SEC Extra Points with Barrett Sallee: 2016 Is Year of No Excuses for Tennessee

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SEC Extra Points with Barrett Sallee: 2016 Is Year of No Excuses for Tennessee
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Tennessee head coach Butch Jones

Relax.

Take a deep breath.

Say it with feeling.

It's OK to think that Tennessee can make some noise in the SEC East in 2016. 

The Internet will try to shame you. The Internet will say that "Tennessee is always the champion of offseason." The Internet will tell you Vols head coach Butch Jones is all sizzle and no steak.

Don't believe me? Just check out the responses to this tweet, and this tweet and this tweet shortly after Tennessee's demolition of Northwestern in the Outback Bowl.

Let's dissect this a little bit.

Fallacy No. 1: Tennessee Hasn't Accomplished Anything Under Butch Jones.

Nothing can be further from the truth.

Jones inherited a tire fire when he took over for Derek Dooley prior to the 2013 season after Dooley punted on recruiting offensive linemen, couldn't develop an offense and sent the program into a hole that would take any coach years to take out.

Jones has gotten out of that hole.

From 5-7 in his first season, he took the team to its first bowl game since 2010 in 2014 when he posted a 7-6 record and then one-upped himself in 2015 when the Vols went 9-4 and came within one 4th-and-14 play by Florida of winning the SEC East. 

Does he have an SEC East title yet? No. But let's not pretend that improving the win total by at least two games per year isn't accomplishing something. 

Fallacy No. 2: Tennessee Always Wins the Offseason.

When did this happen? 

As John Clay of Kentucky.com noted prior to media days last year, from 2010-2014, Tennessee had been picked no higher than fourth in the SEC East and only was picked fourth once (2011). In fact, the last time Tennessee was picked to win the division in Hoover was way back in 2005, when it was also picked to win the entire SEC.

Is there buzz? 

Sure. I was driving the Tennessee bandwagon last year when I picked them to go 10-2 and win the division, which nearly came to fruition. Buzz isn't the same has "winning the offseason." It's just buzz.

Don't be shamed and shy away from thinking Tennessee will have success because "we do this every year." Unless somebody has been cryogenically frozen for the last decade, we most certainly do not "do this every year."

Fallacy No. 3: Tennessee Doesn't Have Enough Weapons

Since when?

Four offensive linemen return, the defense is loaded with studs such as defensive end Derek Barnett and linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Joshua Dobbs is a dynamic dual-threat quarterback who is a force on the ground and now trusted through the air and the duo of Alvin Kamara and Jalen Hurd at tailback is as dangerous as it gets in the SEC.

Are there some questions? Sure.

The wide receivers need to develop, Jones needs to nail the defensive coordinator hire and the Vols need to prove that they can close when they have leads.

Six other teams in the division would kill to have those minor problems.

Tennessee should be picked to win the division at media days this July, and anything short of a trip to Atlanta in early December should be considered a disappointment.

There are simply no excuses.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Tennessee QB Joshua Dobbs

 

Championship Game Non-Issue

A lot has been made this week of the NCAA rule that gives Alabama more practice time heading into Monday's College Football Playoff National Championship Game than top-ranked Clemson.

Clemson started school this week, which means that, by rule, it must adhere to the 20-hour limit on contact. Alabama's spring semester doesn't start until next week, which means that head coach Nick Saban and his staff can spend 24 hours per day at the complex if they want to.

At least, that was the case initially.

ESPN's Brett McMurphy reported on Thursday that the NCAA amended the rule and will allow Clemson unlimited practice time if they want it.

It's the right move, but also more of a public relations decision than anything else. 

Ohio State was in the same position as Alabama last year leading up to its title game tilt with Oregon, and Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer commented on what his plan was prior to the meeting with the Ducks.

"That 20 hour thing? Yeah, we were way below that," Meyer said, according to CollegePressBox.com. "We didn't touch that 20-hour rule because you're nuts if you—it was all about get your work done. The term that I kept using with our staff is efficiency. Don't re-practice things you don't have to re-practice because you're just wearing them out."

Players are creatures of habit, and coaches aren't going to burn them out. 

Does extra time in the film room help? Sure. But if you don't think Tiger quarterback Deshaun Watson would have been in the film room on his own and doing work on his iPad at home, you're out of your mind.

By allowing Clemson to practice as much as it wants, the NCAA removes the appearance two different sets of rules. The reality is, though, that it doesn't matter all that much.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Alabama head coach Nick Saban

 

Worth It

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze likes to send pictures of fish that he catches any time he lands a commitment. 

Athletics director Ross Bjork probably should post one of a shark this morning.

The school announced on Wednesday that Freeze had been given a raise and one-year extension. He will make $4.925 million per year over the next four years—the longest contract allowed by the state of Mississippi.

"I am humbled and blessed by the continued confidence our administration continues to show in our staff," Freeze said in the release. "I am grateful especially to Ross for his proactive leadership and steadfast support. I also appreciate the salary increases for our assistant coaches and support staff, who have worked extremely hard to build this program."

He's worth every penny.

Freeze took over what amounted to an SEC disaster zone when he got the job prior to the 2012 season and has built the program back to become a perennial contender in the SEC West.

Ole Miss Results by Season 2010-2015
Year Head Coach Overall Record SEC Record Bowl
2010 Houston Nutt 4-8 1-7 N/A
2011 Houston Nutt 2-10 0-8 N/A
2012 Hugh Freeze 7-6 3-5 BBVA Compass (W)
2013 Hugh Freeze 8-5 3-5 Music City (W)
2014 Hugh Freeze 9-4 5-3 Peach (L)
2015 Hugh Freeze 10-3 6-2 Sugar (W)

ESPN.com

The raise places Freeze third in the SEC in salary behind Alabama's Nick Saban and Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin, according to USA Today coaching salary database. Being behind Sumlin doesn't make much sense, but Freeze has made two straight New Year's Six bowl games, has been in the mix for the SEC West in each of the last two seasons and hasn't really left the national picture since 2013.

Freeze is worth it, and he should have his team ready to take another step forward in 2016.

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze (right)

 

Massive Draft Decision

That sound you heard emanating from East Alabama on Wednesday afternoon was the sound of Auburn fans cheering.

The Tigers' best player is coming back.

Defensive end Carl Lawson announced on Twitter that he will return to the Plains for his redshirt junior season.

The 6'2", 261-pounder had just 17 tackles, three for loss, and one sack in an injury-riddled 2015 campaign. But when he was on the field, there was no doubt what kind of impact he made.

Before a hip injury forced him out against Louisville in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game, Auburn's defense looked like a force, Lawson and Montravius Adams lived in the Cardinal backfield and the Tigers shut out Bobby Petrino's crew until Lawson went to the locker room.

When he came back on Halloween, it was more of the same. The Tigers gave up just 375.5 yards per game over the last six games of the year, Lawson hurried the quarterback eight times and the Tigers gave up 21.7 points per game—5.8 points per game below their full season average.

New coordinator Kevin Steele won't change much and will play to his strengths. That means a heavy dose of Lawson.

"There will always be tweaks," Steele said in quotes emailed by Auburn. "I don’t think in this day and age you can just go in with a playbook and say, ‘This is what we do and this is how we do it and conform to it.’ You have to find the strengths and the weaknesses of your players and improve on the weaknesses and build on the strengths."

If Lawson can stay healthy, he will be one of the best in the SEC in 2016.

David J. Phillip/Associated Press
Auburn DE Carl Lawson

 

The Best Is Yet to Come

Alabama head coach Nick Saban enjoyed himself after the Cotton Bowl, breaking out the dance moves (via: Justin King of AL.com).

"I really didn't want to dance," Saban said, per Matt Zenitz of AL.com. "I really do have some moves. I didn't want to let them all out. I really was criticized pretty harshly by Kristen [Saban], who has seen me dance before and knows I can be better. She thought my effort was not real good."

What's Saban's constant theme within his football team? The process, of course.

"I think that you always try to create a standard of excellence and define exactly what the expectation is for the players that you have on this particular team, and each team is a little bit different," he said during Monday's teleconference. "Whatever has been accomplished in the past certainly doesn't have anything to do with what the future holds. The future is really in front of our team and our players all the time."

He defined his postgame dancing expectation and the standard of excellence he holds himself to when he said he knows he can be better. 

We know Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney has plenty of moves and will undoubtedly break them all out if he wins the title, but Saban's celebration is much more intriguing. The dinosaur should be retired and Saban needs to start a new trend if his Crimson Tide prevail Monday night (hopefully replacing the "dab" in the process).

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of cfbstats.com, and recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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