CFB Insider: Playoff poll slight magic to Saban, Coach O's ears. Biggest difference between Kirby and Mullen ... and more
Each week, Matt Hayes uses his sources around the country to bring you insider knowledge about what’s going on in and around the SEC ahead of this week’s games.
This is what he’s hearing from coaches and NFL scouts in Week 11 …
The CFP slight
The first College Football Playoff poll was released Tuesday, and I spoke to 2 SEC coaches about the impact on the LSU-Alabama game this weekend.
Both believed the most anticipated regular-season SEC game since LSU-Alabama in 2011 received a jolt of energy on both sides of the ball.
“We all know these things work out, but if I’m coaching either one of those teams, I’m using that slight for all it’s worth,” an SEC coach said. “How in the world is LSU not the No. 1 team in that poll? I can’t even imagine what those (CFP) folks are doing when they’re breaking down the games and the players, the eye test. You go out there and beat a Texas, a Florida, an Auburn, you’ve done more than anyone this year.
“If I’m (LSU coach) Ed (Orgeron), I’m playing that up. Those people don’t think you’ve done enough. They think a team (Ohio State) that’s been dancing with the Indianas and Northwesterns is better than you. Let’s go show them who the No. 1 team is.”
Another SEC coach said the first poll was the “perfect gift” for Alabama coach Nick Saban.
“Look at Nick’s teams, they need someone or something to get them pissed off. That’s when they play their best. When they feel slighted, when people are talking about an Alabama decline, they bow their backs and play their best. I’m telling you right now, Nick is using that to get that wild by kickoff. The game is going to be a war.”
Gators chasing Dawgs off the field, too
Florida’s 7-point loss to Georgia last weekend had SEC coaches and industry sources abuzz.
It was the 2nd consecutive year under coach Dan Mullen that the Gators, despite considerably less talent than Georgia, went deep into the 3rd quarter with a chance to win the game.
“It’s a rivalry game, and that impacts it, but the talent difference between those two is significant,” an NFL scout told me. “That Florida offensive line is really just average in the run game, and not much better in pass pro. If they were even better than average on the offensive line, they win that game. They were the better-coached team.”
But as one SEC coach told me, outcoaching “doesn’t get you anywhere near winning big games” unless the personnel matches up.
“You can win games, and you can even get an upset here or there, but at the end of the day, it’s about players,” the SEC coach told me. “You get those game-changers, those Jake Fromm-type players, you look like a much smarter coach than if you don’t.”
To that end, the biggest criticism of Mullen is the narrative that he’s not an elite recruiter. His recruiting class will likely finish in the top 10, but, “he’s gonna need a couple more of those to reach what (Georgia coach) Kirby (Smart) is doing,” the SEC coach said.
Bryant’s impact on Mizzou’s postseason
Missouri QB Kelly Bryant is questionable for Saturday’s game at Georgia, and there is concern that his hamstring injury could linger long enough to impact Missouri’s push toward the postseason.
First, the plan: Missouri controls its fate in the SEC East Division race. Win out, and win the division.
Now, reality: That’s not happening without a 100 percent healthy Bryant, who has struggled the past 2 weeks with accuracy issues because of the injury.
Another problem is the looming NCAA appeal. Missouri thought it already would have heard from the NCAA about its appeal (no postseason play for the 2019 season).
The Tigers (5-3) still haven’t qualified for the postseason, and the schedule without a healthy Bryant (and with backup Taylor Powell) looks daunting other than the season-finale against Arkansas.
Missouri’s schedule of at Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, at Arkansas could easily translate to a 6-6 record with uncertainty at quarterback. One industry source I spoke with this week said Missouri – if it still hasn’t been informed by the NCAA of its appeal – would likely opt to accept the postseason ban.
If Missouri doesn’t hear from the NCAA about the appeal before the end of the season, it can play in the postseason because the sanctions are under appeal.
Stoops and Florida State
The job opening at Florida State has reached into the SEC, with Kentucky coach Mark Stoops a prime candidate to replace Willie Taggart.
Stoops was the defensive coordinator at FSU from 2010-12 and knows the state’s fertile recruiting grounds.
Stoops makes $4.75 million per season at Kentucky, and one sports agent I spoke with this week believes it will take “in the neighborhood of $5.5 to $6 million a year” to get Stoops to leave the Commonwealth.
If Stoops were to leave, an industry source told me it’s “doubtful” there would be anyone from the current UK staff who would be considered for the head coaching job.
UK offensive coordinator Eddie Gran in the best recruiter on Stoops’ staff and has had success reshaping the Wildcats’ offense. He might be an option should Stoops leave, but multiple industry sources believe Kentucky would hire a successful Power 5 head coach or even a successful Group of 5 head coach.