Will Moon's Deep Football Thoughts from Outer Space: Week Nine Recap
Well, for a weekend where both the team you love and the team you love to hate didn't play, it was pretty eventful. The game of the year so far was played in the Horseshoe, multiple unbeaten teams were handed their first loss, and we've had our first SEC coach fired (and it wasn't who we all thought it would be prior to this week). We're also staring down Halloween tomorrow and maybe the best weekend of football so far coming up this Saturday. So let's dig in.
Happy Halloween, Coach Mac
Kim Klement/USA Today Sports
Well...that escalated quickly. With all of us waiting around to see when Tennessee would finally can Butch Jones (or Arkansas fire Bret Bielema or Texas A&M fire Kevin Sumlin or whoever), the relationship between Florida and Jim McElwain deteriorated rapidly, fueled by the Gators' poor play, but even more so by a lot of off-field incidents, from the credit card scandal that led to the suspension of multiple Florida players before the season to Mac's uncorroborated claims of death threats being made against him, his family, and his players. It's the latter of those that seems to be directly leading to McElwain's dismissal, even more than his team's horrid performance in a 42-7 drubbing at the hands of Georgia on Saturday. With the school apparently looking to fire Mac with cause over his claim and lack of evidence to support it, we're likely in for a long, ugly legal battle to determine whether this incident counts as cause, thereby letting UF off the hook for the $12 million buyout that they'd otherwise owe. While this will likely end with an out-of-court settlement, this is interesting. I'm very curious to see how the legal system views this case. Is what Mac said enough to warrant firing with cause, or is Florida trumping this up enough just to get out of having to pay him off? Either way, a long court battle could impact McElwain's ability to find another job, and I wouldn't be shocked if more strange information is revealed as the legal process drags on. (Like Mac's agent Jimmy Sexton possibly submarining his client so his other clients don't get blackballed at Florida.) Good times in Gainesville.
Of course, now we start looking at which coaches could be the next head man at the Swamp. A report from an agent who seems to have some kind of inside information on this lists Memphis' Mike Norvell as the number one candidate for the job. The tidbit above about Sexton seems to indicate former Gator offensive coordinator Dan Mullen is a major candidate (as well he should be). Former Gator defensive coordinator Bob Stoops will probably get a phone call or two. Fellow former Gator DC Charlie Strong's probably interested, even after just one season at South Florida. Mullen's successor as Gator OC, Steve Addazio, is now doing solid work at Boston College. The mentioned-for-every-job-opening group of UCF's Scott Frost, Virginia Tech's Justin Fuente, NC State's Dave Doeren, and Iowa State's Matt Campbell will probably all be considered to some degree, too. Personally, I think Mullen's the right man for the job, especially now that Jeremy Foley's no longer running the show down in Gainesville. Foley apparently wanted nothing to do with anyone associated with Urban Meyer after Meyer chest-pained his way out of town, and Mullen's not known for being great in interviews. But it's time to get past all that and hire a guy who's a proven winner and developer of quarterbacks, something's that always translated to great success at Florida. It would allow Mullen to both work with more highly-rated talent across the board and coach in a much more forgiving division (even with Georgia's re-emergence under Kirby Smart). But however it ends up working out, when a job as sweet as Florida's is open, everyone takes notice.
Around the SEC
Justin Ford/USA Today Sports
Credit is due to Bret Bielema and Arkansas. The comeback win in Oxford won't be enough to save his job by itself, but it speaks well of the Hogs that they were able to rally back from 31-7 down in the first half to win considering how their season has gone. Their flickering bowl hopes are still alive. The home game against Coastal Carolina this week should be an auto-win, with the trip to Baton Rouge the following week looking very much like an L. That'd leave the Piggies at 4-6 with home games against Mississippi State and Missouri on either side of Thanksgiving. Would two wins there and a low-end bowl berth keep Bielema around? I'm not sure we'll get to find out since State looks like a very difficult win for Arky to get right now, but it would put the head Hogs in an interesting position going into December.
Speaking of State, they may have a big hand in what happens at Arkansas coaching-wise down the road, and they almost certainly had a hand in Kevin Sumlin's ultimate fate at Texas A&M this past weekend. The Bullies just slowly drained the life out of the Aggies in their own house by dominating in the running game (on both sides of the ball) and getting another strong performance from signal-caller Nick Fitzgerald (141 yards passing with 2 scores, plus 105 yards rushing and another touchdown). State still has a very good shot at going 9-3 and pulling down a pretty sweet bowl bid. A&M now faces Auburn at home this week and ends the season at LSU, making a 7-5 season very possible. That probably won't keep Sumlin around.
Over in the SEC East, Kentucky added another brick to the wall that Tennessee fans want to hurl Butch Jones into with a 29-26 win in Lexington Saturday night (although both teams may have lost to the refs, who were in no mood after an early fight broke out). Every win over UT is a big one for Kentucky, and after getting splattered in Starkvegas last week, this was a nice bounce back for the Wildcats (even if they did mess around too long with a team they outplayed yet again). While Florida may have beaten Tennessee to the coach-firing punch, Butch Jones should probably still be finding a good realtor. Elsewhere in the East, South Carolina (along with State and UK) became bowl eligible with a 34-27 win over Vanderbilt. They head to Georgia next week for a game where the Bulldogs can wrap up the division title even more than they already have.
Considering what time of year it is, let's examine the SEC coaching hotseat as though all these troubled coaches are horror movie characters. Freshly fired Jim McElwain is the overconfident chucklehead who's loud mouth gets him in trouble. He may as well have said "I'll be right back" at that press conference last week instead of talking about the death threats, though we all know that Mac's demise was more shark-related than anything.
Ole Miss interim coach Matt Luke (who's faint chances of keeping the job full-time disappeared into the ether Saturday afternoon) is the unprepared-for-command guy who gets overwhelmed by the situation and tends to not survive it (think Lt. Gorman in Aliens, a movie that's been on a bunch lately, which is awesome because I can always watch that movie). Ole Miss fans probably wouldn't have minded if Sigourney Weaver had come charging onto the sideline Saturday to take command during the Rebels' choke job. She couldn't have made it any worse.
Butch Jones is the obnoxious dude in charge who tends to lead his followers into ruin. There are a whole bunch of these people in scary movies (Capt. Rhodes in Day of the Dead, Maj. West in 28 Days Later, Samuel L. Jackson in the last King Kong movie, and Marcia Gay Harden's religious zealot in The Mist just to name a few). The audience typically cheers when this character bites it, much as Volunteer fans will cheer when Jones is finally given the heave-ho.
Kevin Sumlin has been a character from any Final Destination movie for quite a while now. With the Aggies' consistent late season struggles and the numerous off-field incidents and personality clashes that have led to the dismissal or transfer of big-time talent (remember Kenny Hill, Kyle Allen, Kyler Murray?), A&M fans have been gearing up for a coaching change for a couple of seasons now. The crushing loss to UCLA at the start of the season only sharpened the sword hanging over Sumlin's head (one regent openly started calling for Sumlin's head, then...uh...bought a tank), and even after a stretch of improved play, the reaper looks like it may still be hot on Sumlin's trail. The biggest questions now are how's it gonna happen and how gruesome will it be when it does.
Bret Bielema's that guy who starts off the movie as an insufferable expletive deleted, but you end up kinda liking him just in time to be bummed if/when he eats it (the jerk-y head security guard in Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead remake, Steve in Stranger Things). Ol' Bert blew into the league on a wave of bravado, but has done little since then to back up his big talk. Even with that, he's exhibited something that most coaches don't seem to have these days, a personality. If he's canned and replaced with yet another joyless Saban clone, the league's press conference circuit will suffer even more.
And lastly, Gus. He has the best shot out of all these guys to survive the coaching carousel, but he's still in the line of fire. Gus is the mad scientist who may or may not survive the wrath of his own creation (his offense). Will he be like Dr. Victor Frankenstein, the main character in the grandaddy of all sci-fi/horror stories, or will he be like Evil Matthew Modine in Stranger Things? (I'll let you figure what the difference is between the two, though it's not that simple in either case.) Well, Dr. Frankenstein didn't need wins over Georgia and/or Alabama to feel comfortable. He just had to obsessively track a monster. Dr. Gustav may have the more difficult road.
The Actual Game of the Millennium of the Week
Jay LaPrete/Associated Press
It took us a while, but what feels like a fairly backloaded schedule for seemingly every major team in the country finally produced a game that was both very important and very entertaining. Ohio State's dumb uniforms aside (Nike won't quit until every Saturday is just a sea of indistinguishably gray teams), the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions turned in a classic in the 'Shoe Saturday with what may well be the Big Ten title and a playoff berth on the line. (Also the Heisman, which PSU's Saquon Barkley's probably still the frontrunner for, though big time QBs like OSU's JT Barrett will start filtering into the race over the next month). There were big plays by both teams on special teams, critical mistakes, and a scintillating comeback led by a veteran quarterback. It was everything a matchup between #2 and #6 was supposed to be. With everyone who matters except Wisconsin playing multiple big games in November (the Badgers don't play anyone worth a damn until the conference title game somehow), let's hope that month number 11 is filled with several more thrillers like this one.
In addition to that game, we also saw Texas Christian and South Florida taste defeat for the first time this year, Notre Dame make another statement with a 21-point win over NC State, Michigan State get upset by Northwestern, and Flow-klahoma State pull off a big win at West Virginia. It was a pretty solid Saturday, with better weekends still to come. Speaking of...
An abbreviated post-bye week recap concludes by looking ahead to next week, which has the best schedule we've seen maybe all year. The SEC has a solid triple header of action, with Auburn visiting A&M early, South Carolina traveling to Georgia in the afternoon, and LSU and Bama squaring off in primetime. Aside from that, there's a whole slew of matchups between ranked teams, including the Bedlam game between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, Clemson visiting NC State, Virginia Tech at Miami, and a couple more thrown in for good measure. It should be a fun weekend, and I'll dig into it more in the preview on Thursday. Until then, everybody have a fun, safe Halloween. It's the best night of the year.