The regular season ended with a bang as numerous coaches have been let go and the College Football Playoff picture is suddenly unclear with Alabama dislodged from the top spot. Auburn, Oklahoma and Wisconsin will all play in conference title games this weekend – if any of them lose, the job of the College Football Playoff Committee becomes more challenging. Would Georgia leapfrog Alabama if they were to somehow beat Auburn in convincing fashion this weekend?
Auburn’s Late-Season Surge
It’s remarkable that we’re having this discussion now. The Tigers were highly rated at the start of the season based primarily on potential with Quarterback Jarret Stidham, but most people wrote off Auburn as a Playoff contender after the Tigers blew a huge lead over LSU in Week 7, having also lost in Week 2 to the defending National Champion Clemson Tigers. In the span of three weeks, however, Gus Malzahn’s team has beaten the number one team in the country twice: The Georgia Bulldogs on November 11 and the Alabama Crimson Tide this past weekend. They face Georgia once again in the SEC Championship game this coming weekend in Atlanta. In the new Associated Press poll, Auburn jumped from No. 6 to No. 4, followed by Alabama at No. 5 and Georgia at No. 6. Alabama had held the top spot since the preseason.
“Those wins have Auburn amazingly in the playoff driver seat,” said Tommy Duff, Editor of The Kickoff college football newsletter. “Auburn will be in the Playoffs if (RB Kerryon) Johnson is healthy and they beat UGA. Alabama is still in a good spot. Oklahoma and Clemson are best positioned. Miami may be an outsider regardless of whether they beat Clemson. If Ohio State beats Wisconsin and Miami beats Clemson, then Ohio State is in.”
Changes in the CFB Polls
Clemson jumped from No. 4 to No. 1 in the AP Poll after blowing out South Carolina. Oklahoma is the new No. 2, followed by Wisconsin at No. 3. In the College Football Playoff rankings, Clemson is No. 1, Auburn is No. 2, Oklahoma is No. 3, and Wisconsin is No. 4. Rounding out the Top 10 are Alabama (which is trying to argue it still deserves to be in the Playoffs), Georgia, Miami (Fla), Ohio State, Penn State, and USC. In The Kickoff Top 25, we have undefeated Wisconsin in the No. 1 spot.
“Wisconsin is still in the Big 10, and it’s a Power 5 conference. We don’t like jumping teams for no reason,” Duff explained. “Clemson lost to a 4-8 Syracuse team. Oklahoma lost to a 7-5 Iowa State team. Throw out the losses and Auburn should be No. 1 on quality wins alone, but they lost to a Clemson team that lost to 4-8 Syracuse. Wisconsin doesn’t have a great win, but they have won every game they were supposed to. That’s how we see it at The Kickoff.”
Another upset last weekend was Miami (Fla) falling to Pittsburgh. The Hurricanes fell five spots to No. 7 on the AP poll. On the Kickoff Top 25, they fell from No. 3 last week to No. 7 this week.
Coaches Fired, Hired
The other huge news right now: The Coaching Carousel. Previously mentioned Arkansas canned Bret Bielema. Also dusting off the resume: Jim McElwain at Florida (replaced by Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen), Kevin Sumerlin at Texas A&M, Todd Graham at Arizona State, Tyson Summers at Georgia Southern, Mike Riley at Nebraska, Hugh Freeze at Ole Miss, Gary Andersen at Oregon State, Joey Jones at South Alabama, Butch Jones at Tennessee, Jim Mora at UCLA, and Sean Kugler at UTEP. Former Oregon Coach Chip Kelly was hired at UCLA.
Tennessee backed out of a memorandum of understanding with Ohio State Defensive Coordinator Greg Schiano after facing a backlash from the Volunteer faithful due to Schiano’s ties to Penn State during the Jerry Sandusky scandal. The Vols finished without a single SEC win this year, going 4-8 overall. Candidates for the job had to be looking at how Knoxville has cycled through three coaches in a decade, failing to win an SEC Championship since 1998 or win the SEC East since 2007.
“Tennessee is a mess,” Duff said. “Total meltdown in the athletic department. Apparently, Tennessee offers were too low. Florida didn’t get its first choice, but Mullen is the right fit. Arkansas is a mess too. Arkansas wanted to hire Gus Malzahn, but his success has left the brass there scrambling as there is little, if any, chance he would leave Auburn now. Ole Miss did the right thing.”
One possible replacement considered for Jones is North Carolina State coach Dave Doeren. Duff said the hire would be like a “rescue off the hot seat at NC State” where he is 33-30 in five seasons. The Wolfpack had an 8-4 record this season and reached No. 14 in the polls before losing late in the season to Notre Dame, Clemson and Wake Forest. “Brought to you by Little Currie, Jimmy Haslam and Peyton Manning, the brains behind the Greg Schiano and Butch Jones hires,” Duff added. Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy rejected Tennessee on Tuesday. Duke’s David Cutcliffe also told Tennessee he was not interested, according to an ESPN report.
Texas A&M, which finished in 5th place in the SEC West, has lured Jimbo Fisher away from Florida State with a rumored 10-year deal worth $7.5 million per season. Fisher, who won the 2013 national championship at FSU, would become the third highest-paid coach per season in all of college football, trailing only Dabo Swinney and Nick Saban.
Duff said the current coaching turmoil in the SEC is “a direct reflection of Nick Saban’s domination. The SEC is so bloated that it’s now eating its own programs. Nobody else has gotten over the hump. Look at Malzahn. He was rumored to be on the hot seat – unfairly in my opinion – and then he beats Moby Dick and he’s a hero on the Plains.”
The Regular Season in Retrospect
Although Georgia may very well prevail against Auburn in a second game this season, their 40-17 loss to the Tigers magnified the lack of parity between the SEC East and West divisions this season.
It’s been a difficult season to judge performance based on teams played. Auburn, for example, lost to LSU, which Alabama defeated 24-10 on November 10th. However, the Tide struggled to beat the same Mississippi State team that Auburn beat 49-10 back in week 5. Georgia’s signature win this year was the week two win over Notre Dame, but the Fighting Irish lost to Miami (FL) 41-8 on November 11th.
One could say that various teams have found ways to “snatch defeat from the jaws of victory” throughout the season. Some teams have been just plain awful and have fans just wanting to hurry up and set the refresh and rebuild button. The coaching changes we are seeing, as teams hope not to fall behind in recruiting, are a reflection of that.
Duff said LSU’s bet on Ed Orgeron paid off as the Tigers finished 9-3 to prove doubters wrong. The Kickoff doesn’t speculate on head coaches jumping to new programs, but there are coordinators who we feel are ready to move into the head coaching ranks. Some of the big names who may be considered for a head coaching vacancy include Jeremy Pruitt at Alabama, Kevin Steele at Auburn, Brent Venables and Tony Elliot at Clemson, Todd Grantham at Mississippi State, Manny Diaz at Miami, Tee Martin at USC, Jim Leavitt or Mario Cristobal at Oregon, just to name a few. We have a more extensive list in this week’s issue of The Kickoff.
Also included in Issue 14: A conference breakdown through issue 14, the FBS and FCS standings, complete regular season schedules and scores, a listing of the conference championship games ahead, our Top 25, our Games of the Week (AU vs UGA and Ohio State vs Wisconsin), plus overall trends, Division 1A FBS Expanded Standings, 2017 average margin of victory leaders, the 2017 Kickoff Power Rankings Spreadsheet, formula breakdown, news and notes, the Kickoff Thermostat, Top Assistant Coach Candidates, confirmed coaching changes, opening lines and Kickoff-recommended picks, and more.
In case you are wondering, The Kickoff was 7-5 against the spread on last week’s recommended picks, and we were 59-35 against the spread for the regular season.
The Kickoff has three remaining issues for this post-season phase, as well as 6 monthly issues covering recruiting, spring practice and transfers between February and July. You can still subscribe to have our valuable tool available by visiting http://thekickoffstore.com/subscriptions/individual/