Top 10 most surprising things to happen in SEC this season
It was another sensational season in the SEC, as evidenced by both Georgia and Alabama being invited to the College Football Playoff.
For the most part, the conference was predictable at the top. The Bulldogs seemed like the best program in the East and certainly were, while the West once again came down to the Iron Bowl. Auburn’s upset of the Crimson Tide was a wake-up call but not a total shock to the world.
The league did see a fair share of curiosities, though. ‘Bama quarterback Jalen Hurts, the SEC’s reigning Offensive Player of the Year, wasn’t even voted first- or second-team all-conference. Not only did Tennessee fall behind South Carolina and Kentucky, but the Volunteers ended up in the division cellar behind Missouri and Vanderbilt, too.
PODCAST: Shea Patterson to Michigan
And then you have the coaching carousel, of course. With five new hires set to take the reigns in 2018 — plus Matt Luke getting the interim tag removed at Ole Miss — Media Days will feature a different soundtrack come July.
In no particular order, here are the Top 10 most surprising things that happened in the league as far as I’m concerned.
Fromm in, Eason out
We had a feeling there was something special about Georgia QB Jake Fromm, even more so after he outplayed incumbent Jacob Eason in the G-Day Game despite only being on campus a few weeks. Still, nobody could’ve anticipated Fromm taking over for an injured Eason in Week 1 and then leading the Bulldogs to the Final Four.
While Fromm is the toast of Athens and the unquestioned leader for a title contender, Eason is likely to transfer in the offseason.
Jimbo to A&M
Each of the last two years, Jimbo Fisher has threatened to bolt Florida State for LSU. In the end, it was nothing more than a ploy to get more money or facilities upgrades in Tallahassee. But this time it was Texas A&M that came calling. The decision makers there made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. He didn’t and is now in College Station.
Will Fisher get the Aggies over the hump? That remains to be seen. The fact that he’s even with them was laughable 12 months ago.
Mizzou’s second half
Six games into the 2017 campaign, Missouri was 1-5 and going absolutely nowhere. Barry Odom was all of a sudden on the hot seat, even though it was only Year 2 for him. However, the Tigers went 6-0 to finish off the schedule, with signal caller Drew Lock destroying an SEC single-season record with 43 touchdown passes.
As a result, Mizzou is bowling for the first time since 2014. Odom was given a well-deserved contract extension, too.
Allen falls flat
Based on what he did as a junior in 2016, a case could’ve been made that Austin Allen of Arkansas was the best pure passer in the conference. He couldn’t throw it like Eason or run it like Hurts, but this son of a coach had a magnificent sense of touch and timing. Instead, he completed just 56.1 percent of his passes this year and eventually got hurt.
It wasn’t entirely Allen’s fault, but the Razorbacks spiraled out of control to 4-8 and said goodbye to coach Bret Bielema.
See you later, Mac
It was only a matter of time before some coach in this league would be pink-slipped prior to the schedule being completed, but the fact that it was Jim McElwain at Florida was a stunner. After all, he was coming off back-to-back East titles and gaining ground on the recruiting trail for the Gators.
Not only did McElwain’s offense continue to sputter, but his mercurial behavior with superiors proved to be too much of a burden.
At 9-3, LSU enjoyed a somewhat successful season overall. Nevertheless, it’s impossible to ignore getting upset by Troy — on Homecoming, you’ll remember — in the friendly confines of Death Valley. This was no fluke, either. The Trojans manhandled the Bayou Bengals in every phase of the game and believed from the very start that they could win.
No question about it, this was the most unanticipated result in the league for 2017. There isn’t a close second, really.
Kerryon carries on
Why were so many experts high on Auburn coming into the season? In addition to Jarrett Stidham taking over in shotgun formation, Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson were arguably the top tailback tandem in the SEC. Unfortunately, Pettway suited up just five times due to injury. Johnson picked up the slack in Herculean fashion.
Despite missing two games himself, Johnson led the conference in both carries (263) and yards rushing (1,320) en route to Offensive Player of the Year honors.
Not so frozen
Ole Miss was hit hard recently by the NCAA, so the program will have to make lemonade with scholarship restrictions and another year of being banned from the postseason. Nevertheless, ex-coach Hugh Freeze came out on the other side relatively unscathed. Another school could hire him tomorrow as an offensive coordinator with no restrictions.
If Freeze were to emerge as a head-coaching candidate again, he’d only have to sit out two contests in league play. That’s not much of a show-cause penalty.
Anchored down on D
Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason is one of the SEC’s elite defensive minds, so he was given the benefit of the doubt after losing top linebacker Zach Cunningham to the NFL Draft. Unfortunately, the Commodores went into the tank. Vandy dropped from sixth to ninth in the conference in total D and from tied for fifth to 11th in scoring D.
Believe it or not, but the ‘Dores actually had the No. 3 passing offense in the league. That’s not how Mason tends to win in Nashville, though. At 5-7, it showed.
RELATED: Top 20 SEC QBs since 2000
Home sweet home?
Before the calendar flipped to October, we knew there was no way Butch Jones could keep his post at Tennessee. It was a matter of when he was getting fired, not if. Somehow, the Volunteers went a mind-boggling 26 days between saying goodbye to Jones and hello to Jeremy Pruitt. Their fans don’t want to admit it, but the school was a laughingstock.
Is Pruitt the right hire? He could be. But for a traditional power to be turned down by the likes of Purdue’s Jeff Brohm and NC State’s Dave Doeren? Perhaps the blood on Rocky Top isn’t so blue after all.