Preseason College Football Rankings: Coaches of the SEC West

Kevin King@kevin glen kingSenior Analyst IIJuly 4, 2012

Preseason College Football Rankings: Coaches of the SEC West

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    As the 2012 season nears, preseason college football rankings start to make headlines. The following ranks the head coaches of the SEC Western Division based on similar information drawn to rank college teams in the preseason. It is a mix of what they have done on the field, talent recruited and expectations for the future.

    If you buy into the belief that the overall toughest conference in college football is the SEC, you should also expect to see some of the games finest coaches roaming the sidelines during SEC contests.

    Not every head coach of an SEC school would automatically win a championship somewhere else. Still, there are at least five national championship caliber head coaches currently employed by SEC schools and another three that may break through in the next few years.

    No other conference in college football has that type of talent pool in leadership roles.

Hugh Freeze No. 7, (30-7) FBS and FCS Combined -- Mississippi

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    This is coach Freeze’s first year at Mississippi. Last year, he was head coach at Arkansas State (10-2). He is a native of Mississippi and served on the Rebels staff as recruiting coordinator from ’05 through ’07.

    Freeze coached high school football at Briarcrest Christian School in Memphis. His teams won the Regional Championship seven times in 10 years and State Championship in 2002 and 2004. Freeze was depicted in the movie “The Blind Side” as the high school coach of Michael Oher, current offensive tackle of the Baltimore Ravens.

    In January 1998, Freeze left Ole Miss for a head coaching job at NAIA Lambuth University. He was there for two seasons and compiled a 20-5 record, according to OleMissSports.com.

    Freeze runs a high octane offense and is a tireless recruiter. He is also considered a coach who gets the most from his players.

    Ole Miss finished last year at 2-10. I expect that Freeze will do much better with 16 returning starters in his first year. I’m not sure he can get them to break even in ’12 but they should be much more competitive.

    Like his team, I expect coach Freeze to rise in these standings each year.

Kevin Sumlin No.6, (37-15) Texas A&M

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    Sumlin spent the past four years as head coach of the Houston Cougars (35-17). Last year, Houston was ranked as high as No.7 nationally before losing their only game of the year to Southern Miss in the Conference USA Championship Game. They won their bowl over Penn State to finish 13-1.

    Sumlin worked as an offensive coordinator for Bob Stoops at Oklahoma for seven years. He also spent a couple of seasons (2001-2002) as assistant head coach, offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach for R.C. Slocum at Texas A&M.

    According to aggieathletic.com, Slocum promoted Sumlin three weeks into the 2002 season, allowing him to call the offensive plays for the Aggies for the rest of the year. During the rest of that year, the offensive point output doubled from 16 to 33 points per game. Also, the yards per game increased from 286 to 419 for the remaining games.

    Sumlin is an offensive minded coach, whose teams at Houston averaged over 40 points per game. He benefited greatly from coaching Case Keenum, who is the only college player to ever have three 5,000 yard seasons.

    Texas A&M finished last year at 7-6 under Mike Sherman. They return 13 starters and this team has talent. The offense isn’t likely to miss a beat with Sumlin. But, his defenses at Houston gave up over 30 points a game in three of four seasons. As a matter of fact, Sherman’s defenses averaged giving up 30 points a game over four seasons at A&M as well.

    To get to the top of the SEC, Sumlin must cut that number in half. They need more defensive talent on the roster to get that done. I think this team is about break even in ’12.

John L. Smith No.5, (132-86) FBS and FCS Combined -- Arkansas

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    John L. Smith has held head coaching positions at Idaho, Utah State, Louisville, Michigan state, Weber State and now at Arkansas. Smith is known as a program builder and has had success in every stop he has made along the way, according to Arkansas Razorbacks.com

    He signed a 10 month, $850,000 deal with incentives to be the interim head coach at Arkansas according to an Associated Press story at standard.net, an Ogden Utah newspaper.

    Smith coached at Arkansas as special team’s coordinator and outside linebacker coach for Bobby Petrino from 2009 through 2011. At the end of last year, he left to become head coach at Weber State, his playing alma mater.   

    Smith got to Weber, made a gracious "glad to be home" speech, hired a new staff, recruited 18 new football players, held spring practice and quit to go back to Arkansas.

    On the one hand, he reminds me of Petrino, leaving Atlanta in a lurch to go to Arkansas. While on the other, it was a business decision. He is getting paid about as much as he would make at Weber in four years for 10 months work at Arkansas.

    Smith’s familiarity with the Arkansas coaching staff and players makes him a good hire for Arkansas AD, Jeff Long. This team has an elite college quarterback Tyle Wilson) and running back (Knile Davis) and their 2 losses from the 11-2 record last year, were to the No.1 and No.2 teams in the country.

    This Arkansas team is primed for a run at an SEC Championship and possibly a national title. By hiring Smith, Jeff Long has at least not harmed the program as he searches for a long term replacement and at best, has found his coach to replace Petrino.

    I think this Arkansas team loses two or three games total. They will have a very good year but won’t play in the SEC or BCS Championship Games.

Dan Mullin (21-17) Tied for No.3 -- Mississsippi State

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    Dan Mullin came to Mississippi State after four years (2005-2008) as a member of Urban Myers’ Florida staff where he was offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Before that, he was coaching quarterbacks in Utah (2003-2004) and Bowling Green (2001-2002) on Myer’s staff.

    According to Hail State.com, Mullen has re-energized the fan base at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs have sold out the home field at Davis Wade Stadium for 10 consecutive games. That feat has never been accomplished by any of the 31 previous head coaches.

    Mullin took over for Sylvester Croom in 2009. Though that team finished just 5-7, they barely lost to No.7 ranked LSU 30-26 and beat No.20 ranked Mississippi in the Egg Bowl, 41-27.

    In 2010, Mullins team went 9-4 and beat Georgia, Florida and Mississippi for the second year in a row. They also drilled Michigan in the Gator Bowl 52-17. Last year, the Bulldogs went 7-6 and won their second consecutive bowl game, 23-17 over Wake Forest in the Music City Bowl.

    Mississippi State returns 12 players this year. They also must play at Alabama and at LSU and have Arkansas, Auburn, Texas A&M and Tennessee at home. I think they will return to a bowl game and will beat at least one team that they are underdogs to. 7-5 or 8-4 before a bow game, I think.

Gene Chizik, Tied for No.3, (35-29) -- Auburn

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    When Gene Chizik landed in Auburn Alabama in December 2008, fresh from a two-year head coach stint at Iowa State (5-19), he was booed by an Auburn fan at the airport. Oh my, how times have changed. I wonder if this fan has ever managed to forget his outburst that day. I haven’t.

    Chizik has done a great job at Auburn during his short time there. He recognized what a quarterback like Cam Newton could do for them, and then he got him. 14-0 and a national championship give Chizik a 30-10 record and three straight bowl wins.

    According to Auburn Tiger.com, Chizik made two excellent upgrades in the offseason this year. He replaced defensive coordinator Ted Roof with the more proven, more successful Brian VanGorder. Also, they are making a switch from the spread to a more SEC like pro style offense.  

    Both of these moves will pay dividends in the future. As far as this year, with Clemson, LSU, Arkansas, Georgia and Alabama all on the schedule, I think around eight wins sounds right for this team. More than eight wins and these guys are really coaching them up this year.

Les Miles, No. 2, (103-39) -- LSU

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    Les Miles arrived at LSU from Oklahoma State in 2005. Since then, he has recorded three seasons of 11-2, one season of 12-2, one season of 13-1 and an eight and a nine win season.

    Miles’ 75-18 record in seven years is an average of 11 wins, 2 losses per season. He has also coached the Tigers in two national championship games, winning one.

    Miles team returns 13 starters and gets improved quarterback play. Their defense is ranked best in college football and its coordinator, John Chavis has 18 years of SEC coaching experience and, like Les, is 1-1 in national championship games (Won at Tennessee in 1998).  

    Baring injuries, this team has an excellent chance of winning the SEC and playing for a national title.  

Nick Saban No.1, (146-54-1) -- Alabama

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    Saban has been the head coach at Alabama for five years. His record here is (55-12). That averages to 11 wins and 2 losses per season, same as Les Miles. The difference is Saban’s teams have played for, and won, two national championship games in those five years.

    In ’09 they finished 14-0 after beating Texas for the title 37-21. Then in 2011, they finished 12-1, after avenging an earlier season loss to No.1 LSU in the title game 21-0.

    This team lost eight players fro last year's group to the NFL draft. Four of those eight were first-round choices. Still Alabama has talent stock piled and they are ready to plug in those gaps and come out strong in 2012.

    Losing eight starters to the NFL and only returning 11 starters would normally mean a rebuilding year. But this team has a serious chance of repeating if the talented players they have filling these voids can get up to speed quickly.

    Saban is a hard working, tough and demanding task master who insists on the very best from everyone around him all the time. If anyone is going to repeat in college football nowadays, I would give the nod to a professional like Nick Saban and his staff.

    Baring injuries, this team has an excellent chance of winning the SEC and playing for a national title.