S&P+ rankings and the SEC Hot Seat: Butch Jones and Bret Bielema are in trouble
Someone needs to beat Alabama for the SEC race to not be over. Georgia in Atlanta may be the only chance of that happening. With little intrigue on the field, the hot topic in the SEC will be how the hot seat coaches fare down the stretch. S&P+ has projections for how that should play out. Here’s what the advanced stats have to tell us about SEC coaches whose jobs may be in jeopardy.
You don’t need S&P+ to tell you things are terrible at Tennessee right now. What S&P+ can tell you is that Tennessee probably should have lost to Georgia Tech. That means their best performance was the 17-13 win over UMass. The Vols rank 102nd scoring points inside the 40 and 112th in defensive efficiency so far. They are an astounding (+34.5) underdog against Bama in Tuscaloosa.
What does Butch need to do to save his job? We’ll say 8-4. Running the table after losing to Alabama would include a win over LSU. Of course, S&P+ only favors Tennessee in two of its six remaining games: Vanderbilt and Missouri. As of this week, the Vols would be slight dogs against Kentucky and Southern Miss. S&P+ only gives Tennessee a 52.4 percent chance of finishing out 6-6 to guarantee a bowl game.
Tennessee getting things going to finish the season strong is not unreasonable. But neither is it something to expect. The Vols would have to establish a 2017 identity, not rediscover it. The ideal time to do that would have been when they were racking up leadership reps on the bye week before South Carolina.
To sum up Arkansas in one sentence: the Razorbacks are slightly worse than Tennessee. They are 67th in S&P+ to the Vols’ 66th. They were a +37 underdog to Alabama to the Vols’ +34.5. Arkansas has started 2-4. S&P+ suggests that’s unfair. The Hogs’ performance had a 72 percent win probability against Texas A&M. Still, they are 2-4 with wins over Florida A&M and New Mexico State.
The trouble for Bret Bielema is that S&P+ only favors Arkansas to win two of its final six games: Coastal Carolina and Missouri. We saw last year how one should not write off Missouri in that game. Otherwise, only the road game to Oxford is predicted to be within a touchdown.
Jeff Long may be patient. Going 6-6 may be enough to get Bielema another year. That still would require a 4-2 finish and a couple of upsets. Worth noting: his buyout is closer to $6 million, not the $15.4 million previously reported.
Texas A&M’s AD all but labeled this a “make or break” year for Sumlin. S&P+ suggests things could get interesting. Texas A&M is 5-2 with a one-score loss to Alabama and a blown lead against UCLA. It’s not a bad start. Close, fortunate wins against Arkansas (28% probability) and Florida (6% probability) may prove vital.
The trouble for Sumlin over the past few years, however, has been the finish. S&P+ projects Texas A&M to do its normal routine and beat New Mexico while losing all four of its remaining SEC games (Mississippi State and Auburn at home, Ole Miss and LSU on the road). All four seem winnable in a mediocre SEC. All four are also losable.
Finishing 6-6 or 7-5 probably dooms Sumlin. An 8-4 finish makes things interesting. If Texas A&M makes it to 9-3, the Aggies may be forced to extend his contract. There’s also the possibility he succeeds and then spurns Texas A&M for another job. Millions of dollars and much narrative could hinge on a few plays by 19-year-olds.
The good news: Auburn is 14th in S&P+. Auburn is a good team, especially on defense. The bad news: being a good team won’t take the Tigers very far with their schedule. They have beaten the bad teams on their schedule, split with the mediocre ones, and lost to the good one, Clemson. Blowing that 20-0 lead at LSU could be costly.
Auburn still has to play Georgia and Alabama at home. The Tigers may be near Georgia’s level. They won’t be anywhere near Bama without major rivalry hijinks. Two potential swing games are on the road: at Arkansas and at Texas A&M. S&P+ makes Auburn a double-digit favorite in both. But that’s seldom how things work out in the SEC West. Those teams, as noted, really need to beat Auburn.
If Auburn loses to Georgia and Alabama but beats everyone else, that puts it at 8-4. That would be the Tigers’ fourth 7- or 8-win season in a row. They would be 16-16 in the SEC over the past four seasons. Bobby Petrino would be sitting over there in Louisville. Remember. This is Auburn.
LSU ranks 26th in S&P+. It’s not where the Tigers expected to be preseason. It’s also not terrible. Gutting out close wins at Florida and against Auburn was crucial. Those victories washed away the Troy defeat and the Mississippi State debacle. Orgeron’s Tigers enter the stretch run 5-2.
S&P+ favors LSU in the four remaining games that aren’t against Alabama. Getting those wins would put LSU at 9-3 for the season, which would be great. Even finishing 8-4 or 7-5 would be fine for Orgeron. His $12 million buyout will keep him around unless the team is a disaster. Trying to buy him out on GoFundMe seemed like a better idea a couple weeks ago. Only $340 was pledged.