Big questions facing new SEC coaches

Here are seven questions seven teams must answer now that the coaching carousel has stopped spinning. There will always be questions, but here are my top questions right now.

1. Can Gus Malzahn win a championship at Auburn?
We know Gus Malzahn’s offense is going to light up the scoreboard. He coached a very mediocre Chris Todd into putting up some good numbers in the SEC. We’ve seen what he can do with a dynamic quarterback like Cam Newton, too. However, Newton isn’t walking through that door anytime soon. But I have reason to believe that Malzahn has the best chance of the new coaches to have immediate success next season. Hell, he may win eight or nine games in his very first year. But can he win a championship? After all, he was hired to win a championship, not just win nine or 10 games and beat Alabama. His offense has had success against the Tide and Nick Saban, and Auburn went outside the box in hiring Malzahn because he’s an offensive-minded coach, something drastically different than their in-state rival. To beat the best, Auburn thinks you have to go a different direction.

2. How long will it take Butch Jones to make Tennessee championship-caliber?
The more important question may be how long will Tennessee wait on Butch Jones to make them championship caliber? Jones is a good coach, with success everywhere he’s been, but Tennessee’s administration and fan base are going to have to give Jones some leeway and several years to build a program. We’ve seen coaches enter the SEC and have success in their second year like Nick Saban, Will Muschamp, Urban Meyer, but the Vols’ roster has no impact receivers, no starting quarterback and statically the worst defense in Tennessee history. Three years would be a good measuring stick, although he has a good enough roster to win six games in ‘13. Jones will have to rebuild the offense in two short years – this year he’ll start with the skill position players, but next year he’ll have to rebuild the entire offensive line, too. Tennessee is going to have to swallow their pride and give Jones time on The Hill.

3. Can Mark Stoops have an effect on Kentucky like James Franklin has at Vanderbilt and Hugh Freeze has at Ole Miss?
The effect James Franklin and Hugh Freeze have had at their two respective schools has been fun and exciting to watch. Both teams continue their march up to middle of the pack in their respective divisions. But can Mark Stoops have that same effect at Kentucky? Both Freeze and Franklin, like Stoops, inherited 2-10 rosters and turned their programs into bowl teams in their very first season. I’m just not sure there are enough good caliber players on defense for Kentucky to win six next season, in addition to having one of the toughest schedules in the SEC.

4. Can Arkansas win the SEC West with a pro-style offense that is so similar to Alabama and LSU?
To beat Nick Saban, teams have to beat Saban at a different game. Just ask Auburn why they made the Gus Malzahn hire. He’s different, with an offense that is hard to prepare for and can give defenses trouble. But Bret Bielema isn’t that type of coach. He’s a defensive-minded, pro-style offensive attack that mirrors the likes of Alabama, Florida and LSU. Can he beat Nick Saban and Les Miles with such a similar offense? Bielema had success in the Big Ten, recruiting less-caliber players and developing them into great players. He’ll have to apply that same strategy at Arkansas as he plays catch up to Alabama, Texas A&M, Ole Miss and LSU in the West.

5. Does Florida’s coaching changes make 2013’s staff better overall?
Florida has two new position coaches in wide receivers coach Joker Phillips and defensive line coach Brad Lawing from South Carolina. The Gators promoted linebackers coach DJ Durkin as the new defensive coordinator after Dan Quinn left for Seattle. And collectively, Florida’s new staff is greater than the old one. Phillips will be an asset to a starless receiving corps. Quinn was a great coordinator and recruiter, but not a great motivator. Lawing is a great motivator along with being a great position coach – USC led the SEC in sacks, and he, combined with Bryant Young, will do wonders for the defensive line. Durkin’s promotion was the plan from the start, because Muschamp knew Quinn wouldn’t remain in college for long.

6. Will Geoff Collins turn Mississippi State’s defense around?
Mississippi State has several questions entering the offseason, but Dan Mullen absolutely made a great move by promoting Geoff Collins to defensive coordinator and demoting Chris Wilson before he eventually left for Georgia. Collins is a more aggressive style coach, with Wilson being more passive. Mullen announced that Collins would call the plays before the Gator Bowl in an attempt to see if it could have a positive effect on a struggling team. Although MSU didn’t win, Collins’ defense looked better than his predecessor. What does that mean for 2013? Replacing key components of the defense in Josh Boyd, Cam Lawrence, Johnthan Banks, Corey Broomfield and Darius Slay are tough for any team to overcome.

7. What effect will Kliff Kingsbury leaving Johnny Manziel have on an entire season?
Kliff Kingsbury became the youngest head coach in FBS at 33 years old at his alma mater Texas Tech. And if anyone had any worries about Johnny Manziel post-Kliff Kingsbury, they got their answer with his 516-yard, four-touchdown performance against Oklahoma. But Manziel was already on a roll this season and the game’s play caller Clarence McKinney had idea of what worked because of the longevity of the season. But now, without Kingsbury calling plays, it points to McKinney and newly hired co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital to replicate the electrifying Aggie offense of 2012. Manziel and Kingsbury fed off one another, and the effect of not having the Oakleys roaming the sideline and calling plays is a big question entering 2012.

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