SEC: Derek Dooley

Ranking Nick Saban's coaching tree

December, 11, 2013
12/11/13
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Nick Saban's name is sure to come up in every high-profile coaching job that opens until he decides to retire.

That's just the nature of the business when you've had the kind of success Saban has had with four national championships in the last 11 years.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesAlabama coach Nick Saban has several protégés who are now head coaches, including Florida State's Jimbo Fisher, Florida's Will Muschamp and Michigan State's Mark Dantonio.
He won't be playing for a national title this season, but one of his protégés will -- Florida State's Jimbo Fisher.

In fact, it's been an eventful season all the way around for the Saban coaching tree.

Since we're all into power rankings this time of year, let's roll out the power rankings for the Saban coaching tree coming out of this season. In other words, those guys who have coached under Saban at some point in the college ranks and have gone on to be head coaches either in major college football or the NFL.

1. Jimbo Fisher, Florida State head coach: We'll go with Fisher at No. 1 on this list since he has the No. 1 Seminoles unbeaten and headed to the VIZIO BCS National Championship game to face Auburn. It's their first trip to the national title game since the 2000 season. Fisher is a finalist for the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award. His Seminoles have been dominant this season. They've won all 13 of their games by 14 or more points and 12 of their 13 games by 27 or more points. Fisher was Saban's offensive coordinator at LSU from 2000-04.

2. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State head coach: Another finalist for the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award, Dantonio has Michigan State in the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 1988 season and led the Spartans to a school-record 12 wins this season. This will be their seventh straight bowl appearance. Dantonio was Saban's secondary coach at Michigan State from 1995-99.

3. Jim McElwain, Colorado State head coach: In his second season at Colorado State, McElwain has the Rams in a bowl game for the first time since the 2008 season. They will face Washington State in the New Mexico Bowl. McElwain was a part of two national championship teams at Alabama under Saban as the Crimson Tide's offensive coordinator from 2008-11.

4. Pat Shurmur, Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator: Now in his first season with the Eagles, Shurmur was the Cleveland Browns head coach from 2011-12. He coached under Saban at Michigan State from 1995-97 as the Spartans' tight ends coach.

5. Josh McDaniels, New England Patriots offensive coordinator: This is McDaniels' second season as the Patriots' offensive coordinator. He was the Denver Broncos' head coach from 2009-10 and was a graduate assistant under Saban at Michigan State in 1999.

6. Will Muschamp, Florida head coach: After a breakthrough second season at Florida and a trip to the Sugar Bowl, Muschamp's Gators suffered through a dismal 4-8 season this year that was marred by a litany of injuries. It was Florida's first losing season since 1979. The Gators lost their last seven games, including a home loss to Georgia Southern. It goes without saying that Year No. 4 will be a critical one for Muschamp, whose Gators have struggled on offense. Muschamp coached under Saban at LSU as the linebackers coach in 2001 and defensive coordinator from 2002-04. He was also Saban's assistant head coach with the Miami Dolphins in 2005.

7. Derek Dooley, Dallas Cowboys receivers coach: Now in his first season with the Cowboys, Dooley was the head coach at Tennessee from 2010-12. The Vols suffered through losing seasons all three years and managed just five SEC wins, leading to Dooley's firing. Dooley was the head coach at Louisiana Tech for three years prior to his stint at Tennessee. He coached under Saban at LSU from 2000-04 as tight ends coach and then running backs coach. From there, he went with Saban to the Miami Dolphins and coached tight ends before getting the Louisiana Tech head job in 2007.

SEC lunch links

February, 5, 2013
2/05/13
12:26
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Making the rounds on a Tuesday ... one day before the national signing day holiday:

Tennessee's debt exceeds $200 million

January, 29, 2013
1/29/13
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There's a general feeling out there that all of the SEC's so-called big boys are swimming in cash.

Then you stop and read Michael Smith's telling piece in SportsBusiness Journal on the financial woes of Tennessee's athletic department, and it's obvious that everybody in the SEC isn't just printing money.

According to Smith's story, Tennessee's athletic department is more than $200 million in debt, which is the most in the SEC. Moreover, Tennessee has reserves of just $1.95 million, which is the least in the SEC.

How did the Vols become mired in such dire financial straits?

Dave Hart, Tennessee's athletic director, pretty well sums it up with this quote: "We've got to get football healthy."

Tennessee has suffered through four losing seasons in the last five years, and home attendance has steadily declined. The average this past season for the Vols at Neyland Stadium was 89,965 -- the lowest since 1979.

Pricey buyouts also haven't helped. Tennessee fired Derek Dooley following this past season and owes him $5 million. That's after paying Phillip Fulmer a $6 million buyout (over 48 months) when he was forced out following the 2008 season.

According to Smith's piece, Tennessee’s reserves have been depleted by $21 million in transfers back to the university over the last three years and $11.4 million in buyouts to fired coaches in football, basketball and baseball, as well as administrators. Former Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton walked away in 2011 with a $1.335 million buyout.

That $11.4 million figure doesn't count the $5 million owed to Dooley, nor an additional $2 million to his assistants. That means $7 million will have to be found in this year’s budget.

Most of the athletic department's dept came from a series of expansions and upgrades to Neyland Stadium, which included a reduction in overall capacity and an increase in premium seating. Those renovations cost more than $130 million.

Hart is committed to building reserves into the $50 million range. He said most SEC schools are hovering between $50 million and $100 million.

Ultimately, much of the Vols' financial future will be dictated by how well they do on the football field.

"That's our economic engine. When that program is successful, everybody wins," Hart said.

SEC lunch links

January, 28, 2013
1/28/13
12:19
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Making the rounds on a Monday:

Paying SEC coaches to go away

January, 28, 2013
1/28/13
11:45
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Former Tennessee coach Derek Dooley didn’t stay unemployed for long.

He’s taken a job with the Dallas Cowboys as their receivers coach. Obviously, Dooley won’t make the kind of money he did as the Vols’ head coach ($2 million per year), but he’s also not hurting for dough. He walked away from Tennessee with a $5 million buyout.

The money that SEC schools have paid out to coaches just to go away over the past six years is staggering.

Ole Miss just recently settled with former coach Houston Nutt and paid Nutt a lump sum of $4.35 million to complete its remaining financial obligation to Nutt, who had a $6 million buyout payable over five years when he was fired toward the end of the 2011 season.

Ole Miss saved $500,000 by negotiating the $4.35 million lump sum with Nutt.

If you go back to the end of the 2007 season when Nutt received a $3.5 million settlement after he and Arkansas parted ways, SEC schools have doled out a staggering $38.65 million in buyouts.

That’s right, nearly $40 million for coaches not to coach.

And that’s just the head coaches.

Granted, just about all of these settlements were payable in installments that were spread out over several years.

Still …

Here’s a rundown:
  • Houston Nutt, Arkansas (2007) -- $3.5 million
  • Sylvester Croom, Mississippi State (2008) -- $3.5 million
  • Phillip Fulmer, Tennessee (2008) -- $6 million
  • Tommy Tuberville, Auburn (2008) -- $5.1 million
  • Houston Nutt, Ole Miss (2011) -- $5.5 million
  • Gene Chizik, Auburn (2012) -- $7.5 million
  • Derek Dooley, Tennessee (2012) -- $5 million
  • Joker Phillips, Kentucky (2012) -- $2.55 million

Season report card: Tennessee

January, 23, 2013
1/23/13
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It's time to take a look how how the Tennessee Vols graded out in 2012:

OFFENSE: The Vols certainly knew how to move the ball in 2012. Quarterback Tyler Bray finally made it through an entire season and finished the year third in the SEC with 3,612 passing yards and was second with 34 touchdowns. While he did have his issues forcing the ball into bad situations, he threw for more than 300 yards in six games and tossed multiple touchdown passes in 10 games. He set the school record for passing yards in a game when he threw for 530 (second most in SEC history) and five touchdowns in a 55-48 win over Troy. In that same game, the Vols racked up a school-record 718 yards of total offense. Receiver Justin Hunter returned from his ACL injury in a big way, catching a team-high 73 passes for 1,083 yards and nine touchdowns. Junior college transfer Cordarrelle Patterson led the SEC in all-purpose yards (1,858). He was one of the best playmakers in the league last fall, catching 46 passes for 778 yards and five touchdowns. He also carried the ball 25 times for 308 yards and three more scores. With help from much-improved play from the offensive line, the Vols' run game improved dramatically, averaging 160.3 yards per game. Tennessee finished the year second in the SEC in total offense (475.9 yards per game), but the Vols did have issues with turnovers and closing out games. Tennessee turned it over 22 times and there were too many times when players, especially Bray, couldn't deliver down the stretch in key games. Bray turned it over late with chances to win or tie against South Carolina and Georgia, and the Vols failed to convert a 4th-and-3 against Missouri, leading to a loss in quadruple overtime. Grade: B+

DEFENSE: Tennessee easily had the SEC's worst defense in 2012, finishing last in the conference in scoring defense (35.7) and total defense (471.3). The Vols ranked 13th in the SEC in rushing (188.8) and passing (282.5). Tennessee allowed 400-plus yards of total offense 10 times in 2012, including in each of the final eight games. The Vols lost four games in which their offense scored more than 30 points. Tennessee was the only team in the SEC to surrender 3,000 passing yards and 2,000 rushing yards on the season. Teams averaged 6.1 yards per play against the Vols and scored 51 touchdowns in 2012. The Vols gave up an SEC-high 74 plays of 20-plus yards and were last in the league with just 17 total sacks on the season. Darrington Sentimore led the team with four sacks. A.J. Johnson had the most productive year on Tennessee's defense, recording a league-high 138 tackles (63 solo). It was obvious that players never felt completely comfortable in Sal Sunseri's 3-4 defense. Grade: F

OVERALL: Even though this was Derek Dooley's most talented team during his tenure, the Vols fell flat after blowing a second-half lead in an eventual 17-point loss to Florida in Week 3. Tennessee was never really the same after that game, especially on defense. The offense was prolific for most of the season, but it just didn't have enough to help the defense, as the Vols trudged through back-to-back 5-7 seasons and won just one SEC game for the second straight year. Tennessee should have gone bowling, but blew a 21-7 lead at home to Missouri before being blown out by Vanderbilt a week later to be eliminated from postseason play. Derek Dooley was then fired before the season even ended. Grade: F

Past grades:
As we say goodbye to a handful of SEC underclassmen, we thought we'd take a look at some of the coaching faces that have left us following the 2012 season and some of the new ones we'll have to get used to.

Here is the list of who's in and who's out in the SEC coaching world:

ALABAMA

OUT:
  • Secondary: Jeremy Pruitt
IN:

  • Secondary: Greg Brown

ARKANSAS

OUT:
  • Head coach: John L. Smith
  • Defensive coordinator/secondary: Paul Haynes
  • Offensive coordinator/Quarterbacks: Paul Petrino
  • Special teams coordinator/defensive ends: Steve Caldwell
  • Secondary: Bobby Allen
  • Wide receivers: Kris Cinkovich
  • Wide receivers: George McDonald
  • Running backs/Recruiting coordinator: Tim Horton
  • Offensive line: Chris Klenakis
  • Defensive tackles: Kevin Peoples
IN:
  • Head coach: Bret Bielema
  • Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks: Jim Chaney
  • Cornerbacks: Taver Johnson
  • Defensive line: Charlie Partridge
  • Linebackers: Randy Shannon
  • Defensive coordinator: Chris Ash
  • Tight ends: Barry Lunney Jr.
  • Offensive line: Sam Pittman
  • Running backs: Joel Thomas
AUBURN

OUT:
  • Head coach: Gene Chizik
  • Special teams coordinator/Tight ends: Jay Boulware
  • Offensive line: Jeff Grimes
  • Offensive coordinator: Scot Loeffler
  • Running backs/Recruiting coordinator: Curtis Luper
  • Secondary: Willie Martinez
  • Defensive line: Mike Pelton
  • Wide receivers: Trooper Taylor
  • Linebackers: Tommy Thigpen
  • Defensive coordinator: Brian VanGorder
IN:
  • Head coach: Gus Malzahn
  • Offensive coordinator: Rhett Lashlee
  • Defensive line: Rodney Garner
  • Defensive coordinator: Ellis Johnson
  • Special teams/Running backs: Rich Bisaccia
  • Co-Offensive coordinator/Wide receivers: Dameyune Craig
  • Co-Defensive coordinator: Charlie Harbison
  • Offensive line: J.B. Grimes
  • Cornerbacks: Melvin Smith
  • Tight ends: Tim Horton
FLORIDA

OUT:
  • Wide receivers: Bush Hamdan
IN:
  • Wide receivers: Joker Phillips
GEORGIA

OUT:
  • Defensive line/Recruiting coordinator: Rodney Garner
IN:
  • Defensive line: Chris Wilson
KENTUCKY

OUT:
  • Head coach: Joker Phillips
  • Defensive backs: Mike Cassity
  • Defensive coordinator: Rick Minter
  • Tight ends/Special teams: Greg Nord
  • Running backs: Steve Pardue
  • Offensive coordinator/Quarterbacks: Randy Sanders
  • Linebackers/Recruiting coordinator: Chuck Smith
  • Offensive line: Mike Summers
  • Defensive line coach: David Turner
  • Wide receivers: Pat Washington
IN:
  • Head coach: Mark Stoops
  • Offensive coordinator/Quarterbacks: Neal Brown
  • Defensive coordinator/Linebackers: D.J. Eliot
  • Cornerbacks: Derrick Ansley
  • Defensive line: Jimmy Brumbaugh
  • Wide receivers: Tommy Mainord
  • Tight ends: Vince Marrow
  • Safeties/Special teams coordinator: Bradley Dale Peveto
  • Offensive line: John Schlarman
  • Running backs: Chad Scott
MISSISSIPPI STATE

OUT:
  • Defensive coordinator/Defensive line: Chris Wilson
  • Cornerbacks/Nickels: Melvin Smith
IN:
  • Defensive line: David Turner
  • Cornerbacks: Deshea Townsend
MISSOURI

Out
  • Offensive coordinator/Quarterbacks: David Yost
IN:
  • Offensive coordinator: Josh Henson (promoted from co-offensive line coach)
  • Quarterbacks/Associate head coach: Andy Hill (promoted from wide receivers coach)
  • Wide receivers: Pat Washington
TENNESSEE

OUT:
  • Head coach: Derek Dooley
  • Offensive coordinator: Jim Chaney
  • Defensive coordinator: Sal Sunseri
  • Cornerbacks: Derrick Ansley
  • Tight ends/Special teams: Charlie Coiner
  • Safeties: Josh Conklin
  • Wide receivers: Darin Hinshaw
  • Defensive line: John Palermo
  • Offensive line: Sam Pittman
IN:
  • Head coach: Butch Jones
  • Offensive coordinators/Quarterbacks: Mike Bajakian
  • Defensive coordinator: John Jancek
  • Defensive line: Steve Stripling
  • Wide receivers/Recruiting coordinator: Zach Azzanni
  • Tight ends: Mark Elder
  • Offensive line: Don Mahoney
  • Defensive backs: Willie Martinez
  • Linebackers: Tommy Thigpen
TEXAS A&M

OUT:
  • Offensive coordinator/Quarterbacks: Kliff Kingsbury
  • Special teams/Tight ends: Brian Polian
  • Linebackers: Matt Wallerstedt
IN:
  • Special teams: Jeff Banks
  • Co-offensive coordinator/Quarterbacks: Jake Spavital
  • Co-offensive coordinator/running backs: Clarence McKinney (promoted from running backs coach)

Final 2012 SEC power rankings

January, 8, 2013
1/08/13
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We've reached the end to another college football season, and yet again Alabama is on top. Nick Saban is the king of college football, and his Crimson Tide are looking down at the rest of the sport.

So how does the rest of the SEC stack up? Well, we have our final power rankings of the year right here:

1. Alabama (13-1, 7-1 SEC): Total domination in the championship game and three titles in four years? A load of NFL talent on both sides of the ball? Alabama had it all (again), and even with a team that didn't exactly have the same sort of defensive talent as it did a year ago, the Crimson Tide still made it to the BCS title game and came away with a commanding 42-14 victory over Notre Dame in a game that was over when the Tide arrived on South Beach. With the talent Alabama has coming back, the Tide could once again be in the national championship picture.

2. Texas A&M (11-2, 6-2 SEC): Thanks to Johnny Football, the Aggies ended the season as one of the nation's hottest teams. There are some out there who think A&M might be the best team in the country, despite its two losses. Johnny Manziel was the nation's best player and even without Kliff Kingsbury helping him on the sideline against Oklahoma, he ran all over the Sooners for a bowl-record 516 total yards in a total rout. Imagine if both of those Aggies tackles return in 2013.

3. Georgia (12-2, 7-1 SEC): The Bulldogs capped off the 2012 season with a 45-31 win over Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl. It wasn't exactly the bowl the Bulldogs wanted to be in, after coming up just yards short of making it to the BCS title game in Alabama's place, but you have to admire how this team came out and won like it did. Back-to-back SEC title game appearances is nothing for this team to be ashamed of.

4. South Carolina (11-2, 6-2 SEC): The Gamecocks had a legitimate shot at our No. 3 spot, but at the end of the day, Georgia's appearance in Atlanta, coupled with its 14-point bowl win, kept South Carolina behind the Bulldogs. Still, what a year for the Gamecocks. Behind the coaching of Steve Spurrier, South Carolina won 11 games in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history. The Gamecocks also beat back-to-back ranked opponents to close out the season.

5. Florida (11-2, 7-1 SEC): After entering the postseason with arguably the country's best résumé, the Gators fell flat on their faces against Louisville in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Their 10-point loss didn't show just how bad the game was for Florida. The Gators might not have wanted to be there and Florida clearly didn't show up for its first BCS bowl since 2009. But you can't discount what Florida did during the regular season. It didn't have a pretty offense, but it defeated four top-10 teams, including ACC champ Florida State in Tallahassee in a year in which the Gators weren't expected to win nine games.

6. LSU (10-3, 6-2 SEC): The Tigers had a very up-and-down year, and it ended on a very down note with that last-second loss to Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. LSU was totally off its offensive game in the second half, turning to the pass more than the run. With that offense struggling in the fourth quarter, LSU's defense was left huffing and puffing as Tajh Boyd & Co. gutted it for three straight scoring drives. But LSU did win double-digit games for the third straight year, and it took Alabama down to the wire and beat Johnny Football.

7. Vanderbilt (9-4, 5-3 SEC): The Commodores ended the season in historic fashion, with a seven-game winning streak (the longest since 1948), and won five conference games for the first time since 1935 and nine total games for the first time since 1915. That ninth win came in dominating fashion with a 38-24 win over NC State in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl. The Commodores turned into the team that no one wanted to play at the end of the season, and they carry a ton of momentum into 2013.

8. Ole Miss (7-6, 3-5 SEC): The Rebels had quite the first year under new coach Hugh Freeze. For a program that won just six games in the two previous seasons, Ole Miss grabbed seven, including its first bowl win since 2009, this year. The depth was lacking all year, but the heart wasn't, as the Rebels were much more competitive and won three SEC games after entering the season on a 14-game conference losing streak. Freeze did a tremendous job of changing the culture in Oxford, but the players did a great job of responding to adversity all season.

9. Mississippi State (8-5, 4-4 SEC): A year that started with such promise after a 7-0 start imploded and led to a lot of criticism about the talent on both sides of the ball. The second half of the season proved the first seven games were a farce. A lot of the defensive deficiencies were masked until the month of November, as the Bulldogs went 1-5 to end the year, including a blowout loss to Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl and a 34-20 loss to Northwestern in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl.

10. Missouri (5-7, 2-6 SEC): The Tigers would love to forget their first season in the SEC. This was supposed to be the Big 12 team that succeeded in its first year out of its comfort zone. This team returned too much not to win a few games in the SEC East. But injuries, most notably to quarterback James Franklin and that offensive line, and an offense that was constantly going in reverse made for a rough start in Missouri's new home. Offensive coordinator David Yost resigned at the end of the year, and this team has to find some sort of rhythm/chemistry on offense in 2013.

11. Tennessee (5-7, 1-7 SEC): The Derek Dooley era ended with quite a whimper. For the second straight season, Tennessee missed out on the postseason because of a loss to one of its rivals. Last year, Kentucky ended the Vols' bowl hopes. This time around, Vandy's blowout win on Nov. 17 bounced Tennessee from a postseason appearance. For as much fun as the offense was to watch, the defense was awful for the majority of the season, finishing dead last in the SEC in total defense. New coach Butch Jones has some solid talent to work with, but a ton of questions surround this program.

12. Arkansas (4-8, 2-6 SEC): Many thought the Razorbacks' dreams of a championship season probably ended when Bobby Petrino took that infamous motorcycle ride in April. Boy, were they right. John L. Smith tried to bring some energy to the program, but he and his players fell flat in a 4-8 season that saw the Hogs give up 30 or more points in seven games. The offense lacked its usual explosion and the Hogs began the year 1-4, with a shocking loss to Louisiana-Monroe in Little Rock, Ark.

13. Auburn (3-9, 0-8 SEC): On paper, the Tigers had a host of young talent, but on the field, they were outmanned just about every single weekend. Auburn roamed around the bottom of most offensive and defensive categories in the SEC all season long. Coach Gene Chizik was fired only two years removed from winning a national title after going winless in conference play and being outscored 129-21 in his final three SEC games, including a 38-0 loss to Georgia and a 49-0 loss to Alabama in the season finale.

14. Kentucky (2-10, 0-8 SEC): Outside of blowing out a Kent State team that was a win away from making a BCS bowl, nothing went right for the Wildcats this year. Injuries ravaged this team, as it had to turn to two true freshman quarterbacks and never found a consistent playmaker to help out on offense. The offense hovered around the bottom of the SEC all year and the defense surrendered 31 points per game, and coach Joker Phillips was fired before the season even ended.

SEC lunch links

January, 1, 2013
1/01/13
1:34
PM ET
Happy New Year! Here are some links to supplement all the games on today:

Lunchtime links

December, 28, 2012
12/28/12
12:00
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The bowls are coming! The bowls are coming!

Best/worst in 2012: Tennessee

December, 14, 2012
12/14/12
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The bad far outweighed the good for Tennessee in 2012, which has become a pattern for the Vols. They've suffered through four losing seasons in the past five years:

BEST

The season opener provided a healthy dose of hope for Tennessee, which looked impressive in pinning a 35-21 defeat on North Carolina State in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game. Junior college newcomer Cordarrelle Patterson was everything he was supposed to be with a pair of long touchdowns -- the first coming on a 41-yard catch and the second on an electrifying 67-yard run -- and the Vols held the Wolfpack to a single touchdown in the second half. It was the kind of splash Tennessee needed to open what was a pivotal third season for Derek Dooley. But unfortunately for the Vols, it was about the only bright moment all season. They wound up being a train wreck on defense and finished 1-7 in the SEC for the second straight year, spelling the end for Dooley as coach.

WORST

Lots of choices here, especially on defense. The Vols were torched for 37 or more points in seven of their eight SEC contests and yielded a school-worst 721 yards of total offense in a 55-48 win over Troy. Until the Kentucky win to end the regular season, Tennessee had lost 14 of its past 15 SEC games. The low point came in a 41-18 blowout loss to Vanderbilt in the next-to-last week of the season. The Vols barely even put up a fight, and the Commodores took their foot off the gas pedal in the second half or it would have been worse. Vanderbilt ended the game by taking a knee inside the Tennessee 20-yard line. It was Tennessee's first loss to Vanderbilt in Nashville in 30 years and the Vols' most lopsided loss in the series in 58 years. Dooley was fired the next day and didn't coach in the finale against Kentucky.

Jones embraces Rocky Top challenge

December, 7, 2012
12/07/12
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Tennessee’s beleaguered fan base started evaluating Butch Jones as soon as he became the Vols’ newest target, following two very public turndowns on Wednesday.

Louisville’s Charlie Strong and Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy both said "thanks, but no thanks," and Tennessee’s focus quickly shifted to Jones.

It’s not the way anybody would draw up a coach search, and there was certainly some embarrassment along the way for a proud program suddenly being dubbed as “Turndown Tennessee.”

But at the end of the day, the finer details won’t matter a whole lot three years from now.

All that will matter is whether Jones can return Tennessee to prominence.

“Our fan base and myself have the same expectations,” said Jones, who was introduced Friday as Tennessee’s new coach. “We’re working to be the best. We’re working to be No. 1 every day. We’re working to be national champions. We’re working to be SEC champions. Here’s the thing: This program has done it and will do it again.”

Jones, who’s won four league championships in six years as a head coach, shrugged off the fact that he wasn’t Tennessee’s first choice.

“I think I was my wife’s third choice, and it’s worked out for 20 years,” he quipped.

Similarly, he downplayed the fact that he doesn’t have any previous SEC experience.

[+] EnlargeButch Jones
Frank Victores/USA TODAY Sports"I will be the first to tell you that Nick Saban and Les Miles had zero SEC experience when they came into the league," Butch Jones said.
“I will be the first to tell you that Nick Saban and Les Miles had zero SEC experience when they came into the league,” Jones said, and then paused. “So that’s all I will say there.”

In other words, he wasn’t going down the same path as Lane Kiffin back in 2009 when Kiffin chortled during his introductory press conference that he looked forward to “singing Rocky Top all night long after we beat Florida next year.”

But Jones did vow to bring the Vols a winner, and he has a deep understanding of how hungry the Big Orange Nation is to be relevant again. It’s a program that has suffered through four losing seasons in the past five years, and Jones is the fourth head coach in the past six years.

“I know we live in an instant-gratification society and that everybody wants everything at once,” Jones said. “But I will tell you this: We are going inch by inch, and inches make a championship. We are going to go to work. I don’t know how long it will take, but you will be proud of this team and proud of this football program.”

Jones’ predecessor, Derek Dooley, got three years before he was shown the door. The Vols won exactly two SEC games over the past two seasons.

As fate would have it, in Dooley's time at Tennessee, the only FBS team the Vols beat that finished the season with a winning record was Jones’ Cincinnati Bearcats. That was two years ago.

So, yes, there will be doubters and skeptics.

“The only thing we can do is prove [that Jones is the right choice], and I look forward every day to proving it,” said Jones, who himself turned down jobs at Colorado and Purdue in the past couple of weeks before saying yes to Tennessee.

The best news for Tennessee fans is that Jones wants to be at Tennessee. There was obviously enough trepidation by Strong that he didn’t make the move, and several close to the situation never really believed that Gundy would leave his alma mater for Tennessee.

Jones, by contrast, wanted this job all along. He wanted the challenge of testing himself against the best college football has to offer.

“If you want to be the best, you want to compete in the best,” Jones said of the SEC.

And to do that, he’ll have to recruit at a level the Vols haven’t consistently achieved since Phillip Fulmer’s best years.

“Recruiting is selling. Recruiting is a people business,” said Jones, dismissing the notion that he’ll have a difficult transition to recruiting in the SEC. “If you’re a great recruiter, you can recruit anywhere because it’s all relationship-based.”

SEC power rankings

December, 5, 2012
12/05/12
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We've come to the end of the regular season for the SEC, so here is our final batch of power rankings until the new year:

1. Alabama (12-1; last week: 1): No, Alabama wasn't perfect in its 32-28 victory against Georgia in the SEC title game, but talk about resolve. This team trailed by 11 in the second half, but fought back with a punishing running game and just wore down one of the most talented defenses around to throw itself into the Discover BCS National Championship against Notre Dame. The Crimson Tide will now play for their second national championship in a row, and third in four years.

2. Florida (11-1; LW: 3): The Gators didn't win their division and weren't in Atlanta, but it's hard to find a team with a better résumé. Florida finished the season with four wins against teams currently ranked in the top 12 of the BCS standings. Three of them are in the top 10. Florida is headed to a BCS bowl for the first time since 2009. The Gators will face Louisville in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

3. Georgia (11-2; LW: 2): You have to feel for the Bulldogs after their heartbreaking loss to Alabama in the Georgia Dome. The offense, led by a very steady Aaron Murray, played one of its best games and ended up literally being a play away from replacing Alabama in Miami. History won't be kind to this team because it lost the biggest game of the season, but the Bulldogs had a heck of a season. After being counted out because of their blowout loss to South Carolina, the Dawgs cruised into Atlanta with six straight wins, with four coming by an average of 32 points.

4. Texas A&M (10-2; LW: 4): Led by Heisman front-runner Johnny Manziel, the Aggies are headed to the AT&T Cotton Bowl to face Oklahoma in what should be one of the most exciting bowls of the season. Texas A&M has one of the nation's best offenses, and scored 40 or more times seven times this season. The Aggies also registered 600-plus yards of total offense six times. That win against No. 1 Alabama stands out as a major victory for this program.

5. LSU (10-2; LW: 5): The Tigers ended the season being known for more than just their defense. The offense really started to jell in the Alabama game, and LSU was far more balanced for the rest of the year, averaging 395 yards in its final four games. The key to LSU's offensive revival was the play of quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who averaged 267 passing yards in the final four games. He didn't have consecutive 200-yard passing games until the last four games.

6. South Carolina (10-2; LW: 6): After never reaching 11 wins before 2011, the Gamecocks are a win away from getting 11 wins in back-to-back seasons. The job Steve Spurrier has done in Columbia has been remarkable, and now he'll be there even longer with his recent extension. He's had these two successful seasons while losing his best player in running back Marcus Lattimore halfway through the season both years.

7. Vanderbilt (8-4; LW: 7): The Commodores are going bowling in consecutive seasons for the first time. Thanks to the complete attitude change that coach James Franklin instilled in his guys, the Commodores have become more relevant and competitive in the SEC. Vandy won its last six games of the regular season, a streak that the Dores haven't experienced since 1955. Vandy also won five conference games for the first time since 1935.

8. Ole Miss (6-6; LW: 8): What a first season for Hugh Freeze. Not only did the Rebels end their 14-game losing streak in conference play, but they're headed back to the postseason for the first time since 2009. The attitude overhaul went a long way toward making Ole Miss much more competitive this season. The Rebels won three SEC games and ended the season with a blowout win against rival Mississippi State to bring the Golden Egg back to Oxford.

9. Mississippi State (8-4; LW: 9): After starting the season 7-0, the Bulldogs were 1-4 in their final five games. The least amount of points Mississippi State lost by was 17 to Ole Miss. It was a bad way for the Bulldogs to end the season, but there's now ample time before the bowl game for them to fix some of the issues that plagued them during the last month of the season, especially on defense. There's no question that Dan Mullen has been extremely successful in Starkville, and he is a win away from getting nine victories for the second time in four years.

10. Missouri (5-7; LW: 10): It wasn't the start that people at Mizzou expected. Injuries piled up and the offense limped its way through a disastrous start to life in the SEC. Now offensive coordinator David Yost is gone, and the offense will have to rebuild in its second year in a new conference. The Tigers averaged more than 100 yards fewer on offense in each game this season compared to 2011, and aren't going bowling for the first time since 2004.

11. Tennessee (5-7; LW: 11): A very rough season at least ended on a high note. With Derek Dooley no longer roaming the Vols' sideline, Jim Chaney guided Tennessee to a 37-17 win against Kentucky to end the regular season. For the second year in a row, Tennessee didn't make it to a bowl, and is now in the final stages of finding a new head coach. A major emphasis has to be put on defense, as the Vols were last in the SEC in total defense and scoring defense.

12. Arkansas (4-8; LW: 12): The Hogs ended a dreadful season with a nail-biting loss to rival LSU. Now the program turns its attention to the future and new coach Bret Bielema, who was hired away from Wisconsin on Tuesday. He'll bring a more rugged/physical style of defense and should make Arkansas' running backs very happy with his offensive style. It was a shocking hire, and Bielema has his work cut out on defense, but this one appears to have excited the fan base.

13. Auburn (3-9; LW: 13): The Tigers couldn't get anything going on either offense or defense this season, and had to part ways with coach Gene Chizik after being blasted 49-0 by rival Alabama. The Tigers will look to build a flashier offense with the return of Gus Malzahn. He was very popular on the Plains when he was the offensive coordinator from 2009-11. During that time, the Tigers averaged 33.6 points per game and 424.9 yards of offense, including 227.8 on the ground.

14. Kentucky (2-10; LW: 14): The Wildcats were banged up for most of the season, and just didn't show any signs of improvement as the year went on. Joker Phillips was fired, and now Mark Stoops, who was the defensive coordinator at Florida State, takes over a program that has really fallen hard in the past two years. His first order of business is to improve a defense that has loved giving up points the past two seasons. Going the defensive route is a nice change of pace for the Wildcats.

2012 SEC regular-season wrap

December, 5, 2012
12/05/12
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Here we are again talking about another potential national championship for the SEC.

Weren’t we having this same conversation last year, the year before that and the year before that?

In fact, does anybody really remember the last time we weren’t having this conversation?

The BCS Championship Game festivities will again include an SEC team this season, and once again, it’s Alabama carrying the banner for the league.

If you think everybody else in college football is tired of seeing the SEC win all the time, try taking the temperature of fans in Baton Rouge, La., or Athens, Ga., or Auburn, Ala., over how tired they are of seeing Alabama win all the time.

The Crimson Tide will be chasing history Jan. 7 in the Discover BCS National Championship game against Notre Dame when they go after their third national title in the past four years. The last team to win three outright national titles in a four-year span was Notre Dame in 1946, 1947 and 1949.

An Alabama victory in Miami would mark the seventh consecutive national championship for the SEC, which might have been as balanced and strong across the board this season as any of the seasons during its national championship run.

The final BCS standings looked more like the SEC standings. Six of the top 10 teams were from the SEC, and all six won at least 10 games.

And talk about beating up on each other.

Texas A&M, in its first season in the SEC, waltzed into Bryant-Denny Stadium and upset Alabama 29-24 with two weeks remaining in the regular season.

Georgia lost by four touchdowns to South Carolina back in October, but rebounded to make its second consecutive appearance in the SEC championship game. It wasn’t until the final play that Alabama’s 32-28 win over Georgia was decided last weekend in Atlanta.

Florida is headed back to a BCS bowl for the first time since 2009 thanks to a transformation in Will Muschamp’s second season that saw the Gators go from being soft at times in 2011 to one of the most physical teams in the league this season. Florida will meet Louisville in the Allstate Sugar Bowl after collecting four victories over teams that finished in the top 12 of the final BCS standings.

Steve Spurrier has South Carolina poised to win 11 games for the second straight season. It wasn’t until a year ago that the Gamecocks had ever won 11 games in a season.

The Aggies, who lost close games to Florida and LSU during the first part of the season, showed no signs of stage fright during their first season in the SEC.

So much for Kevin Sumlin’s up-tempo, spread offense not being able to cut it in the SEC. The Aggies led the conference in just about every offensive category and scored 29 or more points in six of their eight league games.

It wasn’t just the old guard that made waves this season.

[+] EnlargeJadeveon Clowney
Kim Klement/USA TODAYAs a sophomore, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney led the SEC with 13.5 sacks.
Vanderbilt won eight games for the first time in 30 years, and second-year coach James Franklin has the Commodores in a bowl game for the second consecutive season for the first time in school history.

Ole Miss began the season shouldering a 14-game SEC losing streak, but first-year coach Hugh Freeze guided the Rebels to a bowl game, and probably more importantly, pinned a 41-24 whipping on rival Mississippi State in the regular-season finale.

The SEC has historically chewed up and spit out coaches, and this season was no exception.

Arkansas’ John L. Smith, Auburn’s Gene Chizik, Kentucky’s Joker Phillips and Tennessee’s Derek Dooley were all sent packing. In Chizik’s case, his ouster came just two years removed from winning a national championship, but the Tigers crashed this season with their first 0-8 SEC finish in school history.

It was also another gut-wrenching season for South Carolina star running back Marcus Lattimore, who suffered a gruesome-looking knee injury in the Tennessee game and was lost for the season. He was already coming off a torn ACL in his other knee the season before.

On a more positive note, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel will be in New York this weekend and has a great chance to become the first freshman in history to win the Heisman Trophy.

Johnny Football may well become Johnny Heisman.

Offensive MVP: Manziel. While Manziel is admittedly a big video-game buff, his numbers this season weren’t from a video game. They just looked that way. He broke Cam Newton’s SEC record for total offense in a season and cranked out 4,600 yards while accounting for 43 touchdowns. He also saved his best game for the biggest stage by rolling up 345 yards in total offense against No. 1 Alabama in the Aggies’ 29-24 win.

Defensive MVP: South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. This was an extremely tough call, and in any other year, Georgia’s Jarvis Jones and Texas A&M’s Damontre Moore would be runaway winners. But Clowney was the most explosive game-changer in the league this season defensively. He leads the SEC with 13 sacks and is second with 21.5 tackles for loss. Easily one of the best pass-rushers in college football, Clowney became a much more complete player this season as a sophomore.

Newcomer of the Year: Manziel. He was a redshirt freshman by classification, but played liked a seasoned veteran. One of the most impressive things about Manziel is that he learned from earlier losses against Florida and LSU, when he didn’t play as well, then proceeded to carve everybody apart down the stretch. He’s the first freshman in FBS history to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in the same season. The award for the top true freshman goes to Georgia running back Todd Gurley, who leads the SEC with 1,260 rushing yards.

Biggest surprise: Ole Miss. Florida certainly deserves mention here. Not many people had the Gators winning 11 games and going to a BCS bowl back in August, which is a tribute to Muschamp and his staff. But nobody had the Rebels getting to a bowl game in Freeze’s first season. They’d lost 14 straight SEC games when he arrived. Not only that, but they were way down in scholarship numbers and forced to play a ton of first-year players. They scrapped their way to six wins, and it could have easily been eight or nine wins if they could have held on to a few fourth-quarter leads.

Biggest disappointment: Arkansas. The Hogs went from No. 8 in the country and talking about a national championship in the preseason to sitting at home for the postseason. It was a disaster from the outset, and the team simply didn’t respond to Smith, who stepped in during the spring as interim coach after Bobby Petrino was fired. The Hogs finished 4-8 (2-6 in the SEC). They lost to Louisiana-Monroe in Little Rock the second week of the season, and it was all downhill from there.

Best game: Alabama 32, Georgia 28, Dec. 1, SEC championship game. The previous few SEC championship games had been blowouts, but this one went down to the final play when the clock ran out on the Bulldogs after Aaron Murray’s tipped pass was caught by Chris Conley at the Alabama 5. Georgia, which led 21-10 midway through the third quarter, drove from its own 15 with 68 seconds to play and no timeouts. But when Conley gathered in the deflected pass and was tackled inbounds, the Bulldogs had no way to stop the clock. Alabama rushed for an SEC championship game-record 350 yards, as the Crimson Tide’s offensive line took matters into its own hands in the second half.

SEC power rankings: Week 14

November, 26, 2012
11/26/12
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The SEC flexed its muscles again, and as we head into the SEC championship game, we release the final regular-season power rankings for the league:

1. Alabama (11-1; last week: 1): Since losing at home to Texas A&M, Alabama has done exactly what it has needed to do against inferior opponents by defeating Western Carolina and Auburn by a combined score of 98-0. For a team that could have pouted about its loss, Alabama has come out very, very strong in the past two weeks. This week, the Tide take on a Georgia team that is also playing its best ball of the season in the SEC championship game. A win, and Alabama will be headed to its third national championship game in four years.

2. Georgia (11-1; LW: 2): Like Alabama, the Bulldogs haven't really been challenged of late. Against overmatched opponents in the past four weeks, the Bulldogs have averaged 470 yards and haven't scored fewer than 37 points in an outing. The offense is back to its explosive ways, and the defense looks elite again. This team is equipped with the talent to win the SEC, but does it have the right mindset? We'll find out very soon.

3. Florida (11-1; LW: 3): Someone please figure out this team! For weeks, the Gators floundered with the ball in their hands, but when they took on the nation's No. 1 statistical defense (Florida State) on the road, they turned back into that hard-nosed running team. The Seminoles were giving up 2.3 yards per carry, but Florida averaged 5.2 yards per carry and registered 244 rushing yards. The defense is elite, and regardless of what the offense looks like, the Gators have the SEC's best résumé with four wins over top-10 BCS opponents.

4. Texas A&M (10-2; LW: 4): The Aggies walked all over a bad Missouri team Saturday. Johnny Manziel injured his knee in the first quarter and was still able to accumulate 439 yards of offense and five touchdowns. The defense gave up 22 points in the second half, but the game was well in hand by halftime. No one knows how this team won 10 games in its first year in the SEC without a bye week, but A&M was a pleasant surprise for the conference. These aren't the Big 12's Aggies, and they're headed to a January bowl.

5. LSU (10-2; LW: 5): The Tigers had a tough game in Fayetteville against a struggling Arkansas team, but LSU grabbed its third straight 10-win season. The offense has exploded since the Alabama game, and the defense is still one of the best around. It took Zach Mettenberger most of the 2012 season, but he's finally looking like the top-notch quarterback many expected him to be from the start. Imagine if this LSU team had been here all season.

6. South Carolina (10-2; LW: 6): Clemson's Death Valley wasn't very intimidating for the Gamecocks. Even without starting quarterback Connor Shaw, the Gamecocks carved up the Tigers for 444 yards of offense. Backup Dylan Thompson more than did his part with 310 passing yards and three touchdowns. Oh, and Jadeveon Clowney ruined Clemson's night with 4.5 sacks. The Gamecocks have been overlooked a little since losing to Florida, but this team is really clicking in all phases of the game.

7. Vanderbilt (8-4; LW: 7): What a year for James Franklin and his crew. For the first time since 1982, the Commodores have eight wins, and they closed the season riding a six-game winning streak. The defense has been solid all season, but the offense really turned things on during this winning streak. In the past six games, the Commodores scored 40 or more points and eclipsed 400 yards of total offense four times. The Commodores are in line for a high-profile bowl game.

8. Ole Miss (6-6; LW: 9): Mississippi State might have two more wins, but the Rebels crushed the Bulldogs at home to jump in the rankings. After a back-and-forth start, Ole Miss outscored the Bulldogs 24-7 in the second half. In the three games prior, the Rebels were obliterated in the second half. Hugh Freeze has really turned things around in Oxford and is up for coach of the year in the SEC. The Rebels are going bowling for the first time in three years and registered three SEC wins after entering the season on a 14-game losing streak in conference play.

9. Mississippi State (8-4; LW: 8): After starting the season an impressive 7-0, the Bulldogs finished 1-4. Mississippi State was outscored by a combined 93 points in those losses. What might have been the most shocking part of the Bulldogs' fall was that the defense was the main offender. The Bulldogs allowed an average of 327 yards through the first seven games but conceded 477 per game in the last five weeks. The weaker first-half opponents clearly masked the glaring issues this defense had.

10. Missouri (5-7; LW: 10): A long, rough first season in the SEC ended with a 30-point blowout loss to fellow newcomer Texas A&M. Injuries ravaged this team all year, and the Tigers head into the offseason very disappointed with how the 2012 season went. The offense lost its explosion early in the season and could just never help the defense out as the year went on. Coach Gary Pinkel said last week that there won't be staff changes, but if some sort of change doesn't happen, the Tigers won't get any better.

11. Tennessee (5-7; LW: 12): Like the Tigers, a very long and disappointing season is over with in Knoxville. Derek Dooley is gone, and it's time for this program to start over and search for a new coach to lead the Vols. The first order of business for the new coach will be recruiting juniors Tyler Bray, Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson and then fixing the major issues on defense. A huge reason for Tennessee's disastrous 2012 season was that the defense allowed 471 yards and nearly 36 points per game. Both were highs (or lows) in the SEC.

12. Arkansas (4-8; LW: 11): The Razorbacks fought hard in their final game of the season but came up just short against LSU. It was a year of major lows for Arkansas' program, but it has finally ended. Now, the Razorbacks turn their attention to finding a new head coach. Defense becomes a priority for the Hogs' next coach, as Arkansas allowed 30-plus points in seven of its eight losses this year.

13. Auburn (3-9; LW: 13): Another SEC team that is looking for a new head coach. After a dreadful season on the Plains, Gene Chizik was fired Sunday just two years removed from a national championship. An 0-8 record in the SEC, hardly any signs of improvement throughout the year and being blown out 150-21 in your last three SEC games will send you packing. There's plenty of talent at Auburn, but development issues kept this team near the bottom of the SEC in most offensive and defensive categories. That right there goes back to coaching.

14. Kentucky (2-10; LW: 14): The Wildcats officially said goodbye to coach Joker Phillips after their 37-17 loss to Tennessee on Saturday. It seemed like no team in the SEC dealt with the number of injuries Kentucky did this year. This team was required to play a handful of youngsters, but there weren't signs of improvement in Lexington as the season went on with the defense and offense hovering around the bottom of the SEC all season. The good news is that those youngsters got a lot of valuable game experience.

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