Ranking SEC Coaches: Gary Pinkel's flying under the radar, again
Ranking coaches based on 2014 seasons to date with an emphasis on their recent stretch, here’s a quick glance:
5. HUGH FREEZE, OLE MISS — Along with the Rebels, Freeze’s stock has plummeted over the last two games following narrow losses to SEC Western Division elites. Last weekend’s home setback to Auburn was especially devastating since Ole Miss was literally 1-yard away from winning the game and keeping its Playoff hopes alive. Ranked higher in Tuesday’s poll than a couple one-loss teams, Ole Miss (7-2) has the respect of the committee after an early-season win over Alabama, but the national hype has faded in Oxford.
4. GARY PINKEL, MIZZOU — Say what you want about Mizzou’s home loss to Indiana because it’s likely warranted, but the Tigers are once again in control of their own destiny in the SEC East despite not exactly passing the ‘eye test’ according to popular opinion. Mizzou’s taken control since a shutout loss to Georgia, winning three straight SEC games by double digits. Pinkel’s kept this team together since the catastrophic defeat and Mizzou’s defense — notably Shane Ray — has led the way.
3. NICK SABAN, ALABAMA — The Crimson Tide’s built for this. Three of Alabama’s final four games are against division rivals LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn, a season-defining stretch that could quiet naysayers who don’t believe Saban’s squad has enough quality wins this season. Kirk Herbstreit’s one of the few Alabama cheerleaders at this point, saying Tuesday he believes the Crimson Tide’s the nation’s best team. It’s a hard point to argue when both sides of the ball are playing at an elite level, but we’ll know more after Saturday night in Death Valley.
2. DAN MULLEN, MISSISSIPPI STATE — Credit Mullen for motivating his troops again against the SEC meatgrinder to avoid an upset against a hungry, but confidence-deprived Arkansas team. The Bulldogs overcame a so-so offensive performance to make a crucial game-winning play when it mattered in the fourth quarter, keeping their perfect record intact and staying out front in the polls. The mission this week is keeping everyone healthy with Alabama looming — arguably the biggest game in Mississippi St. football history.
1. GUS MALZAHN, AUBURN — We posed the question in our SEC Debate this week and Malzahn delivered — if you could choose one SEC coach to win a single game, who would it be? He proved his strengths again Saturday night at Ole Miss, lifting the Tigers to a statement victory over a team that was previously ranked in the CFP’s final four. Auburn’s only loss this season has come at unbeaten Mississippi St. and the Tigers look like a team, spearheaded by Malzahn and his relentless offense, with a championship pedigree hoping to win their second straight SEC title.