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Week 10 SEC recap: Auburn controls its own destiny; can Gus Malzahn revive 2013 magic?

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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 …

Let’s get a cold truth out of the way right now: The SEC has rarely been worse than what we’ve seen in 2017.

Now, last season was pretty bad. You had a bunch of mediocre-to-awful offenses, a cluster of weak defenses on top of that and a bunch of inexperienced head coaches trying to develop young quarterbacks. The end result was Auburn, a team without any sort of difference maker at quarterback, making the Sugar Bowl as the conference’s second-best team.

But let’s focus on the present, where we’re less than a week into November, and there are only about five games left that truly matter in the conference race. All of them involve some combination of Alabama, Georgia and Auburn. That’s it.

Florida and Tennessee are atrocious messes. Arkansas, Ole Miss, Missouri and Vanderbilt are varying degrees of bad. Kentucky just lost to the Rebels, and Texas A&M looks mediocre once again. South Carolina, Mississippi State and LSU are the only respectably good teams outside this top 3, but they’ve all had their bad moments. The Gamecocks lost to Kentucky at home. MSU struggled to dispatch UMass. LSU lost to Troy!

The SEC is top-heavy, but the league’s elite trio will all butt heads within the next month. Georgia plays at Auburn this weekend, the Iron Bowl takes place two weeks after that and, finally, Georgia and (probably) Alabama clash in Atlanta.

Lost in all of the focus on the country’s No. 1- and No. 2-ranked teams is Auburn, which still has a shot at winning the conference. The Tigers will have to beat Georgia, Alabama and Georgia again to do it, but isn’t this exactly the sort of wild run Gus Malzahn helped orchestrate in 2013?

Granted, he had Nick Marshall making all sorts of plays under center back then, and Jarrett Stidham is a completely different sort of quarterback. However, Stidham has quietly come into his own since the Week 2 disaster at Clemson, which was mostly the fault of his offensive line, anyway.

The highlight to date was Stidham’s Week 10 performance against Texas A&M: 20-of-27 passing, 268 yards and 3 touchdowns. More impressively, he completed passes to six different players during the game. On the season, five different receivers have at least 200 yards.

Uncoincidentally, Auburn’s offensive line has also improved in pass protection across recent weeks. Clemson, which has the second-highest sack total in the nation this season, dropped Stidham 11 times during Week 2. Texas A&M and LSU, the No. 3 and No. 6-ranked sack artists in FBS, combined for 5 sacks against Auburn — not perfect by any means, but a marked improvement.

Now, consider Georgia, an elite defense despite only recording 17 sacks in nine games. Three of those came against FCS Samford, and another 5 against the god-awful Gators offensive line. It’s not an area of strength for the Bulldogs, to be sure.

If Stidham gets time to read the field in Jordan-Hare next Saturday, he can exploit the Georgia secondary and give Auburn a fighting chance to upset the No. 1 team in the country. The Bulldogs have not given up many long passing plays at all in 2017, but they’ve come close to doing so and saw South Carolina’s Jake Bentley test them deep several times last weekend.

It’s likely Will Muschamp and his staff saw something there. Missouri, we should note, hit two 63-yard passing touchdowns against Georgia in October. Stidham is easily the best quarterback Georgia will have faced since Drew Lock.

We’re not going to be on Malzahn making some magic happen on The Plains this Saturday, but it’s happened before.

3 more things you might have missed in Week 10: Hot seats, hot seats everywhere

Things have escalated very quickly on the SEC coaching front, where Jim McElwain has already been fired and as many as five more coaching jobs could open up within the coming weeks. Let’s break them down for the purpose of everyone already looking ahead to 2018.

1. The no-doubt openings: Florida, Tennessee and Ole Miss

McElwain is gone. Butch Jones is, for all intents and purposes, also gone; Vols athletic director John Currie is waiting until the end of the season, much to the chagrin of most fans. Ole Miss will include interim coach Matt Luke in its search, but he’s almost certainly a fail-safe option if a potentially wild coaching cycle falls in the Rebels’ favor.

Florida and Tennessee are premier jobs, of course, but it’s unlikely either school manages to land anyone who’s retired, currently working a media gig or a program icon (see: Bob Stoops, Les Miles, Chip Kelly, Jon Gruden, Steve Spurrier, Peyton Manning). Dan Mullen certainly isn’t leaving Mississippi State for Tennessee, and unless athletic director Scott Stricklin is ready to write his former charge a blank check, Florida seems like a real reach, as well.

Bobby Petrino makes sense from the Louisville coach’s perspective, given the uncertain future of the Cardinals’ athletic department. But is either program really willing to take that sort of public relations risk? Doubtful.

The most likely answers also are the most obvious: Scott Frost to Florida and Mike Norvell to Tennessee. Both have head coaching experience. They know their respective state’s recruiting grounds. And, most importantly, Norvell and Frost have shown the ability to win quickly. Frost’s play-calling acumen in particular makes him a great fit for the Gators, who have endured seven consecutive seasons of pitiful offensive football.

Ole Miss is a trickier hire to project. Norvell makes plenty of sense. So do Troy coach Neal Brown and University of Texas at San Antonio’s Frank Wilson. Obviously, whoever it is has to be comfortable with a rebuild and talking about “culture change” ad nauseam.

2. Very likely to reboot: Arkansas and Texas A&M

The Hogs almost lost to 1-7 Coastal Carolina on Saturday. Fans are more than fed up with Bret Bielema — and not just the crazy ones who frequent Hogville! In their defense, they should be fed up. He is 29-31 in almost five seasons, including 11-26 in the SEC, and nothing about 2017 suggests the program is trending upward.

Texas A&M has long been a suspected coaching vacancy, given what athletic director Scott Woodward publicly said about Kevin Sumlin’s 2017 expectations. Media outlets are now reporting that the Aggies are preparing for life without Sumlin once the season ends.

Texas A&M might be an even more appealing job than Florida or Tennessee, depending on the coach in question. The Aggies have invested boatloads of money into their facilities and branding. They’re also in the heart of prime Texas ‘crootin territory. Chad Morris seems to make too much sense, but there’s also the oft-discussed cast of Frost, Norvell and Willie Taggart in play here, we’d guess.

Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long might be inclined to hold onto Bielema, if only because of the ultra-competitive job market that’s going to exist this year. Tennessee, Florida, Texas A&M, UCLA and Nebraska could all be looking for new coaches. Where does Arkansas rank among those schools? Probably behind all of them. Couple that market with Bielema’s buyout and it’s not crazy to see him sticking around, even amid a truly embarrassing season for the Hogs.

3. If things go awry (and maybe even if they don’t): Auburn

Athletic director Jay Jacobs’ “decision” to step down complicates matters, because it’s no longer truly his decision whether Malzahn stays or goes. He and Malzahn reportedly weren’t on the best of terms during recent seasons, which led some to speculate that the longtime Arkansas high school coach might leave for Fayetteville if Bielema was fired.

It’s possible Malzahn is tired of Auburn and eager to get out of town. More likely is we’ll see him around for at least one more season, at which point Jacobs’ eventual replacement makes a long-term call regarding the Gus Bus.

Highlight of the week: Football alley-oop

Kyle Shurmur finished 14-of-21 passing for 220 yards during Vanderbilt’s 31-17 win against Western Kentucky, and perhaps no play was more impressive (lucky?) than this PBU-turned-touchdown courtesy of the football gods. Hilltoppers can’t catch a break, man.

Interesting SEC stats from Week 10

  1. Georgia no longer sports a perfect red zone offense in 2017 after wideout Terry Godwin fumbled inside the South Carolina 20 on Saturday. But the Bulldogs still lead the nation in red zone conversion, scoring 35 times in 36 attempts. The next-best SEC teams are Ole Miss (34 of 36) and Auburn (37 of 40). Alabama is 41 of 46.
  2. Even with star quarterback Shea Patterson sidelined for the rest of the season, Ole Miss receiver A.J. Brown remains head and shoulders above his SEC peers. The sophomore from Starkville leads the conference in yards with 830, which puts him more than 200 yards ahead of the SEC’s No. 3 receiver Emanuel Hall. Brown is also tied for the conference lead in catches (48) and second in touchdown grabs (7). He caught 7 passes for 65 yards and a touchdown against Kentucky with backup Jordan Ta’amu under center for the Rebels.
  3. Speaking of Ta’amu, he straight-out torched Kentucky for 382 yards passing and 4 touchdowns on Saturday. Mark Stoops’ Wildcats are now the SEC’s worst passing defense, allowing nearly 280 yards per game in a conference without many elite passers.
  4. A great stat from SEC Country colleague Jordan McPherson:

SEC power rankings after Week 10

  1. Alabama: Unlike the playoff committee, we’re more than satisfied with what Alabama has accomplished to date, and a pedestrian offensive game against LSU doesn’t really move the needle much. (Last week: 1)
  2. Georgia: South Carolina is a pesky, well-coached team — the sort that’s in good position to upset the nation’s top-ranked team — and as coach Kirby Smart noted after the game, the Gamecocks outplayed the Bulldogs at times. Still, Georgia rolled up 242 yards rushing and held South Carolina to 42 on the ground. (Last week: 2)
  3. Auburn: Texas A&M has one of the SEC’s better defenses this season, so it must be heartening for fans to see Stidham enjoy one of his best games in a Tigers uniform at Kyle Field (20 of 27, 268 yards, 3 touchdowns). Up next: Georgia. (Last week: 3)
  4. Mississippi State: Looked groggy against UMass and will no doubt lose to Alabama by double-digits. But 9-3 is within Dan Mullen’s reach. (Last week: 4)
  5. LSU: The rivalry game played out much like the last four or five have: A low-scoring, Big Ten-esque affair where the Tigers were once again done in by their lack of weapons in the passing game. D.J. Chark can’t do it alone. (Last week: 5)
  6. South Carolina: The Gamecocks can finish 8-4 if they beat an imploding Florida squad at home next weekend, and should that happen, they’ll finish No. 2 in the SEC East if Kentucky loses to Georgia. (Last week: 7)
  7. Texas A&M: The Aggies are now 5-4 after getting manhandled by Auburn at home, where they haven’t beaten an SEC West opponent since 2015. At this point, Sumlin probably needs to win out to keep his job secure. (Last week: 6)
  8. Kentucky: Giving up 37 points to Ole Miss at home, when the bowl-ineligible Rebels are playing their backup quarterback, is inexcusable for coach Mark Stoops. Few teams are more confounding than the 2017 Wildcats. Had Ole Miss not lost to Arkansas, we’d have UK lower. (Last week: 8)
  9. Ole Miss: Phil Longo’s offense is fun as heck to watch, and on the right day, it makes the Rebels a fantastic spoiler. Who’s to say they couldn’t beat Texas A&M in two weeks? Were it not for the Arkansas loss, Ole Miss would be higher. (Last week: 12)
  10. Vanderbilt: The Commodores, like Mizzou, are playing for bowl eligibility. They draw Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee over the final three weeks, and need to beat two. That’s do-able. (Last week: 10)
  11. Missouri: Well, how about that? Barry Odom’s defense finally showed up, and against a team with clearly superior talent. The Tigers need only beat two of Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Arkansas to make a bowl. (Last week: 13)
  12. Florida: So, this is what rock bottom looks like. Not even the 2013 squad that went 4-8 under Muschamp suffered a loss this bad. Time to reboot the machine. (Last week: 9)
  13. Tennessee: Two defensive takeaways masked another sad performance by the Vols offense, which averaged 2.5 yards per carry and went 2 for 13 on third down. Jarrett Guarantano’s injury obviously influenced that, but still … yuck. Missouri should be favored next Saturday. (Last week: 11)
  14. Arkansas: Two words: Coastal Carolina. When the team Twitter account is celebrating a one-point home win against a team that lost to Western Illinois, 52-10, you know the program has lost its way. (Last week: 14)

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

Tweets of the week: Move aside, savage pads

God bless Kennesaw State football, the true winners of the weekend.

As a bonus: Here’s a good, old-fashioned coaching freakout, which in this case was completely warranted.

The post Week 10 SEC recap: Auburn controls its own destiny; can Gus Malzahn revive 2013 magic? appeared first on SEC Country.

Alec Shirkey – SEC Country

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