What I'll remember about every SEC team in 2019
As the year and decade come to a close, we here at SDS have done our fair share of looking back.
If you haven’t consumed any of our all-decade content, well, let’s just say you should. It put the 2010s in perspective for not only every SEC team, but for all of college football.
But for this column, let’s focus specifically on the 2019 season of college football. That means from the moment the 2018 season ended to now. Some teams have played bowl games and some haven’t, but there was still more than enough to pick a thing that sort of defined the year that was for each team.
When I say “this is what I’ll remember about team X,” it’s meant to say what I’ll remember 3-4 years from now if the subject of team X comes up.
So with that, here’s what I’ll remember about every SEC team in 2019:
Alabama: The revenge tour bus never reached its final destination
Fair or not, this is how we judge Alabama. I thought we’d get Alabama’s most vengeful self, sort of like how the 2015 team bounced back. Instead, that didn’t happen.
Did injuries play a part in that? Absolutely. I would have loved to have seen the Crimson Tide with a healthy Dylan Moses. Having all of those injuries in the front 7 hurt Alabama, for sure. Is that an excuse for not executing against the only current ranked foes the Crimson Tide faced? No. But as is the case with the best program of the decade, that’ll be the next thing mentioned when someone looks back on the shortcomings of the 2019 squad, which wasn’t quite as disappointing as the 2010 squad, but finished with an extremely similar season.
Arkansas: Cringing at Club Dub
Eeeeeeeeeek. Sorry, Arkansas fans. Y’all are a loyal bunch, and you deserve better than a team that goes crazy when it beats Colorado State. Sadly, though, that win ranks in the top 2-3 among the program’s most impressive wins in the past 3 years. If you can watch this and not cringe, you deserve an award:
.@RazorbackFB’s Club Dub –>
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) September 18, 2019
I’m not one to hate on celebrations or people having fun, but at a place like Arkansas that actually has history, maybe Club Dub should have only opened for SEC wins? Just a thought.
Auburn: The roller coaster of New Gus … that was actually kind of tame?
Here’s what I mean about that. Gus Malzahn entered 2019 in familiar territory — on the hot seat facing a daunting schedule. And how did he respond? By winning 9 regular-season games and keeping his job. All things considered, that’s actually pretty standard for his time on The Plains. Auburn played close with a lot of elite teams and essentially went 2-3 in said matchups.
I suppose it was a roller coaster to have Bo Nix at quarterback, but the highs weren’t astronomical. He made some clutch plays to beat Oregon and then Alabama to bookend the regular season, but the defense was the constant that made Auburn relevant. I suppose the New Gus roller coaster went fast — like the offense — but it lacked a bunch of wild upside down loops and barrel rolls that made us nauseous?
Florida: Kyle Trask’s Kentucky heroics
In my opinion, this was sort of a defining moment of the Dan Mullen era so far. If Florida loses that game to Kentucky, a quarterback battle ensues, and perhaps it’s a back-and-forth debate for the rest of the year. The Gators lack an identity in the post-Feleipe Franks injury era and it’s a slight step back from 2018.
Instead, I’d argue that the tone Trask set in the comeback win in Lexington set the tone for the rest of the season. I came away increasingly impressed with the Gators on a weekly basis. I was impressed with Trask and how Mullen adjusted without his dual-threat quarterback prototype. In August, I predicted Florida to go 9-3, but I felt like I was way off. The Gators dominated the teams they should have dominated (unlike last year) and took top 5 teams to the wire away from home.
That’s not bad at all for a team that lost its starting quarterback in mid-September.
Georgia: The offense that never figured it out
I know, I know, I know. The defense was dominant. In my opinion, it was the best Kirby Smart had and it was one of the SEC’s best units of the Playoff era. But for a team that had guys like Jake Fromm, D’Andre Swift and Andrew Thomas, I’ll remember the offensive struggles more. James Coley as the primary play-caller didn’t work, and when Lawrence Cager wasn’t on the field, the passing game was frustrating to watch.
If you think I’m being too harsh on the Georgia offense, answer this question. Did the Dawgs:
- A) Average 23.6 points vs. SEC teams
- B) Fail to hit 30 points in the final 7 SEC games
- C) Finish with the nation’s No. 76 passing attack
- D) Finish No. 61 in FBS in total offense
- E) All the above
It’s “E.” It’s always “E.”
A season that began with national title hopes ended with a crushing reminder that Georgia’s offense is stuck in the 20th century. How Kirby Smart addresses that issue could define the next decade of football in Athens.
Kentucky: The year of Bowden
It truly was on the Mount Rushmore of my favorite stories in college football this year. Watching him totally change the mood of the year in Lexington was how he took over at quarterback. And yeah, he was a high school quarterback, but watching an all-SEC receiver make that switch midseason was extremely rare. Bowden said that he would’ve been a Heisman Trophy finalist had he played quarterback all year. He might not be wrong.
In his 7 regular season starts at quarterback, Bowden racked up 1,136 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. Like, the guy averaged 162 rushing yards in those starts (during which he went 5-2). Just for a little perspective, FBS leading rusher Chuba Hubbard averaged 161 rushing yards per game this year. Bowden is absolutely a Kentucky legend.
LSU: Jeaux Burreaux
Obviously the historic season of Joe Burrow in this offense will be remembered by LSU fans forever, regardless of what happens against Clemson. The ride that LSU has been on to get to 14-0 and a national championship berth is everything that Tigers fans have been wanting for during the past decade. Beating Alabama and doing so with this revolutionary offense has to be about as rewarding as it gets.
Few people in college football have been as likable as Burrow. Watching him win the Heisman Trophy in a landslide was fitting for the job he did adapting Joe Brady’s offense. It continues to amaze and break records on seemingly a weekly basis. This will go down as one of the most satisfying seasons for a fan base in sports history if LSU wins it all, in New Orleans, no less, and Burrow is at the center of that.
Burrow is an LSU dream come to life, and he’ll forever be considered an all-time LSU great.
Mississippi State: The awkward pressure on Joe Moorhead
Some of it was warranted, and some of it was bizarre. Strange was the idea that a Year 2 head coach coming off an 8-win season at a place like MSU was believed to be fighting for his job. Moorhead was considered an outsider when he took the job, and publicly, I thought he was treated like one. What do I mean? When MSU struggled, fans were quick to turn on him because they were somewhat skeptical about him from the jump. How would he recruit? How would he build off Dan Mullen’s foundation?
Again, the fact that there was such a loud voice about firing him in Year 2 when a bowl berth was still on the table felt a bit awkward. But nothing was more awkward than Jay Cohen’s attitude when pressed on the subject mid-season:
— Paul Finebaum (@finebaum) October 18, 2019
It wasn’t quite “season on the brink,” but it felt like it far too much for MSU in 2019.
Mizzou: The dumbfounding bowl ban and the dumbfounding losses
Pick your poison of dumbfounding thing that defined Mizzou’s 2019:
- A bowl ban for something that happened before the current coaching staff was in place
- Losing a season opener against Wyoming
- Falling as a double-digit favorite at Vanderbilt
- Finding out the bowl ban was upheld amidst a 5-game losing streak
Considering how in control it looked like Barry Odom was at times in 2019 — landing Kelly Bryant, keeping players from entering the transfer portal after the bowl ban announcement, the 5-game winning streak, etc. — it’s baffling to think that he found a way to get fired. And for what it’s worth, I agreed that Odom’s time at Mizzou deserved to come to an end. It’s one of the weirder seasons we’ve seen any team have in recent memory. We’ll all look back on 2019 and scratch our heads.
Ole Miss: The instantly infamous dog pee celebration
Don’t get it twisted. I’m all aboard the John Rhys Plumlee hype train. I found myself watching far more of Ole Miss than any other 4-win team in America, and the electric true freshman quarterback was a big part of that.
But yeah, we’re not forgetting Elijah Moore’s dog pee celebration for a long time. The fact that it got me to stand up in my living room as a neutral observer nursing a post-Thanksgiving food hangover says a lot. I’ve never seen anything quite like that, and I’m not sure that I ever will again.
OH MY GOD!!!!!!!!! ELIJAH MOORE’S PENALTY JUST COST OLE MISS!!!!!!!!!!!! THE GAME TYING EXTRA POINT IS NO GOOD!!!!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/wwTd5OJzG5
— Decaf Metcalf ☕ (@FTBeard11) November 29, 2019
Sadly for Matt Luke, that moment served as the final nail in the coffin for his tenure at Ole Miss. But if there’s a positive for Rebels fans, it was that if not for Moore’s celebration, Lane Kiffin might not be in Oxford right now.
South Carolina: Will Muschamp’s peaks and valleys … but mostly valleys
The Georgia win should have been the moment to turn around the perception of Muschamp — he can build an elite defense and win playing smash-mouth football. Instead, everything fell apart after that. A 1-5 finish with losses to Appalachian State and a blowout loss to Tennessee was the exact opposite of how Muschamp was hoping to finish the year before a career-defining 2020 season.
It’s crazy to think that the Georgia game might’ve actually saved Muschamp’s job for the time being. Otherwise, he would’ve been 3-9 and still searching for his first quality SEC win.
There’s probably not a hotter seat in America than Muschamp’s, and his 2019 second-half collapse is a big part of that.
Tennessee: The turnaround
Here’s the list of SEC teams with a longer active winning streak than Tennessee (5):
That’s it. That’s the list.
The Vols 2nd-half turnaround was one that I didn’t see coming, even after the Mississippi State win. I credit guys like Jarrett Guarantano and Jauan Jennings for being leaders in that locker room and not letting a season spiral after all signs pointed to that happening early after the 1-4 start. Jeremy Pruitt’s defensive identity is all over this team. It has talented linebackers who fly to the football, and it makes the right 2nd-half adjustments to win games.
Did you know that after the Georgia loss, Tennessee allowed an average of 5.4 points per 2nd half? This defense was lights out down the stretch, and Pruitt deserves a ton of credit for that. They’ll lose some key pieces in 2020, but I tend to think we’ll remember 2019 as when Pruitt was able to establish his identity in this turnaround.
Texas A&M: The brutal schedule
It was definitely brutal. A&M faced 5 teams currently ranked in the top 13 … and lost to all 5 … by an average of 18 points. I realize the LSU loss skewed that number a bit, but here’s a more telling number: A&M played a total of 300 minutes of football against those teams and held a lead for 7 minutes and 42 seconds.
Granted, A&M won the rest of its games. In other words, this season went exactly how the experts thought it would. The brutal schedule prevented many from being optimistic that A&M would make that proverbial Year 2 jump with Jimbo Fisher, yet we saw against inferior competition that the Aggies were a top 15 team to start the season for a reason. Surely the Texas Bowl win will fuel the offseason hype train heading into a 2020 slate that isn’t quite as daunting as 2019.
Vanderbilt: An empty stadium that grew more deserted as the season grew
Vanderbilt is lucky that it played Georgia and LSU at home this year. Why? Without those fans traveling, those attendance numbers would be even more depressing. The LSU game in mid-September was the last time that Vandy exceeded 25,000 in paid attendance. It was ugly.
Pictures like this became a weekly staple:
— Empty Seats Galore (@EmptySeatsPics) November 23, 2019
In a weird way, Vandy has become a bit like UCLA or USC. Not because of history or tradition, but because of Nashville and how much there is to do. You cannot be bad and expect to avoid embarrassing stadium shots like that. Home fans have too many better things to do in Nashville than watch an awful football team. Sure, the Mizzou win happened. But besides that, Vandy’s season consisted of 1 nail-biter win vs. a bad Group of 5 team, a blowout win over an FCS team and 9 losses that were all by at least 3 scores.
Um, no wonder nobody wanted to spend a Saturday afternoon at Vanderbilt Stadium.