Top trending SEC coaches through Week 4
It’s been a tough season for SEC defensive coordinators.
Despite the perceived sinkhole at quarterback within the conference, the league doesn’t boast a single defense in the national top 10 in scoring, and claims just four members of the top 25, thanks to No. 25 Alabama. (For perspective, the SEC represented four of the nation’s 10 best scoring defenses in 2014.)
As such, it was a tough week for defensive coordinators in our SEC-wide ranking of the league’s best coaches in 2015. Texas A&M’s John Chavis and Georgia’s Jeremy Pruitt fell out of our top 10 rankings, while Mississippi State’s Manny Diaz hasn’t quite cracked the list yet.
Chavis has his defense playing well, but a struggling Arkansas team had its way with Texas A&M for a good portion of Saturday, and it has become evident that the Aggies, despite the play of Myles Garrett, are not yet a top 25 unit on that side of the football.
As for Pruitt, Georgia’s defense has played well, but it hasn’t been as spectacular or intimidating as some of the other players, units and teams on the list. There are plenty of opportunities for the man who heads the UGA defense to claw back onto the list, starting this weekend against Alabama.
In case you’re a first-time reader, here’s a mission statement of sorts for this piece.
At Saturday Down South, we enjoy the subjective nature of rankings. Who doesn’t love arguing in favor of your favorite player, or against that team whose fans always annoy you?
Each week, we rank the top quarterbacks, running backs and receivers in the SEC, not to mention the 10 best team and individual performances of the 2015 season. So why not rank the coaches as well?
We’ll update this list throughout the season. Essentially, this post will serve as a way to identify the 10 best SEC coaches of the year, irrespective of their title.
Here is our top 10 after each team’s first four games:
1. Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss head coach (last: No. 1)
The Rebels avoided what could’ve been a disastrous home loss to the Vanderbilt Commodores, thanks in large part to faulty red zone offense. But, in spite of the close call, Ole Miss remains ranked No. 3 in the country according to the Associated Press Top 25. The path to 7-0 remains relatively clear, though a trip to Gainesville to face a ranked Florida team could be tricky.
It no longer seems out of place or bizarre, though, to see Ole Miss at or near the top of the SEC standings and the national rankings. That’s a credit to Freeze — both as a recruiter and a coach. He’ll need to ensure his team can exploit a tough defense on the road if he wants to remain at No. 1 on this list for another week.
2. Frank Wilson, LSU running backs (last: No. 5)
Right now, Wilson is coaching the single-most dominant offensive player in all of college football in Leonard Fournette. In three games, Fournette has rushed for 631 yards and eight touchdowns. Yes, the 6-foot-1, 230-pound back is a rare talent.
But last year, until late in the season, Fournette was merely very good. Now he’s at the front of the Heisman Trophy conversation, albeit early in the year.
If thats not enough, consider that Fournette accounts for 73 of the team’s 137 carries, or 53.3 percent. As a team, the LSU Tigers average 6.9 yards per carry. That’s third in the nation, behind just Baylor and Arizona. Finding more touches for impressive freshman Derrius Guice could improve those figures even more. But thus far, LSU has been content to have Fournette carry the load — in close games and blowouts, “pitch count” be damned. And thus far, it has worked well.
3. Brian Schottenheimer, Georgia offensive coordinator (last: No. 10)
The Bulldogs average 45.5 points per game, 11th-best in the country and ahead of esteemed offensive programs like West Virginia, Oregon and Texas A&M.
Sure, the team’s offensive line and backfield can challenge LSU’s for best in the SEC. But it’s Schottenheimer’s work with Greyson Lambert that has earned him such an esteemed spot on our list.
Lambert, a transfer from Virginia, finished 10th in the ACC among 11 eligible quarterbacks in efficiency rating last season. Now he’s No. 1 in the SEC in that same category, completing better than three-quarters of his passes for seven touchdowns and not a single interception. If that continues, UGA fans should be thinking College Football Playoff.
4. Les Miles, LSU head coach (last: No. 8)
The team’s performance at Syracuse wasn’t all that impressive. LSU failed to cover the Las Vegas point spread and nearly found themselves in a tossup fourth quarter with the unranked Orange. But after two emotional SEC wins, and after traveling more than 1,200 miles, it was tough to envision LSU’s ‘A’ effort in this game.
Miles is one of four SEC coaches that claim a 2-0 conference record in 2015 — despite losing John Chavis to Texas A&M, despite the perceived issues at quarterback, despite the personnel losses due to early NFL draft entry as well as disciplinary departures. The Tigers are set to cruise toward a 4-0 record this weekend and, barring an upset at South Carolina or at home to Florida, will enter November unbeaten.
5. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M head coach (last: No. 7)
Arkansas remains a tough matchup for the Texas A&M Aggies. Despite Sumlin’s preseason insistence that his team get more physical, it has a ways to go to match the saltiest programs in the SEC in that regard.
Still, his team showed a lot of mental toughness in notching a second consecutive come-from-behind win against the Razorbacks. Not many people expected the Aggies to be a legitimate top 15 team entering October. This team isn’t the College Football Playoff contender that some perceived Week 1 against Arizona State, but neither is it the group that lost five of seven to close out the 2014 regular season.
Beat Mississippi State on Saturday and Texas A&M should be looking at a minimum of nine regular-season wins, putting the team in great position for 2016. And with a few upsets — vs. Alabama (Oct. 17) and at Ole Miss (Oct. 24), for example — that timeline could move up fast.
6. Mark Richt, Georgia head coach (last: No. 9)
He has successfully replaced his long-time offensive coordinator, waded through another offseason of jokes and grumblings regarding his team’s lack of titles and navigated his way to a 2-0 SEC start. In other words, he’s done his job.
But in recent seasons, Georgia already was playing catch-up in the East Division. Whether or not he manages to exact revenge against Alabama, UGA will remain a big favorite to reach Atlanta, as the team should be favored in every game the rest of the season, barring a collapse.
Beat Alabama this weekend, though, and College Football Playoff talk starts to get real.
7. Barry Odom, Missouri defensive coordinator (last: No. 2)
It’s not Odom’s fault that the team’s offense couldn’t run through a wall of paper mâché. But, after a yeoman’s effort against UConn, Mizzou did allow Patrick Towles to complete 22 of 27 passes, including several long receptions, in a loss to Kentucky. Odom’s unit played decent, but not great.
Missouri still remains No. 1 in the SEC in scoring defense and total defense. Considering the personnel losses and the transition at coordinator, that’s a huge accomplishment.
8. Geoff Collins, Florida defensive coordinator (last: unranked)
The Gators have been far from perfect, allowing a depleted East Carolina offense to throw for far too many yards and falling victim to a few tricky play calls against Tennessee. But, in typical Geoff Collins style, Florida’s defense has been disruptive. Enough to reach 4-0 despite a shoddy offense.
This unit ranks second in the SEC with 17 sacks, third in the SEC with 35 tackles for loss and tied for second in the SEC with seven takeaways. The secondary needs to be better, especially with such a deep collection of talent. But this team features playmakers at all three levels, and should at least provide Ole Miss with an interesting test this weekend.
9. Mark Stoops, Kentucky head coach (last: unranked)
The Wildcats are a play or two away from a 4-0 start and possibly even a national ranking. What’s more, the team’s lagging defense has made tremendous strides in allowing just 27 combined points to Florida and Missouri the last two weeks. Knocking off the two-time defending SEC East champs is the type of credibility that Stoops and his program can sell.
Eastern Kentucky and Charlotte should be victories. So the team probably needs just one win against the likes of Vanderbilt, Auburn, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Louisville to make a bowl game. Seven regular-season wins are a realistic possibility now, which would represent a major step forward for the UK program.
10. Dan Werner, Ole Miss co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks (last: No. 6)
Chad Kelly produced another productive statistical day against Vanderbilt, but the team’s offense lagged for most of the day. The running game continues to be an issue, Kelly threw two interceptions and three trips to the red zone resulted in field goal attempts, one of which Vanderbilt blocked.
The Ole Miss offense still rates near the top of college football, and a good performance against Florida could nudge Werner back up the rankings. But as we close out September, he’s merely the 10th-most impressive SEC coach.
Dropped Out: John Chavis, Texas A&M defensive coordinator; Jeremy Pruitt, Georgia defensive coordinator