This past Saturday night Dan Mullen’s Mississippi State Bulldogs traveled to Death Valley and delivered one of the worst beatings of the Les Miles era at LSU. In fact, the only LSU beating I can think of that was worse was the BCS title game. Sure, LSU has lost games before, but rarely has anyone handled the Tigers like Mullen’s State team did. This was Dan Mullen’s best win during his tenure in Starkville.
Given that Mullen’s biggest win took place in the immediate aftermath of Alabama’s destruction of Florida, it was hard not to think of this as Mullen’s audition for the Florida Gator job. Ever since Mullen and Tim Tebow left Florida, the Gator program has been on a steady decline. Earlier this week I gave you my four top candidates for the Florida job — Art Briles, Mike Gundy, Bobby Petrino, and, just maybe, Bob Stoops. But assuming all four of these guys said no, where would the Gators go to replace Will Muschamp?
Given that Muschamp’s defensive focus doesn’t really fit the Florida culture — Gator fans want points and entertainment, just winning isn’t exciting enough for them — how many viable offensive candidates are there that have won as a head coach? The easy answer is, not many. Dan Mullen might be the most realistic hire that Florida could make to replace Muschamp. In fact, I’d even go so far as to make him the favorite because unlike the other names I’ve mentioned I can’t imagine Mullen turning down the Florida job. He’d be able to take over at one of the top jobs in the country in a much weaker SEC East.
Interestingly enough, I’d also make the coach on the other sideline Saturday night in Death Valley a favorite for another major job — can Michigan really do better than Les Miles? (I’m assuming that Jim Harbaugh isn’t coming). This will be the third time the Michigan job has come open since Les took over at LSU. While he’s a bit loony, Miles makes smart decisions. Michigan is a smart decision, allowing Miles to finish his coaching career as the savior who returned Michigan football to promise.
Given the coaching and player talent in the SEC West right now, isn’t it much easier to make the playoffs in the Big Ten than it is in the SEC? I think that’s a no brainer. Look at the success James Franklin has already had in his first season in Happy Valley. This year Miles may have the 7th best team in the SEC West, but based on their victory over Wisconsin, LSU could definitely win the Big Ten.
The SEC West isn’t getting easier since Nick Saban, Gus Malzahn, Kevin Sumlin and Bret Bielema aren’t going anywhere soon. (Unless Sumlin gets the Cowboys job). Hugh Freeze seems pretty locked in at Ole Miss. Sure, Dan Mullen may leave Starkville, but do you really think the SEC West is going to get easier anytime soon? I don’t. So the timing is perfect for Miles to leave Baton Rouge.
College football is fascinating because sometimes you can look back on a single game and in retrospect everything that follows seems crystal clear. It’s early, but it’s possible that Mississippi State at LSU is just such a game. Mullen, at the absolute peak of where he can take Mississippi State, and Les Miles at the low tide of his LSU tenure. Doesn’t it make sense for both men to leave for two of the premier jobs in football?
Last Saturday night we may well have seen the next coaches of Florida and Michigan on opposing sidelines on a Louisiana Saturday night.