Thursday, December 15, 2011
What to watch in the SEC: Bowls
By Edward Aschoff
The bowl season doesn't get started in the SEC for another couple of weeks, but there are still things to keep an eye on around the league until then:
1. Coordinator shuffle: It's that time of year when coaches are not only getting bowl preparation in order, but also having to set up job interviews. For Alabama, Auburn and Florida, the next few weeks will be devoted to not only figuring out game strategies, but trying to find the right men to take over coordinating positions. Auburn is in the hunt for both an offensive and defensive coordinator, while Alabama and Florida are searching for offensive coordinators. With all three teams in the market right now, you have to wonder if there could be a bidding war or two in the near future. One lucky person has to draw the straw of being in line for all three offensive coordinating jobs, right? Wouldn't that be fun? For Florida's Will Muschamp, this is a major hire. His first year in Gainesville didn't go well, and now that Charlie Weis is gone, it's time for Muschamp to find someone who can get this offense back on track. He has the defense to compete, but he has to find the offense or things won't get better in the Swamp. Also, South Carolina defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson is a candidate for the Southern Miss job, so the Gamecocks could get in on the coordinator scramble as well.
2. Tyler Russell's knee: While there has been no official word that Russell's knee injury in practice is serious, Mississippi State's quarterback was very limited Wednesday. He wore a brace and found it hard to put a lot of weight on his leg. Sure, it's early in the healing process and it could just be sore, but knee injuries are nothing to just glance over. Russell is the Bulldogs' best passing threat, and the offense runs at its best when he's in the pocket. They'll need him for the bowl game, as Chris Relf just hasn't been the same quarterback he was a season ago. The Bulldogs don't exactly have the depth they had at the position for most of the season, either, as Dylan Favre decided to transfer after the regular season.
3. The grade game: Final grades for the semester are upon us and that can be a nerve-racking time for coaches. There are going to be some players flirting with being academically ineligible for bowl games, and some who just don't make it at all. It happens to nearly every program every season. It can be hard to stomach for coaches, but it's how college athletics work. Sometimes it' a big player or two, and rumors will definitely begin to swirl about players not being eligible for bowl games because of academics. Now, we'll know for sure once final grades are in the hands of the head coaches.
4. Auburn's running back situation: With starter Michael Dyer officially ruled out of the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Virginia for violating unspecified team rules, the Tigers will look to Onterio McCalebb and Tre Mason to handle the bulk of the rushing load. Coach Gene Chizik said he'd work with other offensive players in the backfield as well, but is staying tight-lipped on who might get some carries here and there. Dyer was Auburn's best offensive weapon and one of the most complete backs in the SEC. He was not only powerful between the tackles, but he has the speed to take a run outside and around the corner for a big play. McCalebb is a home run threat, but isn't much of a downhill runner. Mason rushed for just 97 yards this season, but made his mark on special teams. He was Auburn's top kickoff return man and recorded a touchdown. He has big-play ability, but he'll need to get more work in the backfield leading up to the bowl game to be more of a factor on offense.
5. Urban Meyer's southern recruiting success: The former Florida coach has been doing pretty well recruiting for Ohio State recently, and it wouldn't shock anyone if his efforts slowly started to creep back down south. He had loads of success in this part of the country when he was with the Gators, and while most of Ohio State's class is made up of northern prospects, that's sure to change under Meyer. The little he can do right now in recruiting is working, and from what prospects are saying, you can tell that SEC coaches are starting to feel his presence more and more. Meyer is too smart and too good of a recruiter to just leave the South alone. He'll be putting a lot of pressure on SEC coaches in the recruiting world in no time.