SEC Football Q&A: Which New Head Coach Is Under the Most Pressure?

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SEC Football Q&A: Which New Head Coach Is Under the Most Pressure?
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Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn

Every Thursday on The SEC Blog, we feature questions from the Bleacher Report inbox, Twitter and email at

You have SEC questions, and I have SEC answers. Thank you for your questions this week. If I didn't get to them, they will be saved and used in the future.

And we're off:

All of them have pressure to be successful sooner rather than later, but the one with the most pressure to succeed right away is Auburn's Gus Malzahn.

The Tigers tasted immediate offensive success in 2009 in Malzahn's first year as offensive coordinator and then ultimate success the following season when they won the BCS National Championship. That success hasn't been forgotten, and despite no proven quarterback on campus, a similar turnaround is expected.

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Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn

The foundation of Malzahn's offense is and always has been a dominant running game out of the spread, which suggests that a turnaround for the SEC's worst offense from 2012 is likely. Tre Mason eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark last season despite an offense that was remarkably predictable. Toss in spring-game MVP Cameron Artis-Payne and speedster Corey Grant, and Auburn's running game is deep and versatile.

What's happening across the state doesn't help matters.

The impact of Alabama's dynasty on Auburn varies depending on whom you ask. After the Tigers won the 2010 title despite so much adversity, I think it's been diminished a bit. But no matter how much Alabama's run of three titles in four years factors in, it does matter.

Even though the Tigers hoisted the crystal football just two-and-a-half short years ago, it seems like decades ago for those who use Alabama as the measuring stick.

That means even more pressure for Malzahn.

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Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn


As far as a sleeper, all of the inexperienced cornerbacks could be sleepers. I'll go with Geno Smith.

Alabama needs a cornerback to step in for Dee Milliner and, really, two or three players to not only start but see time at nickel.

Smith will have quite a stage in Alabama's first two games. If he can make life difficult for Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas (which, let's be honest, isn't terribly difficult), that will set the tone for what could be a breakout game versus Texas A&M.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Alabama LB Reuben Foster

The wide receiver position is full of inexperience in College Station, but that inexperience is being filled by a bevy of wide receivers who are 6'3" or taller. If Alabama is going to get revenge on the Aggies, Smith or another one of the corners (John Fulton or Bradley Sylve) will have to have a big day.

As far as Foster, he'll play. He's too good to redshirt. But with C.J. Mosley and Trey DePriest inside earning playing time, I'm not sure how much. 

Unless there's an injury, Foster may be relegated to backup status this season. That's a "rich man's problem" for head coach Nick Saban if I've ever heard one.


A top-40 defense, for sure. 

The reason why is, if head coach Butch Jones isn't able to jump-start the offense with his eventual winner for the quarterback spot, he still has a talented and veteran offensive line for his underrated running back corps to run behind.

The Vols can win enough to make a bowl game as long as the quarterback doesn't make mistakes. They don't need a gunslinger; they need a game manager. Sure, they'd take someone who can light up an opposing defense, but it isn't a requirement.

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports
Tennessee DT Maurice Couch (44)

If the Vols can't stop anybody, it doesn't matter if it's Justin Worley, Nathan Peterman or a Peyton Manning clone back there. That defense was simply awful last season, giving up an SEC-worst 471.3 yards per game. 

The Vols would probably have to improve by around 100 to 110 yards per game (based on the last three seasons) to slide into the top 40 in total defense. That's a tall order for new defensive coordinator John Jancek and certainly would benefit the 2013 Vols more than a top-40 quarterback.

After all, Tyler Bray was the nation's 13th-best quarterback last season in terms of yards per game, and look where that got them.


Do you have a question for next week's Q&A? Send it to SEC lead writer Barrett Sallee via the B/R inbox, on Twitter @BarrettSallee or at


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