When there aren’t any actual games to discuss during the dreadfully long college football offseason, fans of the Southeastern Conference often find solace in debates around the sport, such as coach rankings.

This offseason has proven to be no different as to even suggest that Dan Mullen could be a better coach than Kirby Smart has proven to be a rallying cry for many faithful members of Dawg Nation.

While it may not be a popular opinion in Athens, the latest outlet to make this claim is Athlon Sports. In the 2020 Athlon Sports College Football Preview Magazine, available for purchase now at Athlon’s online store and available on newsstands June 2, the magazine lists Mullen as the SEC’s No. 2 coach with Smart ranking just behind at No. 3.

During a recent appearance on “That SEC Podcast,” Athlon Sports college football editor┬áSteven Lassan was asked to share his thoughts on the magazine’s rankings of these two rival coaches.

“It is a very small margin between these two coaches, but I think if we’re looking at the entire body of work and we’re also saying, if I’m an athletic director and program XYZ, and I see what Dan Mullen did at Mississippi State, knowing how difficult it is to win at Mississippi State, and he’s 21-5 at Florida, there’s almost like a proof of concept,” Lassan said on the show. “He won at a high level, for what the expectation level should be at Mississippi State. And now they’ve gone to two New Years Six bowl games, finished in the top 10. I think it’s tough to weigh accomplishments and also the subjectiveness of a coach ranking.

“We all kind of have a subjective belief on who we would hire, and that’s where this comes into play, too. I mean, if I’m hiring a coach and I see Dan Mullen and Kirby Smart neck and neck like this, you know, I look at Dan Mullen and see what he did at Mississippi State and go, yeah, I mean, the fact that it’s so difficult to win there, he’s won a Florida. That’s why I would have him over Kirby Smart. It’s not a knock on Kirby Smart. He’s been, you know, 21-3, you know, over the last couple years. Top 10 finishes, [elite] recruiting, I mean, it’s so small, but I think the reason why we went with Mullen, it’s sort of proof of concept. Winning at a lower SEC job, winning at a hirer SEC job, our subjectiveness, we would hire Mullen over Kirby Smart. But, again, the margins are so small, it’s very difficult to sort out 2-5 in the SEC, as far as [ranking] head coaches.”

There you have it, while this isn’t going to end the debate between Florida and Georgia fans, that’s why Athlon Sports ranks Mullen as the SEC East’s best coach heading into the 2020 college football season.