So the top 40 has finally arrived for the rundown.
Oh, and there’s still 10 (10!) SEC schools left to go through.
This segment will do a solid job of putting a dent in that total, including both of the league’s newcomers from Big 12 country.
But first …
Derek Dooley is certainly swimming against the currents of history. The third-year coach tossed up 6-7 and 5-7 seasons in his first two years in Knoxville, and that doesn’t bode well for anyone who thinks Dooley in the man for the job for more than a couple seasons.
The last half-century or so in the SEC bears out a folksy wisdom that if a pup is gonna bite, it’s gonna bite young. Behold: A full list of SEC coaches since 1960 who opened their careers with two losing seasons and lasted at least five years on the job:
|Charlie Bradshaw, Kentucky
|Charley Shira, Mississippi State
|Doug Barfield, Auburn
|Steve Sloan, Mississippi
|George MacIntyre, Vanderbilt
|Watson Brown, Vanderbilt
|Bill Curry, Kentucky
|Woody Widenhofer, Vanderbilt
|Bobby Johnson, Vanderbilt
|Rich Brooks, Kentucky
|Sylvester Croom, Mississippi State
Yes, there is a notable Kentucky and Vanderbilt influence on this list that skews things a bit. But nonetheless, the upside for a long-haul SEC coach over the last 50 years who debuted with consecutive losing seasons is … Rich Brooks, who to his credit went 30-22 with four bowl bids over his final four years.
For the other 10 coaches on the list, there’s little to show for their troubles: A combined seven winning seasons and four bowl appearances.
Which brings things back to Dooley, who admittedly inherited a less-than-stellar situation —- a little more than a year removed from the bitter end to the Phil Fulmer years and in the wake of the Lane Kiffin pit stop. But with much of his roster back, Dooley at minimum better reverse last year’s 5-7 mark. An early win over Florida would do wonders for both Dooley and the Volunteers, who have suffered through three losing seasons in four years.
No one should ever, ever fire a coordinator based on a single bowl game, even if your defense surrenders 777 yards and makes the reigning Heisman Trophy winner look even more Tecmo Bo-like than he had in the regular season.
But last year’s Alamo Bowl wasn’t the only time Washington looked ridiculous on defense; the five ranked opponents it faced averaged 51.4 points last season.
And so out went Nick Holt for understandable reasons, and in came Justin Wilcox and up went hopes for improvement beyond 7-6 in Seattle.
It’s a nice thought, especially with a more-than-capable quarterback in Keith Price returning. But the key for the Huskies will simply be surviving until the second half of the season.
Washington faces Louisiana State in the season’s second week, then opens Pac-12 play against Stanford, Oregon and Southern California. It’s utterly unforgiving, and Washington is an early favorite to be the best team under .500 once mid-October arrives. It’s a bunch that could yet get itself into a respectable spot, but it’s also a candidate to be a team with a bit of buzz to completely crumble in the crucible of a nasty schedule.
38. TEXAS A&M
Well, the Aggies are finally free of their burnt orange overlords. Now all they have to do is deal with Louisiana State. And Alabama. And Auburn. And old friend Arkansas.
This might just turn out to be trading the devil you know for the devil you don’t. At least for now, that doesn’t seem to really bother the Aggies, what with the metaphorical flipping off of Texas on the way to the Ess Eee See.
Only time will tell if this was a wise choice in any way other than collecting more money. The Aggies have leaped from the second-deepest league in the country to the deepest and have done so a decade and a half removed from their last 10-win season.
They’ve also done so while undergoing a coaching change, bringing in Kevin Sumlin from Houston. How much he revs up A&M’s offense is also debatable; the Aggies lost four games last year when they scored 29 points and two more when they scored 25.
Sumlin’s good, but he probably won’t fix all of Texas A&M’s problems —- and surely not this fall. Considering the changes (from league to scheme to quarterback), finishing fourth or fifth in the SEC West sounds about right.
Oh, that AIRBHG is crafty. The Angry Iowa Running Back-Hating God no doubt chortled as two of the Hawkeyes’ top four rushers from last year transferred shortly after the season. The No. 2 rusher blew out a knee in spring ball. The No. 3 rusher was dismissed from the team.
As vengeful deities go, AIRBHG surely possesses the sort of furor Jonathan Edwards long ago imagined. But here’s the problem: The Iowa tailback curse hasn’t stopped the Hawkeyes from rattling off plenty of winning seasons.
And it won’t this year, either.
In fact, Iowa won’t play a true road game until Oct. 13, owning a real chance to roll into Michigan State with a 5-0 record. The Hawkeyes have a veteran quarterback (James Vandenberg). They have a capable defense.
In short, they have a lot of things. One of them just happens not to be a tailback. But Iowa will find one somehow, hope like hell he doesn’t get hurt and wind up 8-4 or 7-5 when the regular season comes to a close.
Things you just wouldn’t expect:
MOST CONSECUTIVE EIGHT-WIN SEASONS
14: Virginia Tech
13: Boise State
12: Louisiana State
10: Southern California
10: West Virginia
7: Texas Christian
There’s Missouri, owner of seven straight winning seasons and three 10-victory campaigns since 2007 in the top 10 percentile of consistently sound programs. It has an offensive system that works, a returning quarterback (James Franklin, suddenly a quite popular name in the SEC East) and a defense that more often than not proves competent.
Like with Texas A&M, it will be a while before anyone knows if the whole move-to-the-SEC thing turns out for the best. But with Mizzou, it could not have picked a better time to try.
In some ways, it won’t be that much different than the Big Eight/Big 12 days. There were programs in Mizzou’s old league that, if they were near their peak, would be better than the Tigers —- Oklahoma and Nebraska in the Big Eight, that pair and Texas in the Big 12. Now, it’s just a matter of subbing Florida and Alabama and Louisiana State in.
The Tigers got a better landing spot for the long term than Texas A&M, in the same division as Kentucky and Vanderbilt. It’s not going to be a picnic dealing with Florida and Georgia and (if it sustains the last couple years) South Carolina, but the Tigers can still produce mid-tier bowl bids and occasionally jump up for a 10-win season. That probably won’t happen this fall, but look for Missouri to acquit itself reasonable well in its SEC debut.
—- Patrick Stevens