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Week 9 SEC recap: The ballad of Jim McElwain, or why ‘good looks’ matter at Florida

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Welcome to The Crock Pot, your one-stop shop for all the SEC football news, notes, quotes and mishaps you might have missed during the weekend. Here’s what we’re stewing over …

As night fell on Jacksonville, after Georgia handed Florida its worst World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party loss since 1982, Gators coach Jim McElwain was smiling.

Here’s what McElwain said when asked about his postgame demeanor: “I’ve never been about good looks. So I apologize for that, I guess.”

Those are the words of a coach who wants to get out of town — one who is and clearly has been fed up with the UF administration, boosters and fans who cross his path on a daily basis. The same man who, a handful of days earlier, alleged that he and his Florida players had received death threats without offering any sort of details to support that claim.

McElwain got his wish Sunday, as he and Florida parted ways after a 3-4 start this season.

McElwain went 22-12 while winning two SEC East titles during his three years in The Swamp. The context of those results — noncompetitive losses to Florida State, Michigan and Alabama chief among them — and his staff’s inability to develop offensive linemen or quarterbacks were exceedingly frustrating for fans, but those alone aren’t enough to spur a firing.

The loud refrain coming out of all the reporting on McElwain’s deteriorating situation centered on his attitude, both in public and behind the scenes. Winning easily would have made that friction bearable. As SEC Country’s Zach Abolverdi so poignantly notes: “Urban Meyer was a jackass at Florida and got a raise every year. He also won three SEC championships and two national titles.”

Bad optics were a clear catalyst in McElwain’s demise at Florida, and the same could be said for Tennessee coach Butch Jones. There’s a fine line SEC coaches have to walk between touting a program’s positive accomplishments (without being unbearably corny like Jones), advocating for your program (without alienating your allies as McElwain reportedly did) and standing behind your assistants (without being loyal to a fault).

McElwain defended Doug Nussmeier despite painfully obvious shortcomings on offense. Jones promoted his tight ends coach, Larry Scott, and then watched the first-time offensive coordinator struggled big-time.

Getting clobbered 42-7 by Georgia certainly didn’t help either coach, though. There’s palpable angst in the SEC East this season as one school has separated itself from the pack by a wide margin. Florida and Tennessee are proud programs, and losing to your biggest rivals will never sit well when the coach is also rubbing powers-that-be the wrong way.

Most-likely SEC bowl destinations

With four weeks left in the regular season, SEC Country sizes up where each team can expect to wind up playing in the postseason.

Alabama: Sugar Bowl (College Football Playoff)

  • Projected record: 13-0
  • Toughest remaining opponents: LSU, Auburn and (probably) Georgia
  • Reasoning: The Crimson Tide’s offense may struggle with a couple of these elite defenses left on the schedule, but there doesn’t seem to be an SEC offense that can really push Nick Saban’s defense this season.

Georgia: Rose Bowl (College Football Playoff)

  • Projected record: 12-1
  • Toughest remaining opponents: Auburn and (probably) Alabama
  • Reasoning: The Bulldogs might be the second-best team in the country. There’s a chance they squeak into the playoff, as explained here, provided we see a competitive SEC Championship Game and the emergence of a couple two-loss conference champions.

LSU: Citrus Bowl

  • Projected record: 9-3
  • Toughest remaining opponents: Alabama, Texas A&M
  • Reasoning: The Bayou Bengals get A&M at home, and they also face Tennessee and Arkansas. LSU has star power with the likes of Derrius Guice and Arden Key, along with a pretty energized fan base (how a few weeks change things!). LSU played in the Citrus last year, but there aren’t many better choices.

Mississippi State: Music City Bowl

  • Projected record: 9-3
  • Toughest remaining opponents: Alabama, Arkansas
  • Reasoning: UMass, Arkansas and Ole Miss are on the docket, and the Bulldogs have won their past three games by at least 21 points. The Music City Bowl has played host to some higher-profile matchups in recent years (LSU-Notre Dame, Texas A&M-Louisville), and MSU would make a nice addition to that list.

Auburn: Outback Bowl

  • Projected record: 8-4
  • Toughest remaining opponents: Georgia, Alabama
  • Reasoning: The Tigers have two of the better losses in the country (at Clemson, at LSU), but their best win might be a Week 4 beatdown of Mississippi State. Can Gus Malzahn’s offense get anything going against two of the country’s top defenses? Doubtful.

Kentucky: Liberty Bowl

  • Projected record: 8-4
  • Toughest remaining opponents: Georgia, Louisville
  • Reasoning: The Wildcats are enjoying a good-by-UK-standards season, even though they’ve played down to the level of their competition almost every week. Memphis isn’t too far from Lexington and could draw an intriguing opponent like West Virginia.

South Carolina: Belk Bowl

  • Projected record: 8-4
  • Toughest remaining opponents: Georgia, Clemson
  • Reasoning: Charlotte was on the table for the Gamecocks last December, and it would make sense this time around too — even though they played there in September (against N.C. State). They could draw another regional team like Wake Forest or Georgia Tech.

Texas A&M: TaxSlayer Bowl

  • Projected record: 7-5
  • Toughest remaining opponents: LSU, Auburn
  • Reasoning: The Aggies played in the Texas Bowl last year, but Jacksonville was another option on the table for them. It’s a bit of a trek from the Lone Star State, but it would also draw an ACC matchup for Texas A&M, which has played a Big 12 team in three of its past four bowl games.

Missouri: Texas Bowl

  • Projected record: 6-6
  • Toughest remaining opponents: … Florida?
  • Reasoning: Call me crazy, but I think the Tigers can drop a ton of points on any of the four teams left on its schedule: Florida, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Arkansas. They need to win three to reach 6-6, but hey, weird things happen in November.

Watching from home: Florida, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Arkansas, Ole Miss

As many as four of these teams will be looking for a new coach, and obviously Ole Miss is ineligible regardless. Vanderbilt has lost five in a row but probably has the best shot at a bowl among this group, with Western Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee on the schedule.

Highlight of the week: Not a slant pass

Florida defensive back Chauncey Gardner, when asked about Georgia’s Jake Fromm last week, said this: “Anybody can throw a slant pass — I get it.”

During the first quarter of the game, Fromm threw a beautiful back-shoulder fade to a leaping Javon Wims to put the Bulldogs up 14-0. Funny how these things tend to play out.

Interesting SEC stats from Week 9

  1. Jim McElwain is the first SEC coach to be fired coming off back-to-back division championships. The only comparable situation we can find since 2000 is Colorado coach Gary Barnett, who was forced to resign after leading the Buffaloes to consecutive Big 12 North championships. Barnett had been accused of committing NCAA violations, “financial improprieties” and “attempting to influence the sworn testimony of subordinates,” according to reports.
  2. Georgia has outscored the SEC East 212-52 this season, with Kentucky and South Carolina still on deck. The Bulldogs rank No. 3 nationally in total defense and scoring defense, as well as No. 12 in offensive yards per play (6.9). The Gamecocks, by the way, rank 107th in total offense with 343.4 yards per game. (Kudos to Dawg Nation’s Seth Emerson for the great data.)
  3. Florida’s offensive line committed several false starts Saturday that contributed to the Gators’ SEC-worst 8.1 penalties per game. The O-line also allowed Feleipe Franks to get sacked 5 times by Georgia, making it 25 sacks allowed in seven games.
  4. The SEC’s leader in yards per passing attempt is Jake Fromm with 9.9, but Missouri quarterback Drew Lock has 10 more touchdown passes than any other SEC signal caller (28).
  5. Six of the SEC’s top seven running backs, in terms of average yards per carry, play for either Alabama or Georgia. Damien Harris leads the league with 8.6 yards per touch, followed by Sony Michel, D’Andre Swift, Josh Jacobs, Elijah Holyfield and Jalen Hurts. Nick Chubb and Najee Harris are both averaging more than 5.75 YPC, as well.
  6. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that both programs have been led by stout offensive line play. Georgia has allowed just 8 sacks in 8 games, while Alabama has allowed 11. The Crimson Tide have allowed just 27 TFLs in eight games, as well.
  7. Only Clemson has more sacks as a team than Texas A&M. Despite losing Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall, the Aggies have combined for 30 sacks this season, led by Landis Durham and Otaro Alaka.

SEC power rankings after Week 9

  1. Alabama: Spared the SEC another loss while demolishing “bye week,” 245-0. (Last week: 1)
  2. Georgia: The Bulldogs have now clobbered Mississippi State, Tennessee and Florida. They should be favored by double digits next week when South Carolina comes to Sanford Stadium. (Last week: 2)
  3. Auburn: Also on bye this weekend. Texas A&M’s pass rush has been almost as good as Clemson’s, so can the Tigers’ offensive line keep Jarrett Stidham upright? (Last week: 3)
  4. Mississippi State: Methodically beat a pretty good Aggies team on the road 35-14 on the back of a 3-touchdown day from Nick Fitzgerald. The junior quarterback nearly has 2,000 total yards and 23 total touchdowns this season. (Last week: 4)
  5. LSU: Are the Bayou Bengals for real? Alabama built its reputation on exposing flawed teams and making them look silly, but the Tigers defense could give the Crimson Tide offense a little trouble. (Last week: 5)
  6. Texas A&M: This offense has not been good during a clear rebuilding year, averaging just 5.2 yards per play (second-worst in the SEC), and the game against MSU reminded us as much. But the Aggies are better than Kentucky, South Carolina and the rest of the SEC’s bottom-half. (Last week: 6)
  7. South Carolina: Beat Vandy, but not without trouble. Kurt Roper’s offensive line remains a big point of weakness on this team, but even the Gamecocks managed 212 yards rushing against the Commodores. (Last week: 7)
  8. Kentucky: Exorcised its Tennessee demons, but continues to play down to the level of its opponent. The ‘Cats should beat Ole Miss and Vandy, but expect those games to be close, as well. (Last week: 8)
  9. Florida: Well, that escalated quickly. The Nussmeier offense and the O-line particular are quite bad, but the Gators also aren’t as bad as Georgia made them look in Jacksonville. Whether they play like that without McElwain is anyone’s guess. (Last week: 9)
  10. Vanderbilt: Played relatively better against a solid South Carolina squad and should snap its five-game losing skid next week against Western Kentucky. Vandy’s last four games are all winnable. (Last week: 11)
  11. Tennessee: Nearly beat Kentucky behind good performances from youngsters Jarrett Guarantano, Ty Chandler and Carlin Fils-aime. Forced 4 turnovers, too. If anything, the coaching staff has hamstrung a pretty good offense. Time to go, Butch. (Last week: 12)
  12. Ole Miss: Lost to Arkansas. At home. Arkansas! (Last week: 10)
  13. Missouri: Dropped 52 points on UConn, which … well, the Huskies gave up 70 points against Memphis, so maybe that’s not so impressive. The Tigers are starting to look a little better, albeit against weak competition. (Last week: 13)
  14. Arkansas: Beat a bowl-ineligible team that already was missing its best player thanks to a 17-6 second-half rally. This counts as pretty good news for the Hogs in 2017. They’re still bad. (Last week: 14)

Hittin’ the links: SEC Country news you may have missed

Tweet of the week

No. No, no, no. Bad Iowa State. Bad!

The post Week 9 SEC recap: The ballad of Jim McElwain, or why ‘good looks’ matter at Florida appeared first on SEC Country.

Alec Shirkey – SEC Country

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