10 questions you should be asking about the SEC West in 2020
Man, the offseason is no fun at all.
It’s been a couple of weeks since LSU dominated Clemson to win the national championship, and SEC fans regardless of cheering section already are jonesing for spring practice to start. and triple-digit game countdowns have already begun just waiting for September.
In the meantime, though, here are 10 questions you should be asking about the SEC West in 2020 …
10. Will the Egg Bowl draw bigger ratings than the Iron Bowl?
The coaching hirings of Lane Kiffin and Mike Leach at Ole Miss and Mississippi State, respectively, are pure genius. Kiffin and Leach almost instantly transform staid Oxford and lowly Starkville to appointment viewing every Saturday.
That isn’t to say the brand of football will be any better than it was last season. But with Kiffin ready to pop off at a moment’s notice at booster functions and Leach already bringing his … unique? … brand of humor to Twitter, you gotta figure both fan bases will be frothing come Thanksgiving weekend.
9. Can Arkansas pull itself out of the morass and be competitive?
Time will tell if Sam Pittman is more Frank Broyles than Chad Morris, who was shown the door in Fayetteville after 2 seasons and a 4-18 record. But early returns are that Pittman is actually a semi-inspired hire.
Pittman was the assistant head coach, offensive line coach and recruiting coordinator at Arkansas from 2013 to 2015 before joining Kirby Smart at Georgia — where he is credited with recruiting and building an offensive line that helped the Bulldogs win the SEC East each of the past 3 seasons.
8. Is it time for the SEC to step in about FCS cupcakes on the schedule?
With each team required to schedule 8 conference games, SEC programs are too often forced to head to the bakery and load up on cupcakes to fill out the docket. Alabama, for example, got dinged late in the season for a game against mighty Western Carolina — which was only marginally worse than scheduling New Mexico State. An undefeated Auburn team also got aced out of a potential national title game in 2004 because a game against The Citadel didn’t exactly shine up the résumé.
Sure, those are 2 glaring examples. But if the SEC went to a 9-game conference schedule, it would eliminate needing to write a 6-figure check for that cupcake. Will the powers that be make a change at the SEC Summer Meetings in Destin, Fla., this year?
7. How about becoming a 16-team super conference already?
When the SEC welcomed Missouri and Texas A&M into the fold beginning with the 2012 football season, it seemed like it was only a matter of time before 2 more teams were wooed into the mix — thus creating a 16-team super conference.
But that didn’t happen. Not yet, anyway. For 1 thing, going to 16 would allow for Missouri to actually go to the SEC West — and not the SEC East, which is insane just on geographic principles. For another, expanding either a bit to the north (we see you, North Carolina …) or to the south (hi there, Miami!) or back into Texas (Horned Frogs, anyone?) or grabbing up a mid-major power smack dab in the middle (Memphis is a natural choice!) is simply good business. Expansion needs to happen.
6. Speaking of Texas A&M …
When Jimbo Fisher bolted Florida State just minutes from wearing out his welcome in Tallahassee, his destination — College Station — seemed a logical one. And Aggie Nation rolled out the green carpet: a welcome mat covered with 75 million pictures of George Washington.
Not long after the 2019 season started, though, it seemed the 10-gallon hats that love spreading that oil money around might actually have a $75 million problem on their hands. Put simply, 8-5 ain’t gonna get it done at Texas A&M. If Jimbo Fisher doesn’t conjure up at least 10 wins in 2020, said 10-gallon hats will get back in those pockets and buy themselves someone new.
5. How much will Bo Nix improve at Auburn?
Auburn went with true freshman Bo Nix at quarterback last season, and he was quite serviceable — throwing for 2,542 yards and 16 touchdowns against 6 interceptions. More important for the Tigers, he was a leader who helped guide his team to 9 wins and won the SEC Freshman of the Year award for it.
Nix will have to improve in his sophomore season along with Auburn as a whole, though. As just like at Texas A&M, 9 wins doesn’t quite cut it on The Plains. Can Nix improve enough to get Auburn over the hump with teams like LSU and Georgia?
4. Another thing about Lane Kiffin …
All jokes aside, perhaps the most fascinating new coach in the SEC will be Kiffin at Ole Miss. Having been psuedo-pushed out of the nest at Alabama in 2016, Kiffin’s head coaching resume added another seeming step down — going from the Raiders to Tennessee to USC and now to Florida Atlantic.
But a funny thing happened in Boca Raton … Kiffin didn’t fail. Instead, he arguably did his best work at FAU — going 18-6 in 3 seasons in league play and winning 2 Conference USA titles. So when Ole Miss came calling to replace Matt Luke, Kiffin was actually a pretty logical hire.
Now he joins an SEC West stocked with powers like Alabama (where Nick Saban knows him all too well), LSU (coached by Ed Orgeron, who replaced Kiffin at USC) and in-state foe Mississippi State.
Can Kiffin shine in Oxford? The smart money says yes. Viva Joey Freshwater!
3. Is LSU a power with staying power?
We explored this in depth awhile ago, but you gotta ask yourself about whether Ed Orgeron can build upon a magical season in Baton Rouge — or are the Tigers the Vanilla Ice of the SEC West?
Without quarterback Joe Burrow (who will be getting smacked around as a rookie at woeful Cincinnati) and passing game assistant Joe Brady (who moved on to coordinate the Carolina Panthers offense), Orgeron has his work cut out for him.
2. Will Alabama have another QB competition in the fall?
Mac Jones was thrust into the Alabama starting quarterback spotlight sooner than anticipated, as he replaced Tua Tagovailoa for good after ASHP hurt his hip against Mississippi State and then declared early for the NFL Draft. Problem is, Jones promptly began learning that the real most popular player on any Crimson Tide roster is the backup quarterback…
Bryce Young, an uber-talented, dual-threat, 5-star is coming in hot — having enrolled in January — to make the QB1 spot a contested one. A-Day should be illuminating, just as it was 2 seasons ago when all eyes were on Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts to see who might nudge forward.
But Tagovailoa vs. Hurts won’t replicate itself in 2020. Jones will be the man in Tuscaloosa when the Tide take the field at JerryWorld to play Southern Cal on Sept. 5. Beyond that, though …
1. Does a national champion emerge from the SEC West?
This is the ultimate question, of course, and the short answer is this: probably. Even with the inherent challenges touched on in No. 3, and Alabama and Auburn in their annual jousting match that has the ability to touch off mutual destruction, those 3 teams have the bona fides to make a run at yet another CFP crown.
Getting past Clemson, Ohio State and the rest of the country is almost secondary to the primary goal … that of getting out of the division itself.