Sports, Thrill of Victory

SEC football wrap-up and basketball storylines to watch this week

Bowl season is over, conference basketball play has started, and there are tons of things to talk about. Chris Lee tackles all that in this week’s SEC hoops snapshot.

THIS WEEK’S STORYLINES

Record bowl success

After last year’s bowl results, during which the SEC went 7-5 in bowl season (though just 2-5 among its ranked teams), all we heard was how the SEC had been overrated.

By the same measuring stick, I guess we could say the SEC is historically dominant a year later after a record eight bowl wins. Furthermore, the SEC didn’t just win those eight games, it flat-out steamrolled opponents, winning those eight games by an average of 26 points.

Coach Nick Saban led Alabama to a win over Michigan State, in style. PHOTO COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA

Coach Nick Saban led Alabama to a win over Michigan State, in style. PHOTO COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA

Alabama cruised into 2016 with a 38-0 demolition of Michigan State in the College Football Playoff as one of the league’s eight bowl victories, the most by any conference in a bowl season in history. Other victims included three teams ranked in the AP Top 25, which were the third-ranked Spartans, No. 13 Northwestern (obliterated by Tennessee) and sixteenth-ranked Oklahoma State, which never had a prayer against Ole Miss. 

The only blemishes came from two teams struggling to the finish. Without its top two quarterbacks, Texas A&M lost the Music City Bowl to Louisville by six points, while Florida, beset by injuries and suspensions, was thrashed by Michigan.

So, what does this mean?

Last year’s narrative was over-done. To be consistent, this isn’t definitive prove that the SEC has lapped the field. Crazy stuff happens in bowl games; some teams (see Oklahoma and Ole Miss last year) don’t seem motivated to be there, and in those games, outcomes can be misleading. 

A flawed system during which a far-too-many 80 teams make bowl games also makes for lopsided match-ups. Was a Kansas State squad, which went 3-6 in the Big 12, or North Carolina State (3-5 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) really worthy bowl teams? Those were among the lambs led to the SEC slaughterhouse last week.

So, while we should limit our extrapolation of meaning from this—it seems to me there’s more parity between the five power conferences than we’ve seen in a while—it doesn’t mean we should completely discount bowl season, either. Regardless of what happens between Alabama and Clemson, the SEC should be regarded as the top conference for the 2015 season. 

Don’t believe me? Take the average ranking of four reputable computer rankings for the league’s 10 bowl teams (I used Jeff Sagarin, Football Outsiders’ S&P and Fremeau Efficiency ratings, and ESPN’s FPI) and here’s what you get:

Alabama, 1

Ole Miss, 5

LSU, 11

Arkansas, 13

Tennessee, 13

Mississippi State, 16

Georgia, 26

Florida, 28

Texas A&M, 30

Auburn, 32

Any way you view it, it was a good year for the league. 

More Texas A&M turnover

Thanks to the play of freshman superstar Ben Simmons, LSU leads the SEC with a 2-0 mark. PHOTO COURTESY LSU

Thanks to the play of freshman superstar Ben Simmons, LSU leads the SEC with a 2-0 mark. PHOTO COURTESY LSU

After the Aggies lost quarterbacks Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray over the holiday season, thirty-year-old Jake Spavital, their offensive coordinator and position coach, will seek gainful employment elsewhere after what ESPN called a mutual parting on Sunday

Sports Day floats TCU co-offensive coordinator Doug Meecham and UCLA’s Noel Mazzone, who’s been a coordinator at Auburn and Ole Miss, as possibilities. That’s going to be a tougher sell given that Sumlin himself will enter 2016 on the hot seat, but with the crazy money that A&M doles out towards football, it’ll find someone.

More early goodbyes

The list of early entrees to the 2016 NFL Draft grew bigger. each week. Here’s a list of SEC underclassmen who’ve declared, though I grant I may have missed a few:

Pharoh Cooper, WR, South Carolina

Leonard Floyd, LB, Georgia

Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Florida

Hunter Henry, TE, Arkansas

Germain Ifedi, OT, Texas A&M

Denver Kirkland, OL, Arkansas

Alex McCallister, DE, Florida

Keith Marshall, RB, Georgia

Robert Nkemdiche, DL, Ole Miss

Demarcus Robinson, WR, Florida

Kelvin Taylor, RB, Florida

Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss

Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss

Stephen Weatherly, LB, Vanderbilt

Jonathan Williams, RB, Arkansas

I’ll update the list in two blogs that follow before the last day (Jan. 18) that underclassmen have to declare.

Florida, Texas A&M add experienced QBs

With Will Grier leaving, Florida needed a quarterback with experience. It got one this week when Purdue’s Austin Appleby, a graduate transfer, said he was leaving for Gainesville. He started the last three games at Purdue this year and 11 for his career, though he lost his starting job as a junior after throwing 19 picks against 18 touchdowns. He’ll be eligible for the fall. 

Former Oklahoma signal-caller Trevor Knight announced a transfer to Texas A&M. Knight, a former starter at OU and the MVP of that 2014 Sugar Bowl win over Alabama, was hopelessly stuck behind Heisman Trophy finalist Baker Mayfield. He’s also eligible this fall.

MacIntyre

Former Vanderbilt coach George MacIntyre led VU to the 1982 Hall of Fame Bowl. PHOTO COURTESY VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY

Steele switches sides

Kevin Steele is a well-known name in SEC circles, having coached at Tennessee, Alabama and LSU. Now, Steele adds Auburn to that list after leaving LSU, where he was the defensive coordinator, for the same title. He’ll reportedly earn $4 million over the next three years.

Jancek gone 

Tennessee defensive coordinator John Jancek did a terrific job as the Vols gave up 20.0 points per contest in their 9-4 season… but evidently not terrific enough for coach Butch Jones. Jancek was terminated on Wednesday, with the word being that Jones is aiming higher with his next hire. Watch for ex-Vanderbilt defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, now with James Franklin at Penn State, to potentially land here. 

MacIntyre passes

Vanderbilt fans remember former head coach George MacIntyre fondly both professionally and personally; the Nashville native took VU to a bowl in 1982, and was the consummate gentleman. MacIntyre, 76, passed after a lengthy illness on Tuesday. He’d suffered from multiple sclerosis for the past two decades. 

But can he sing?

Here’s a side of Alabama coach Nick Saban that we never see.

FOOTBALL POWER RANKINGS (Overall record, SEC record)

  1. Alabama (13-1, 7-1)
  2. Ole Miss (8-5, 5-3)
  3. Arkansas (8-5, 5-3)
  4. LSU (9-3, 5-3)
  5. Florida (10-4, 7-1)
  6. Tennessee (9-4, 5-3)
  7. Texas A&M (8-5, 4-4)
  8. Mississippi St. (9-4, 4-4)
  9. Georgia (10-3, 5-3)
  10. Auburn (7-6, 2-6)
  11. Vanderbilt (4-8, 2-6)
  12. Missouri (5-7, 1-7)
  13. Kentucky (5-7, 2-6)
  14. South Carolina (3-9, 1-7)

BASKETBALL POWER RANKINGS (Overall record, SEC record)

  1. Texas A&M (11-2, 1-0)
  2. Kentucky (11-3, 1-1)
  3. South Carolina (9-4, 1-0)
  4. Florida (9-4, 1-0)
  5. LSU (9-5, 2-0)
  6. Vanderbilt (8-6, 0-2)
  7. Georgia (7-4, 0-1)
  8. Alabama (9-3, 0-0)
  9. Ole Miss (10-3, 0-1)
  10. Arkansas (7-7, 1-1)
  11. Tennessee (7-6, 0-1)
  12. Auburn (7-6, 1-1)
  13. Mississippi St. (7-5, 0-0)
  14. Missouri (7-6, 0-0)