SEC Football Q&A: Does Kirby Smart or Jim McElwain Have the Brighter Future?

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterJanuary 26, 2016

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart
Georgia head coach Kirby SmartJohn Bazemore/Associated Press

In college football, there is no offseason. 

This time of year is loaded with storylines that stem from the way teams closed the previous season, recruiting's home stretch and the preparation for spring football, which is just around the corner.

To help you get through the offseason, the weekly SEC Q&A here at Bleacher Report answers some of the hot topics around the SEC, including the expectation level for first-year Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, the status of Tennessee's quarterback position and more.

Dylan Jennings @jennings_dylan

@BarrettSallee who has a better future. Kirby smart or Jim Mcelwain

They both will have plenty of success as college football coaches, and Florida head coach Jim McElwain already tasted it with the 10-win season and SEC East title in 2015. 

Not to downplay what McElwain did in Year 1, but I'm going to go with first-year Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, despite the fact that it's sight unseen since he's never been a head coach before.

The reason is simple: I don't trust Florida's offense yet. 

McElwain seemed to have things cooking early in 2015, but when quarterback Will Grier got suspended, the wheels came flying off quickly. He will enter the 2016 season with a four-headed quarterback battle that includes returning starter Treon Harris, Alabama/Oregon State transfer Luke Del Rio, Purdue transfer Austin Appleby and true freshman Feleipe Franks. 

The Gators don't need Peyton Manning's clone back there taking snaps to be successful, because McElwain made a career making sure his quarterback is in the right spots for success. But those guys don't exactly inspire confidence either.

Florida head coach Jim McElwain
Florida head coach Jim McElwainRob Foldy/Getty Images

Smart, on the other hand, has a track record of defensive success, a loaded roster on that side of the ball, a seemingly never-ending pipeline of top-tier running back talent and the quarterback of the future in true freshman early enrollee Jacob Eason. One look at Eason's tape, and you'll see just how perfect he is for an offense that wants to stretch the field deep off play action.

For the next three or four years, Eason is going to be the guy holding down the fort in Athens. I have much more faith in Eason than I do the group vying for the job in Gainesville. 

In college football, three or four years is an eternity these days and can make or break the long-term future of any college coach—even new ones. 

Give me Smart as the guy with more success than McElwain long term, although I do think that both will be in division title contention every year, barring catastrophic injury.

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart
Georgia head coach Kirby SmartJohn Bazemore/Associated Press
Toxic Bama Fan✭ @hrparrishh

@BarrettSallee Will Nick Chubb or Leonard Fournette be the star RB of the SEC?

Without a doubt, it will be LSU running back Leonard Fournette.

That's not to say that Georgia running back Nick Chubb isn't a bona fide stud. He is. But moving forward, I don't know if he's going to be used the same way in 2016 that he was over his first two seasons. Sure, he can give you 30 carries a game, and Smart and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney know that. But do they really want him doing that fresh off a brutal knee injury knowing that other talented running backs, including Sony Michel, are on the roster?


Georgia RB Nick Chubb
Georgia RB Nick ChubbTodd Kirkland/Getty Images

Chubb will still get a sizable workload, routinely top the century mark on the ground and be a star, but LSU star running back Leonard Fournette will be the star.

Also a junior, Fournette has to be the superstar for an LSU team that struggles to stretch the field consistently through the air and is forced to be a workhorse for the ultra-physical Tigers. He led the nation in rushing yards per game in 2015 with 162.75, and with the same offensive philosophy and quarterback in place in 2016, the third act of the Fournette trilogy should be more of the same.

Of course, for either to be the face of the SEC, it would help if their teams contend for their respective division titles. Georgia has much more of a chance for that thanks to a much easier division and changes made on the offensive side of the ball. But that doesn't mean LSU won't hang around for a while. 

LSU RB Leonard Fournette
LSU RB Leonard FournetteScott Halleran/Getty Images
Justin Cobb @J_cobb25

@BarrettSallee @OleMissFB would you say the 2016 recruiting class is already better than the 2013?

The 2013 recruiting class at Ole Miss was loaded with superstars, including defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche, offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, wide receiver Laquon Treadwell and defensive back Tony Conner. That class, which vaulted the Rebels into national recruiting prominence, ranked eighth in the final 247Sports composite rankings.

With apologies to that star-studded class, the 2016 edition—which is currently ranked fourth in the 247Sports composite—is going to be even better.

Shea Patterson, a 5-star pro-style passer who's the top-ranked pro-style passer in the country, is already enrolled in class. As is Benito Jones, a 5-star defensive tackle who can make an immediate impact along a defensive line that is still loaded with stars sans Nkemdiche. 

DeKaylin Metcalf and Tre Nixon are 4-star wide receiver commits, both of whom add depth to a wide receiving corps that still includes Quincy Adeboyejo, Damore'ea Stringfellow, Demarkus Lodge and Van Jefferson, as well as tight end Evan Engram.

Greg Little is a monster tackle who should be able to slide right end to protect quarterback Chad Kelly's blind side, a lot like Tunsil did for former quarterback Bo Wallace when Tunsil came to Oxford.

Ole Miss' class isn't just highly ranked; its best players are players who can step in for those departed stars. At the very worst, they'll provide quality depth for head coach Hugh Freeze. After all, top-flight recruiting classes have become the norm in Oxford, and that will keep them in contention in the SEC West.

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze
Ole Miss head coach Hugh FreezeChuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
Dewey Swims @DeweySwims

@BarrettSallee if Dobbs struggles early in the season will there be a QB controversy at TN next year.

I understand why the theory that Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs struggles as a passer exists. After all, a 59.6 completion percentage, an average of 176.2 yards per game and a passer rating of 127.01 in 2015 didn't exactly knock the socks off of the pundits.

I'm not so sure it's a Dobbs problem as much as it is a wide receiver problem, though.

It was clear that head coach Butch Jones didn't trust his passing game early in the season in losses to Oklahoma, Florida and Arkansas, but I think it was more due to the lack of development of wide receivers like Marquez North, Josh Malone, Von Pearson and others that held the Vols back.

Tennessee WR Josh Malone
Tennessee WR Josh MaloneWade Payne/Associated Press

North and Pearson are gone, but Malone is back, along with Josh Smith, Preston Williams, Jauan Jennings and others. Those guys need to stay healthy and learn how to get off the ball better. If they do, Dobbs will be just fine. 

That's the real problem on Rocky Top, not Dobbs.

So no, Dobbs won't be benched if the passing game struggles. He's a dynamic runner, knows how to make that multidimensional rushing attack work and is well-versed on the speed of the game. Jones simply can't take those attributes out of the equation in the wide-open SEC East, because he can likely win it even if the passing game doesn't progress.

I don't think it's a Dobbs problem, though. I think it's much more of a wide receiver problem.

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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