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Football thoughts of the week: Off-season in the SEC West

Football thoughts of the week: Off-season in the SEC West

Austin Photo Set: News_trey_sec football_jan 2013
Arkansas Razorbacks Courtesy of Arkansas Razorbacks
Austin Photo Set: News_trey_sec football_jan 2013
Austin Photo Set: News_Trey_games of the week6_oct 2012_lsu

Let’s jump back in with our off-season look at college football. Last week we hit the Big 12, and this week we move to the center of the known universe, the SEC. And specifically, we will address the first world of the center of the known universe, the SEC West.

As you are well aware, the only football that matters exists in the geographic box between College Station, Texas and Columbia, South Carolina going eas to west and Columbia, Missouri and the Gulf of Mexico going north to south. This box is, of course, where the SEC lives.

There are 14 schools in the SEC and all of them are better than your school in football. Even the bad ones are still better. Better than all of your schools. In fact, the rest of the United States should select All-Star teams to play these 14 schools. I don’t even mean just collegiate all-stars. It could be professionals, military personnel and armaments, circus animals, colors, technology and ideas. None of these could beat the mighty SEC. They are that good. Just ask them.

And within the hallowed walls of the SEC, the first class, VIP section is the SEC West. The SEC West sits behind the rope with security monitoring the entrance. They don’t pay for drinks. They wear sunglasses inside. They come and go through their own door while everyone else waits in line. They are cooler — and better — than you.

All joking aside, I don’t like them. The winners of seven straight National Championships (and most of the games weren’t very competitive), the mighty SEC has earned the entitled attitude on the field, and as long as Nick Saban and the powers that be in the league are doing their thing, expect to hear the little brothers (looking right at you, Kentucky) bring the “SEC! SEC! SEC!” chants at every opportunity.

Some teams have a lot of work to do, while others have little. Let’s take a look at what the SEC looks like this off-season, starting with the SEC West.

Arkansas

Coaching Turnover: Bret Beilema (from Wisconsin)
Drama: How was the Arkansas football spring and summer of 2012 not a reality TV show?
Momentum: More than in August

One of my best friends is diehard Hog. At one point late last season his wife asked him, “Why are you drinking so much?” after an Arkansas loss. He said, “It’s the only way to keep from breaking things.” He encapsulates the Razorback fan base: A mixture of anger, bitterness and what ifs.

What if Bob Petrino doesn’t get in a motorcycle accident? What if he doesn’t lose his damn mind and hire his girlfriend to begin with? What if he was just better at hiding whatever it was he needed to do? A national title contender with a dark horse Heisman candidate in quarterback Tyler Wilson last April, everything fell apart the minute Petrino and his lady friend laid he bike down on the road.

That what if led to frustration, made worse by the odd hiring of John L. Smith, who took a bad situation and made it weird, uncomfortable and worse, and Arkansas finished 4-8, including a home loss to Louisiana Monroe.

Arkansas responded in the off-season by hiring Wisconsin’s Bret Beilema and the goal this off-season, as is the case with all new staffs, is getting everyone on the same page as far as strength and conditioning, terminology and schemes. The Hogs have talent and Beilema can coach, as evidenced by his three straight Rose Bowl appearances. The question is can he do it in the SEC, in an area of the country new to him.

He has some pieces to work with, but Beilema’s style is very different than Petrino’s was and he might not have the personnel to pull it off immediately. This off-season before spring practice will go a long way towards determining how the season goes.

I grew up in a Longhorn house, so I don’t like Arkansas. They were so awful I felt sorry for them. That bad.

LSU

Coaching Turnover: None
Drama: Honey Badger is no more
Momentum: Mixed, but closer to yes than no

As we mentioned last week, LSU had 10 underclassmen declare for the NFL Draft. The Tigers were 12 points away from a perfect season in 2012 and were it not for a perfect Alabama screen pass, they would have played Georgia in the SEC Title and a national title berth. But it was a perfect screen pass and Geaux Tigers went to the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, where they lost to Clemson in dramatic fashion.

That sort of burn — the loss to Alabama, an 8-point loss at Florida — is the sort of thing that can fuel a team in the long winter months to work, lift, run and study to prepare for the next season. However, when 10 underclassmen join the senior class in departure from the two-deep, it can have a serious affect on who is playing where. LSU loses the entire starting d-line and three other starters as well as both kickers. The punter came out early for the draft, and he will be hard to replace.

Still the depth chart it is still littered with “Fr-RS,” “Fr-HS” and “So” meaning there are a ton of guys coming back. This off-season will be about replacing the departed on defense, finding a new tailback (two are now NFL-bound) and making Zack Mettenberger better. Hey, the passing game couldn’t get any worse, right? LSU is right where they always are, they just need to plug the holes and move forward.

More of this, LSU. I am mesmerized by the Mad Hatter.

Ole Miss

Coaching Turnover: None
Drama: Feed Moncrief, which is good drama
Momentum: Lots

Out of the shadow of Houston Nutt’s nonsense, the Ole Miss Rebels not only got bowl eligible, but won the bowl game. They’ve been a doormat for a very long time in the SEC and they are known more for the party outside than the game inside, but 2nd year coach Hugh Freeze is changing that (well, he’s making the game more important, but The Grove is The Grove).

They were not ready for Bama, Texas or Georgia, but they could have beat A&M, LSU and Vandy with a few breaks. The two-game winning streak to end the season, including a 41-24 win over arch rival Mississippi State, their first Egg Bowl in four years, has Ole Miss sky high headed into the off-season.

The goal in the off-season will be getting tougher up front. Texas manhandled the offensive line, as did everyone else, as the Rebels finished 97th in sacks allowed. A bigger, stronger line will help the returning skill guys like quarterback Bo Wallace and Donte Moncrief (of Feed Moncrief fame) become even better.

And better they will be with 19 of the starting 22 coming back. Ole Miss could be a player very soon with the experience and staff they have in place. Right now, they need to get bigger and stronger to make it happen.

Mississippi State

Coaching Turnover: Chris Wilson to Georgia (Was he fired?), Melvin Smith to Auburn (secondary), Deshea Townsend to coach secondary (from the Arizona Cardinals), David Turner to coach d-line (from Kentucky), lb coach Geoff Collins to DC
Drama: None
Momentum: Umm

I don’t know anything — I’ve stated for the record many times over — but I’m not sure I get these new hires at Cow Bell. Turner comes from Kentucky, where he was the d-line coach and assistant head coach for the last three years. I guess the Kentucky defense was okay, but Turner left Mississippi State for that job and was replaced by Chris Wilson, only to return three years later for the same job. And wasn’t Kentucky just awful?

And Deshea Townsend, a terrific NFL player, comes in after just two seasons (his first two coaching) as the assistant secondary coach with the Arizona Cardinals. The NFL has assistant assistant coaches? Wouldn’t whoever was the secondary coach with the Arizona Cardinals be the assistant coach? Townsend was his assistant? And didn’t they stink and all get fired, too?

I watched the Bulldogs play quite a few times and I was underwhelmed with what I saw. They looked too slow to compete and ill-prepared at times. Maybe these two new hires will change all that. Or maybe they won’t. I just think an SEC bowl team can spend some time and find new blood, new ideas and new energy from a lot of different places, not a retread and an inexperienced former player. But again, what do I know?

Auburn

Coaching Turnover: All gone; Gus Malzahn (from Arkansas State)
Drama: All in
Momentum: Cannot be worse than it was, so it has to be better

I thought Malzahn was the safe hire that would ensure everything stayed relatively the same. After all, he was the OC when Auburn won the National Championship. He was also on the staff that has been under NCAA scrutiny for recruiting violations. Remember, this is Auburn, where the boosters are insane and in charge and they have to approve who will take over. But it wasn’t the first time (or the last) I was wrong. Malzahn, upon being hired, fired everyone and started over.

War Eagle is in serious need of a culture and identity change, and while Malzahn seemed like he would carry on the current Auburn way, he’s been an unexpected and immediate agent of change. His offense will move the ball, but he needs his personnel in place for the team to be successful. Last year they were awful, finishing last in the SEC West with 0-8 conference record, and all the momentum from the 2010 championship season is gone. Malzahn saw that nothing good was left, so he blew it up and is starting over.

Energy, effort, enthusiasm and desire are the focus of the off-season. Who wants to be here? Who wants to play for Auburn for the right reasons? Once that gets sorted out they can move forward on schemes and on-the-field stuff.

Alabama

Coaching Turnover: None
Drama: Never
Momentum: All of it in the world

Nick Saban is coming to Texas. Not to coach the Longhorns, but for the entire school. He is taking it and putting it in his bedroom and it keeping it as a pet. That’s a joke, of course. Nick Saban doesn’t have a bedroom because Nick Saban doesn’t sleep. Or like pets.

When facing the Saban, do not look directly at him, or you will turn to stone. He will then run off-tackle, mixing in play-action passes, at your new stone body until he smashes you to rubble. He will then blitz the rubble and continue to hit it until it turns to dust. He will shake his head in disgust and lament to the press about how long it took his team to pummel you to dust as he oversees their sweeping up of your remains. He will also criticize their sweeping techniques.

Misery and despair plague the houses of those who oppose Nick Saban. Prepare for misfortune, Aggies.

Texas A&M

Coaching Turnover: OC Kliff Kingbury (to Texas Tech), LB coach Matt Wallerstedt (to Texas Tech as DC), Mark Hagen to recruiting coordinator/special teams coach (from Indiana), Jake Spavital to QB coach/Co-OC (from WVA)
Drama: Johnny Football! Wait, is he old enough to do that?
Momentum: Everest-high

The Aggies blew up last year and ruined many Longhorns’ visions with their terrific success. A hot coach, a hotter quarterback and a terrific defense all combined to give the Aggies their best season since 1998. The Ags lost two big pieces when left tackle Luke Joeckel and defensive end Damontre Moore declared for the NFL Draft.

And saying two “big” pieces might be an understatement, as Joeckel could be the first pick in the draft and Moore not far behind him as a top five pick. Yes, two top 5 picks from A&M. I guess Mike Sherman was good at something after all, eh?

If you watched the Aggie beat down of ou or their upset of Bama, you noticed that while Manziel was making plays, his offensive line was stonewalling the defense. Now Joeckel is gone, as is center Patrick Lewis and four other starters on the offense. Defensively, Moore was the leader both statistically and emotionally, and now he’s gone as well as five other starters. There is much rebuilding to do, but tackle Jake Matthews is back and so is Johnny Football. Whoop!

The goal of this off-season is to keep the momentum going. A&M is killing it in recruiting right now, despite the illegal numbers and everyone is happy. But they can’t get satisfied. Manziel was spectacular, but top ten NFL Draft picks certainly help and now they are gone. There is plenty of talent on hand, but A&M will now be the team with the bulls eye on its back, getting everyone’s best effort and emotion. Are the Aggies ready for that? That’s what the off-season is for, getting ready for that. And replacing all those starters.

This is for you, Nick Saban.

That’s it for the week. Back with the SEC East next week. Follow me on Twitter @TreyMcLean for awesomeness.