It’s no secret in college football today: make it through the SEC season with a single loss (maybe two), and you’re going to a BCS bowl. Make it through the SEC season with a single loss (or better) and win the SEC Championship and you’ll be playing for the BCS crown. Win in the SEC and you’re going to a BCS Bowl; it’s not just a trend or coincidence, it’s because you’ve beaten the “best." I, being the stat guy and sports historian, took a deeper look at this, however, and found another interesting trend rears its head when we look at the coaches of these BCS invitees from the SEC; particularly those in their “sophomore” coaching season.
Nick Saban’s first stab at the SEC was in 2000, and the Tigers finished 8-4 with a Peach Bowl victory. The next year Saban marched the Tigers to a 10-3 mark, an SEC Championship, and a Sugar Bowl victory over Illinois. Mark Richt’s first season at Georgia was in 2001, and the Bulldogs finished 8-4. In his 2nd go round, Richt’s boys finished 13-1 winning the SEC Championship and defeating Florida State in the Sugar Bowl. Tuberville didn’t fit this mold with Auburn in 2004 and Richt added another SEC crown in 2005 by beating first year coach Les Miles of LSU, who then dropped to the Peach Bowl and his Tigers finished 11-2. In Miles' sophomore campaign LSU didn’t even go to the SEC Championship, finishing one game behind Arkansas, but the end-of-season polls sent the Tigers to a Sugar Bowl BCS tilt against Notre Dame. One of Miles’ two losses in 2005 was to first year SEC coach Urban Meyer and the Florida Gators. Meyer wouldn’t make a BCS bowl in 2005, finishing 9-3 and beating Iowa in the Outback Bowl, but in 2006 Meyer led the Gators to a 13-1 record and a BCS National Title. Nick Saban returned to the SEC in 2007 and only managed a 6-6 season with Alabama, but his second term as head coach of the Crimson Tide saw a 12-0 regular season mark and a Sugar Bowl invite. Saban’s 2009 campaign should still be fresh in your mind.
Why do I bring all this up? Auburn coach Gene Chizik (8-5 in 2009 as 1st year head coach, Outback Bowl victory) and Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen (5-7 in 2009 as 1st year head coach) are two who could possibly fit this same mold. Do Chizik or Mullen have enough talent to get to a BCS Bowl? And furthermore, do they have any fantasy studs that could help your chances of making the postseason as well? Let’s take a look again into the Magic 8-Ball for all the answers, then maybe next year we can repeat this discussion with Joker Phillips and Derek Dooley….
2009 Record: 14-0
Returning Starters: 8 Offense / 3 O-Line, 2 Defense
2009 Wrap Up
It only took Nick Saban three years to put all the pieces of the puzzle in place at Alabama as the Tide rolled to a 14-0 season winning the National Championship with 37-21 victory over #2 Texas.
Who They Lose
Losses on the offensive side of the ball are minimal. Tight End Colin Peek, who ended the season well with touchdowns against Auburn and Florida, will be graduating. Also gone are two starters on the offensive line.
Alabama’s defensive departures read like a who’s who list of the 2010 NFL Draft stock. The Tide lose nine defensive starters from the nations #2 total (& #2 scoring) defense. Gone are the likes of Terrence “Mount” Cody and Javier Arenas to graduation, and following them are underclassmen Kareem Jackson and Rolando McClain. How well this defense reloads will directly influence offensive production considering Alabama ranked 6 th nationally in 3rd down conversion percentage (29%) and 10th in turnovers gained (31) last year, which gave their offense plenty of opportunity to put points on the board.
2009 Heisman Trophy winning running back Mark Ingram will return for his junior season with hopes of bringing home another national title and another Heisman. Joining him again in the backfield will be Trent Richardson. This duo combined for 2,409 yards rushing and 25 touchdowns in 2009. Don’t forget about redshirt freshman Eddie Lacy, the four star class of 2009 mate of Richardson, who could help to fill the shoes of Roy Upchurch, who was lost to graduation.
If he can hold off uber-talented young guns Starr Jackson (so.) and A.J. McCarron, Greg McElroy will be back under center for the Tide. McElroy isn’t even fantasy draft worthy, but he did have a couple of impressive games toward the end of the season, throwing for a combined 457 yards and three touchdowns against Auburn and Florida. McElroy will be well protected behind an offensive line returning three full-time starters from 2009.
Leading receivers Julio Jones and Marquis Maze return, but the duo only combined for 1,119 and six touchdowns in 2009.
Defensive Coordinator Kirby Smart was offered the same position with the Georgia Bulldogs, but declined.
Keep an eye on redshirt freshman receiver Kendall Kelly. With opposing defenses focused on stopping Ingram and Richardson out of the backfield, and doubling down on Julio out wide, I think Kelly has enough talent to overstep Marquis Maze as the #2 and be the type of safety valve Colin Peek provided.
Magic 8-Ball Fantasy Outlook: “Signs Point to Yes”
Even if McElroy retains the quarterback position and the passing offense remains rather stale, it was already proven last season that no one has found the kryptonite to slow down the super-heroish running duo of Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson.
2009 Record: 8-5
Returning Starters: 9 Offense / 4 O-Line, 6 Defense
2009 Wrap Up
After losing to Florida on a phantom personal foul call that the SEC later apologized for, and a let down against Ole Miss the following week, this young Razorback team went on a four game winning streak before losing an overtime heartbreaker to LSU and narrowly escaping East Carolina (20-17) in the Liberty Bowl.
Who They Lose
Senior running back Michael Smith was expected to have a breakout season in 2009, but injuries limited him to only 71 carries on the season.
In addition to Smith, Arkansas loses one senior offensive linemen (Mitch Petrus) and five defensive starters (including the early departure of Jerrel Norton). The effects of these defensive losses may not be as hard felt as other SEC squads considering the Hogs ranked dead last in the SEC, allowing 401 yards per game in 2009.
Holy scoreboard lights Batman… was Arkansas actually playing in the Sun Belt last year? Now the nation’s 9th ranked scoring offense (#1 SEC, 36 ppg) returns practically everyone. Although Michael Smith is departing, it was the cornucopia of running backs Broderick Green, Ronnie Wingo Jr., Dennis Johnson, and Knile Davis that combined for 1,266 yards and 18 touchdowns.
The yardage totals for the Razorback running backs probably would have been higher, but big armed quarterback Ryan Mallett was eating up yards through the air like Kobayashi at a hot dog buffet. Mallett finished 2009 with 3,627 yards, 30 touchdowns, and only seven interceptions. Returning are Mallett’s top four targets, receivers Joe Adams, Greg Childs, Jarius Wright and future NFL tight end D.J. Williams.
Bobby Petrino has proven in the past that he’s not afraid to split carries amongst multiple backs, but also that once he finds a running back that embodies all the characteristics he looks for that he’ll ride that gravy train (Michael Bush, 2005). Of this group, Broderick Green seems to have it all: size (6’2” 248), speed (4.5), and good hands out of the backfield (8-104-1 in 2009). He just may separate himself from the pack in 2010.
Magic 8-Ball Fantasy Outlook: “Without a Doubt”
The Hogs were the nation's #9 scoring offense (36 ppg) and #20 total offense (427 ypg) with a team full of freshmen and sophomores. They open the season with Tennessee Tech and Louisiana-Monroe, and get their two toughest tests (Alabama and LSU) at home. Arkansas could prove to be a fantasy goldmine in 2010.
**Note** As I sit here writing this, Ryan Mallett apparently tripped over Bobby Petrino’s ego and broke his foot. If Mallett can’t get healthy before the start of the season this will change everything for the Razorbacks as he is one of the top quarterbacks in all of college football.
2009 Record: 8-5
Returning Starters: 8 Offense / 4 O-Line, 8 Defense
2009 Wrap Up
After much debate regarding his hiring, first year head coach Gene Chizik roared out of the gates to a 5-0 start. Questions surfaced again after a three game losing streak, but Chizik and the Tigers bounced back nicely with a victory over then #25 Ole Miss and a narrow defeat to the eventual National Champion, Alabama. A victory over Northwestern in the always exciting Outback Bowl and a top five recruiting class (one spot above Alabama) has Auburn fans yelling that “War Eagle” battle cry heading into 2010.
Who They Lose
Auburn was no doubt nervous about starting the 2009 season with Chris Todd under center, but he exceeded expectations throwing for 2,612 yards, 22 touchdowns and only six interceptions. More importantly Todd seemed to make plays in the clutch to keep Auburn in the game.
His last name may not have been Jackson, Williams or Brown, but Ben Tate was another great running back on a long list of them who have played at Auburn. The 1,362 yards and 10 touchdowns Tate contributed in 2009 will surely be missed.
In addition to Todd and Tate, the Tigers lose tight end Tommy Trott and three defensive starters; one of which is corner Walter McFadden.
The battle to replace Chris Todd appears to already be decided with Auburn winning the Cameron Newton sweepstakes. The JUCO stud and former five star recruit is a dual threat, and will immediately be one of the most dynamic players in the country in the Chizik/Malzahn offense. You may remember hearing Newton’s name because he once held the backup role to Tim Tebow over this year’s starter John Brantley. Senior Neil Caudle and sophomore Tyrik Rollison will be in the mix, but the job is clearly Newton’s to lose.
Onterio McCalebb contributed 545 yards and four touchdowns in 2009, but the competition for Ben Tate’s replacement will be stiff with most rumors leaning toward 2009 four star recruit Dontae Aycock or 2010 five star recruit (#2 RB) Michael Dyer getting the bulk of the carries. Four senior offensive linemen return with over 50 starts on their resume to pave the way for this group, and the Tigers also just locked up the #3 offensive tackle in Shon Coleman.
Darvin Adams and Terrell Zachery return as the top two leading receivers from 2009, and you can probably expect a better performance from DeAngelo Benton after a disappointing 2009.
Cameron Newton transferred from Florida to Blinn College in Texas, immediately leading them to the 2009 NJCAA National Championship. Newton’s stats: 2,833 yards passing, 22 touchdowns, five interceptions, 655 yards rushing and six touchdowns.
Magic 8-Ball Fantasy Outlook: “It is Decidedly So”
Cameron Newton and Michael Dyer should keep SEC defenses on their heels and rack up the points for your fantasy team. Auburn’s early season schedule could easily put you in position for the playoffs if they perform up to expectations.
2009 Record: 9-4
Returning Starters: 5 Offense / 3 O-Line, 6 Defense
2009 Wrap Up
The Tigers had only lost to then #1 Florida (by 10) and #3 Alabama (by 9) before entering an ugly four game stretch to end the season. The Tigers squeaked by Derek Dooley’s Louisiana Tech squad, lost to Ole Miss on some poor clock management, had to go into overtime (again) to beat Arkansas, and then lost to Joe Pa and the Nittany Lions in a muddy Citrus Bowl.
Who They Lose
Perhaps the only thing more disappointing than the way LSU ended the season is their player personnel loses from 2009. Gone is leading rusher Charles Scott and his counterpart Keiland Williams, the National Champion track star kick returner (and receiver, and running back) Trindon Holliday, leading receiver Brandon LaFell (792-11), safety valve tight end Richard Dickson (who caught 21 balls last year), and the Tigers top two offensive linemen, future NFL draftees Lyle Hitt and Ciron Black.
On defense the Tigers lose four senior starters, and hard hitting safety Chad Jones is leaving early for the NFL.
Quarterback Jordan Jefferson completed over 64% of his passes in seven different games last season, and threw multiple touchdowns in four of his last five regular season games. His comfort level visibly rose as the season went on after only attempting 73 passes as a freshman the season before.
Running back Richard Murphy, who was injured last season, and Stevan Ridley who contributed 180 yards and three scores down the stretch both return, but look for redshirt freshman and former four star recruit Michael Ford to take over the running back duties in Baton Rouge.
Super talented receivers Terrance Toliver and Rueben Randle both return after combining for 908 yards and five touchdowns last year, and Deangelo Peterson should move into the tight end spot after seeing limited duty behind Dickson last year.
What does former quarterback recruit Russell Shepard have in common with the likes of Percy Harvin, Randall Cobb, and Dexter McCluster. Well you can expect to see him used much the same in the Tiger offense this season according to coach Les Miles.
Jordan Jefferson had a serviceable fantasy quarterback season last year (2,166-17-7), but with the question marks surrounding the run game and guys like Toliver, Randle, and Shepard lining up out wide, Jefferson’s quick thinking, rocket arm, and pin-point accuracy could lead to a monster fantasy season.
Magic 8-Ball Fantasy Outlook: “Concentrate and Ask Again”
The Tigers just lose too much on the offensive side of the ball, and as if playing in the SEC wasn’t hard enough their non-conference slate includes a neutral site game against a tough North Carolina defense and West Virginia. They could prove me wrong here, but I’m not liking LSU to be the source of much fantasy production.
2009 Record: 9-4
Returning Starters: 3 Offense / 2 O-Line, 6 Defense
2009 Wrap Up
The Rebels were a dark horse candidate heading into 2009 to challenge for the SEC West title, but early season losses to South Carolina and Alabama quickly put those dreams to rest. Houston Nutt’s squad would drop games to Auburn and rival Mississippi State to land them in the Cotton Bowl once again, where they shut down a tough Oklahoma State offense and won 21-7.
Who They Lose
After a couple years under Houston Nutt while being an SEC contender this will be what the Rebels refer to as a “rebuilding year." Former Texas quarterback Jevan Snead, who took over the Rebel offense in 2008 after a transfer, will be leaving early for the NFL. In his two years under center in Oxford, Snead threw for 5,394 yards and 46 touchdowns. The depth behind Snead is Richard Simmons-ish (thin), with sophomore Nathan Stanley, who only has 23 passes to his resume, and redshirt freshman Raymond Cotton the likely two battling to take over.
In addition to Snead, the Rebels lose their two biggest offensive playmakers in receiver Shay Hodge and utility man Dexter McCluster. Hodge caught 70 passes for the Rebels in 2009 which tallied 1,135 yards receiving and eight touchdowns. McCluster went all Reggie Bush on us this year and also became the primary ball carrier for Ole Miss down the stretch. In the final six games alone McCulster carried a whopping 143 times (23 per game) for 1,005 yards and seven rushing touchdowns. His season totals were 181 carries for 1,169 yards and eight touchdowns to go with 44 receptions for 520 yards and three touchdowns, and one 27-yard pass for a touchdown. McCluster was the heartbeat of this offense, and replacing him will be nearly impossible.
No doubt part of the credit for McCluster’s success was due to the offensive line in front of him that averaged 6’5” and 319lbs in 2009, but now gone off of that line will be three starters. In addition, the Rebels lose to graduation fullback Andy Hartmann and tight end Gerald Harris.
On defense the Rebels lose three of their top five tacklers from 2009, and five starters total off of a defense that ranked fourth in the SEC in scoring defense last year.
Returning is former five star running back recruit Enrique Davis and his backfield mate Brandon Bolden. The duo combined for 724 yards and six touchdowns behind the efforts of McCluster last year. Freshman Rodney Scott and red shirt freshman Tim Simon could both also be a factor here.
Markeith Summers was the leading receiver behind Hodge and McCluster and he will be lining up out wide again this year next to four star recruit Patrick Patterson (6’3”, 215, 4.5) who could turn out to be a super star for the Rebels.
Perhaps one saving grace for the Rebels this year was the hiring of Dave Rader, the former Tulsa head coach, to come in and work with these young quarterbacks as a quarterback coach and co-offensive coordinator with Ole Miss offensive line coach Mike Markuson.
Sophomore receiver Patrick Patterson caught 145 passes for 2,711 yards and 37 touchdowns during his junior and senior years of high school. He had time to develop behind Hodge and McCulster last year and learn from some of the best. His big 6’3” 215lb frame will make him a big target and the type of possession receiver who can also go the distance like the Rebels just had in Hodge.
Magic 8-Ball Fantasy Outlook: “Outlook Not So Good”
The Rebels just loose too many playmakers for me to have a ton of confidence in this offense’s fantasy potential. Although the early schedule for Ole Miss ( v. Jacksonville State, at Tulane, v. Vanderbilt, v. Fresno State, and v. Kentucky) could be worth take some late round flyers on guys like Patterson and Enrique Davis, who could put up some solid numbers in games like these.
2009 Record: 5-7
Returning Starters: 7 Offense / 4 O-Line, 7 Defense
2009 Wrap Up
Dan Mullen’s squad had a rough year in his first term as a head coach, having to go on the road to play Auburn and Arkansas then catching tough games against LSU, Georgia Tech, Houston, Florida and Alabama at home. All turned out to be losses. A redeeming season-ending win against Ole Miss left this squad hopeful heading into 2010.
Who They Lose
Dan Mullen seemed about as decisive as Brett Favre last season with his decision on who would be playing quarterback, but the decision should be easier in 2010 with the departure of Tyson Lee. Lee threw for just 1,444 yards, four touchdowns, and a hair-pulling 14 interceptions last year.
The bigger question for Dan Mullen in 2010 may be who will replace Bulldog Hall of Fame running back Anthony Dixon. Dixon rushed for 3,944 yards and 42 touchdowns in his Mississippi State career, and graduating with him will be the only other Bulldog to see significant carries, Christian Ducre.
Chris Relf showed his ability to be a dual-threat quarterback in 2009, passing for 283 yards and four touchdowns on just 41 attempts, but also rushing for 500 yards and a couple scores. Relf may be limited again to some “Wild-Dog” type formations to make way for redshirt freshman and former four star recruit Tyler Russell, who is more of a pro-style quarterback. Keep an eye on true freshman Dylan Favre as well though (yes the nephew of Brett) who broke the Mississippi high school state record for career touchdown passes… by 40. Favre is also a dual-threat quarterback (likely out of necessity coming in at only 5’10”), in his sophomore, junior and senior seasons Favre racked up 11.684 yards passing and 141 touchdowns (yes I typed that correctly), and stats from his junior and senior years rushing totaled 1,717 yards and 25 scores.
Former four star Robert Elliott added 221 yards and a score to the running back mix last year, but he could be pushed by incoming community college star Vick Ballard.
The receiving corps returns freshman sensation Chad Bumphis who showed his ability to be Harvin-like toward the end of the season with a few carries to go along with his season total of 375 yards receiving. Jumbo receiver Marcus Green (who actually lines up at tight end) also returns with 27 catches and three scores to his credit, as a potential sleeper pick at tight end.
On the front line the Bulldogs lose just one starter to graduation, and return four full time starters from 2009 with 48 combined starts. The four returning starters average 6’3” 301 lbs.
It’s so tempting to plug in one of the quarterbacks (Relf, Russell, or Favre) here with Dan Mullen running the show and a very veteran offensive line providing protection. However, I’m going with Chad Bumphis here. Bumphis was a consistent playmaker and game changer down the stretch for the Bulldogs, and although the stats weren’t eye-popping (32-375-4 and 6-73-1) I think this offense will begin to center around him much like we’ve seen with Percy Harvin, Randall Cobb, and Dexter McCluster.
Magic 8-Ball Fantasy Outlook: “Outlook Good”
There is just something I like about this Mississippi State team this year with several other squads throughout the SEC in rebuilding/reloading phases. Dan Mullen
is no doubt an offensive genius, and the Bulldogs actually ranked middle of the pack in SEC total offense (7th
, 371 ypg) and first (227 ypg) in rushing offense in 2009.