Three-Point Stance: SEC gone wild; freshman defenders; next FSU?
Rivals National Columnist Mike Farrell is here with some thoughts about the impossible standards of the SEC, some defensive true freshmen who didn’t make his Farrell 15 and five programs who could be headed the way of Florida State - downhill.
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1. ARE SEC TEAMS SETTING UNREALISTIC STANDARDS?
What has the SEC become? Gobbling up Texas and Oklahoma and now setting the bar impossibly high for any head coach to have long-term success. I will say this without hesitation: Nick Saban is the final SEC coach who will last longer than a decade — ever. How do I know this? Take a look at Ed Orgeron.
Many, including myself, questioned the hire of Orgeron, but the man is now 49-18 overall, 30-15 in conference and he has won a national title. And he’s on his way out — essentially fired.
Yes, there are many off-field issues that likely helped make this decision, but how do you do much better in the SEC West with Saban? The bar, essentially the Saban bar, is set so high it’s almost impossible to succeed and last at the SEC level. Saban is 172-24 (100-16 in conference) at Alabama with six national titles. At LSU he was 48-16 overall and 28-12 in conference with a national title before being lured away by the Miami Dolphins for millions of dollars. That LSU record looks awfully similar to Orgeron’s, but yet old Ed O is being shown the door. And why? Because the Saban bar has made things ridiculous.
So, I will say this with confidence — Saban will be the last coach in the history of the SEC to last more than 15 years at one school. He’s in year 15 at Alabama and no one else is close. Mark Stoops is in his ninth year at Kentucky, and he has a chance with his career 55-51 record, but expectations at Kentucky are obviously different than they are at Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Florida, Auburn and elsewhere. Kirby Smart has been around since 2016, the same year Orgeron took over for Les Miles at LSU, but after that it’s a whole lot of newbies. Smart has been amazing at 59-14 (37-9 in conference) but if he doesn’t win a national title this year with the No. 1 team in the country, watch for the naysayers to exclaim he can’t win the big one.
It’s simply become ridiculous, and we are going to see more and more coaches fired in year three or even two at the SEC level than ever before.
2. STANDOUT FRESHMAN DEFENDERS
Last week I gave a shoutout to some offensive true freshmen that didn’t make my mid-season Farrell Freshman 15. This week I give some love to some true freshmen defenders.
DE Josiah Stewart, Coastal Carolina — Stewart has 3.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss, not a bad start for an underrecruited kid.
DE Shemar Turner, Texas A&M — Turner certainly wasn’t underrecruited, and he’s shown signs of why with 10 tackles and 1.5 sacks.
DE BJ Green, Arizona State — He only has four tackles, but he has three sacks and three tackles for loss among them.
DT Byron Murphy, Texas — He’s made his presence known with eight tackles and a sack and has been around the ball.
LB Danny Stutsman, Oklahoma — With 22 tackles he has a great future in the Big 12.
LB Branden Jennings, Maryland — He has 19 tackles with one for loss and is living up to the hype.
DB Sayi Oladipo, Boise State — He has two picks for 83 yards and three pass breakups already.
DB Billy Bowman, Oklahoma — He has 20 tackles with two for loss, and he has shown he’s an aggressive defensive back.
DB Kamren Kinchens, Miami — He’s forced a fumble, broken up a pass and made 20 tackles so far.
DB Jason Marshall, Florida — The big corner has 12 tackles, including one for loss, and a pass breakup.
DB Calen Bullock, USC — With 25 tackles and one interception he’s been huge for the USC defense.
DB Tysheem Johnson, Ole Miss — With 36 tackles and a pick he just missed the top 15.
DB Jimmy Wyrick, Stanford — He has four pass breakups and a pick already and is a heady player.
3. WHICH TEAMS COULD BE ON A SLIPPERY SLOPE?
And finally, some of the massive disappointments this season got me to wondering. Which team is the next Florida State? By this I mean a team that becomes so bad a few years removed from national prominence that it’s kind of astonishing. Here are five teams that need to be careful, because things can go off the rails quickly.
USC: We all knew that Clay Helton's days were numbered, we just weren't sure exactly when they would come to an end. But after his firing this season, the team has gone 2-3 with wins over an awful Colorado team and over Washington State, which has a myriad of its own problems. UCLA has some momentum this season and is starting to pick it up on the recruiting front. Oregon has also made a lot of inroads in California, as has Arizona State, so the Trojans' former stranglehold on high-end prep talent in the state is fading. We've seen USC be down for short stints before (does anyone remember the Paul Hackett era?) but out of this group, the Trojans should be able to bounce back the fastest, based on history. But what if they make another bad hire?
Clemson: The big question at this point is if this season is a blip on the radar or a harbinger of things to come for the Tigers. There were a couple of cracks on the surface last season with questionable offensive line play, but this season that unit is an out-and-out disaster, and they're not getting nearly the level of QB play that they expected. It's not like they don't have talent in the pipeline - they've had top 10 classes the last four cycles, but all good things must come to an end (unless you're Alabama), right?
Wisconsin: Paul Chryst was 52-16 in his first five seasons back at his alma mater, but after a middling 4-3 campaign in the COVID-shortened season last year and lots of offensive struggles this year, it looks like the classic Wisconsin formula needs some tweaking. The offensive line play has been awful by Wisconsin standards, and Graham Mertz has not taken the step forward that everyone expected him to. The offense in general looks constipated, and the pre-snap shifts and motion that were a hallmark of the Badgers' best offenses are all but gone. Unless they make some coaching changes in Madison (especially along the O-line and on special teams, where they're one of the worst units in the country), there's a significant chance that they backslide to the middle of the pack in the Big Ten West - or possibly even worse.
Virginia Tech: At this point it's evident to pretty much everyone that Justin Fuente was not the right hire to succeed Frank Beamer in Blacksburg. He's 41-30 in five-and-a-half seasons, and the Hokies are staring down the barrel of another losing campaign this year with no discernible identity on either side of the ball. They're in the bottom 30 of the country in total offense, passing offense, passing efficiency, scoring offense, total first downs and red zone offense this season, and they have regressed defensively. There wasn't a lot to cheer for before Beamer took over the program, and there's a good chance that they return to that status if they don't get rid of Fuente and find the right guy to lead the program.
LSU: No way, right? With such an amazing in-state recruiting advantage there is no way LSU could fall from a national title in 2019 to a losing program over the next several years. Well, it can happen if they make a bad hire, because Alabama isn’t going anywhere, Texas A&M and Ole Miss are on the come up and Auburn looks good under Bryan Harsin. Be careful what you wish for LSU brain trust.