The SEC is the best conference in college football for one reason—elite coaching. The coaches that walk the sideline on Saturday are among the nation’s best, but when they begin to struggle the pressure builds quickly.
Even if a team isn’t struggling, fans can have unreal expectations for new coaches, or they expect for their team to perform better than any other every single year.
This is a look at the five guys that will face the most media and fan scrutiny heading into spring. The expectations are running high all over the conference as an eighth straight national title appears possible.
The Gus Bus rolled into town with a lot of swagger on opening night.
When Gus Malzahn publicly accepted the Tigers head coaching position he did it with a passionate speech that talked about winning football games and playing Auburn football.
He was surrounded by Auburn legends Pat Sullivan and Bo Jackson during his announcement, and was endorsed by both, as they were members of the search committee.
He also has been seen lately with return student Cam Newton—former Tigers and current Carolina Panthers quarterback.
He has the endorsements and the offense, now Malzahn has to build a winning football team from a 3-9 squad. The pressure is on Malzahn from day one, whether it is publicly mentioned or not.
Gary Pinkel limped out of his first season in the SEC with a losing record and disappointing season from his offense. They finished No. 96 in total offense. In 2011 the Tigers were the No. 12 total offense in the country.
The SEC introduced a huge drop-off. There were injuries that the Missouri squad faced, but overall this team had issues that came from being overmatched.
The Tigers head into spring with a lot of questions facing the offense. How does this team respond to the loss of key defensive players?
So many issues need answers, and the transition into the SEC doesn’t get any easier this fall. Lose big again, and the legend of Pinkel may be coming to a close.
Kevin Sumlin exceeded expectations in his first year with the Aggies in the SEC. His team won 11 games, and fielded the first ever freshman Heisman winner in Johnny Manziel.
Heading into 2013, the expectations are set on national titles in College Station.
That could be a good thing, but it also could be a little much for the second year SEC West squad. There is a lot of talent that lies between an undefeated or one-loss national title run.
Sumlin faces a tough spring because his fans are expecting this team to win out. They want the spring to show an unbeatable team. Spring will bring some promise, but the Aggies have a long way to go before they make it to the BCS National Championship game.
The Georgia Bulldogs were just a few yards shy of making a national title run in 2012, and this season is expected to bring those final yards and a title berth.
Mark Richt is heading into spring with a program that has all the tools on offense to be as explosive as any in the country, and young talent on defense that can help this team win a ton of football games.
This spring will be a huge instruction period for a young defense.
The eyes of the SEC are falling on Athens this spring as the Bulldogs are expected to make a third run at the SEC Eastern Division title this fall. Anything less would be a disappointment and would put Richt on notice.
Dan Mullen is being watched closely after this past year's Egg Bowl.
Hugh Freeze took one of the worst squads in the SEC and blasted the Bulldogs in the annual Mississippi rivalry 41-24. Then, this past signing day, the Rebels put together the best class in school history, and Dan Mullen limped in with a modest haul for the SEC.
The fans in Starkville are watching this spring development closely. Their once highly regarded coach is now getting owned by the new coach in Oxford. That is unacceptable.
Mullen will field a senior quarterback and experienced offense this season. He will lose a ton of talent on defense, but he has some young players that can step in and perform.
A big spring is needed or this could be the beginning of the end for the Mullen era in Starkville.