Last week I wrote that I believed whichever coach lost the LSU at Auburn game, Les Miles or Gus Malzahn, would be fired.
This afternoon, just as I sat down to write the Starting 11, it officially happened. Les Miles — along with offensive coordinator Cam Cameron — has been fired at LSU and Ed Orgeron has been named the interim coach.
Miles, who was hired to replace Nick Saban when he left for the Dolphins, leaves behind a top ten job that hasn’t been open in quite some time. I’ve loved writing about him at LSU, but the loss to Wisconsin and the loss to Auburn made his continued employment difficult to justify. Last year I said LSU would be crazy if they fired Miles, and I believed that he would fix his offense in the offseason and return with a top five team.
I was wrong.
LSU was even worse offensively this year than they were last year.
As much as I’m going to miss Les in the SEC, it was time for LSU to make this move.
So before we begin with the typical Starting 11 let’s discuss the top four names I believe will be in play at LSU.
1. Jimbo Fisher, Bobby Petrino, Tom Herman and Art Briles all have to be at the top of any LSU coaching list.
That’s because all four men helm offenses that can score points, something that is desperately needed at LSU.
All four have substantial questions associated with them.
The big questions on Fisher and Petrino are: a. will they come and b. can LSU afford to hire them and pay their buyouts? The big question on Art Briles is can a big time program like LSU get away with hiring him given the mess left behind at Baylor? And the question with Tom Herman is, will he come?
If all four of these guys weren’t hireable, then the decision gets pretty fascinating and opens up a great deal.
Is there any way, be still my heart, that LSU would be willing to give the keys to the program to Lane Kiffin and inaugurate the Jeauxy Swampwater era in Baton Rouge? That would be incredible to see Kiffin going up against Saban every year. (Even better would be if Kiffin left Alabama in the middle of the season, took over LSU, and coached against Saban in Baton Rouge. Would this be the most Lane Kiffin move possible?)
Could LSU go to Oklahoma State again and hire Mike Gundy? Would Dan Mullen at Mississippi State be a sexy enough hire? Could Kliff Kingsbury end up in the mix if enough names said no?
Figure, at minimum, that LSU is going to hire someone who can score a ton of points.
It’s LSU in the middle of a social media era, something that didn’t exist last time they made a hire, so this hire, honestly, will be fun as hell to follow online.
In the meantime, the high comedy is going to be off the charts, we’ve got Ed Orgeron running around the sidelines for eight games as the interim head coach of LSU. Coach O is really going to coach against Nick Saban? This. Is. Happening!
There is no telling what in the world might happen. But one thought here, if you’re Leonard Fournette do you consider just saying screw it and sitting out the rest of this season? I would. You have absolutely nothing to gain. Your season is already tanked, your coaching staff is gone, why risk serious injury at this point?
2. Tennessee’s win over Florida was as big of a program win for the Vols as there has been in a decade.
It wasn’t just that the Vols dominated Florida in the second half — at one point midway through the fourth quarter having scored 35 points while giving up only 11 yards on defense. This was a beat down for the ages, eleven years of frustration finally erased in a medley of perfection on both sides of the ball.
I halfway expected for Butch Jones to punch Jim McElwain at the end of the game, climb on top of him and keep punching him until somebody dragged him off Office Space style.
That’s how much this win meant to the Volunteer program.
And I’ll admit it, at halftime I was convinced the Gators were going to make it 12 in a row. I had no faith. That’s why this second half was so much fun. It’s like going to prom by yourself and ending up in an orgy with three perfect tens.
Also, think about this, the Gator defense entered the game ranked number one in virtually every statistical category and the Vols were close to hanging nearly sixty on them. (Tennessee dropped an easy touchdown catch, threw an interception in the end zone, and ended the game on the Gator one yard line. They also threw another interception in the red zone.)
I firmly believe this was a slingshot game, that is, it’s worth more than one win because of the weight it lifts and the degree to which it propels the Vols forward. I believe Tennessee will head down to Georgia now and beat the Bulldogs and basically have the SEC East locked up by October 1.
Beating Georgia in Athens would mean the Bulldogs would need the Vols to lose three games, effectively eliminating Georgia from the SEC East race. Meanwhile, nothing I saw from the Gators makes me think they’re going to run the table either. So beat Georgia and even if Tennessee lost to both Texas A&M and Alabama, the Vols would still be highly likely to win the East by beating Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Missouri, and South Carolina, four teams with vastly inferior talent to Tennessee.
The win over Florida also raises the tantalizing possibility — try not to get carried away Vol fans — that if Tennessee can go 2-1 in the next three games, the Vols would likely be 11-1 in Atlanta and competing for a spot in the playoff at season’s end. (Honestly, this effectively makes the SEC title game a playoff game too, a default Elite 8 game, since the winner advances to the Final Four, just like in the NCAA tournament).
Josh Dobbs finally put together everything in the passing game and the young Vol receivers and tight ends — Josh Malone, Jauan Jennings, and Ethan Wolfe — all made huge touchdown catches.
I’ve been watching football my entire life and I’m not sure I’ve ever enjoyed a half more than this one.
Go. Big. Orange.
3. Texas A&M looked capable of winning the SEC West against Arkansas.
Let’s first address the new standard being applied by the SEC in replay reviews.
While there are far too many plays being replayed — seriously, college football needs to model its game on the NFL’s. You notice how every NFL game is over in a little more than three hours and many college games now extend past four hours? — the SEC is applying the correct standard. They are only overturning calls on the field when you can 100% confirm that the call on the field is wrong.
Two great examples of this have involved Texas A&M, both on goal line plays.
Against UCLA in week one I believe that Trevor Knight scored on third down in overtime. But the call on the field was that he was down just short of the goal line — you couldn’t 100% tell from replay otherwise – and so A&M ended up scoring on fourth down.
Against Arkansas I believe that Austin Allen probably scored on a third down sneak with his second effort, but the call on the field was that he was down and you couldn’t 100% confirm he scored via replay. On fourth down Arkansas was stopped and two plays later A&M hit a huge pass play to turn the game into a shootout.
I believe the SEC central office is doing its best to apply a consistent and fair standard which was the initial intent of replay — you only change the call if you can 100% determine it was wrong. Otherwise it stays the same.
Further credit to the SEC for getting the chaotic end of game situation correct between LSU and Auburn. That was a complicated mess that could have easily been bungled and turned into a huge controversy. (See, the Big 12.) But instead the SEC got a complicated call completely right.
As for the on the field, I love this A&M team right now. Their defense is stout and their quarterback is becoming a really difficult player to defend in both the running and passing game. Now the big question is this, after they beat South Carolina and get to 5-0, how will the Aggies close out the season with games against Tennessee, at Alabama, Ole Miss and LSU?
The past two seasons A&M has stumbled down the stretch.
Given that three of these four games are at home, it’s not too early to point out that A&M could go 11-1 and find itself in the mix for the playoff even without winning the SEC West.
And if Tennessee beats Georgia, how big is that game in College Station between two undefeated teams going to be? Especially because the winner of this game would get undefeated Alabama.
Either Tennessee could be 6-0 with Alabama coming to town or A&M could be 5-0 headed to Tuscaloosa to take on an undefeated Alabama team.
Get your popcorn.
4. Ole Miss is probably a top ten football team.
They are really, really good. Chad Kelly is the best quarterback in the SEC and he has the best receiving corps in the SEC, even if they are young. This is an incredibly fun offense to watch.
The Rebels are really getting their money’s worth.
I have Ole Miss as the fourth best team in the SEC and it’s certainly possible they are the second best.
The beat down they put on Georgia was incredible to watch. Not since William Tecumseh Sherman marched through the state of Georgia, has an entire state howled this loudly?
You just don’t beat the Bulldogs like that.
Somewhere Mark Richt had to be laughing on the beach.
If Kirby Smart loses to Tennessee, he’s going to be thanking his lucky stars they found a way to beat Mizzou because otherwise that would have been a series of body blows in his first year.
The Georgia defense is awful and that offensive line can’t protect Jacob Eason.
As good as Eason is, and I still think he’s going to be phenomenal, the receiving corps has major issues and you have to wonder how committed Nick Chubb is going to be to this team if they lose to the Vols and there aren’t very many substantial goals left to play for. Why risk further injury for a team that’s playing for an Outback Bowl berth?
And, let me tell you this right now, Vol defensive end Derek Barnett is going to murder your offensive line next week.
Seriously, it isn’t going to be pretty.
If you doubt me, ask Florida about him.
5. Stanford’s final drive was impressive and important for the Pac 12.
But the strip and score on the final play of the game to turn a sure UCLA win — or at worst a push — into a crushing gambling defeat is the kind of loss that will leave gamblers awake at night staring at the ceiling pondering why your karma has gone so wrong.
But that was a huge win for the Pac 12’s playoff chances. (As was Washington’s overtime win over Arizona which sets up a top ten match up against Stanford on Friday night.)
If Stanford can beat Washington, they don’t play another top 25 opponent for the rest of the season. Of course, the one flaw of David Shaw’s otherwise sterling resume has been the frequency with which the Cardinal lose a game to an unranked opponent — Clemson’ing has really become Stanford’ing — but beat Washington and Stanford will be favored in every game remaining on the schedule.
But if Stanford slips up, look out, then the Pac 12 champ could be left on the outside looking in when the playoffs are selected.
The Pac 12 really needs either Stanford or Washington to run the table. (Or Utah, but that’s not going to happen.)
6. Wisconsin dominated Michigan State.
I’ll admit it, I was completely wrong about this game.
Given that I predicted Michigan State would win with ease I need to disappear like Mark Dantonio did here.
I think we’re going to find out that there’s a huge gap in the Big Ten between Ohio State and Michigan and everyone else.
7. What is USC going to do about Clay Helton?
Now that LSU has already acted aggressively to fire Les Miles is USC really going to bring back Clay Helton next season? Especially if, as seems somewhat likely, they go 4-8 this season?
That’s a tough sell in a Los Angeles market that suddenly has the NFL competing for attention.
Don’t you have to do whatever it takes to get Chip Kelly to leave the 49ers and take over your program?
Deploy the dump trucks of cash, Trojan fans.
8. Oregon is ordinary again.
You knew it was probably going to happen once Chip Kelly left, but Marcus Mariota helped to paper over the decline of Oregon’s program.
Where once the Ducks were elite, going 24-4 with Mariota still at quarterback, the Ducks are now 11-6 in their past seventeen games.
Putting that 11-6 into perspective, Kelly lost just five games in his final three seasons with Oregon.
9. Michigan thoroughly dominated Penn State.
Now I really want to see Michigan against Wisconsin this weekend to confirm my theory that the Wolverines and Buckeyes are head and shoulders above everyone else in the conference.
If the Wolverines handle Wisconsin with ease — and I think they will — then it may be time to buckle up for undefeated Michigan against undefeated Ohio State in Columbus.
That’s like a playoff game before the playoffs even start.
And it also puts the Big Ten in the running to get two teams into the playoff.
Meanwhile there are going to be some big wins posted between now and then with Michigan playing Rutgers, Maryland, Illinois, Indiana and Iowa.
Harbaugh’s teams are a buzz saw right now.
I’d still make Ohio State the favorite to make the playoff from the Big Ten, but this is going to be a hell of a game.
College football is just better when big programs are back up top, and we may be there with Tennessee and Michigan both cycling back up at the same time.
10. Gus Malzahn got a big win over LSU, but I don’t think he’s safe by a long shot.
Auburn should definitely beat Louisiana-Monroe and Alabama A&M to get to four wins, but given how bad this offense looks the entire rest of the season appears to be a mine field.
Mississippi State, Arkansas, and Georgia are all, at best, toss up games. I think Ole Miss and Alabama are significantly better than Auburn and the Tigers will lose both. Finally, Vanderbilt is floating out there as a guaranteed firing if they trip up in that game.
I just don’t see Gus going better than 6-6.
Will that be enough to keep his job?
I doubt it.
But for now, by the slimmest of margins, Gus Malzahn kept his job and Les Miles lost his.
11. SEC power rankings 1-14:
Remember, I only rank teams based on the actual games we’ve seen, not on our preseason expectations.
2. Texas A&M
4. Ole Miss
I’m going to be honest with y’all, I think every team in the SEC from 10-14 is effectively the same team and they’re virtually indistinguishable from each other. But here’s my best guess after four weeks given that every single team is 2-2.
11. Mississippi State
14. South Carolina
I realize that South Carolina beat Vandy, but Vandy’s road win over Western Kentucky is the best win that any of the bottom four teams have by a pretty substantial margin. And, amazingly, if Vandy doesn’t choke away a ten point home lead against South Carolina the Commodores are somehow 3-1.
So this is my best guess for now.