Saturday Football: Texas-Urban Meyer rumors, B1G hot seats and DeVonta Smith
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Good morning and happy Wednesday! We’ve made it to December, so many teams are wrapping up their regular-season schedules. Others are scrambling to make up games postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Either way, there are only a couple of weeks left before the conference championship games are played!
In today’s newsletter, we’ll discuss the Urban Meyer rumors taking place at Texas. Then, we’ll dive into some of the hottest coaching seats in the Big Ten. Finally, we’ll get into the incredible season Alabama WR DeVonta Smith is having and whether he can work his way into the Heisman conversation or not. Let’s get started!
TEXAS HOT SEAT
Tom Herman is on the hot seat at Texas. Should the Longhorns keep him or pursue Urban Meyer?
Whenever a coach at a big-time program is on the hot seat, it seems former Ohio State and Florida coach Urban Meyer’s name is immediately put atop the list of candidates fans want. That makes sense, as Meyer won two titles with the Gators and one with the Buckeyes. In previous years, we’ve heard Meyer’s name most realistically connected to USC, Notre Dame and, now, Texas.
So, are the Longhorns ready to move on from Tom Herman after Friday’s loss to Iowa State eliminated Texas from the Big 12 title picture? Rumors (rumeyers?) are swirling in Austin. Let’s take a look at Herman’s hot seat as we enter December:
- It’s setting up to be a disastrous finish to Texas’ regular season. In the days since Friday’s loss to Iowa State, the Longhorns have had a pair of high-profile opt-outs. First up was star OL Samuel Cosmi, who has the potential to be a top-10 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Then, on Monday, talented DB Caden Sterns, who is tied for second on the team with 52 tackles, opted out. QB Sam Ehlinger hasn’t opted out, but he didn’t exactly offer a glowing endorsement of the coaching staff recently.
- Herman knows he’s on the hot seat and has addressed it. A couple of weeks ago, he said coaching rumors affect the Longhorns on the recruiting trails. After Friday’s loss, he said he’s hunkering down and focusing on finishing the season strong. “I’m extremely focused on beating Kansas State, not worried about winning my way out of anything, not worried about dies being cast or anything like that,” Herman said.
- Texas wants titles, so Meyer is naturally at the top of fans’ wish lists. On Monday, rumors began swirling after it was reported that Meyer’s wife, Shelley, had traveled to Austin to assess the real-estate situation. USA TODAY’s Patrick Conn has Meyer atop his list of five candidates for the Longhorns, but there are a couple of other intriguing names mentioned, too, including Alabama OC Steve Sarkisian and Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell. Sporting News’s Bill Bender dove into whether Meyer would be interested. He also named Iowa State’s Matt Campbell as a name to watch. Banner Society’s Ryan Nanni broke down how Herman’s Longhorns have played in too many close games, which has led to Herman ending up in the situation he’s in now.
- Not everyone thinks Herman’s time at Texas should come to an end, though. Sports Illustrated’s Pat Forde cautioned schools like Texas and Michigan against making rash decisions. He said Texas should see if Meyer wants the job, but if he doesn’t, the Longhorns should keep Herman. Meanwhile, Mac Engel of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram writes that Texas can’t afford to go through another rumor mill cycle like it did a decade and a half ago with Nick Saban.
The Longhorns will be in a tricky situation this offseason. Many boosters and fans are done with the Tom Herman era. But, will the program be in a better spot with anyone other than Meyer stepping in? That’s a question AD Chris Del Conte is going to have to seriously weigh before he makes a final decision over the next couple of weeks.
TOP 2021 RECRUITING CLASSES
The Early Signing Period is still set to take place from Dec. 16-18, even though 2021 recruits haven’t been able to take official visits to schools since the COVID-19 pandemic began. However, since official visits won’t be back on the table until April at the earliest, National Signing Day in February won’t offer much more opportunity for top players to explore different schools.
Thus, we’ve seen many of the nation’s top recruits announce their commitments. Which schools are putting together the best classes? Here are the top 10 recruiting classes as of Tuesday night (via the 247Sports composite rankings):
- Alabama — 22 players, 6 5-stars, 12 4-stars
- Ohio State — 20 players, 4 5-stars, 12 4-stars
- LSU — 22 players, 1 5-star, 15 4-stars
- Georgia — 19 players, 3 5-stars, 11 4-stars
- Oregon — 22 players, 0 5-stars, 15 4-stars
- Clemson — 17 players, 2 5-stars, 13 4-stars
- USC — 22 players, 0 5-stars, 15 4-stars
- Florida — 26 players, 1 5-star, 14 4-stars
- Notre Dame — 23 players, 0 5-stars, 10 4-stars
- Michigan — 21 players, 1 5-star, 11 4-stars
Will those rankings hold through the end of the Early Signing Period? We’ll find out as other top recruits announce their commitments over the next couple of weeks.
- It has been a long year for reigning champion LSU. After going 15-0 and winning a national title last year, 2020 has not gone according to plan by any stretch of the imagination. Saturday Down South’s Les East ranked the 10 worst things to happen to the Tigers on the field this year.
- This year has been a nightmare for schedule makers. Though we’ve had plenty of football played, it hasn’t been easy to manage each conference’s constantly shifting schedules during the pandemic. Bleacher Report’s Joel Reuter ranked the most impactful rescheduled games thus far in 2020.
- The 2020 coaching carousel is now in full swing. There have already been a pair of firings in the SEC, and other jobs could soon come open. Bleacher Report’s Brad Shepard discusses everything you need to know about 13 coaching candidates you’ll hear a lot about over the next month or so.
- Nick Saban missed the Iron Bowl due to COVID-19. Instead of coaching from the sidelines, he had to watch the game from home while OC Steve Sarkisian stepped in and coached the Crimson Tide. ESPN’s Chris Low wrote an in-depth piece in which Saban, his wife (Miss Terry), and members of the Alabama staff described what Saturday’s unusual circumstances were like.
B1G HOT SEATS
A handful of B1G head coaches have earned a spot on the hot seat. Will any changes be made at the end of the year?
Blueblood programs and high expectations. Regardless of circumstances, that’s always going to be an unrivaled combination in college football, and it’s a big reason why a handful of Big Ten coaches are feeling more pressure than ever to deliver results.
Scott Frost (Nebraska), Jim Harbaugh (Michigan) and James Franklin (Penn State) have all had underwhelming years in 2020. Those three “traditional” blueblood programs have a combined 5-12 record with three weeks left in the season. To say the fan bases of those respected teams are disgruntled would be a major understatement. Though Illinois isn’t a traditional B1G program, there’s also some frustration with Lovie Smith, whose Fighting Illini team is just 2-3, despite having the most talented team in his tenure in Champaign.
But will any changes be made at the end of the season? There are varying levels of concern for each head coach:
- Let’s start with the least likely to go: James Franklin. Yes, Penn State is just 1-5 despite having national championship aspirations, but with Micah Parsons opting out and losing top running back Journey Brown, it’s almost like the perfect storm hit Happy Valley. SEC Network’s Paul Finebaum thinks Franklin is safe because of his successful past with the Nittany Lions. Saturday Tradition’s Thomas Schlarp agrees with that analysis, saying that the future is still bright under Franklin because of the young talent on the roster.
- Scott Frost probably is safe, too. While Nebraska has certainly struggled in the three years under Frost, there’s still a lot of faith in his ability to turn the program around. That may be hard to believe based on a 1-4 record this fall. Saturday Tradition’s Steve Marick doesn’t really know where the Huskers go from here, after suffering multiple one-possession losses in 2020 (again). Mike Farrell of Rivals.com says the only option is to keep Frost around and allow him time to develop his players.
- As for Jim Harbaugh, that’s a different story. The writing has to be one the wall, right? This is Year 6, and Harbaugh is talking about “trusting the process,” and seeing improvement after a 27-17 loss to a previously-winless Penn State team. Fans aren’t the only ones who believe Harbaugh’s time is up, with former UM quarterback Brian Griese tweeting out “Enough is enough!” over the weekend. Will the trigger be pulled on firing Harbaugh? Finebaum believes that Iowa State’s Matt Campbell would be an excellent replacement in Ann Arbor.
- Lovie Smith is a bit of an enigma. Illinois isn’t a blueblood program, but there is still an expectation to win. Or at least to get to .500. With the Fighting Illini sitting at 2-3 and games against two ranked opponents in Iowa and Northwestern left on the schedule, finishing the year with a winning record probably isn’t in the cards. Is it enough to move on from Smith?
Interested in hot seat rankings? CoachesHotSeat.com suggests that Harbaugh is on the hottest seat in college football right now, while Frost is just a few spots back at No. 4. Franklin and Smith didn’t make the list, but Purdue’s Jeff Brohm surprisingly came in at No. 10. We’ll see over the next couple of weeks if any big changes are made.
JUST FOR FUN
Since the Early Signing Period starts later this month, let’s focus on recruits for today’s quiz. Specifically, let’s focus on the top-rated recruits from each class since 2010. Can you name the No. 1 player in each of the past 10 classes (2012-2021)? Bonus points if you can name which schools they ended up signing with. (Note: We use the 247Sports composite rankings.)
Scroll down for the answers to today’s quiz.
DeVonta Smith is the SEC’s all-time leader in touchdown catches. Can he sneak into the Heisman race?
Alabama has a pair of top Heisman Trophy candidates in QB Mac Jones and RB Najee Harris. However, they might not even be the best players on the Crimson Tide’s dynamic offense. That’s because WR DeVonta Smith — the guy who caught the famous 2nd-and-26 pass from Tua Tagovailoa to beat Georgia in the national title game following the 2017 season — is putting up unbelievable numbers. So far, he has caught 72 passes for 1,074 yards and 12 touchdowns. Oh, and he also ran for a touchdown.
Is Smith getting the respect and attention he deserves? Let’s dive into the incredible season he’s having and appreciate the hard-working Alabama receiver:
- Smith now has 35 TD catches, which is the most in SEC history. When he set the record with his 32nd TD catch against Kentucky, SEC Network analyst (and former Florida WR) Chris Doering, who previously held the record along with Amari Cooper with 31 touchdowns, joked that he appreciated Smith breaking his mark since it reminded people of his record. Smith’s former high school coach compared him to Jerry Rice, and he’s living up to that lofty praise this year.
- Smith is getting plenty of attention in the Alabama community. His teammate, WR John Metchie, recently said Smith is the best player on the Alabama roster. Nick Saban explained what makes Smith so difficult to cover. LSU coach Ed Orgeron knows his defense is in for a tough task against Smith this weekend, praising the receiver and OC Steve Sarkisian.
- Nationally, Smith may not be a Heisman front runner, but he is getting plenty of love. Saturday Down South’s Matt Hinton broke down why Smith is Alabama’s greatest receiver ever. That’s incredible praise considering Julio Jones, Amari Cooper, Calvin Ridley, Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III have all been Round 1 NFL Draft picks from Alabama since Nick Saban took over. Chase Parham of Rivals wrote that this year’s Biletnikoff Award race (given to the best receiver in college football) is between Smith and Ole Miss WR Elijah Moore. Saturday Down South’s Neil Blackmon has Smith as the No. 5 overall player in the SEC this year. And, finally, Sports Illustrated’s Pat Forde mentioned Smith among players who probably won’t win the Heisman, but should be praised for their incredible seasons, anyway.
At the absolute most, Smith has four or five games left in an Alabama uniform. He flew under the radar for his first couple of years in Tuscaloosa, but now is his time to leave a lasting legacy. He’s sure to continue to put up big numbers in the coming weeks, so appreciate the incredible talent he has before he’s playing on Sundays!
Here are the answers to today’s recruiting quiz. The top players in each of the last 10 classes (according to the 247Sports composite rankings) were:
- 2012: Dorial Green-Beckham, WR (Mizzou)
- 2013: Robert Nkemdiche, DE (Ole Miss)
- 2014: Leonard Fournette, RB (LSU)
- 2015: Trenton Thompson, DT (Georgia)
- 2016: Rashan Gary, DT (Michigan)
- 2017: Jaelan Phillips, DE (UCLA)
- 2018: Trevor Lawrence, QB (Clemson)
- 2019: Nolan Smith, DE (Georgia)
- 2020: Bryan Bresee, DT (Clemson)
- 2021: Korey Foreman, DE (Undecided)
As you can see, there are plenty of stars in that group and some guys who didn’t quite pan out. What side will Foreman fall on? We’ll see starting next season!
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“I don’t know how long Nick Saban is gonna keep coaching, but I’d wager it’s closer to 8 or 9 years than it is to 1 or 2. … Having a taste of that, and not being a part of (the game against Auburn due to a positive COVID-19 test), he doesn’t want that to happen again. He’s probably going to coach a lot longer than people think he will.”
– ESPN’s Chris Low is a reporter who speaks with Alabama coach Nick Saban more than most in the media business. During an episode of “The Paul Finebaum Show” this week, Low raised eyebrows across the country by predicting that Saban, who just turned 69 on Halloween, may have another decade of coaching left in him.
TWEET OF THE DAY
Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin led his team to a win in his first Egg Bowl at the helm of the Rebels’ program, beating Mike Leach’s Mississippi State squad 31-24. After the game, Kiffin took to Twitter to share the hilarious Michael Jordan meme above, recalling a moment before this season when Leach snapped his mask during a meeting with Mississippi officials.