Fortune cookies for every SEC team in 2016
There are two reassuring certainties when ordering Chinese takeout.
It’ll be “about 10 minutes” before your food is ready. And that way-too-fun strip of paper called the “fortune cookie.”
That used to be the case, anyway. Until the fortune cookie companies got sloppy.
Maybe it’s just a personal pet peeve, but I liked it when fortune cookies, well, gave me a prediction about the future. These days, most of them give bizarre tropes that in no way give us anything predictive.
Last week, I even opened two fortune that simply said, “Be a winner” and “There’s a broken fortune cookie in front of you.” Really? How lazy can you be, fortune cookie creators?
There’s a reason those “magic 8-ball” toys were so popular at one time, and that those tarot card readers in the New Orleans French Quarter make a living. We love whimsical predictions about our future.
So, partially out of protest, I decided to re-legitimize the fortune cookie industry by creating my own.
SEC football fans, prepare to see the future for your favorite team in 2016.
Like Joni Mitchell sings in “Big Yellow Taxi,” you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. That’s (usually) true. It’s especially so for Alabama fans of a certain age, who lived through Bear Bryant’s brilliant run in the ’70s, the brief Gene Stallings success in the early ’90s and Nick Saban’s unmatched consistency in this decade.
Alabama is “supposed” to compete for and win championships. Well, it wasn’t that long ago when the team was burning through coaches named Mike faster than a no-huddle offense.
Smart Tide fans — yes, those do exist — will savor every second that remains of the Saban era. That could be one year, that could be 10 years. But something tells me the end won’t be a drawn-out saga like it was at Florida State for Bobby Bowden. Some year, it’s just going to be over.
The next coach will have a chance at continued success, whenever that is. But will there ever be another Saban?
Bret Bielema is one of those rare individuals that extends beyond his field of expertise.
Sure, you’d read a book from Baylor coach Art Briles if you’re a high school football coach trying to install an offense. But would you read a book from him with parenting advice?
I think I would if Bielema wrote it. Same for restaurant reviews. Come to think of it, I’d probably read any book that Bielema wrote. He’s managed to avoid becoming a robot, which is an understated challenge for today’s big-time coaches. The SEC is better for it.
Look, Jeremy Johnson fooled me as well. I’ll admit it. I thought he was a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender last season at 6-foot-5, 240 pounds with a cannon arm and several years in coach Gus Malzahn’s system.
I still think Johnson was much better than he showed during those first three games last year. And there’s danger in repeating last year’s mistakes in terms of heaping expectations on a player. But John Franklin III at least is a similar type of player to Nick Marshall — a smaller, athletic quarterback with speed and wiggle.
We’ve seen that play well within Malzahn’s system. It’s not a singular fix for Auburn’s 6-6 regular season. But the running game has been the Tigers’ best asset when Malzahn has succeeded. Teaming Franklin III with Jovon Robinson may be the best way to maximize that.
Winning an SEC East title in Jim McElwain’s first season is a double-edged sword. It’s terrific for the fans, who haven’t watched their team overachieve in years. But now expectations are skewed.
Perhaps Gators fans are more intelligent, patient and practical than the credit I’m giving. But there’s something to the “brick by brick” model of Butch Jones at Tennessee: 5 wins, 7 wins and 9 wins in his first three seasons.
Florida potentially could fall to 8 or 9 wins in McElwain’s second season, depending on how things shake out. If the team slips to upper middle class in the SEC, fans may start to get restless and grumpy again heading into the 2017 season.
To use another analogy, UGA had watched the Mark Richt movie 15 times. We know how it starts and we know how it ends. (Usually with a 9-3 team that failed to meet expectations courtesy of a few big-games losses.)
We don’t, however, know how the Kirby Smart movie will play. Relative to his high-profile status as Alabama’s defensive coordinator on four national championship teams, Smart spent very little time in the media spotlight as Saban’s right-hand man. Now that he’s got his own program, he’s running things in a similar way — heavy on discipline and structure.
No matter how this movie plays, count us in the camp that anything different will be better for the Bulldogs at this point. Stay with Richt another decade and the team may win one more SEC Championship. But with so many millions of dollars at stake every season, UGA should do more than that.
The second-half collapses, dropped passes and “we don’t belong” performances against the likes of Auburn seem to indicate a team that isn’t so sure it’s good enough to contend in the SEC East.
That’s probably the truth. But a saturation of leadership and confidence can go a long way in college sports.
“Great” is a relative term when it comes to UK football. But this program has all the talent it needs to at the least reach 6-6 and play in a bowl game. It just needs to be a little more sure of itself.
OK, we’ll admit: We’re fans of a good Les Miles press conference. How can you not smile at the guy’s way with words and carefree approach to life?
There’s a larger issue at work here, and it seems like there’s something to the “Nick Saban factor” for SEC coaches in 2016. We don’t believe that should create an automatic pass for every coach who finishes with at least 8 wins. But certainly before Saban, LSU would never can a coach with a record of 112-32 who wins double-digit games two-thirds of the time.
Miles’ situation is different than Richt’s was at Georgia. The SEC East has been as winnable as any power-conference division in FBS the last three years, while the SEC West has been historically tough. Still, Miles has posted a winning SEC record in six of the last seven seasons — a 4-4 mark in ’14 being the only exception.
Another coach may be able to manage the game clock better, but we doubt there would be a better captain of this ship.
Are you with me, Bulldogs fans? Thus far coach Dan Mullen has followed this advice. He’s been content to get paid $4 million per season in Starkville, where he’s built up some solid equity as a coach.
There’s at least a good possibility that this season will be more challenging. Mississippi State may not reach No. 1 in the country or win 9 games.
Granted, it’s not easy to recruit to Starkville, relative to some of the other locales in the conference. But thanks to the SEC Network money, the playing field is more level now than it’s ever been. Mullen has every opportunity to win — in droves — at Mississippi State.
Even if he continues to get interest elsewhere, we’d like to see him stay with the Bulldogs.
Outside of Saban’s “process,” Gary Pinkel may have been the SEC coach to run the most structured program in years. Perhaps that has to do with both of their ties to coach Don James.
Mizzou hired Barry Odom in part due to the relative continuity he provides. But Odom has made some distinct changes to ensure that this Tigers program is uniquely his, not just a continuation of everything Pinkel. And if the program welcomes those changes from top to bottom — administration, staff, players and fans — that could be a positive thing.
Odom inherited a tough situation given that the team won back-to-back division titles just before last year’s debacle on and off the field. He may have to manage expectations early. But by establishing his own culture in a firm manner, he’ll be taking an important first step.
Rebels coach Hugh Freeze called the NCAA inquiry “a four-year colonoscopy.” A large sect of the SEC wants to enjoy a “gotcha!” moment that overturns what Freeze has been able to do as a recruiter.
There’s still time for this to play out, but it seems more likely that whatever punishment Ole Miss faces will straddle the line between mild and moderate.
At any event, Ole Miss keeps getting better. Freeze has won an extra game each season he’s been the coach. The consensus opinion for a long time was that once the extraordinary 2013 class departed — at least the stars — Ole Miss’ window to truly contend would shut. Well, Freeze and the Rebels appear to have a primo opportunity to cast out that logic as a myth with this ’16 team.
We’re looking at you, Will Muschamp. You have not quite reached in-game fury levels with the media, but you’ve told us until you’re clinching your jaw that you and coordinator Kurt Roper, with whom you teamed in your last year at Florida, are going to open up the offense.
Reports this week have indicated that one of the goals is to not stray far from the system that coach Steve Spurrier was using in Columbia, S.C., when he retired. That way there’s continuity and not a bunch of misfit parts. You’ve also promised more of an up-tempo, spread offense.
You know it’s time to try something new and you’ve acknowledged it publicly. But there will be skeptics until you show that on a football field in the fall. We’re not expecting a miracle in your first season at South Carolina. But proving you are willing to adapt would be a great first step to your Gamecocks tenure.
Any suggestion that Team 120 could be special seems to roust those who insist the Vols have been in this situation many times of late, always to fall short.
I keep going back to this stat.
For those already saying Tennessee "is hyped every year," the Vols haven't been a preseason top 10 team since 2005. Streak could end in '16.
— Christopher Smith (@csmithSDS) January 4, 2016
According to Phil Steele — who never is shy about spending several hundred words telling you just how right he always is — Tennessee will be ranked exactly 10th this preseason.
We were not among those thinking that UT was a legitimate contender in ’14. (We picked Georgia, which was a different mistake.) This is a different sort of Vols roster than we’ve seen since coach Phillip Fulmer.
There are no guarantees, especially in the SEC East the last several years. But there is definitely a prospect of a thrilling time for Rocky Top in 2016.
What fun are fortune cookies if there isn’t at least one ominous or negative semi-bold prediction?
We’re not out to get you, Aggies fans. But this seemed like one of the most obvious ways to use this fortune. Coach Kevin Sumlin’s buyout gets $5 million smaller after the 2016 season ends. This team hasn’t produced on the field to a level that matches the talent Texas A&M has been able to attract.
Yes, there’s been a big downturn in the market for crude oil. But the Aggies (and the team’s boosters) are not hurting for cash. If Sumlin turns out another relatively mediocre season, it won’t be a shock if he’s spending 2017 as a sought-after offensive coordinator rather than as one of the highest-paid head coaches in college football.
It’s a bold prediction, but we foresee a coaching change in College Station after the ’16 season.
OK, this one is silly. And no offense, real-life Vandy fans, but your program can be silly at times.
Like the PR snafu with “We don’t need your permission” or the spring game antics (kicking off to a rectangular tarp with a Vandy logo, long snapping a mascot head off a trash can).
But it does have a practical application. So many of us spent ’15 looking at all the glaring holes on the roster that we sort of glossed over all the huge injuries. The team lost starting left tackle Andrew Jelks, No. 1 receiver C.J. Duncan and standout linebacker Nigel Bowden for most or all of last season. That’s not to mention presumed starting quarterback Patton Robinette, who left the team for dental school after spring ball.
Whether it’s extra Chinese food or a little luck from the football gods, Vanderbilt stands to make good progress this fall if it can just keep its best players healthy.