolina aren’t happy about the way the SEC schedules its football games.  They’ve come up with a solution, too.

USC trustee Chuck Allen has proposed an amendment to the SEC rules:

“For the purposes of football division rankings, intra-division games shall be valued as a whole (1.0) game and inter-divisional games shall be valued as a half (0.5) game.”

Why count cross-divisional games as a half game?  Because South Carolina had to play one tougher West Division foe in 2011 than Georgia did.  (And if the shoe were on the other foot, USC trustee Chuck Allen would be stone silent right now.)

South Carolina beat Georgia this past season and then knocked off every other team from the East Division.  But the Gamecocks went just 1-2 against the West Division (beating MSU and losing to Arkansas and Auburn).

Georgia ran the table after its Carolina loss, including a 3-0 record versus SEC West opponents (beating Ole Miss, MSU and Auburn.)  Next year, the Dawgs will again avoid Alabama, Arkansas and LSU, while the Cocks will have to face the Razorbacks and the Tigers.

But let’s face facts, if Carolina had won the SEC East last year, Allen isn’t making his proposal and AD Eric Hyman isn’t vowing to push it at the SEC meetings.

Here’s a problem with the logic, though — you could make a pretty good case that it wasn’t the Arkansas loss that cost Carolina last year… it was the 16-13 home loss to a 7-5 Auburn squad that hurt.  Georgia did have to play the Tigers.  And they crushed them 45-7.

If it sounds like we’re not big on schools and coaches whining about schedule slights, we’re not.  When a schedule is made, there’s no telling who’ll be good and who’ll be bad (anyone think Florida would be 6-6 last year).  There’s no telling who’ll be banged up or missing players due to academics or off-field transgressions when two teams meet.  Which teams will start hot and cool off or start cool and heat up.

Beat the teams in front of you.

Until the SEC goes to a 26-game football schedule in which every team will face every other team both at home and away, there’s no such thing as a completely fair schedule.  Someone will always have an advantage.

Championship teams rise above it.  Others spend their time trying to cook up new point systems for the league’s football standings board.

Carolina just had a helluva 2011.  Whining for rules changes is no way to start 2012.

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Arkansas AD Long Wants Missouri In The West

Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long caused a bit of a stir soon after Missouri’s entry into the SEC was made official.  When asked about divisional alignment, he said Missouri would be in the SEC East “initially.”

Initially?

We stated yesterday that we frankly didn’t know what the heck he meant by that.  Missouri to the East saves all of the SEC’s current rivalries which was a goal of the league in expanding — change as little as possible.  Why would the league put Mizzou in the East only to move them back out again… especially if the league isn’t looking to expand to 16 (and it isn’t).

Well now Long has shed some more light on his Missouri views… and it sounds like Long’s “initially” comment was grounded more in hope than fact.


“We would like to see Missouri in the West.  We think that makes sense from our standpoint, having them in the West, playing them on a regular basis. … Long-term I hope there is an opportunity to look at Missouri in the West.  Again, that’s one school of 14′s opinion, but I hope we look at that over time.”

For every Arkansas who wants Missouri in the West, there’s an Alabama or a Tennessee who wants them in the East in order to protect already-established SEC rivalries.

Missouri — on a map — should be in the West Division.  But the ACC and the Big Ten paid no attention to the map in their divisional set-ups.  Neither does the SEC now.

If the SEC had used a map in 1992, Auburn would be in the East and Vanderbilt in the West.

Would Missouri and Arkansas be a good rivalry to kickstart?  No doubt.  From a conference perspective, not at the expense of an existing SEC rivalry.

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Rumors: Nutt Out At UM, Boone Resigning

There are more rumors in the Magnolia State today — following a day in which Houston Nutt had to tell everyone at his weekly press conference that he’d not been fired.  Today’s rumors?  That Nutt will be done in Oxford at season’s end and maybe sooner.  Ole Miss has a press conference at 3pm ET today and it’s expected that Nutt’s ouster will be announced at that time.

According to RebelGrove.com — the Rivals site covering Ole Miss — Nutt is expected to coach the final three games of the season.  He will be available to the media after the press conference which will be held by chancellor Dan Jones and AD Pete Boone.

Also, it’s being reported that the embattled Boone will step down “as soon as a successor is named.”  According to RedCupRebellion.com — the SB Nation site covering Ole Miss — “A search committee will be employed to find a replacement.”

Parrish Alford of The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal has been told that Boone will resign but it “might not be today.”

RebelGrove reports here — not behind a paywall — that there was no simple reason for Nutt’s failure in Oxford.

Nutt took Ole Miss to back-to-back Cotton Bowls in his first two seasons before dropping off to 4-8 last year.  This year his team is 2-7 and he has lost 12 SEC contests in a row dating back to last season.  In addition, he’s dropped two games in a row to Dan Mullen and Mississippi State.

The buyout for Nutt is believed to be about $6 million.  So the Rebels will have to dig deep to pay him off and find a “name” replacement.

There are four names that we expect to hear kicked around with regards to the Rebel job:


* Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart

* Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn

* Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin

* Former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach


Ole Miss is the only West Division team to have never reached the SEC Championship Game.  The Rebels’ last conference titles came in 1962 and 1963.  Would Smart, Malzahn, Sumlin or Leach view Ole Miss as having potential?  Or would they focuse on the fact that UM is left with Kentucky and Vanderbilt as the only league schools not to reach a conference championship game in the past two decades?

Timing might play a factor as well.  Ten years ago, the SEC West was wide open.  Now Nick Saban, Les Miles and Bobby Petrino all have their programs in the Top 10 and none of them look to be leaving anytime soon.

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SEC Could Be All Alone With 8-Game Schedule

The Pac-10 is playing nine conference games per season.  Ditto the Big 12 this year.  The Big Ten will do the same beginning in 2017.  And according to this report, the post-expansion ACC will likely be a nine-game league, too.  (Virginia Tech AD Jim Weaver would actually like to see a 10-game in-conference schedule.)

If the Big 12 sticks with a nine-game plan, that would leave four of the current six BCS conferences with nine-game conference schedules, one — the Big East — on life support, and the SEC all by its lonesome with an eight-game schedule.  So would the SEC stand pat?

League coaches would campaign for the status quo.  When the league went from six to seven to eight SEC games per year, coaches moaned.  When the SEC Championship Game was added, coaches moaned.  In a league as tough as the SEC — they claimed — no one could win a national title when having to play so many conference rivals.

We know now that that was faulty thinking.  The SEC has won more titles post-expansion than it had in the 20 years prior to expansion (and the championship game and the eight-game schedule).

The SEC has been given the benefit of the doubt by pollsters time and again because of its perceived mini-NFL toughness.  Florida was pushed into the BCS title game over Michigan at the end of the 2006 season.  LSU landed in the BCS title game with two losses in 2007.

If history is a guide, a nine-game schedule would be unlikely to hurt the SEC in its pursuit of national crowns.  And it may save one of the league’s biggest rivalries as well.

If Missouri eventually joins the SEC, it’s believed by most that Auburn will shift from the West Division to the East Division.  AU president Jay Gogue has even okay’d just a move publicly.

If moved, the Tigers would then become the permanent protected rival of Alabama.  Currently, Alabama’s protected rival is Tennessee.  If Auburn moves and an eight-game schedule is kept, the Third Saturday in October game could lose its annual slot on the schedule.

Alabama and Tennessee are one-two on the SEC’s all-time standings board.  They have won more league crowns than any other programs (Tide 22, Vols 13).  For a league located in a region that takes its history and traditions just a shade more than seriously, it’s hard to imagine the SEC allowing a classic rivalry like Alabama-Tennessee to go by the wayside.

Especially if the solution is a nine-game league schedule.  A nine-game league schedule that every other major conference might wind up using.

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SEC Headlines – 10/5/11 Part One

1.  Alabama and LSU will likely decide the West Division title on November 5th.  But that doesn’t mean you should rule out a BCS rematch.

2.  The Crimson Tide’s offense is more balanced than it appears.

3.  Injuries at Auburn are creating opportunities for backups to step up.

4.  Broderick Green’s return from injury helped spark Arkansas’ run game last week.

5.  Receiver Joe Adams is expected to play with a rib injury this weekend against Auburn.

6.  LSU’s Tyrann Mathieu is the top playmaking defender in this year’s Heisman race.

7.  A relief fund has been set up for Tiger running back Alfred Blue after his family’s home was destroyed by fire.

8.  Ole Miss needs to use its open date to strengthen its run defense.

9.  Dan Mullen says there could be more shuffling on MSU’s offensive line… and that better recruiting is the best way to fix the current woes.

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UT’s Dooley Not A Fan Of Realignment

As the SEC expands, the one historic rivalry that more and more people are insisting must be kept is Alabama versus Tennessee.  If Auburn moves from the West Division to the East Division, the Tigers and Tide would no doubt protect their Iron Bowl clash as a permanent cross-divisional game.  Unless the league went back to protecting two cross-divisional opponents for each school, that could mean the end of The Third Saturday In October game between the Vols and Tide.

When Tennessee’s Derek Dooley was asked about that possibility, he made it clear that he’s no fan of the rush to realign the conferences:


“From a guy who grew up in the SEC, it’s a little disappointing to see all that’s happening in college football.  I think we’re tampering with something that has made college football so special, and that’s the fans, the traditions, the rivalries, and the ability to go to road games.  With your fanbase seeing the same teams every year, you develop a deep history that makes this game special, but nobody is really worries about what I think or what the other coaches think.

There is not much we can do about it, but I just hope we don’t end some of these traditions and rivalries, but I’m afraid if we keep going down this path, that is what’s going to happen.”


Dooley added that he hopes there is “a lot of dialogue on all these issues before we make decisions.”  That’s an interesting comment considering it’s no secret that Dooley and several other coaches weren’t particularly enamored with Mike Slive’s “agenda for change” push in July or the league’s June decision to put a soft-cap on signing classes… over the unanimous objection of the league’s coaches.

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How To Schedule A 13-Team SEC Football Season; And Have You Noticed That The SEC Hasn’t Officially Released Next Year’s Schedule?

If Texas A&M is voted in as a member of the Southeastern Conference and begins competing in football next fall, it appears that the league will have to figure out a way to squeeze 13 teams into its current divisional format.

Why keep divisions?  As we’ve already stated once today, in order to hold a championship game, the NCAA requires a league to have at least 12 teams split into divisions.  Unless the SEC wants to petition the NCAA to change that rule, there’s little chance of having one big free-for-all league.  In the current set-up, if you want a title game, your league has to be split into divisions.

If divisions are a must, would the SEC just place A&M in the West Division?  Makes sense.  But we can’t imagine West schools would like the idea of having a harder road to Atlanta than their neighbors in the East Division.  Also, under the SEC’s current scheduling format, schools play every other team in their own division.  Would the league force West Division teams to play more league games than East Division teams.  It’s hard to imagine anyone in the West signing off on that even for a year.

Eventually, if the league does go to 14 schools, you can expect a nine-game conference schedule to emerge.  Coaches would howl.  Those of us in the media would shout that no SEC team would ever win another national title.

We’ve lived through that scenario once before.  In 1992, when the SEC split into divisions, went from six conference games all the way to eight, and added an SEC title game, league coaches suffered a collective conniption.  (Correction: SEC coaches complained as the league went from six to seven games in 1988 and then from seven to eight in 1992.)

“There’s no way we’ll ever win again with such a brutal schedule!”

And Alabama promptly went undefeated and won the national title in Year One of the new set-up.  Matter of fact, in 19 seasons of eight-game, divisional play the SEC has won nine national crowns (handed out to five different schools).  In the 19 seasons prior to 1992, the SEC had won just four national titles (and three of those went to Alabama).  The SEC went 11 seasons without a title before the tougher set-up.  It’s since won nine in 19 years.  The tougher schedule gave the league more credibility.

At any rate, the SEC currently uses a 5-1-2 format.  Each school plays five divisional foes, one permanent foe from the other division, and two rotating foes from the other division.  If the league were to expand to 14 schools and bring in another Western team, Auburn would likely move to the East and that would require the league to go to a 6-2-1 format.  Doing so would enable the league to preserve some longtime rivalries — namely Alabama-Tennessee — that might otherwise disappear.  If, however, a team is added from the Eastern part of the US, the league could go to a nine-game schedule and use a friendlier 6-1-2 format.  It all depends on who School #14 turns out to be (if there is one).

To recap:

1.  It’s unlikely the league would do away with divisional play.

2.  It’s also unlikely that West Division schools would agree to put themselves at a disadvantage by adding a team to their side of the ledger.

So how can the SEC add Texas A&M to the 2012 football schedule?

The best possible fix might be a single “transition” year schedule for the Aggies.  The key would be finding eight league schools — four from the East and four from the West, if the league wanted to keep things balanced — that would be willing to schedule the Aggies in what would amount to “non-conference” conference games.  A&M would get a full schedule and full share of SEC money, but they wouldn’t be eligible for a trip to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game.  They would, however, be eligible for an SEC-connected bowl trip.  (And, yes, new bowl contracts will have to be drawn up once the league expands, too.)

Arkansas already has Texas A&M on the books for their rivalry game in Arlington, Texas next year.  That means the league would need to find just three teams in the West and four in the East willing to schedule A&M.  Sounds easy enough.

But what about the non-conference foes already locked on to SEC schedules next fall?  The schools adding A&M in this scenario would each have to buyout one non-conference foe from next year’s schedule.  Would they be willing to do that for the good of the league?  Would the SEC office be willing to kick in the cash to cover seven buyouts (a figure that would probably total about $7 million)?

Also, most SEC schools play the majority of their non-conference games early, leaving one spot later in the season for a homecoming dud (in most cases).  Could A&M find seven SEC dance partners and make sure all those games fell in such a way that the Aggies would have 12 games spread neatly over the NCAA’s 13-week season?

We wanted to examine next year’s schedules to determine which schools might best be able to finagle their schedules.  So we grabbed this year’s SEC Media Guide.  Usually one can find the current year’s schedules as well as upcoming year’s schedules right there in the guide.

But…

This year the SEC has not officially released its schools’ 2012 schedules yet.  Not in its media guide.  Not on its website.  Not on its schools’ websites.

In addition, every 10 years the SEC re-examines — and possibly re-works — the schedule rotation for non-division games.  This is the final season of the current 10-year rotation.  But to date the SEC hasn’t announced a new rotation of non-division foes either.

Why is all this interesting?  Because Texas A&M and the SEC have said that the Aggies first made contact with Mike Slive in late-July.  Yet the SEC has — for some reason — not released its 2012 schedules or even set its non-divisional rotations.

Again, it’s pretty standard for the SEC schedule to be put to bed early enough that it’s listed in all of the media guides and on all of the league’s websites by mid-July.  But that’s not the case this year.

Why it’s almost as though league officials knew that something might change.

Now, do we find it odd that in a year when the SEC looks to be bringing in a new school, the league has coincidentally been historically slow in its schedule-setting?  Uh, yeah.  We do.  (We’re sure the SEC will provide a perfectly good explanation for the delay, however.)

We also believe that it’s likely the league is — and has been — prepared to take the path of least resistance with regards to A&M’s 2012 schedule.  And that’s most likely an eight-game SEC schedule for A&M that doesn’t figure into the league’s standings at all.  For a year.  And that’s if the SEC doesn’t surprise us all with the announcement of a 14th school (or 15th or 16th) in the next few days.

After 2012, however, all bets are off.  Whatever the league does schedule-wise next season — with presumably a 13-school conference — will not be perfect.  It will be makeshift.  It will be a case of making lemonade out of lemons.  Or chicken salad… well, you get the picture.

If the SEC doesn’t have School #14 lined up for entry by the 2013 football season, then Slive’s office will have a bigger problem on its hands.  At that point, A&M will surely want a shot at Atlanta.  At that point, current league schools surely won’t want to play in a division that has seven teams when the other has but six.

For a 13-team 2012, there appears to be a solution.  Beyond that, who knows?

Good thing the SEC just happened to take such an unusually long time to announce its 2012 schedule.

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