Dark Horse Candidates for the 2017 Heisman Trophy

The Heisman Trophy is an award that has a lot of favorites every year, but usually the winner of the award is someone that is unexpected. Last year Lamar Jackson won the Heisman with 50/1 odds. For the 2017 season there a lot of players who can win the award that don’t have any listed odds (Baker Mayfield not listed for off the field issues). This year the race is wide open and these are the guys to look at that are under the radar:

 

Jarrett Stidham, QB, Auburn

Stidham has experience playing at Baylor two seasons ago. He filled in for the injured Seth Russell and played 10 games. In those 10 games Stidham completed 68.8% of his passes for 1,256 passing yards. He had 12 touchdowns and just two interceptions. With Russell coming back and a lot of allegations going around the Baylor program, Stidham decided to transfer to Auburn.

Jarrett Stidham (Photo by: Gridironnow.com)

The past few seasons Auburn has had a talented team, but has been missing a quarterback. Enter Stidham. In Auburn’s offense, he has a chance to have a real impact. The running game, led by Kamryn Pettway, should open up the passing game for Stidham. Pettway rushed for 1,220 yards at 5.9 yards per carry last season. If teams try to stack the box, Stidham will hit the open receivers as a result.

Part of winning the Heisman is being on a good team. Auburn has a chance to compete for the SEC West and if they win some of their big games, can get Stidham in the Heisman talk.

Jacob Eason, QB, Georgia

Eason flashed his potential during his freshman season and now has room to improve on that. He threw for 2,430 yards, 16 touchdowns and eight interceptions, which will need to be increased.

Nick Chubb is listed highly on Heisman lists, but Eason could be the one getting all the attention if Georgia wins some big games. Chubb and the running game will help set up Eason. Eason will stretch the field with his great arm strength and make plays.

The Bulldogs had a bit of a down year by their standards, but in a weak SEC East, Georgia can pick up some easy wins. They do have big games for Eason to make his mark, including: Notre Dame, Auburn and Florida.

Brandon Wimbush/Josh Adams, Notre Dame

One of two players from Notre Dame could win the Heisman in 2017, depending on how the offense will run. Wimbush is the new quarterback, who was a good recruit, but struggled in the spring game. Adams has been sharing time in the Notre Dame backfield for two years and now will get his chance to shine. He has accounted for 2,006 total yards in two seasons and will have the rushing stats to pair with some decent receiving stats this year.

The key to both of these players winning the Heisman is an experienced and good offensive line. With Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson electing to return to school, despite being projected to get drafted highly, will make Notre Dame great in the trenches. Put them with a bunch of good recruits and the Fighting Irish will have a physical offensive line.

Notre Dame players will surely get the benefit of the doubt when entering the Heisman discussion, but there are some big games where these playmakers can make their mark. The Fighting Irish play USC, Stanford, Georgia, Miami and North Carolina, all games that should garner a lot of attention.

Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon

Freeman was limited by injuries last season, but still almost ran for 1,000 yards. He is an accomplished college running back with 4,148 rushing yards in his career. Had he not gotten injured he would have been in range to be the NCAA all time leading rusher.

Royce Freeman Heisman

Royce Freeman (Photo by: fishduck.com)

With a new coaching staff and a young quarterback, Freeman will have to carry the offense for Oregon to do well. If he is healthy he should expect a heavy work load. If he plays like he did in 2015, when he rushed for 1,838 yards on 6.5 yards per carry, he will likely be a Heisman Finalist.

Oregon has the chance to have a successful season, with an easier schedule, but they still leave a few games for Freeman to make his mark. Their biggest out of conference games are Nebraska and Wyoming, which are OK, but not a marquee games. The games against Washington and Stanford will be huge for Freeman’s Heisman campaign.

Mike Weber, RB, Ohio State

J.T. Barrett will likely get all the publicity if Ohio State is winning, but Weber has a solid freshman season to build off of. If Barrett throws too many interceptions or has some bad performances in wins, the public favor will be shown to Weber. Weber averaged 6.0 yards per carry and ran for over 1,000 yards in his freshman season.

Ohio State will likely want to have Weber carry the ball more to prevent Barrett from carrying it too many times and getting injured. The problem is that running with Barrett works. Weber will have to raise his production to make this happen and find the end zone often.

The Buckeyes are favorites to end up in the College Football Playoff once again, but they do have some tests that should give Weber a chance to see the national spotlight. Ohio State plays Oklahoma, Penn State and Michigan. If he can have big games in those match ups, Weber can find himself in the Heisman talks.

Myles Gaskin, RB, Washington

Gaskin is another running back that might be overshadowed by his quarterback, but with a good season can also find himself in contention for the Heisman. He has two straight seasons of 1,300 rushing yards and will just need to improve his production a little bit to be in consideration.

Myles Gaskin Heisman

Myles Gaskin (Photo by: zimbio.com)

The Huskies’ lost their deep threat in John Ross, which may change the offense for this season. Gaskin will be required to do more because Washington won’t have so many drives ending in big plays by John Ross for touchdowns. Gaskin will be asked to score more than 10 touchdowns on the ground, improving his Heisman chances.

Washington’s schedule is ridiculously easy, meaning Gaskin has to put up a lot of stats. He will get his chance at a big game and Heisman moment against Stanford.

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

National Signing Day 2017: SEC

The SEC dominates National Signing Day seemingly every year. This page will be updated throughout the day. Here are how the teams look right now:

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

Commitments: 24, 5*: 3, 4*: 19, 3*: 1, Other: 1

Nick Saban has assembled another great class. Athlete Dylan Moses (who will most likely play linebacker), offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood and running back Najee Harris are some of the best players for the Tide. Harris is supremely talented, but it is a loaded backfield that may not offer much playing time. Alabama recruited a lot of offensive play-makers this season. There a lot of good recruits still considering Alabama.

Top Prospects Signed: ATH Dylan Moses (5*), RB Najee Harris (5*)

2. Georgia Bulldogs

Committed: 26, 5*: 4, 4*: 17, 3*: 5, Other: 0

Kirby Smart has put together a great first full class for the Bulldogs. Offensive tackle Isaiah Wilson and Safety Richard LeCounte are among the best players in the class. In the next few years, Georgia should be dominant in the trenches and well on their way to SEC East superiority.

Top Prospects Signed: OT Isaiah Wilson (5*), S Richard LeCounte (5*)

3. LSU Tigers

Committed: 23, 5*: 0, 4*: 16, 3*: 7, Other: 0

In Ed Oregeron’s first class, he has helped LSU stay prominent in recruiting. He has a lot of secondary and quarterback help on the way. Corner Kary Vincent is one the best players in the class for the Tigers. Quarterbacks Lowell Narcisse and Myles Brennan have different styles, but should help out with LSU’s offensive struggles.

Top Prospects Signed: OT Austin Deculus (4*), CB Kary Vincent (4*)

4. Texas A&M Aggies

Committed: 24, 5*: 0, 4*: 9, 3*: 15, Other: 0

The Aggies have a lot of players coming in this class. Quarterback Kellen Mond is a highly touted player and may get a chance to get on the field, with all of the transfers out of College Station. He leads a class with a lot of wide receivers. Linebacker Anthony Hines is going to be a difference-maker for the Aggie defense.

Top Prospects Signed: QB Kellen Mond (4*), LB Anthony Hinds (4*)

5. Auburn Tigers

Committed: 21, 5*: 0, 4*: 11, 3: 7, Other: 3

The Tigers have a good recruiting class, which they will be expecting to help win the SEC West with. Former Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham will be joining the Tigers from JuCo and will hopefully solve the issues at the position. Their best offensive line recruit Calvin Ashley is a tackle who will be looking to get on the field from day one.

Top Prospects Signed: OT Calvin Ashley (4*), QB Jarrett Stidham (4*)

6. Tennessee Volunteers

Committed: 27, 5*: 1, 4*: 6, 3*: 20, Other: 0

Butch Jones has put together yet another impressive recruiting class. Five-star offensive tackle Trey Smith is one of the best in the class and will likely start the season as a starter. Linebacker Maleik Gray will help out with some of the losses they suffer on defense.

Top Prospects Signed: OT Trey Smith (5*), LB Maleik Gray (4*)

7. Florida Gators

Committed: 20, 5*: 0, 4*: 13, 3*: 6, Other: 1

Florida has struggled to find good offense, but they don’t have too many skill position players in this class. They need to hit on the ones they did sign. Their best recruit is offensive tackle Tedarrell Slaton, which should help the offense out. Wide receiver Daquon Green is going to have to step up and be the play-maker Florida so desperately needs.

Top Prospects Signed: OT Tedarrell Slaton (4*), WR James Robinson IV (4*)

8. South Carolina Gamecocks

Committed: 21, 5*:0, 4*: 9, 3*: 11, Other: 1

Will Muschamp is doing a great job of recruiting for South Carolina. Corner Jameyst Williams is committed, but may be flipped. He will help out a secondary that isn’t near the top in the SEC. Shi Smith will give the Gamecocks a weapon at the wide receiver position.

Top Prospects Signed: CB Jamyest Winston (4*), WR Shi Smith (4*)

9. Kentucky Wildcats

Committed: 24, 5*: 0, 4*: 5, 3*: 18, Other: 1

Mark Stoops helped the Wildcats be one of the most improved teams in the country. The defense wasn’t great, so Kentucky emphasized that in this recruiting class. Secondary players Yusuf Corker and Tyrell Ajian will both be expected to produce in the coming years.

Top Prospects Signed: CB Yusuf Corker (4*), S Tyrell Ajian (4*)

10. Mississippi State Bulldogs

Committed: 23, 5*: 0, 4*: 10, 3*: 13, Other: 0

The Bulldogs got a bowl win, but it was a lackluster season otherwise. Coming into the fold will be a lot of defensive players. Brian Cole and Montez Sweat are both JuCo players who will likely help the Bulldogs immediately.

Top Prospects Signed: S Brian Cole (4*), DE Montez Sweat (4*)

11. Arkansas Razorbacks

Committed: 26, 5*: 0, 4*: 8, 3*: 15, Other: 3

Arkansas doesn’t have the best class, but they targeted a lot of offensive players in the class. Brandon Martin is a great JuCo wide receiver that will catch passes from Austin Allen next season. Quarterback Daulton Hyatt is expected to be the future leader of the team.

Top Prospects Signed: WR Brandon Martin (4*), Daulton Hyatt (4*)

12. Missouri Tigers

Committed: 23, 5*: 0, 4*: 0, 3*: 20, Other: 3

Missouri doesn’t look like they will be in an SEC Championship Game any time soon. Defensive line has been a huge target for this class. Defensive tackles Walter Palmore and Rashad Brandon both are great hauls for the Tigers.

Top Prospects Signed: QB Taylor Powell (3*), Rashad Brandon (3*)

13. Ole Miss

Committed: 21,  5*: 0, 4*: 8, 3*: 11, Other: 2

Ole miss is usually a lot higher in these rankings as of late, but this year was a down year for recruiting. Wide receiver D.D. Bowie and Linebacker Breon Dixon are both great finds for Ole Miss.

Top Prospects Signed: OLB Breon Dixon (4*), WR D.D. Bowie (4*)

14. Vanderbilt Commodores

Committed: 20, 5*: 0, 4*: 1, 3*: 13, Other: 6

The Commodores find themselves in a familiar position at the bottom of this list. Defensive end Dayo Odeyingbo and linebacker Colin Anderson will need to help make the Vanderbilt defense elite to win football games.

Top Prospects Signed: LB Colin Anderson (3*), DE Dayo Odeyingbo (4*)

 

ACC Signing Day- Here

Big Ten Signing Day- Here

Big 12 Signing Day- Here

Pac-12 Signing Day- Here

 

NFL Draft Prospects to Watch in the 2017 Sugar Bowl

WAuburn and Oklahoma both have a lot of players in the NFL and they meet up in the Sugar Bowl. With different styles going at it, a lot will be shown from these prospects. Here are the top prospects to watch in this game:

Auburn Tigers

Carl Lawson, DE

Projected Draft Range: First round-second round

Lawson is a bit undersized as a defensive end standing six feet two inches tall and 253 pounds. He uses his speed and good moves to get around offensive linemen and to the quarterback. His production has been good with 9.5 sacks this season. Lawson is also decent at stopping the run, which will help him get drafted in the first rounds of the 2017 NFL Draft.

Daniel Carlson, K

Projected Draft Range: Third round-fifth round

Sugar Bowl

Daniel Carlson (Photo courtesy: flywareagle.com)

Carlson is a good athlete who played multiple sports in high school. He hasn’t missed an extra point in his career. His missed kicks usually come on field goals of over 50 yards. Of his four missed kicks, three were of that nature. Carlson is still a junior so may elect to come back to school, but can’t really do too much to help his value by doing so.

Braden Smith, OG

Projected Draft Range: Fourth round-sixth round

Smith has good size at six feet six inches tall and 300 pounds. He has had a lot of time to prove his ability at run blocking. In order to move up draft boards, he has to prove that he can pass block better. He will likely have a good game against a weak Oklahoma defense.

Johnathan Ford, S

Projected Draft Range: Fourth round-sixth round

Ford is a unique case, as he really helped his draft stock based on his performance in 2015. He had 118 total tackles, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries that season. He has been banged up this season, but is expected to play in the Sugar Bowl.

Oklahoma Sooners

Dede Westbrook, WR

Projected Draft Range: Second round-third round

Rose Bowl

Dede Westbrook (Photo courtesy: fansided.com)

No one has better production than Westbrook. He has 1,465 receiving yards and 16 touchdown catches. He comes up with a lot of big plays for Baker Mayfield. Westbrook is six feet tall and 175 pounds and can play on the outside. His main test will be durability, as he needs to add strength and weight to be durable at the next level.

Samaje Perine, RB

Projected Draft Range: Second round-fourth round

Perine has been injured at times this season. He also shares carries with Joe Mixon, making this his least productive year of his career. Perine is one of the most productive power runners in college football. At five feet ten inches tall and 235 pounds, his body is ready to take on an NFL schedule.

 

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2017 Sugar Bowl Preview

Auburn and Oklahoma will face off in a titanic clash in the 2017 Sugar Bowl.

Auburn Tigers

The Tigers had a six game win streak in the middle of their schedule to help them reach 8-4. They only lost to bowl teams, with two of their losses coming to the two teams playing in the National Championship. They have five wins over bowl eligible teams with their victories over: Arkansas State, LSU, Mississippi State, Arkansas and Vanderbilt.

Sugar Bowl

Carl Lawson (Photo courtesy: cbssports.com)

Auburn has had to play multiple quarterbacks this season due to inconsistency and injury. Sean White has taken the most snaps and has been effective. He has thrown for 1,644 yards, nine touchdowns and three interceptions. His 65% completion percentage works well because of the rushing attack of Auburn.

Because the pass offense isn’t great, there is only one player who does a lot of damage as a receiver. Tony Stevens has 466 receiving yards and three touchdowns.

The run game is where the Tigers are able to do the most damage. Kamryn Pettway has been the leading rusher with 1,123 yards and seven touchdowns. Kerryon Johnson has added 866 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns.

The Tiger defense is good at stopping the run and allow just 125 rushing yards per game. The pass defense is average and gives up 224 yards per game.

Carl Lawson has had a great season rushing the passer with nine sacks. He will have to get pressure to slow down Baker Mayfield and the Oklahoma offense.

Oklahoma Sooners

Oklahoma is on a nine game winning streak and has a record of 10-2. They have beaten five bowl eligible teams in TCU, Kansas State, Baylor, West Virginia and Oklahoma State. Their losses came to Houston and Ohio State.

Sugar Bowl

Baker Mayfield (Photo courtesy: usatoday.com)

Baker Mayfield has been great ever since he took the field for Oklahoma. This season he earned a spot as a Heisman Finalist with 3,669 passing yards, 38 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He has also completed an impressive 71% of his passes.

Dede Westbrook also got an invite to the Heisman ceremony as Mayfield’s best receiver. He finished the season with 1,465 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns. Westbrook creates big plays at 20 yards per reception.

Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine have split ball carrying duties with a smash and dash approach. Mixon is the speed back and has rushed for 1,183 yards and even missed a game with suspension. He also is a good receiver out of the backfield. Perine is the power back, who has picked up 974 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns.

The run defense is above average for the Sooners and allows 161 rushing yards per game. The pass defense is one of the worst in the country as Oklahoma gives up 279 yards per game.

Ogbonnia Okronkwo has been one of the bright spots on defense for Oklahoma with nine sacks this season. Jordan Evans has helped out with his four interceptions.

Prediction

Oklahoma will move the football through the air and Auburn won’t be able to keep up. Baker Mayfield will elude pressure to make great plays and pick up the win.

 

Oklahoma Sooners 35 Auburn Tigers 25

 

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Week Eight College Football Picks

Rob Doerger and Joe DiTullio make their picks for every FBS college football game this weekend.

Away Home Location Rob Joe
Miami Virginia Tech Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, VA VT Miami
Troy South Alabama Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Mobile, AL Troy South Alabama
BYU #14 Boise State Albertsons Stadium, Boise, ID Boise Boise
South Florida Temple Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, PA USF USF
San José State San Diego State Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, CA SDSU SDSU
Oregon California Memorial Stadium , Berkeley, CA Cal Cal
North Texas Army Michie Stadium, West Point, NY Army Army
Massachusetts South Carolina Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia, SC Umass So. Car
UCF Connecticut Rentschler Field, East Hartford, CT UCF UCONN
Central Michigan Toledo Glass Bowl, Toledo, OH Toledo Toldeo
Miami (OH) Bowling Green Doyt Perry Stadium, Bowling Green, OH Bowling Green BG
Indiana Northwestern Ryan Field, Evanston, IL NW NW
#10 Wisconsin Iowa Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City, IA Buzzcuts Wisconsin
NC State #7 Louisville Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, Louisville, KY Louisville Louisville
Oklahoma State Kansas Memorial Stadium , Lawrence, KS OK St Ok St
Texas Kansas State Bill Snyder Family Stadium, Manhattan, KS Kansas St Texas
Rutgers Minnesota TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, MN Minnesota Minnesota
Syracuse Boston College Alumni Stadium , Chestnut Hill, MA Syracuse Syracuse
Ohio Kent State Dix Stadium, Kent, OH Ohio Ohio
Hawai’i Air Force Falcon Stadium, Usaf Academy, CO AFA AF
Akron Ball State Scheumann Stadium, Muncie, IN Akron Akron
Colorado Stanford Stanford Stadium, Stanford, CA Stanford Stanford
#22 North Carolina Virginia Scott Stadium, Charlottesville, VA UNC UNC
Memphis #24 Navy Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Annapolis, MD Navy Navy
Illinois #3 Michigan Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI Michigan Michigan
Margin of Victory 46 34
Purdue #8 Nebraska Memorial Stadium , Lincoln, NE Nebraska Nebraska
TCU #12 West Virginia Milan Puskar Stadium, Morgantown, WV WVU WVU
Idaho Appalachian State Kidd Brewer Stadium, Boone, NC App St App ST
Tennessee-Martin Georgia State Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA GSU GSU
Buffalo Northern Illinois Huskie Stadium, DeKalb, IL NIU Buffalo
#6 Texas A&M #1 Alabama Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa, AL Alabama TAMU
Eastern Michigan #20 Western Michigan Waldo Stadium, Kalamazoo, MI WMU WMU
Prairie View Rice Rice Stadium, Houston, TX Rice RICE
Tulane Tulsa Chapman Stadium, Tulsa, OK Tulsa Tulsa
#19 Utah UCLA Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA UCLA UCLA
Middle Tennessee Missouri Memorial Stadium/Faurot Field, Columbia, MO Mizzou Mizzou
Colorado State UNLV Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas, NV UNLV UNLV
Charlotte Marshall Joan C. Edwards Stadium, Huntington, WV Marshall Marshall
#17 Arkansas #21 Auburn Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn, AL Auburn Auburn
Oregon State #5 Washington Husky Stadium, Seattle, WA Washington Washington
Louisiana Tech Florida Intl FIU Stadium, Miami, FL LT LT
Old Dominion Western Kentucky L.T. Smith Stadium, Bowling Green, KY WKU WKU
UTEP Texas San Antonio Alamodome, San Antonio, TX UTSA UTSA
East Carolina Cincinnati Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati, OH Cincy Cincy
#11 Houston SMU Gerald J. Ford Stadium, Dallas, TX Houston Houston
Louisiana Lafayette Texas State Bobcat Stadium , San Marcos, TX ULL ULL
Michigan State Maryland Maryland Stadium, College Park, MD Mich St MSU
Mississippi State Kentucky Commonwealth Stadium, Lexington, KY Kentucky UK
Tennessee State Vanderbilt Vanderbilt Stadium, Nashville, TN Vandy Vanderbilt
Georgia Southern New Mexico State Aggie Memorial Stadium, Las Cruces, NM GSU GSU
#2 Ohio State Penn State Beaver Stadium, University Park, PA OSU OSU
#16 Oklahoma Texas Tech Jones AT&T Stadium, Lubbock, TX OK Oklahoma
#23 Ole Miss #25 LSU Tiger Stadium , Baton Rouge, LA LSU Ole Miss
Louisiana Monroe New Mexico University Stadium , Albuquerque, NM New Mexico NM
Washington State Arizona State Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, AZ Wash St WAZZU
Fresno State Utah State Romney Stadium, Logan, UT Utah St Utah St
Wyoming Nevada Mackay Stadium, Reno, NV Wyoming Wyoming
Gameday Guest Picker (Tuscaloosa) Kenny Chesney Shaun Alexander

What’s Next For LSU?

Stacy Revere/ Getty Images

Stacy Revere/ Getty Images

Les Miles has been on the hot seat since the end of last year, and after the heartbreaking loss against Auburn, the seat got too hot.

On Sunday, Les Miles was fired and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron was also relieved of his job. Ed Orgeron will be the interim coach of the LSU Tigers the rest of the season.

So what is next for the LSU football program?

In the short term, interim head coach Orgeron needs to get his football team focused on winning the SEC West. Year in and year out, the SEC West is one of the hardest divisions in college football and the LSU Tigers are always in the hunt. That needs to be the prime objective for Orgeron and his football team. The first step to doing that is to rebound against the Missouri Tigers this Saturday.

The Missouri offense has been putting up a lot of points and also features the second-leading passer in college football. Drew Lock, through four games, has already thrown for over 1500 yards and has 14 passing touchdown. The Missouri offensive line has kept Lock pretty clean in the first four games, as opposing defenses only have one sack on Lock.

Courtesy of LSU Sports.net

Courtesy of LSU Sports.net

That number might be a little bit higher after Lock leaves Tiger Stadium on Saturday night. The LSU Tiger defense features the nation leader in sacks. sophomore Arden Key, who has 6.5 sacks. It will be near impossible to beat LSU at home, at night and after a heartbreaking loss. The LSU Tigers should win these game rather easily.

Winning the SEC West will be a whole lot harder. As of Week 5, LSU is fourth behind Alabama (A team they have not beaten since November 5, 2011), Texas A&M and Auburn. So, the Tigers of LSU have some work to do if they hope to get Atlanta and play in the SEC Championship game.

In the longer term, LSU needs to find a new head coach and to find a good one fast. Nick Saban and Les Miles were the last two hires for this job. LSU has to get a coach with a big name and a coach that will win early and often. Les Miles leaves LSU as the winningest head coach in school history. He finished with a record of 141-55.

So who do I think LSU could get?

Courtesy of CBS Sports

Courtesy of CBS Sports

I think the first candidates would be the Stanford head coach David Shaw and the Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. LSU has enough money to pay both of those candidates. Shaw has done a great job with Stanford and would only make sense for a SEC school to try and bring him to the southeast.

And Mike Tomlin is probably one of the only NFL coaches now that I could see making the move to the college level. He will definitely connect with the players and could definitely keep recruits at LSU and take some from other schools. He can also make a new recruiting pipeline in the state of Pennsylvania for the LSU Tigers.

Courtesy of AP

Courtesy of AP

They could also give one of the great college football coordinators a promotion. If they are looking for a more offensive-minded coach, look no further than Lane Kiffin. Kiffin has been waiting for the perfect head coach spot since September 28, 2013, and LSU is that perfect head coach spot. He would already be in a state to recruit in and he has his two pipelines to California and Alabama. Those three states continually pump out great high school talent.

Another option is Clemson’s defensive coordinator Brent Venables. He is one of the great defensive minds in college football. And has produced many top college defenses. He is also a great recruiter. His high-energy attitude helped him to become the National Recruiter of the Year by Rivals.com.

Whoever they pick to become the next LSU head football coach will have huge shoes to fill.

How SEC Basketball is on the Rise

SEC basketball is not held in high esteem, but it should be and will be soon. Right now when people hear the letters SEC they think two things: bone-crushing football and Kentucky basketball. There is not much thought given to the basketball league that has not finished higher than fifth in conference RPI since 2011-12.

However, conference RPI is not always the best indicator of league strength from top to bottom. The PAC-12 proved this in the 2016 NCAA Tournament. The PAC-12 was second in conference RPI but went 2-5 in the round of 64. By percentage the AAC was the only conference worse in overall tournament record. This means that there is more to a conference’s power than the RPI. So even though the SEC is weak in that perspective, there are other things to rate them on.

The truth is that SEC basketball is subtly moving toward relevancy at more than a Big Blue Nation perspective. It will not happen overnight, but the tools are in place and all indications are that the SEC will have a heavy handed affect on March Madness for years to come.

Where it starts: Coaching

John Calipari is the best recruiter in the SEC and one of the best in the nation. (Photo courtesy of espn.com)

Coaches control everything. They are in charge of the program’s recruiting success or failure, in game management and tactics of their teams and the integrity of their programs. The SEC is exemplary in this category starting at the top. John Calipari is the best coach in the SEC, no argument there. While before it seemed he was the only one that mattered, he is no longer the only relevant coach in the conference. Other coaches with storied careers are beginning to make waves.

Ben Howland was the architect behind the three straight UCLA Final Four appearances. After a brief hiatus from basketball, he carries a 413-225 career record into his second season at Mississippi State. Bruce Pearl (257-139) finds himself in a similar situation. The difference is that his was more than just a brief hiatus, and he went from one SEC school to another. After three years off, the coach that formerly led the Tennessee Vols to the Elite Eight. Furthermore, there is Rick Barnes (619-333) who now coaches at Pearl’s former school. He once led Texas to 14 straight NCAA tournaments, including a Final Four, two Elite Eight appearances and two Sweet Sixteens.

There is more to add to the list including Frank Martin at South Carolina, Billy Kennedy at Texas A&M and Andy Kennedy at Ole Miss, among other notable names. In reality, had Billy Donovan not left for the Oklahoma City Thunder and the ACC not have four of the greatest coaches in the game (Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim, Roy Williams and Rick Patino), the SEC would be have the best coaching arsenal in the NCAA. Regardless, there is an overabundance of elite coaches and that is where growth begins.

Where it leads: The Recruits

High profile coaches bring in high profile recruits. High profile recruits lead to better classes. Better classes lead to better teams. It is a very linear and logical progression. Year in and year out big programs replace their losses without skipping a beat. Thankfully the best example, Kentucky, is in the SEC. They are proof that this strategy can and does work. The SEC has not always been the most prolific in this category, but that is changing.

Obviously the main source of recruits is Kentucky and this year is no exception. They have been top two in recruiting every year since 2009. The program has been keeping the SEC afloat in the pool of relevancy for quite a while. However, there are indications that other schools will join the party.

Surely no one has already forgotten the mania that was Ben Simmons nine month vacation at LSU. Last year the Tigers also grabbed Antonio Blankley, another top 25 recruit. Malik Newman, even though he has now transferred to Kansas, was a great grab by Mississippi State as part of a stellar 2015 class.

The 2016 class was no exception for Kentucky, but there are other SEC schools rising. Mississippi State had a second straight top 25 class with Ben Howland at the helm. Also in the top 50 are Texas A&M, Arkansas, Georgia and Tennessee. Alabama even squeezed in aftergrabbing two 4-stars thanks to Avery Johnson.

In addition Bruce Pearl was able to elevate his 2016 class by getting to work as soon as his show-cause ban lifted. Auburn ranks 25th this year, but it is the 2017 class that should have everyone murmuring about SEC basketball. The Auburn Tigers currently hold the top spot. Arkansas, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M made the top 25 while LSU is sitting pretty at 26.

The way the conference is headed right now, players will continue to flock to these schools.  The coaches that everyone want to play for are there.  They can help develop young men into NBA stars. The only thing that remains is seeing if success will be found. While not every coach in the SEC is grabbing top 100 prospects left and right, their resumes make it much easier to get any players that they may desire.

Where it ends: Results Tested and Made in March

NCAA Tournament success is the paramount of all measurements. Even just an appearance or several straight appearances can lead to a school being viewed in a more positive light. Now, the SEC has not had the most amazing tournament record over the past decade, but there are some positives to look at.

In 2015 there were five bids by SEC teams. That is a stark improvement from the three per year of the past several seasons. The horizon brings a few more bright hopes. Currently, ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi has four squads in the 2017 NCAA Tournament (Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Florida and Texas A&M). That is not very many, but he has Mississippi State in the first four out.

The Aggies may have found some stability for their program. (Photo courtesy of ncaa.com)

Texas A&M also looks to be on its way to being a tournament regular, and had they not met a talented Oklahoma team last year, they may have been the Final Four participant from the region. Additionally, there are some teams not there who could find a way to sneak in. LSU, Auburn and Arkansas all could find themselves with a bid.  If any of those teams, plus Mississippi State find their way in, then the SEC could put six schools in for the first time since 2008.

 

The most exciting thing about the SEC right now is the potential. There are potential tournament regulars outside of just Kentucky now. SEC basketball is no longer a joke.

Bruce Pearl has Auburn Basketball, and Himself, Back on Track

Bruce Pearl has things cooking again at Auburn University. Only a few seasons ago, things were not so hot after a backyard barbecue involving then potential recruit Aaron Craft landed him in some hot water, while he was coaching Tennessee. Joking aside, Pearl’s recruiting success has Auburn basketball staring down a bright future.

Bruce Pearl’s career at Tenessee came to a screeching hault. (Photo courtesy of (rockytoptalk.com)

Pearl had a stellar career up to that point. He won a Division II National Championship with the Southern Indiana Eagles, took Milwaukee to the NCAA Tournament in three of four seasons and even got Tennessee all the way to the top of the AP poll for a period. In the 2008 NCAA Tournament Pearl and NCAA All-American Chris Lofton achieved a two seed. Unfortunately for them this turned out to be one of the most power packed tournaments of all time that saw all four number one seeds reach the Final Four for the first time in history. Due to the aforementioned violations Tennessee let go of Bruce Pearl.  The NCAA placed a three year show-cause order on him. Regardless, Pearl departed from Tennessee with a 145-61 record and with a record like that his story was nowhere near over.

During the three seasons that Pearl was unable to coach per the NCAA, Auburn compiled a combined 38-55 record. So they were in need of a change when Pearl became available again.  In addition to the current state, Auburn’s program had been in a drought of success for quite a while. During the period that Pearl was at Tennessee, a conference opponent, Auburn totaled two winning seasons and zero tournament appearances.

While Pearl’s 26-40 record may not spell out a move in the right direction, the Tigers are actually in a great spot compared to before. Pearl took the reigns after Tony Barbee in the 2014-15 season. His strength in recruiting shined immediately. Due to the three year NCAA show-cause penalty Pearl was unable to participate in the July recruiting period.  He got right to work at the expiration on August 23rd, 2014.

Pearl quickly signed four star Trayvon Reed just days after to finish out the 2014 class.  The 2015 class, the first of his own, included two four star freshman, Junior College transfer T.J. Duanas and two three stars. Auburn possessed 15th ranked class by rivals.com. This brings us to what is going on now and the trend that Pearl has the school on.

The 2016 class that will be taking the floor this year is 25th in the nation. It does, however, include the first five star in Pearl’s tenure at Auburn: Mustapha Heron. Additionally the NCAA had ruled Danjiel Purifoy ineligible the last year. Auburn used Purifoy’s redshirt so that he would enter this season with four year’s of eligibility.

Not surprisingly, Pearl was given another opportunity with the Tigers. (Photo courtesy of flywareagle.com)

They will need him too. Last year’s two leading scorers departed from the team.  Tyler Harris graduated, Kareem Canty left early for the NBA draft and Trayvon Reed left the team.  That leaves Duanas as the leading returning scorer. It does help that Bryce Brown outplayed his three star status by averaging 10.1 PPG. Brown could use some work on the defensive side of the ball, though.  In spite of his positive influence on the offense, he is posting a -3.0 Defensive Box Plus Minus and 0.2 Defensive Win Shares. Pearl also reeled in two immediately eligible graduate transfers so there is a lot of player movement.

What is most promising is the collection of players yet to start their senior season in high school. By some miracle Bruce Pearl has compiled the top rank in the class of 2017.  If things continue this way it would be the first time since 2008 that a school not named Duke or Kentucky has the top spot.

Do not let their record deceive you. Auburn basketball is trending upwards at an amazing pace.  Bruce Pearl is getting back to his old self. That is, minus the violations, hopefully. All of this talent has the potential to spark a deep tournament run. Under his instruction the school is a lock for next year’s tournament and possibly could make a run in 2016-17.