Ranking the SEC offensive coordinators in 2016: Worst to first
We’ve already talked about defense, but let’s go to the guys whose job it is to light up the scoreboard.
It was kind of a down year for the pass, but a good running season in the SEC, and there were plenty of highlights to point out. So let’s get to ranking — again, based solely off of 2016 work.
2 yards and a cloud of dust
14. Jim Chaney, Georgia: So this is a surprise. UGA was 12th in the SEC in scoring (24.0 ppg) and 11th in yardage (382.4 yards per game) and it won seven games. So why is Chaney so low? Because not unlike his work at Tennessee, Chaney did less with more than anybody in the league. Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Jacob Eason, Terry Godwin, Isaiah McKenzie — all vastly under-productive. If Chaney couldn’t score with Georgia’s talent, we’re not going to rank Vandy or South Carolina below him for achieving a little less with much less talent.
13. Doug Nussmeier, Florida: And this guy won a division title … somehow. The year before Nussmeier took over, Florida scored 30.3 points and managed 368 yards per game. Sure, that team was 7-5, but in two years, Nuss has dragged those numbers down to 23.4 ppg and 345.1 ypg — and that’s when being paired with the second-best defense in the league. Florida was worst in the league in rushing, which is inexcusable. If this doesn’t get cleaned up, Jim McElwain will be replacing Nussmeier. Maybe next year.
12. Kurt Roper/Bryan McClendon, South Carolina: Statistically, Carolina was the worst offense in the league — last in scoring (19.3 ppg), yardage (336.4 ypg), and 13th in rushing (138.0 ypg). That said, they had the least talent in the league on offense, and managed to salvage a bowl season behind true freshman QB Jake Bentley. These guys deserve another year and maybe two before they can be fully evaluated.
11. Steve Ensminger, LSU: Well, first, we’re ranking Ensminger and not Cam Cameron, who would be 15th in the 14-team SEC. Ensminger was an improvement, but in part because LSU had nowhere to go but up. LSU ended up 10th in the SEC in scoring (28.3) and yardage — and with both the most talented (Fournette) and most productive (Guice) backs in the SEC, that won’t cut it. Whoever replaces Ensminger, he has to give LSU a vague semblance of a passing game, which will be the first in several years.
10. Andy Ludwig, Vanderbilt: Vandy struggled on offense — 12th in scoring (23.5 ppg) and 12th in yardage. That said, it committed the fewest turnovers in the league, improved the passing game and picked up some big wins behind RB Ralph Webb. With a defensive-minded head coach, this ranking isn’t a disaster by any means.
Not Falling Behind the Chains
9. Josh Heupel, Missouri: Missouri led the league in yardage (500.5 ypg), and ended up 7th in scoring (31.4 ppg). Mizzou threw for over 295 yards per game, almost doubling their 2015 totals. And yet, much of the gaudy numbers came at the expense of Eastern Michigan and Delaware State, and the Tigers did things like lose to Middle Tennessee. Heupel’s first season was a success, but not quite as much of a success as the stats would make you think.
8. Rhett Lashlee/Kodi Burns, Auburn: Sometimes, the numbers tell one story (5th in SEC in scoring and yardage), and the actual guts of the season tells another. If you watched Auburn look physically unable to score against Clemson, A&M, Georgia, or Bama, you know this wasn’t one of the better offenses in the league, despite some top-shelf talent. Lashlee and Burns have to get a more consistent body of work in 2016.
7. Matt Luke/Dan Werner, Ole Miss: The Rebels ended up fourth in the SEC in scoring (32.6) and yardage, and they led the league in passing, with 314.9 yards per game. Luke and Werner quickly developed Shea Patterson, too. But the season was a 5-7 disaster, and as much as the Rebels scored, it was more than a touchdown per game less than 2015. The Rebels were 12th in the conference in rushing. More balance might benefit Patterson in 2017, and the Rebels will do so without Werner, who will not return.
6. Dan Enos, Arkansas: Credit Enos for retooling the 2016 offense after losing his quarterback, a pair of 1,000-yard rushers and two of his best receivers. Enos got a shockingly good year from QB Austin Allen and Rawleigh Williams, who led the SEC in rushing, but Arkansas still struggled in too many games. They finished ninth in scoring (30.5 ppg — 5 fewer than 2015) and seventh in yardage after finishing second in 2015. Given the team’s struggles on defense, those numbers weren’t going to fly.
5. Eddie Gran, Kentucky: This is the converse of Auburn or Missouri. Gran’s numbers (8th in the SEC in scoring, 9th in yardage) aren’t that brilliant. But when you consider that he posted these stats after UK lost the quarterback around whom the entire offense was built, it changes the picture. Ending up third in the SEC in rushing with a star, a true freshman and a two-star JUCO QB is the sort of thing that bodes well for Gran’s future at Kentucky.
4. Billy Gonzales/Josh Hevesy (Dan Mullen), Mississippi State: Mullen calls the plays, and he knew that he had a challenge in the post-Dak Prescott era. To replace perhaps the best player in Bulldog history (who WAS the offense) and end up dropping by less than a field goal in scoring and 11 yards per game is a minor miracle. Sure, the Bulldogs were 5-7. But Mullen and his assistants rebuilt their offense, allowing Nick Fitzgerald to explode some of Prescott’s rushing numbers already. This was a surprise and then some.
Going for Paydirt
3. Mike DeBord, Tennessee: Much was wrong in Knoxville in 2016, but DeBord shouldn’t shoulder much of the blame. UT ended up second in the league in scoring (36.2 ppg), despite ranking just eighth in yardage. DeBord fought through a ton of injuries, the loss of Jalen Hurd, and the inconsistent play of Joshua Dobbs, and still led UT to generally score enough points to stay in games. The defense let the Vols down, but that’s not DeBord’s department.
2. Noel Mazzone, Texas A&M: A&M finished No. 3 in the league in scoring and yardage, with the numbers representing over a touchdown per game and 43 yards of improvement. A&M struggled down the stretch, particularly after Trevor Knight was injured, but as with Tennessee, much of that responsibility is on the defense. RB Trayveon Williams led the most prolific A&M ground game since Johnny Football. A&M broke 400 yards in nine games, and 500 yards four times.
1. Lane Kiffin, Alabama: The Tide averaged 40.5 points per game, the highest of the Saban era, and were 5 yards per game short of a yardage record for those years as well. Sure, he has the most talent on this list. And sure, Saban deserves at least some of the credit. But Kiffin has rotated running backs, kept the heat off true frosh QB Jalen Hurts, and gotten under the skin of opponents from Baton Rouge to Gainesville.