NCAA Report Card : SEC (East & West)
Top of the Class – Georgia & Alabama
Obvious contenders for top team or indeed just living up to reputation should by default go to the National Champions. But wait, isn’t it just expected of Bama to steamroll the competition and march to yet another National Championship?
For me, the best team in College Football this season was Georgia. That defence, that running game (oh that running game) and to develop a true freshman quarterback into a National Championship contender, Kirby Smart deserves a whole lot of credit. Of course the challenge for the Bulldogs is to build on this season despite losing All American’s Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and Roquon Smith. That Kirby Smart, my friend is a whole heap of challenge. But having come through the championship sausage factory that is Alabama, a challenge Kirby is well accustomed to.
Declared for Draft : Nick Chubb (RB), Sony Michel (RB), Raquon Smith (LB) Trenton Thompson (DT), Lorenzo Carter (OLB).
Returning : Jake Fromme
Georgia : A+
So what of National Champs, Alabama? Starting the year as favourites is just a thing in Tuscaloosa. Despite losing seven all star defenders to last year’s draft, Nick Saban refreshed his defence which again looked like one of the best defences in the NCAA. Not the best as I think that goes to the Georgia Bulldogs. However unlike previous seasons it was at quarterback that Alabama struggled. Jalen Hurts has not won over many of his critics in his last two seasons and a changing of the guard unfolded before the eyes of the world during the Championship game as Tua Tagovailoa became the hero of the Crimson Tide.
But don’t be surprised to see Hurts return as starting QB next season. Saban is loyal and will give him all the chance he needs in his Senior year, but I would be surprised if Tagovailoa wasn’t the QB who finishes next season and goes on to dominate the SEC West.
Declared for Draft : Minkah Fitzpatrick (DB), Ronnie Harrison (DB), Da’Ron Payne (NT), Calvin Ridley (WR), Bo Scarborough (RB)
Returning : Jalen Hurts, Tue Tagovailoa
Alabama : A
Fail : Florida & Tennessee
Two contenders for 2017 gross underachievers have to be Florida and Tennessee. A truly terrible season for both teams with head coaches, Jim McIlwain and Butch Jones sacked mid season. The circus that surrounded the Vols programme was a huge distraction for the whole season culminating in the eventual firing debacle of Jones, the Jon Gruden “would he, wouldn’t he” want to coach in the SEC show and the subsequent hiring and then firing of Greg Schiano (can you fire someone who hasn’t actually been hired?), meant the Vols became a category one laughing stock in the East. The hire of Jeremy Pruitt should be a step in the right direction. I only hope that the Vols fans calm their craziness and don’t hold the non hiring of Jon Gruden against Pruitt.
Tennessee: D-/ Things can only get better.
Tennessee declared for draft : John Kelly (RB)
Just when we thought things were going well in the Swamp, it all started to unravel. LIke many other teams injuries took their toll on the Gators and particularly at QB, where a succession of QB’s couldn’t quite get it right. And McIlwain couldn’t decide on a winning formula. Young Luke Del Rio (Jack’s son) looked like he was going to hold on to the job, until he got injured. Then both Felipe Franks and Malik Zaire juggled the job like they didn’t want it. Zaire in particular is a head scratcher as the potential seen early in his time at Notre Dame just didn’t develop with the Irish or indeed with the Gators. Despite Franks wild inconsistencies I expect he has done enough to start next season under the Dan Mullen revolution. Talking of which, the hire of Dan Mullen as Head Coach has to be one of the most exciting developments in the SEC. Mullen worked wonders in Stark-Vegas and was the prime reason that Dak Prescott walked straight into the Dallas Cowboys starting line up. Dan might need a year to sort the mess out in Gainesville but he’s a good ol’ Gainesville boy returning home, so I think the Gator fans will give him the time he needs and deserves. Exciting times ahead in Gainesville.
Florida : D/ Positive Outlook
Florida declared for draft : Taven Bryan (DT), Antonio Callaway (WR)
Auburn and LSU ended the 2017 season well ahead of expectations. And given the high expectations at Auburn and in Baton Rouge that is saying something. Both Gus Malzahn and Coach “O” were within touching distance of the sack, but Malzahn pulled a rabbit out of the hat, taking his Tigers within one game of the Play-offs. Down in the Bayou, Coach O had a great start to the season and then battled manfully all season as only Coach O knows how. His Tigers were frustratingly inconsistent and a hardcore fan base heaped all of blame for the mid season collapse blame onto DC Matt Canada,who ultimately got the sack, probably saving Orgeron’s job in the process. However LSU’s great start to the season means Ed gets another crack in Baton Rouge next year.
Auburn : B+/ LSU : C
Auburn declared for draft : Kerryon Johnson (RB), Carlton Davis (CB), Jeff Holland (OL), Kamryn Pettway (RB)
LSU declared for draft : Derris Guice (RB), Will Clapp (OG/C), Donte Jackson (DB), Arden Key (LB), Kevin Toliver (CB), Toby Weathersby (OT)
Must do better.
If Tennessee and Florida didn’t fare well in the East, then Ole Miss in the West had a season they would want to forget in a hurry. A succession of scandals have plagued the Rebels leading to Head Coach Hugh Freeze’s departure mid way through the season. Oxford, Mississippi has been a regular, consistent contributor to the draft in recent years, but not much will come out of Ole Miss this season. Interim turned confirmed Head Coach Matt Luke has found himself under pressure (as all interim turned confirmed Head Coaches do) late in the season and has a lot of convincing to do early next year.
Ole Miss : B-
Ole Miss declared for draft : Breeland Speaks (DE)
It is also worth mentioning poor ol’ Texas A&M. Things have not gone well since Johnny Football left to continue his career in the best nightclubs in Cleveland. It is interesting that under Kevin Sumlin and having Manziel at his peak, Texas A&M were perhaps the most exciting team to watch in NCAA. It was definitely between the Aggies and Chip Kelly’s Mariota led Oregon scoring machine.
Sadly the Aggies have fallen on hard times, struggling to replicate those dizzy heights resulting in Sumlin’s departure before the end of the season. I have sympathy for Sumlin who I suspect was never in control of the Johnny Football machine. Jimbo Fisher (ex-Florida State) is a great hire in College Station, meaning Interesting times for the Twelth Men. Incidentally as at the time of writing Kevin Sumlin is to be interviewed for the OC job at the Raiders under Gruden. This, I think would be a good hire for the Raiders. Perhaps A&M were a touch too quick in firing Coach Sumlin. Just sayin’.
So there you have it, the 2017 SEC season in a nutshell.
Winners, losers, tears, tantrums, hiring and firings. Who would be a SEC coach……