The Aggies had a starting quarterback, Kenny Hill, who seemed to be a perfect fit for their offense. The sophomore ably filled the shoes of the school’s greatest player ever at the position, Johnny Manziel, who turned in two of the most productive and memorable seasons in college football history.
Waiting in the wings is the No. 1 ranked dual-threat quarterback in the 2015 recruiting class, five-star prospect Kyler Murray, son of Kevin Murray, who was a successful Texas A&M quarterback himself in the 1980s.
Leading it all were two highly regarded offensive minds, head coach Kevin Sumlin and offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital.
Now, the Aggies are searching for answers everywhere, including quarterback.
After having a three-game losing streak capped by a 59-0 disaster in Alabama, Sumlin indicated the Aggies needed to go back to the drawing board at every position, but naturally, all eyes are on the quarterback situation.
Hill, once 5-0 and getting mention as a Heisman Trophy candidate, saw his numbers regress in the last three outings while the supporting cast around him also struggled. Spavital noted that Hill is fighting to keep his starting job as Allen is being given a chance to compete for the starting job Saturday when the Aggies host Louisiana-Monroe.
Allen is still a largely unknown commodity. He has seen limited action in four games, though he was given some first-half action in the Aggies’ 73-3 win over Lamar. He showed bright spots (12-of-16 passing, two touchdowns) and some not so bright (throwing an interception on his first series).
Who starts Saturday will be revealing. Is Allen ready to take the reins? Is Hill poised enough to pull himself out of the recent slump and return to the form he showed in his first month? What’s in the aftermath either way?
In college football’s current climate, it isn’t uncommon to see the “winner starts, loser transfers” mentality set in when it comes to quarterbacks. Only one can play at a time and waiting your turn can be challenging. Should Allen remain the backup the rest of this season, is he willing to wait around or will he consider heading elsewhere?
And now it’s worth wondering about the strength of Murray’s commitment after he recently took an official visit to Oklahoma. If more visits to other schools follow, it certainly is cause for concern. It’s a long way until signing day and if the Aggies don’t turn the ship in the right direction quickly, recruiting momentum could be affected.
Even if the Aggies are able to hang on to Murray’s commitment and get him to sign a national letter of intent in February, they still must keep their fingers crossed until the summer. Murray is a highly regarded baseball prospect who is projected to be chosen high in the 2015 MLB draft. The Aggies have been down that road before when Sumlin signed two quarterbacks in 2013: Hill and Kohl Stewart, who elected to sign a multimillion dollar deal to pursue pro baseball after being drafted fourth overall by the Minnesota Twins.
How all this plays out will be telling. For Sumlin, this is relatively uncharted territory for him as a head coach. Never has his team been shut out like it was in Tuscaloosa and never has his team gone through a three-game offensive slump like the Aggies have recently.
Turnover at quarterback has been rare under Sumlin. He chose Case Keenum to start in his first year as the coach in Houston and Keenum never relinquished the job, except for an eight-game stretch when he was injured in 2010. Keenum broke eight career FBS passing records.
Manziel won the starting job in Sumlin’s first season in Aggieland and that history is well-documented. A Heisman Trophy, two record-setting seasons and a first-round NFL draft selection later, Manziel never had to be replaced because of his play.
Sumlin is naturally reluctant to yank a quarterback. Having been in the presence of or coached many great college quarterbacks, Sumlin is a believer in confidence. He doesn’t want his starting signal-caller concerned with whether he’ll get yanked from a game for making a mistake.
“It's been our history to be a one [quarterback] team, not a 'one guy in, one guy out' kind of deal” Sumlin said in a July interview. “It's like pitching. You don't like to play looking over your shoulder at that position. Quarterback is a lot different. You have to have confidence.”
Spavital, too, has been fortunate to work with some accomplished college quarterbacks: Keenum, Brandon Weeden and Geno Smith.
He has been through a rough stretch before in this offense: in 2012, Smith's senior year at West Virginia.
“At West Virginia we were 5-0, ranked third in the country and then we lost five straight,” Spavital said. “I've been through this before. The main thing is, it's really nothing to do with scheme or anything like that, it's just the mentality we play with, getting out there and competing and having some pride in what you do."
The search for answers continues. A position where the Aggies seemingly had plenty of answers seems to have some of its biggest questions. How they’re answered will mean a lot toward the direction of Aggies football in the coming weeks and beyond.
Why Georgia wins big: Even without Todd Gurley lining up for Georgia, the Bulldogs still have an absolute stud in freshman Nick Chubb. In two games as a starter, Chubb has rushed for 345 yards and three touchdowns. The kid just tosses people around out there and certainly has a little Gurley in him. Florida is starting the Treon Harris era at quarterback, but the offense has been lousy for the better part of the season, while Georgia's defense is on a roll. It'll be tight early, but Georgia pounds away in the second half. Georgia 28, Florida 14 -- Edward Aschoff
How Florida keeps it close: This is Harris' game at quarterback, and he certainly provides more of a spark than Jeff Driskel. If Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor can run the football and negate some of the pressure from Georgia's talented pass-rushers, Florida could have some success moving the football. If they can even out the time of possession battle, you'll see a much more effective defense from the Gators. Georgia 21, Florida 13 -- Alex Scarborough
Why Kentucky wins: Missouri just can't seem to get it together. Just look at last weekend's game against Vanderbilt. Sure, the Tigers won, but not convincingly. And Kentucky is no Vanderbilt. The Wildcats gave Mississippi State a run for its money and beat South Carolina a few weeks ago. With a true playmaker at quarterback and a better-than-expected defense, Kentucky will give Missouri fits on both sides of the ball and win on the road. Kentucky 30, Missouri 20 -- Alex Scarborough
Why Missouri wins: Ever since a 34-0 beatdown at the hands of Georgia, the Tigers have looked shaky, especially on offense. But things are gradually getting better as quarterback Maty Mauk re-learns how to take care of the ball. This game offers the improving Wildcats a plum opportunity to show they can win conference games. But look for the home team to squeeze out a hard-fought victory. Missouri 26, Kentucky 23 -- Jeff Barlis
Why Ole Miss wins: The Rebels were injected with some playoff hope after the first batch of College Football Playoff rankings were announced. That should energize a team that lost an ugly one at LSU. Bo Wallace has to regroup, and he has to follow what his coaches tell him. The Rebels haven't had a consistent running game all season, but Auburn's pass defense ranks 75th nationally, and that should help Wallace regroup after a bad showing in Baton Rouge. Watching Ole Miss' defense try to tackle Auburn's running game might be the highlight of the day. A late turnover will seal it for the Rebels. Ole Miss 31, Auburn 28 -- Edward Aschoff
Why Auburn wins: Ole Miss' sideline was like a M*A*S*H unit last week against LSU, with multiple key players leaving with injuries. Even if most of those guys play Saturday -- and it looks like they will -- the Rebels aren't going to be at 100 percent against arguably the best offense they'll face all season. If Wallace doesn't play better than he did a week ago, Auburn might win easily. Ole Miss' quarterback is the X factor here, and I suspect he'll fare well against Auburn's mediocre defense at home, but the Tigers have way more firepower at their disposal right now. Auburn 31, Ole Miss 24 -- David Ching
Why Mississippi State wins big: Playing its first game with the No. 1 ranking, Mississippi State came out tight against Kentucky. Dan Mullen even admitted that. Look for the Bulldogs to play more relaxed at home Saturday in front of the familiar sound of cowbells clanging. They’re the No. 1 team in the country, and Dak Prescott, Josh Robinson and the defense will prove it against the Razorbacks. Mississippi State 35, Arkansas 14 -- Greg Ostendorf
How Arkansas keeps it close: It should be a triumphant return to Davis Wade Stadium for the nation's No. 1 team, but things aren't perfect for the Bulldogs. Kentucky's offense exposed some issues with the MSU secondary. While Arkansas doesn't have the same caliber of passing attack, the Hogs do have a stable of talented runners, a veteran quarterback and two good tight ends. Mississippi State 37, Arkansas 26 -- Jeff Barlis
More unanimous picks:
Texas A&M over UL Monroe: The big storyline will be who starts at quarterback for Texas A&M, Kenny Hill or Kyle Allen? Either way, the Aggies should roll against a lesser opponent. Texas A&M 52, UL Monroe 14
South Carolina over Tennessee: Steve Spurrier won’t have to go for it on every fourth down against the Vols, but don’t be surprised if he still has a few tricks left up his sleeve. The Gamecocks have won three of the past four games in this series. South Carolina 35, Tennessee 24
Vanderbilt over Old Dominion: Vandy is looking for its third win of the season, but it won’t come easy against Old Dominion quarterback Taylor Heinicke and his 54 career touchdown passes. Vanderbilt 31, Old Dominion 28
Edward Aschoff: 64-11
Greg Ostendorf: 64-11
Jeff Barlis: 63-12
Chris Low: 63-12
David Ching: 62-13
Alex Scarborough: 61-14
Sam Khan Jr.: 57-18
2. Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian echoed Volunteers coach Butch Jones' prediction that senior quarterback Justin Worley will not be available Saturday against South Carolina. Maybe that won't be such a bad outcome. Sophomore Josh Dobbs offered reason to believe he might be the Vols' quarterback of the future with a strong performance off the bench last Saturday against Alabama. But the Crimson Tide had not prepared for the youngster. South Carolina will have the entire week. He might be the X-factor in Saturday's game at Columbia. Or for the superstitious Gamecocks among us, maybe it will be South Carolina's uniforms. South Carolina will wear black jerseys and black pants on Saturday for the first time since losing 24-14 to Florida in 2009.
3. Georgia (6-1, 4-1 SEC) is clearly the favorite to win the SEC East, but Missouri (6-2, 3-1) can still make some noise if the Bulldogs fall into any sort of slump. The Tigers haven't played particularly well lately, but they have only one conference loss as Kentucky (5-3, 2-3) prepares to visit on Saturday. Both teams will be looking to get back on track for the stretch run. Perhaps Mizzou quarterback Maty Mauk found his stride last week against Vanderbilt after several rocky games in a row. Meanwhile, Kentucky needs just one more win to achieve bowl eligibility, but it hasn't won a true road game since the 2010 opener. Not the greatest sign, particularly since its previously productive running game has underperformed lately and coaches are questioning whether they should use fewer backs in the regular rotation.
Around the SEC
" The State asks how South Carolina's disappointing season might impact its 2015 recruiting class.
" Formerly suspended safety Jermaine Whitehead does not appear close to returning to Auburn's starting lineup.
" Derrick Henry is leading an unusually thin group of Alabama running backs this week in practice with an open date ahead.
" LSU is focused on cleaning up its mistakes from last Saturday's Ole Miss game with Alabama ahead next weekend.
" John Kadlec, better known as “Mr. Mizzou” after serving the school as an athlete, coach, administrator and broadcaster, died Wednesday at age 86.
Tweets of the day
From the "Icy whites" to zubaz-inspired accessories to chrome helmets, Texas A&M has made bold choices, but the Aggies' latest uniform trick might be their best.
As a tribute to Texas A&M's 1939 national championship team, the Aggies will don throwback uniforms for Saturday's game against Louisiana-Monroe, complete with "leather" helmets and cleats (No, the helmets are not really leather, but they do sport a leather look).
The details are impressive, all the way to the rusted-look on the facemask:
The helmets were produced in concert with Hydro Graphics Inc. and Riddell, and the leather look is courtesy of a hydro film leather-like texture featuring wing and cross graphics. The design was created using high-resolution photos of the actual helmet the 1939 team wore. They even have "AMC" on the back, which stands for "Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas," which was what Texas A&M was known as in 1939.
Here's a look at the cleats:
The uniform tops and pants were also inspired by the original '39 Aggies uniform:
Why would Alabama not be "thrilled?" They play No. 1 and No. 3 at home..— Cecil Hurt (@CecilHurt) October 28, 2014
2. As the AJC's Chip Towers said, "Gurley Watch" reached Day 19 on Tuesday and still no update on the Georgia running back's status for Saturday's big game against Florida. The Bulldogs are cautiously optimistic, as Todd Gurley continues to practice. Meanwhile, the Gators' defensive players say they are expecting, preparing and actually hoping to face the Heisman candidate on Saturday. Despite Florida's downward spiral in the past two seasons, the Gators say they're confident. The history of this bitter rivalry suggests the game is usually closely contested. At least one thing that's guaranteed is a good time at the ol' Cocktail Party. It's always cool to see the intermingling of red, black, orange and blue inside and outside the stadium. On Saturday, we'll see it on the field as well. Georgia is the home team, but both teams agreed to wear home jerseys in what should make for a neat visual.
3. Determined to snap its three-game losing streak, Texas A&M underwent a sweeping round of soul-searching during its bye week with a willingness to re-evaluate every position on the team. That includes the quarterback position, where sophomore starter Kenny Hill is now battling with freshman Kyle Allen with a decision to come on Thursday. It's a stunning turn of events for Hill, who started the season with a school-record 511 yards passing in the opener and has thrown for 2,649 yards in eight games. Allen actually went to offensive coordinator Jake Spavital's office to ask if the starting job was really up for grabs. Yes, he was told, this is really happening. The same could be said for the Aggies' tailspin, but at least the bye week came at a perfect time. A&M is still reeling from its last game, a 59-0 loss at Alabama. Saturday's home game against Louisiana-Monroe ought to do wonders in boosting some confidence in Aggieland. Especially for the QB, whoever he is.
Around the SEC
" Mississippi State QB Dak Prescott ditched his walking boot and practiced on Tuesday. He's not sure what all the fuss was about, saying: "I'm sure there's some boots Beyonce or somebody's worn before that people have made a big deal about."
" Ole Miss changed its play-calling terminology after a former intern left in the offseason to join the Auburn staff.
" Michigan native and current Tennessee coach Butch Jones swatted aside speculation that he could be a candidate to be the Wolverines' next coach.
" Vanderbilt quarterback Johnny McCrary will be the "lead dog" against Old Dominion, but coach Derek Mason also hopes Patton Robinette will play after being medically cleared last week from a concussion suffered on Sept. 20.
Tweet of the day
It should be an eight-team playoff. Bama, Georgia, LSU and Tennessee should be in there— Mark Schlabach (@Mark_Schlabach) October 28, 2014
Three SEC teams in the top four of the playoff committee's rankings? I actually didn't see that coming. While I do agree that those are three of the four best teams in the country, I figured the committee would lean toward not having three teams from the same conference -- let alone the SEC -- take three slots up top in the first set of rankings.
But that's what happens when you deal with the human element, and that's what is going to make the next few weeks in college football delightful.
So how does that affect our bowl projections for this week? Well, for starters, we can go on ahead and put two SEC teams in the two semifinal games. I think folks below the Mason-Dixon Line were kind of expecting that anyway.
I'm not ready to put three SEC teams in, though. It's just not going to happen. These rankings are fun to look at and make projections with, but let's face it, no conference -- not even the big, bad SEC -- is going to get three teams into the playoff.
So for now, the SEC is left with two teams in the final four. The good news for the conference is that those two teams won't play each other in our fictional first round, making for a possible fictional all-SEC national championship.
Oh, the country would just LOVE that!
I have 10 SEC teams making bowl games this year:
College Football Playoff semifinal (Allstate Sugar Bowl): Mississippi State
College Football Playoff semifinal (Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual): Auburn
Capital One Orange Bowl: Ole Miss
Cotton Bowl: Alabama
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Georgia
Citrus Bowl: LSU
TaxSlayer Bowl: Kentucky
Outback Bowl: Missouri
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Texas A&M
Belk Bowl: South Carolina
In August, Texas A&M appeared to have a bright future with its new quarterback. After a record-breaking performance against South Carolina, sophomore Kenny Hill looked like the clear answer to life after Johnny Manziel for the Aggies.
Two months later, the future isn't so clear, with the starting quarterback job wide open heading into the Aggies' final four games.
Texas A&M offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital said Tuesday that Hill and true freshman Kyle Allen are competing for the right to start Texas A&M's next game Saturday vs. Louisiana-Monroe.
Spavital opened the competition up between Hill, the Aggies' starter for the first eight games, and Allen, the true freshman who served as Hill's backup during that stretch, during the team's off week last week following a 59-0 loss to Alabama, Texas A&M's third straight defeat.
"We opened it back up," Spavital said. "It's still wide open. We're going to split the [first-team] reps [Tuesday] and possibly on Wednesday and by Thursday we'll probably have a declared starter and they'll take all the reps for that Thursday practice."
Saturday is the start of a crucial season-ending, four-game regular-season stretch for the Aggies, head coach Kevin Sumlin and the current group of players. How they respond to the jaw-dropping loss to Alabama on Oct. 18 will define the 2014 Aggies and perhaps the teams to come in the next year or two.
SEC contenders or pretenders? That's what's at stake moving forward.
The Aggies had more success in their first two seasons as SEC members than most expected. Coming into the league off a disappointing 7-6 campaign in 2011, many wondered if Texas A&M could hold its own in college football's premier league. An 11-2 debut season in 2012 that included an upset of No. 1 Alabama, Johnny Manziel becoming the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy and recruiting success charging toward new heights re-calibrated long-term expectations for the program, both internally and externally.
The 20-6 mark in the Aggies' first two years in the SEC provided a foundation to build from and the Aggies showed no signs of slowing down early this season when new starting quarterback Kenny Hill & Co. bushwhacked South Carolina to start the season. The win looked a lot better then than it does now, with the Gamecocks not living up to high preseason expectations. Three consecutive Texas A&M losses to Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Alabama -- all of which have been in convincing fashion -- have brought the Aggies back down to earth and left them searching for the spark that got them to 5-0.
"This program was founded on three things: play hard, play smart, be physical," Sumlin said. "The last couple weeks, that has not been the case and has directly contributed to us losing. Our challenge is to get back to those three things and be the program that we were when we started the season and have been since we've been here."
Losses like the one the Aggies suffered in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, are rare for championship programs. Since the Associated Press poll began in 1936, only six other ranked teams have suffered a shutout loss as bad or worse than the Aggies' 59-0 debacle. Four of the teams on the winning end of those blowouts went on to a national title that season. Championship teams deliver those blows, they don't absorb them.
Since 2000, only one head coach who eventually went on to win a national championship or SEC championship suffered a loss with a margin of defeat in a similar vicinity to the Aggies' 59-point loss: Mack Brown.
While at Texas, Brown's Longhorns lost by 49 points (63-14) to Oklahoma in 2000 and by 52 points (65-13) to the Sooners in 2003. Each time, both teams were ranked in the top 11; but both times the Longhorns responded by winning six consecutive games. The program was able to bounce back and continue moving forward, building toward its eventual 13-0 campaign in 2005 when the Longhorns won the BCS championship.
Nick Saban, Bob Stoops, Les Miles, Jimbo Fisher and Urban Meyer don't have regular-season losses nearly as ugly as 59-0 on their record prior to winning a championship. Yes, there are some convincing losses and blowouts but none of that magnitude for that tier of coaches. Why is that relevant? Because where they've been is where the Aggies want to be and that's why the powers that be at Texas A&M committed to Sumlin to the tune of six years and $30 million, an annually salary of $5 million, last December.
The Aggies can't change the past, they can only salvage the future. Whether the historic loss and the recent three-game losing streak is a mere blip on the radar of otherwise positive progress or the start of a troubling new direction will be largely determined in the next month and next season. It certainly was cause for some soul-searching.
"I don't think there is anything that's off the table [in terms of changes] from a position standpoint in evaluating where we are right now," Sumlin said. "Something like what happened [at Alabama] is an eye-opener and should be an eye-opener to coaches and fans and to players, too."
As we move into what should be an incredible November in the SEC, let’s take a quick glance at some of this week’s top storylines:
Game of the week: No. 4 Auburn at No. 7 Ole Miss
LSU’s 10-7 comeback win over Ole Miss last weekend knocked the Rebels from the ranks of the unbeaten, but this game still carries enormous SEC West implications for both one-loss clubs. The loser might not be mathematically eliminated, but it will certainly face an uphill climb -- particularly if Auburn loses since it still must go on the road to face No. 3 Alabama and No. 9 Georgia. The fascinating matchup here will be Nick Marshall, Cameron Artis-Payne and Auburn’s spread running game against a vaunted Ole Miss defense that just surrendered 264 rushing yards to LSU. The Rebels also took some physical lumps against LSU, with key players such as Robert and Denzel Nkemdiche, Laremy Tunsil and All-America safety Cody Prewitt all missing time against LSU with injuries. If they don’t regroup quickly, the Rebels’ division hopes might be on life support by Sunday.
Player under pressure: Texas A&M’s Kenny Hill
He hasn’t been nearly "trill" enough lately. Nobody has at Texas A&M during an ugly three-game losing streak where the Aggies have lost to Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Alabama by a combined 142-51 margin. Hill’s numbers weren’t awful in that stretch -- he was 96-of-141 for 904 yards, six touchdowns and six interceptions -- but the Aggies simply were not competitive in any of those games. Hill was a Heisman Trophy contender a month ago, but Kevin Sumlin and Jake Spavital might turn to freshman Kyle Allen if things don’t start turning around quickly. Hill desperately needs to get back on track Saturday against Louisiana-Monroe before the Aggies close the season against a gantlet of Auburn, Missouri and LSU.
Coach under the microscope: Florida’s Will Muschamp
Every indication seems to be that the end is near for Muschamp at Florida. But what happens if his Gators pull a huge upset against hated rival Georgia on Saturday? Is there a scenario where the Gators miraculously look like a different team coming out of their open date and show some progress to end the season? It might require a miracle for Muschamp to return as Florida’s head coach next season -- and that’s pretty much what it would be if the Gators snap their three-game losing streak against Georgia.
Storyline to watch: Todd Gurley and the NCAA
Georgia expects to hear back soon from the NCAA regarding Todd Gurley’s reinstatement request. The Bulldogs’ star sat out during wins against Missouri and Arkansas after accusations that he accepted money for autographing memorabilia jeopardized his eligibility. Gurley remains one of the SEC’s leading rushers with 773 yards in just five games, and Nick Chubb has been an outstanding replacement during Gurley’s absence, but the Bulldogs have to love their chances against Florida if the one-time Heisman Trophy front runner returns to the lineup on Saturday.
Intriguing matchup: Maty Mauk against Kentucky’s secondary
Missouri quarterback Mauk has been awful in SEC play -- he has completed 40 percent of his passes, averaged 98 passing yards per game and tossed two touchdowns against five interceptions in four conference games == which could make things interesting on Saturday. Kentucky doesn’t have the most imposing defense, but it boasts arguably the most improved secondary in the nation this season. The Wildcats have intercepted 13 passes in eight games after picking off just three throws in the entire 2013 season. If Mauk fails to raise his game on Saturday, the Wildcats might give the defending SEC East champs all they can handle.
National signing day, Feb. 4, is just 100 days away. Here's a look at 100 things to watch for leading up to the big day.
Questions that will shape signing day
100. Who will coach the Florida Gators next year? The Gators entered the season hoping to rebound on the field with a shot at the No. 1 class. Amid another season of turmoil, Florida is in a fight just to keep committed prospects on board.
99. Will Michigan make a move? With that seeming likely, a number of Wolverines commits are making official visits. Assuming there will be a change, the new coach will have the difficult task of keeping the class together.
98. Can Virginia Tech or Virginia keep the best at home? While a pair of in-state five-stars from the 2014 class chose Virginia, the top four in 2015 remain uncommitted. Only one prospect in the top 10 is committed to an in-state program after eight of the top 15 signed with the Hokies or Cavaliers in 2014.
97. Can UCLA win any big battles late? The Bruins were ranked No. 7 in the preseason Associated Press poll and were a playoff contender. UCLA is 6-2, but the season hasn't lived up to those lofty expectations. That has provided rival USC the opportunity to have more success selling Steve Sarkisian's vision without the Bruins taking the headlines and winning the perception battle.
96. How many prospects will flip? To date, over 35 prospects in the ESPN 300 have decommitted or flipped their commitments. With more than 30 committed prospects still making official visits or planning to make visits, that number could reach as high as 70, considering both the Florida and Michigan jobs may open, which could start a chain reaction depending on future hires. There is no doubt that 2015 is the class of flips, and it has only just begun.
Edward Aschoff, Jeff Barlis, David Ching, Sam Khan Jr., Chris Low, Greg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough contributed to these rankings.
Gus Malzahn's return to Auburn
Auburn fans might blame Gene Chizik for the program’s collapse in 2012, but give him credit for what he accomplished. And more importantly, give him credit for hiring Gus Malzahn as his offensive coordinator in 2009. If not for that hire, Malzahn would likely not be the Tigers' coach today. In turn, the Tigers wouldn’t have executed one of the greatest turnarounds in college football history last season, nearly winning a national championship, and there’s a good chance they wouldn’t be top five in the polls this fall. People questioned athletic director Jay Jacobs when he brought Malzahn back to Auburn, but the former high school coach has always been a winner. He’s proving that now. -- Greg Ostendorf
Mullen builds up Mississippi State
He wasn't kind or understanding about the low expectations and the low sense of worth he felt around Mississippi State. Mullen, the former offensive coordinator at Florida, took over as the head coach in Starkville, Mississippi, determined to break down that imaginary wall separating State from becoming a contender.
It started with simply reaching bowl games, but after six seasons, it's turned into championship aspirations. Mullen and his staff have developed overlooked talents into NFL prospects. If you don't think so, just look at QB Dak Prescott or linebacker Benardrick McKinney. Neither was highly sought after in high school, but now they're among the best in the country. -- Alex Scarborough
Hugh Freeze and his 2013 recruiting class
The hire of Hugh Freeze didn’t exactly set off fireworks in Oxford, Mississippi, but he made waves throughout the conference when he took an Ole Miss team that had lost 16 consecutive SEC games to two consecutive bowl wins. But what really had people buzzing was that historic 2013 recruiting class. Freeze signed the No. 1 player in the country, defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche, and the No. 1 offensive tackle (Laremy Tunsil) and receiver (Laquon Treadwell).
That class put the Rebels on the map in early February of 2013, and its on-field contribution has been tremendous, with those three becoming stars in the SEC and tight end Evan Engram transforming into one of the league’s best at his position. As a result, Ole Miss is 7-0 and looking for a playoff berth. -- Edward Aschoff
Dominance on the recruiting trail
Alabama’s run over the past four years has been nothing short of amazing. The Crimson Tide are on pace for their fourth consecutive recruiting title and currently have 21 2015 commitments, including 17 ranked in the ESPN 300. The reputation of the SEC West alone is a compelling recruiting pitch to the top prospects in the country, and Alabama is at the forefront of the dominant division. LSU and Auburn have also done very well, and Mississippi and Mississippi State have made huge strides under Freeze and Mullen, respectively. -- Derek Tyson
Texas A&M joins as Manziel, Sumlin enter
Many felt Texas A&M would take it on the chin upon entering the conference in 2012. The Aggies didn't exactly light it up in their final Big 12 season (7-6), and there were a ton of question marks. Enter Johnny Manziel and Kevin Sumlin. Manziel went on to become the first freshman to win a Heisman Trophy, Sumlin leveraged the team's success to consecutive top-10 recruiting classes, and the Aggies went 20-6 in their first two SEC seasons, including an 11-2 debut in 2012 that included a win over eventual champion Alabama. Some of the struggles expected in Year 1 seem to be surfacing now, though, as the Aggies endure a three-game losing streak. -- Sam Khan Jr.
1a. On the same scale, Notre Dame's recent loss to Florida State was among the best losses, but it still might have cost the Fighting Irish a shot at the playoff according to Gregg Doyel. The new Indianapolis Star columnist writes that while it was a good loss, the Irish are lacking any good wins. I tend to agree. I figured SEC fans would, too. Read the full piece here.
2. So I was going to call out Texas A&M for backing out of its home-and-home series with Oregon in 2018 and 2019, but then the Aggies went and scheduled a home-and-home with Clemson those same years. Now personally, I would have loved to have seen the Aggies and the Ducks and all the points that would have ensued. But who knows where those two programs will be in four years? All I know is that there are some enticing non-conference matchups on the slate for 2019. Check these games out:
- Texas A&M at Clemson
- Notre Dame at Georgia
- LSU at Texas
- Kansas State at Mississippi State
- Michigan at Arkansas
Even that last game could be intriguing assuming Michigan has hired a new coach and that Bret Bielema has the Razorbacks among the SEC contenders by then. And they haven't yet, but you can go ahead and count on both Alabama and Auburn scheduling a quality non-conference that year.
3. I've done a couple stories this season on SEC players showing support for cancer patients, so naturally it caught my attention when I saw a similar piece on Patrick Towles. The Kentucky quarterback has lent support to high school freshman Brady Walz, the nephew of Louisville women's basketball coach Jeff Walz, and even invited him to attend the Wildcats' win over Vanderbilt last month. No, it's not the Iron Bowl, but the Kentucky-Louisville can get pretty heated in the Bluegrass State. This seems to be a growing trend in college football, and there are probably more stories like this that never get told. Kudos to you Mr. Towles. Kentucky hosts No. 1 Mississippi State on Saturday.
Tweet of the day
The Aggies will host the Tigers on Sept. 8, 2018, before traveling to Death Valley on Sept. 7, 2019.
"We are excited to play the Clemson Tigers, who have been on Texas A&M's non-conference schedule previously," Texas A&M athletic director Eric Hyman said in a statement. "As a fellow land-grant institution, Clemson is very similar to Texas A&M with a great football tradition and passionate fans. This will be a great non-conference series for both schools."
The Aggies hold the all-time series lead 3-1, with the Tigers winning the most recent meeting 25-24 in 2005.
"We are looking forward to playing Texas A&M as the two schools share a rich military heritage and of course passionate fan bases," Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich said in a statement. "We know our fans make Clemson a great game day experience and the Aggie fans make Kyle Field also one of the great venues in all of college football."
Clemson had already announced earlier this year that it would face Auburn in 2016 and 2017. Clemson also faces in-state rival South Carolina annually, and the ACC announced this week that the Tigers would face Notre Dame in 2020, 2022 and 2023. (The two already had been scheduled to meet in 2015 as well.)
Fox Sports reported earlier Thursday that Texas A&M had opted out of a home-and-home with Oregon that was scheduled for 2018 and 2019, with Hyman exercising a clause from the series' 2009 contract that said the Aggies could get out of the deal if they changed conferences. Texas A&M left the Big 12 for the SEC in 2012.
Who is the best in the West?
12:00 PM ET Louisiana-Monroe Texas A&M 3:30 PM ET Florida 11 Georgia 4:00 PM ET Kentucky Missouri 7:00 PM ET 3 Auburn 4 Ole Miss 7:00 PM ET Old Dominion Vanderbilt 7:15 PM ET Arkansas 1 Mississippi State 7:30 PM ET Tennessee South Carolina