5 big SEC West questions for the next 5 years
For several years now, the SEC West has been the dominant division in the conference. The West has produced the last seven SEC champions and five of the last seven national champions.
However, many storylines exist pertaining to the longevity of that reign. Let’s take a look at just a handful of those burning questions whose answers will drive the course of the SEC West over the next five years.
Will Les Miles survive the roller coaster ride he’s been on at LSU? – The love/hate relationship between Miles and LSU fans and administration reached a boiling point late last season when the Tigers lost three consecutive games to the better teams in the SEC West after winning their first seven and looking like national title contenders. How long can Miles last at LSU without first beating Alabama and next contending for a national championship? His tenure appeared to be over following the losing streak, but he somehow survived and is back at the helm in 2016. For how much longer?
Does Gus Malzahn bring a championship to Auburn or fall by the wayside ala Gene Chizik? – Auburn football has gone through some interesting parallels over the last few years, along the way experiencing the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Malzahn will be entering his fourth season as the Tigers head coach. He has produced a near carbon copy of what former coach Gene Chizik did in his four years at the helm. Chizik, thought to be a poor hire to begin with, won a national championship in his second year at Auburn. The Tigers slumped to fourth place in the SEC West in his third year, then hit rock bottom, seventh place in the division, in his fourth year before being replaced by Malzahn. His successor played for a national championship in his first year before slumping to fourth and seventh place over the next two seasons. There’s nowhere to go but up for Malzahn. However, can he make it back to the top, and how soon must he do so before Auburn shows him the door like it did with Chizik?
Does Hugh Freeze continue to build Ole Miss into a powerhouse or has he reached the ceiling? – The Ole Miss football program has reached new heights with Freeze at the helm. He’s the only coach in school history to guide the Rebels to bowl games in each of his first four seasons (no coach had done it in his first three previously). The Rebels are coming off a 10-3 season, including a Sugar Bowl victory. It’s the school’s first 10-win season since 2003 and just the third in 45 years. It was the Rebels’ first Sugar Bowl appearance since 1969. Freeze has improved his win total by one game in each of the three seasons following a 7-6 rookie campaign in 2012. He’s beaten Alabama the last two years. How much better can it get, and how much longer can he sustain it? Well, recruiting is a pretty good indicator and Freeze has brought in three straight top-15 recruiting classes, including the 2013 class that garnered a No. 2 ranking by 247sports and a No. 5 ranking by ESPN – the highest recorded signing class rankings in school history.
Does Nick Saban coach another five years at Alabama, and if so, what are the likely results? – He’s equaled legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant as the only two coaches to win five national titles in the modern era. The 2015 national title was his fourth in the last seven years. It was the Tide’s eighth consecutive 10-win season under Saban and fifth straight 11-win season. Saban will turn 65 years old this Halloween. He’s coached 42 years if you count the first two as a graduate assistant at Kent State, his alma mater. Bryant coached 46 years. He retired after 25 years at Alabama at the age of 68. So the question is: Does Saban have five more years left in him? And how effective can he be over those five years? He’s in pretty darn good shape for his age and is actually beginning to look like he’s enjoying himself. He even smiled after the Tide captured the 2015 national championship. What do we make of that? Is he mellowing in his old age? One thing’s for sure, if Saban does coach another five seasons, he’ll put every ounce of energy he has into it. If history is any indication, Alabama will be happy for it.
Can Kevin Sumlin calm things down at Texas A&M, and in what direction does this program go? – It’s been a bumpy ride since Sumlin juggled two five-star quarterbacks last season, giving neither the confidence that they would be given a fair chance to become the full-time starter. Both left the program after the regular season, and Sumlin was left with employing a first-time starter at quarterback for the Music City Bowl, which the Aggies lost. It was the low point to what has been a rocky road since Texas A&M blew through the SEC front door with an 11-win season in its conference debut and the first freshman Heisman Trophy winner in college football history. Perhaps there was nowhere to go but down from there? And that’s exactly where the Aggies have been headed, winning nine games in Johnny Manziel’s final season before consecutive 8-5 campaigns the last two years, putting Sumlin squarely on the hot seat for 2016. Things have calmed down to a low boil since the end of the 2015 season, and that’s as good as it will get until the new season kicks off. With the addition of OC Noel Mazzone and Oklahoma graduate transfer QB Trevor Knight, coupled with an ever-improving defense under DC John Chavis, the Aggies will try and claw their way back to prominence in the SEC West.