SEC: Steve Spurrier
An unusually porous defense -- the Gamecocks are 91st nationally in total defense, allowing 433.6 yards per game -- was the biggest culprit as South Carolina slipped to 6-6 and fifth in the SEC East. Quarterback Dylan Thompson (SEC-high 3,280 passing yards) and the offense did good work, but the key for the Gamecocks moving forward will be to move back toward the stifling defense that marked their best seasons under Spurrier.
Here is a recap of South Carolina’s season to this point:
Best win: After dropping the season opener 52-28 to Texas A&M, with Aggies quarterback Kenny Hill looking like a Heisman Trophy contender, South Carolina turned around and upset then-No. 6 Georgia two weeks later. The Gamecocks’ porous defense faced first-and-goal at the South Carolina 4 late in the game, but forced Georgia to attempt a 28-yard field goal -- which Bulldogs kicker Marshall Morgan missed. Bulldogs coach Mark Richt would later lament not handing the ball to Todd Gurley, who ran for 131 yards and a touchdown. South Carolina held onto the ball for the final 4:24 and escaped with a 38-35 victory.
Worst loss: There are some doozies to choose from -- such as the embarrassing opening loss to Texas A&M and an overtime defeat to Tennessee -- but a 45-38 loss at Kentucky probably stands out as the worst. South Carolina held a two-touchdown lead midway through the fourth quarter before Kentucky’s Jojo Kemp (131 yards, 3 TDs) took over and Alvin Dupree scored the game-winning touchdown with a pick-six off a deflection with 2:29 to play. South Carolina’s other losses were at least to bowl teams. The Kentucky loss was when it became absolutely clear that the Gamecocks weren’t very good this year.
Player of the year: A.J. Cann. This was probably not what Cann expected when he opted to return for his senior season, but the Gamecocks’ starting left guard continued to dominate at his position. South Carolina fell well short of its 11-win standard of the previous several seasons, but Cann still played championship-caliber football and might earn attention on some postseason All-America teams in addition to the All-SEC honors he already won from the league’s coaches and media.
Breakout player: Pharoh Cooper. The 5-foot-11 Cooper is emerging as one of the SEC’s most versatile and explosive offensive performers. He leads the Gamecocks with 60 catches for 966 yards and eight touchdowns, plus he ran for 198 yards and two touchdowns and passed for two more touchdowns after taking direct snaps. Cooper even returns punts for the Gamecocks, averaging 5.6 yards per return. Just a sophomore, Cooper is on the cusp of becoming a superstar thanks to the many ways he can impact the game.
Play of the year: Let’s not narrow it to one. Let’s look at three from South Carolina’s 45-42 loss to Tennessee. The Gamecocks might have lost that game, but it was not for lack of effort from Cooper. The sophomore broke a school record with 233 receiving yards and two touchdowns on 11 catches.
Here’s his 85-yard touchdown catch that gave the Gamecocks a two-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter.
Cooper also took a direct snap and tossed a 30-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Wilds:
And he ran 11 yards for South Carolina’s first touchdown.
2015 outlook: South Carolina’s offense typically carried the team in 2014, and that group loses a ton of veteran talent after the bowl game. If some underclassmen (like running back Mike Davis) choose to join the seniors in the draft pool, it could be a total rebuilding year on offense, much like what the defense went through this season. Defensive improvement might be the key to a better 2015 for South Carolina, however. Lorenzo Ward’s unit was a huge disappointment this fall, and that young group simply has to play better for South Carolina to contend again in the SEC East.
2. Saturday will be Missouri's fourth conference championship game of the Gary Pinkel era, and the Tigers have yet to win one. Last year's 59-42 loss to Auburn was, in fact, the closest they've come to winning in terms of final margin. Missouri plans to ignore that history when it faces No. 1 Alabama on Saturday. “We prepare for this game like we prepare for any game, and we won’t ever change that,” Pinkel said. “This is the fifth divisional championship we have won in the last eight years and we have not won a conference championship in the Big 12 or the SEC. That’s my responsibility, so hopefully we can play well and have an opportunity to do that.”
3. Two SEC assistant coaches who have had strong seasons found themselves named as finalists Monday for the Broyles Award, which goes to the nation's top assistant coach. Those two? Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin and Missouri defensive coordinator Dave Steckel. Not coincidentally, both are coaching teams that are playing in the SEC championship game. Steckel's defense has been key for the Tigers, who have endured an inconsistent offense this season. And the work Kiffin has done with starter Blake Sims and the Alabama offense is noteworthy, considering the Crimson Tide have even mixed it up at times, going to a faster tempo, something unusual for Nick Saban.
Around the SEC
- No shocker here, but Georgia coach Mark Richt basically confirmed that Todd Gurley is NFL-draft bound by saying he expected the running back to be a high pick.
- In transfer news, Georgia defensive back Brendan Langley is transferring out of the program. Langley was a class of 2013 recruit who played as a true freshman.
- Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason has reportedly fired offensive coordinator Karl Dorrell.
- The Will Muschamp sweepstakes looks like it will continue for at least a few more days.
- Florida running back Matt Jones is reportedly entering the NFL draft.
Iron Bowl averages 13,529,000 viewers & 7.4 rtg: ESPN's most-viewed & high-rated reg-ssn cfb game on record (since 1990)— Mike Humes (@MikeHumesESPN) December 1, 2014
In certain quarters, it still is. But there are more than a few teams in this league, proud of its black-and-blue heritage, in desperate need of a defensive facelift.
It’s the reason former Florida coach Will Muschamp could break the bank when it comes to a defensive coordinator’s salary.
Only two days have passed since Muschamp coached his final game with the Gators, and already he’s being tied to defensive coordinator jobs that are open and some that aren’t open.
That’s why Auburn is in hot pursuit after firing Ellis Johnson, and the Tigers are one of many. Texas A&M is also looking for somebody to come in and pick up the pieces of a defense that has been shredded the last two seasons.
There’s not an opening at South Carolina -- yet. But Steve Spurrier will almost certainly make some changes after seeing the Gamecocks fall off the table defensively this season on the heels of three straight top-5 finishes in the SEC in total defense from 2011-13.
Going into this season, there were already two SEC defensive coordinators making more than $1 million per year. Alabama’s Kirby Smart was at $1.35 million and LSU’s John Chavis at $1.3 million. It was money well spent. Chavis’ Tigers finished first in the SEC in total defense, and Smart’s Crimson Tide were third. They both ranked in the top 10 nationally as well in scoring defense. LSU was third (16.4 points per game) and the Tide sixth (16.9 points per game).
Muschamp is in a position where he can afford to wait and see what is out there, if he so chooses. Wherever he lands, don’t be surprised if he gets a deal that pays him in excess of $1.5 million annually.
The college game has changed dramatically with no-huddle offenses and seemingly everybody spreading it out and playing fast-break basketball on a football field.
Even Alabama is spreading it out under first-year coordinator Lane Kiffin and running some no-huddle, which is saying something. Kiffin’s boss, if you hadn’t noticed, isn’t a big fan of the fastball offenses, but Nick Saban is very much a fan of winning. He also is smart enough to know that you at least better have the capability to play that way with the climate we’re in right now in college football.
The tricky part is finding the right fit at defensive coordinator on those teams that do want to play offense at the speed of light. As a rule, defensive numbers are going to suffer (and it's difficult to sustain quality defenses over a number of years) when its offense is playing that way because it’s hard to practice the way most defenses want to practice in that system.
It’s not impossible, though. Look at what Ole Miss defensive coordinator Dave Wommack did with that defense this season. The Rebels were first nationally in scoring defense and 14th in total defense.
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze, though, understood what he had in that defense this season and played to it. At times, the Rebels played slower than normal.
How would Muschamp fare as a defensive coordinator in a true no-huddle system?
We might find out -- if either Auburn or Texas A&M wins the Muschamp sweepstakes. At the end of the day, good defensive coaches adapt and can coach in any system.
We’re seeing more of the fast-paced, spread offenses in the SEC than ever before. Arkansas, Georgia and LSU are still running the traditional, pro-style sets, and that’s still the base for Alabama, but those teams are in the minority now in the SEC.
Muschamp won’t be the only hot commodity out there this offseason as teams look to shore up their defenses in this video-game era of offensive football.
Somebody’s sure to grab up former Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini, who was the defensive coordinator on LSU’s 2007 national championship team.
There are others, too, with SEC ties that could be in play. Look at what former Vanderbilt defensive coordinator Bob Shoop did at Penn State this season. The Nittany Lions are ranked in the top 10 nationally in scoring defense, total defense, rushing defense and pass efficiency defense. They’re No. 1 in rushing defense. In his three seasons at Vanderbilt, the Commodores were ranked in the top 25 nationally in total defense all three years.
In short, everybody loves offense. It’s what sells, but there’s a reason only one team in the last decade has won a national championship with a defense ranked outside the top 10 nationally in total defense.
That one team, by the way, was Auburn in 2010. The Tigers finished 60th nationally that year in total defense.
2. Remember when Jacob Coker transferred to Alabama this offseason? It seemed like everybody who followed the Crimson Tide expected the former Florida State backup to walk in and take the starting job. Blake Sims, the ever-patient fifth-year senior, waited his turn behind AJ McCarron, battled Coker and the patience paid off. After throwing three interceptions that opened the door for Auburn to take the lead, Sims remained poised and finished strong with 312 passing yards and four touchdowns in the Crimson Tide's 55-44 Iron Bowl victory over Auburn. Throughout this season, Sims has earned Saban's confidence, and rightfully so. Sims and the Tide are a victory away from the College Football Playoff.
3. To the surprise of just about nobody, Missouri is a 14-point underdog heading into its SEC championship game matchup against Alabama. The Tigers (10-2), winners of six in a row, aren't going to be expected by many to beat Alabama. That seems to be OK by them. "“We love it,” sophomore linebacker Michael Scherer said. “We don’t want people to believe in us." The Tigers are of the mind that the more doubters they have, the bigger the proverbial chip on their shoulder will be heading into the game. This will be Missouri's second consecutive SEC East title game, so the Tigers have an idea of what to expect.
Around the SEC
- Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown explains why he left his job to accept the head coach job at Troy. And here's a look at potential replacements.
- Missouri coach Gary Pinkel will earn at least $200,000 in bonuses for getting the Tigers to 10 wins and the SEC title game.
- Georgia and Mark Richt fell short of an SEC East title. But what does it mean?
- On the heels of a loss to Clemson and a 6-6 season, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier has some decisions to make.
- After a winless debut season in the SEC, Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said changes are coming within the program.
- Tennessee is in a bowl game for the first time since 2010.
Talkin' is for talkin' season, as Spurrier would say.
Now, that doesn't mean they fire shots at each other exclusively in the offseason. But if you look at the best barbs they have traded, none of them were spoken during game week. With the rivals meeting again Saturday, we thought it would be worth taking a look at the best trash talk between them.
1. October 2012: Spurrier says: "Most of our guys have never been to Death Valley. "That is the Death Valley, isn't it? Or is there another one around?"
Swinney responds: "I can see where he might have a little confusion. Our guys have never been to USC. California's a long way from here. Got two Death Valleys and two USCs, but there's only one real one."
2. July 2014: At ACC Kickoff, Swinney is asked about his relationship with Spurrier. Swinney says: "He's from Pluto, and I'm from Mars."
Spurrier responds: "Dabo probably thinks there's only, what, nine planets out there? I think I read where Pluto may not be considered one now."
3. January 2014: After beating Wisconsin 34-24 in the Capital One Bowl, Spurrier said: "Hey, these two Capital One Bowls in a row are pretty nice, but that state championship ain't bad, either."
After beating Ohio State a few days later in the Discover Orange Bowl, Swinney responds: "We're the first team from South Carolina to ever win a BCS bowl."
Spurrier needed the last word on this one. In an interview with ESPN.com's Chris Low, Spurrier responds back: "I called [former Clemson coach] Danny Ford and said, 'Danny, does Dabo forget that Clemson in 1981 went down to the Orange Bowl, won the national championship and went undefeated?' They didn't call it a BCS bowl back then, but it was the same bowl, the Orange Bowl, and the Orange Bowl has always been a major bowl."
4. November 2011: South Carolina play-by-play announcer Todd Ellis is quoted after South Carolina's 34-13 win over Clemson: "As Coach Spurrier says, we might not be LSU or Alabama, but we ain't Clemson, folks."
Told the remarks came from Spurrier, Swinney responds with lengthy commentary in a long rant before closing: "He is exactly right –- they ain't Alabama, they ain't LSU and they certainly are not Clemson. That is why [North] Carolina is in Chapel Hill, USC is in California and the university in this state always has been and always will be Clemson. It's right here in Clemson, South Carolina. You can print that. Tweet that."
Spurrier could not let this one go. In August 2013, he tells reporters: "At this time last year Dabo's favorite USC, Southern Cal, was preseason No. 1 in the country," Spurrier said. "I call them Dabo's favorite USC. But anyway, we are playing Dabo's favorite Carolina, too. He loves North Carolina and Southern Cal for some reason. I don't know."
Just a few weeks ago, Spurrier roiled Clemson fans when he asked for the score in the Tigers' game against Georgia Tech in his postgame interview following a win over Florida. "I guess the upstate team got beat today. Is that correct?" he asked reporters. When told the score and that quarterback Deshaun Watson got hurt again, Spurrier said, "Well, that game, looks like we're in better shape than we were two weeks ago, right?"
After his comments caused an uproar, Spurrier said he would try not to say anything to upset Clemson fans "at least the next two weeks." Time is about to run out.
That's what talkin' season is for, anyway.
2. Rushing the field after a win over the No. 17 team in the country? That's what happens when you haven't won a conference game in over two years. Arkansas paid the price, though. On Monday, the school was fined $25,000 by the SEC for the post-game celebration, a fine I'm guessing coach Bret Bielema would be happy to pay back after Saturday's win against LSU. The atmosphere hasn't been as jubilant in Baton Rouge this week. It was a historically bad performance by the offense, and Glenn Guilbeau of the Shreveport Times writes that it's time for change and more specifically, time for a new quarterback and new offensive coordinator at LSU. The Tigers should fare better next Thursday against a bad Texas A&M defense.
3. What's the one thing we can almost always count on when Alabama plays an FCS team? Nick Saban going off during his weekly news conference about the quality of the opponent and how it doesn't matter. He didn't let us down this week. Saban got a little heated Monday when a reporter asked about the possibility of looking ahead to the rest of the season, aka the Iron Bowl. I think the Crimson Tide should be pretty safe this weekend against Western Carolina. On a different note, Saban was also asked about the music selection in Bryant-Denny Stadium and the updated playlist from Saturday's win against No. 1 Mississippi State. Unfortunately, he's not the DJ. He has nothing to do with what songs play or don't play during games.
Around the SEC
- Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson unfazed by criticism during brutal stretch.
- Running back Todd Gurley goes out the same way he came in at Georgia: A superstar.
- Steve Spurrier laments firing of Muschamp, shoots down rumors of his return to Florida.
We don't need a new DC we just need to Man up, do our jobs and win our 1on1's coaches coach players make plays!— Deshazor Everett (@DeUcE2NiNa9) November 17, 2014
The writing was on the wall that Will Muschamp was on his way out in Gainesvile, and the school made it official on Sunday, the day after the Gators’ late implosion in an overtime loss to South Carolina.
Immediately the rumor mill began to churn out names, like in an Associated Press story that mentioned Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez, Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen, Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops, Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy and Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze as possibilities. Insider’s Travis Haney weighed in on why it’s a top-tier job and some candidates that Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley might contact.
Will Foley look for an offensive-minded coach after defensive specialist Muschamp fell flat? Will he be willing to hire a coveted coordinator, as Muschamp was, with no head coaching experience? Might he look to the NFL ranks, or to someone like Mike Shanahan, who once served as an assistant at Florida?
But fear isn’t what LSU felt when it rallied for a game-winning field goal against the Gators last month, and that fear left the stadium in a hurry against Missouri when fans poured out early after a demoralizing 42-13 loss.
The 88,548-seat stadium is widely recognized as one of the best home-field advantages in the SEC, and yet Florida is just 2-5 in its last seven homes games dating back to last season.
That’s why after last week’s win at Vanderbilt, head coach Will Muschamp challenged his team to take back The Swamp this Saturday against South Carolina. The Gators have won two straight; they’re back in the SEC East race; and they want to finish the season on a high note, especially at home.
“We’re all about that,” Florida center Max Garcia said. “Our fans do deserve something to cheer for at The Swamp. We’ve got to defend it. The Swamp is a place where other teams should fear coming into. Gators only get out alive. We’ve got to make that happen again. We’ve got to take it back this game.”
Garcia is one of 22 seniors on Florida’s roster who know that they’re only going to be able to run out of that tunnel two more times in their college career. And Saturday will be the last time they run out against an SEC opponent.
“We know that time is running out, and we only get so many opportunities,” Garcia said. “I feel like we’re going to go out there and just love to play the game with each other. We’re extremely happy that we get this opportunity.”
It’s only fitting that a familiar face will be on the opposing sideline this weekend.
Steve Spurrier knows The Swamp as well as anybody. He coached 12 seasons in Gainesville, Florida, and the Gators were an incredible 68-5 at home under the Head Ball Coach. However, since taking over at South Carolina, he’s 1-3 in the stadium that has his statue out front.
He’d like to add another win against his former team Saturday but knows it won’t be easy.
“Obviously, The Swamp is a difficult place,” Spurrier said on Wednesday’s SEC teleconference. “It’s a very difficult place, but so is LSU, Alabama, Auburn. They’re all so loud -- you’ve got to use hand signals no matter where you go.
“But yeah, it’s a tough place. Their fans now are getting back into it, it appears. They were a little quiet, I guess, early in the season. But we expect a real loud one down there Saturday.”
As of Thursday, there were still 5,500 tickets remaining for Saturday’s game, but the crowd is always lively when Spurrier is back in town.
Not the unusually cool temperatures in the low 40s that the Tigers practiced in on Wednesday. Even worse. The weather forecast for Saturday night’s game at Arkansas shows lows in the 20s and a 70 percent chance of snow.
Considering how 90 percent of Les Miles’ LSU roster hails from Louisiana and the surrounding Southern states, most Tigers have barely seen snow, much less played a competitive football game in it.
If it really comes down on Saturday, it will be interesting to see how the Tigers handle an entirely different climate than what they are accustomed. Miles’ staff seemed amused to turn it into a game of sorts, with one support staff member going shirtless at Wednesday’s chilly practice, but it could be a genuine area of concern.
Arkansas’ players aren’t especially prepared for snowy weather, however. Yes, far more Razorbacks are from states with cooler weather -- and Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said that might be an advantage -- but the Arkansas News Bureau’s Robbie Neiswanger wrote this week that the last Razorbacks game impacted by snow was in 1993 against Auburn.
Arkansas initially planned to allow students to camp outside Reynolds Razorback Stadium on Friday night, but the school announced on Wednesday that camping is now canceled because of possible inclement weather.
One likely outcome is that two run-oriented offenses will lean even more heavily on their ground games in snowy weather. If that happens, the Razorbacks and Tigers might play the fastest televised SEC game of the entire season with few pass attempts to stop the game clock.
Around the SEC
- The thought of returning to a bowl game and finishing his senior year in a positive fashion fuels Tennessee offensive lineman Jacob Gilliam, who continues to play with a torn ACL in his left knee.
- The friendship between Florida’s Will Muschamp and South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier developed more because of mutual travel arrangements than that both of them have been head coaches in Gainesville.
- Playing the part of Mississippi State Heisman Trophy contender Dak Prescott this week in practice for Alabama? Redshirt freshman quarterback Cooper Bateman.
- Missouri will attempt to slow down Texas A&M’s passing attack with a reshuffled secondary.
- That said, it was the running game that helped Texas A&M escape with an upset win last Saturday against Auburn, allowing the Aggies to eat nearly 11 minutes off the clock in two second-half drives.
- Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said he is shaking things up in practice this week in an attempt to avoid another horrible start on Saturday against Georgia.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier and Florida coach Will Muschamp have a little bit of a friendship thanks to sharing a few flights. Spurrier said it sparked from traveling to ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut, for the annual coaches "Car Wash." Spurrier simply dialed up Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley and asked if Florida's jet, which flies over Columbia, South Carolina, en route to Bristol, could stop and pick him up. Foley obliged and Spurrier and Muschamp have shared those flights and gotten to know each other in that time. The two face off on the field this Saturday and will naturally push that relationship aside when kickoff comes.
Though it hasn't always been pretty, Missouri leads the SEC East and controls its own destiny as the only team in the division with one conference loss. The Tigers have been able to do that despite having an offense that ranks last in the conference in yards per game (250.2) and yards per play (4.05). Still, they control their own destiny with three games left, the first one coming at Texas A&M. They've beaten the Aggies four of the last five meetings and the teams have split their two meetings since each joined the SEC. Gary Pinkel's teams seem to have a knack for being in the mix for division titles even in his days in the Big 12 and the Tigers are chasing their second straight SEC East title. Notably, Missouri will be without cornerback Aaron Penton -- who has started all nine games so far this season -- because Pinkel suspended him after Penton was arrested for marijuana possession.
Around the SEC
- Will Muschamp said South Carolina will have the best offense Florida has seen this season.
- Alabama's final drive in regulation on Saturday left LSU's defensive players sleepless.
- Texas A&M quarterback Kyle Allen showed leadership and smarts in his second start, a win over Auburn.
- Kentucky needs to get back to attacking.
- Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason talked about his late friend, former Auburn tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, ahead of the Dawgs game with Auburn.
Yep, so glad the College Football Playoff Rankings are going to have so much less controversy than the BCS. Whew!— Radi Nabulsi (@RadiNabulsi) November 12, 2014
It was only one performance, but it was a memorable one for Texas A&M true freshman quarterback Kyle Allen. All he did was throw four touchdowns and lead the Aggies to a 41-38 win over No. 3 Auburn in Jordan-Hare Stadium. Allen was the top-ranked pocket passer in the 2014 recruiting class. He showed why he was so highly regarded on ”That is why we recruited him and that is why he is here,” Texas A&M receiver Malcome Kennedy said afterward. Based on his play Saturday, Allen likely earned himself the chance to start the Aggies' next game against Missouri and perhaps the rest of the season. And the win? It salvaged a season that was turning ugly.
Around the SEC
- After Saturday's loss, Auburn finds itself in a position it hasn't been in lately -- out of the spotlight
- Is Georgia wearing black jerseys on Saturday? No, says Mark Richt.
- Les Miles thanks Nick Saban for sending condolences after his mother's death
- Florida QB Treon Harris makes a huge jump in production
- Ole Miss gets a glimpse of its future in its win over Presbyterian.
As is often the case, the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry will impact the SEC divisional races. It’s the rematch of last season’s “Miracle at Jordan-Hare” when Ricardo Louis caught the game-winning touchdown pass off a deflection from two Georgia defenders. It will be former Georgia cornerback and current Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall’s first game back in Sanford Stadium since Mark Richt kicked him off the team after the 2011 season.
And in case you hadn’t heard, Saturday night’s game will mark the return of Georgia tailback and former Heisman Trophy front runner Todd Gurley.
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Before his team faced Auburn last month, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier spoke of the mutual respect he believes exists between head coaches who call plays on offense. Spurrier and Auburn coach Gus Malzahn are among those who wear both hats for their respective programs.
Later asked about those coaches that don’t call plays on either side of the ball for their teams, the always candid Spurrier jokingly speculated how those top men spend their time.
"I think they sit around and say 'What am I going to tell you guys [media] most of the time,'" Spurrier said with a laugh. “Most of them look in on all three phases of their team -- offense, defense, special teams. Some of them are more involved in one or the other -- special teams, defense or what have you. But you really need to ask them what they do all week. I’m not 100 percent sure what they are doing, exactly."
It’s an interesting discussion, and every head coach has his own philosophy. On Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium, two offensive-minded head coaches who differ in that area will meet -- Malzahn and Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin.
Both have built their reputations on high-powered, up-tempo, no-huddle offenses. Malzahn serves as Auburn’s primary offensive play-caller, and Sumlin delegates the duty to his offensive coordinator, something he has done since the start of his head coaching career seven years ago at Houston.
Why do they believe in their respective methods? Malzahn said his passion and habit of calling plays dates to his time as a head coach in the high school ranks. His success juggling the tasks at that level led him to continue to do so when he became a college coach.
"I've always done it all my career," Malzahn said. "When I got into coaching college, I got some good advice: 'Hey, don't change anything that helped you get to where you're at. Do what you feel like your strength is,' and I feel very comfortable doing that."
It’s hard to argue with the results. Last season, Auburn was No. 1 in the nation in rushing yards per game (328.29), No. 8 in yards per play (6.92), 11th in yards per game (501.3) and 12th in scoring offense (39.5). This season the Tigers are eighth in rushing (276.88), fifth in yards per play (6.97), 16th in yards per game (497.5) and 13th in scoring (38.8).
Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee have a strong rapport and ongoing discussion during games that yields the results.
"It’s just kind of constant back-and-forth dialogue from there," Lashlee said. "A lot of in-drive stuff for us is feel and based off things we’ve seen so far. If one of us feels really good about something, we say it and usually roll with it.
"Usually Coach [Malzahn] would get in a good rhythm, and I’m just trying to be that sounding board -- keep things on his mind or remind him certain things are there. Sometimes he’ll say 'What do you want?' It works good back-and-forth so far together."
Malzahn says Lashlee’s work during the week allows Malzahn to handle his head coaching duties and not solely focus on offensive game-planning.
"I'm very fortunate to have a guy like Rhett Lashlee who can do a lot of legwork during the week, preparation and everything that goes with that, and it allows me to be a head coach," Malzahn said. "But I do enjoy calling plays on Saturday."
Being a play-caller as a head coach was something Sumlin gave much thought to when he accepted his first head coaching job at Houston prior to the 2008 season. In the end, he felt assuming the duty might stretch him too thin when it came to being able to juggle that task and building the type of program he wanted.
He had success hiring coordinators. The first two he hired -- Dana Holgorsen and Kliff Kingsbury -- moved on to head coaching jobs after having success under Sumlin.
"I just thought there are so many things to do, so many things that go on that it was going to be very difficult for me to establish a program, get a program going at the level [I wanted] -- whether it was at Houston or here [at Texas A&M] -- to really do that during a game," Sumlin said. "When I was a coordinator I couldn't tell you what was going on [with] special teams or defensively, because we were always worried about what was happening [offensively]."
He also feels delegating that responsibility helped him be better in other areas.
"We played in a lot of really, really close games, and I think history will tell you that we've had a great track history in close games of clock management and what happens at the end of close games," Sumlin said. "I think that had a lot to do with me, along with the staff, being able to communicate and see the whole picture rather than being myopic on the situation."
Though the Aggies have struggled lately offensively, Sumlin’s head coaching career has been filled with significant offensive success, lending credibility to the approach. His current offensive coordinator, Jake Spavital, has the freedom to call the game as he sees fit, just like the others who preceded him in that position under Sumlin. Though the head coach does have his input, he saves it for breaks in the action.
"It's in-between drives that we discuss what we need to do, and a lot of it is personnel issues about what we're capable of doing from protection to running the ball, to how the quarterback is handling the situation right now and what's going to be easiest, and what's the situation on the clock," Spavial said. "Coach Sumlin is going to step in and voice his opinion if needed, but he really doesn't mess with me that often during the course of a drive."
As the College Football Playoff selection committee continues to digest the results of Week 10, it's time to turn the page.
Up first for the committee comes the question of whom to plug into the spot formerly occupied by Ole Miss. It says here that Oregon should advance to No. 4.
Of course, that's assuming the committee doesn't drop an early bombshell -- in starting with a clean slate each week, as promised -- and rework the top four to include two new members. It could happen.
Remember, we've entered the age of chaos.
This week, six playoff contenders go on the road to face big tests. I'm going to tell you who among them is most likely to lose, who's most likely to win -- and why it matters less than you think.
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Louisiana-Monroe at Texas A&M, SEC Network: This is what the doctor ordered for the Aggies, who are coming off a three-game losing streak, including their second-worst loss in school history (a 59-0 embarrassment in Alabama). Louisiana-Monroe won't be intimidated, because it has played two other SEC teams on the road this year (LSU and Kentucky). It will likely matter little. The thing to watch in this game is who starts at quarterback for the Aggies: Kyle Allen or Kenny Hill (it's sounding as though Allen will get the nod, his first after Hill started the previous eight, though A&M won't make the decision publicly known until its first offensive possession Saturday).
Kentucky at Missouri, SEC Network: This should be one of the most compelling games of the day. Kentucky is still seeking that sixth win to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2010. The Wildcats lost last week but competed admirably against No. 1 Mississippi State. Missouri is looking to stay within reach of Georgia in the SEC East Division race but the Tigers have been up and down this season. They've won their past two thanks to their defense and special teams but the offense has left much to be desired of late.
No. 3 Auburn at No. 4 Ole Miss, ESPN: Make no bones about it, this is the game of the day (or night, rather). It's basically a College Football Playoff elimination game, as the loser would have a rough time trying to sneak back into the top four. Ole Miss is coming off its first loss, a 10-7 heartbreaker to LSU in Death Valley; Auburn had to shoot it out with South Carolina to escape with a 42-35 home win last week. You have Auburn, one of the league's premier offenses, going against Ole Miss' Landshark D. And two innovative coaches (Hugh Freeze and Gus Malzahn) who started from the bottom -- now they're here. Should be a blast.
Old Dominion at Vanderbilt, ESPNU: With no SEC wins and a rough first season for its new coach, Vanderbilt needs all the positives it can get. That means a win here would be nice, regardless of the fact that it's a nonconference game against a Conference USA team. The quarterback carousel continues for the Commodores as redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary became the team's fourth starting quarterback this year. Fortunately, he showed some signs of promise in the loss to Missouri, throwing two touchdowns, and will get the nod again, though Derek Mason noted Patton Robinette could see some time as he recovers from an injury. Old Dominion comes into this game having lost four straight.
Arkansas at No. 1 Mississippi State, ESPN2: Mississippi State has been No. 1 for a few weeks in the polls, but it is in the driver's seat officially now, holding the No. 1 ranking in the first set of College Football Playoff rankings. The pressure will undoubtedly increase each week as the Bulldogs get closer; it will be compelling to see how the Bulldogs handle it. This week's challenge is Arkansas, a team still seeking its first SEC win of the Bret Bielema era but a squad that has given other SEC West foes headaches, taking Alabama and Texas A&M down to the wire. Mississippi State has won 10 straight; Arkansas' SEC skid is now at 16.
Tennessee at South Carolina, SEC Network: Both teams are having a rough go at it this year but when these two met at Neyland Stadium last year, it was quite memorable. South Carolina came in ranked as the No. 11 team nationally but Tennessee pulled off a 23-21 win with a 19-yard field goal from Michael Palardy as time expired. Butch Jones did not publicly announce who is starting at quarterback for this game (Justin Worley, Nathan Peterman and Josh Dobbs are the options) and the Vols are still seeking their first SEC win of the season. South Carolina is looking to snap a three-game SEC skid and it's a wonder if we'll see some more fourth-down magic from Steve Spurrier, whose Gamecocks went 5-for-6 on fourth down last week.
11:00 AM ET Nevada Louisiana-Lafayette 2:20 PM ET Utah State UTEP 3:30 PM ET 22 Utah Colorado State 5:45 PM ET Western Michigan Air Force 9:15 PM ET South Alabama Bowling Green
6:00 PM ET Marshall Northern Illinois 9:30 PM ET Navy San Diego State
12:00 PM ET Central Michigan Western Kentucky 8:00 PM ET Fresno State Rice
1:00 PM ET Illinois Louisiana Tech 4:30 PM ET Rutgers North Carolina 8:00 PM ET North Carolina State UCF
1:00 PM ET Cincinnati Virginia Tech 2:00 PM ET 15 Arizona State Duke 3:30 PM ET Miami (FL) South Carolina 4:30 PM ET Boston College Penn State 8:00 PM ET Nebraska 24 USC
2:00 PM ET Texas A&M West Virginia 5:30 PM ET Oklahoma 17 Clemson 9:00 PM ET Arkansas Texas
3:00 PM ET Notre Dame 23 LSU 6:30 PM ET 13 Georgia 21 Louisville 10:00 PM ET Maryland Stanford
12:30 PM ET 9 Ole Miss 6 TCU 4:00 PM ET 20 Boise State 10 Arizona 8:00 PM ET 7 Mississippi State 12 Georgia Tech
12:00 PM ET 19 Auburn 18 Wisconsin 12:30 PM ET 8 Michigan State 5 Baylor 1:00 PM ET 16 Missouri 25 Minnesota 5:00 PM ET 2 Oregon 3 Florida State 8:30 PM ET 1 Alabama 4 Ohio State
12:00 PM ET Houston Pittsburgh 3:20 PM ET Iowa Tennessee 6:45 PM ET 11 Kansas State 14 UCLA 10:15 PM ET Washington Oklahoma State