SEC Football Q&A: Who Were the Winners and Losers of the Offseason?

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterAugust 2, 2016

LSU head coach Les Miles
LSU head coach Les MilesScott Halleran/Getty Images

Players are reporting, camps are opening and, by the end of the week, pads will be popping.

The offseason is over, and the 2016 college football season starts now.

With the offseason in the books, it's time to grade the doldrums of the offseason. Who was the big winner and big loser in the SEC during the offseason? That question and more are answered in this week's edition of SEC Q&A. 

The big winner in the offseason was LSU and, specifically, head coach Les Miles.

He got to keep his job, which seemed like an impossibility during the final week of the regular season when Jimbo Fisher rumors swirled and he entered the game against Texas A&M not knowing if he'd be retained a couple of hours later. 

He lost defensive coordinator Kevin Steele to Auburn only to lure hotshot Wisconsin coordinator Dave Aranda and his 3-4 multiple scheme to Baton Rouge. Despite the uncertainty around his job status, he reeled in the nation's third-ranked class, complete with 18 players with four or five stars attached to their names. And, in a reversal of normal LSU fortune, it had several draft-eligible players return, including defensive lineman Lewis Neal, linebacker Kendell Beckwith and cornerback Tre'Davious White.

I've been asked all offseason: "Who's on the hottest seat in the SEC, Miles, Auburn's Gus Malzahn or Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin?" The mere thought of that even being a debate based on where Miles was heading into the finale with the Aggies last November speaks volumes on how much success "The Mad Hatter" has had this offseason.

Will that translate to success in the fall? That remains to be seen. If it doesn't, Miles' fortunes could turn faster than tailgaters stir a pot of jambalaya outside Tiger Stadium. 

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Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin (left) and LSU head coach Les Miles (right).
Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin (left) and LSU head coach Les Miles (right).Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The big loser of the offseason is Sumlin because, despite all the positive things that happened during the offseason like Oklahoma graduate transfer quarterback Trevor Knight's arrival and the presence of new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, he just can't shake the stigma that his program is out of control.

It started last December when former 5-star quarterback Kyle Allen announced his transfer to Houston and former 5-star quarterback Kyler Murray did the same to Oklahoma. It continued in May when, after the decommitment of 4-star quarterback Tate Martell, wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead subtweeted Martell and angered several members of the class of 2017.

That lack of control popped up over the weekend, when new offensive line coach Jim Turner and tight ends coach Jeff Banks were suspended for two weeks for a sexist and derogatory presentation toward women at the annual "chalk talk" event, according to Ben Baby of the Dallas Morning News.

The constant stream of incidents have cast a shadow over the program, and will certainly be brought up again if Sumlin winds up in that seven- or eight-win gray area and his job is called into question in December.  

It has to be Ole Miss, because its Labor Day night showdown with Florida State could be a de facto national quarterfinal.

Ole Miss enters the season with one of the best quarterbacks in the country in senior Chad Kelly, but has some questions to answer at wide receiver after the departure of Laquon Treadwell. Sure, players like Quincy Adeboyejo and Markell Pack are ultra-talented, but there are a bunch of No. 2 receivers on the Rebel roster with no proven No. 1. 

Ole Miss WR Quincy Adeboyejo
Ole Miss WR Quincy AdeboyejoMarvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

That wide receiving corps is going up against a secondary that includes stud safety Derwin James and a pass defense that gave up just 191.6 yards per game through the air last year.

What's more, the Rebel offensive line is in flux after the departure of tackle Laremy Tunsil. Sure, players like Robert Conyers, Jordan Sims and Javon Patterson have played roles, but now they're going to be given even more responsibility that could start true freshman Greg Little at left tackle against one of the most fearsome front sevens in college football.

If Ole Miss—and particularly its offense—can have success against the Seminoles, it will tell me that head coach Hugh Freeze and his crew is ready to contend not only for the SEC West title, but a College Football Playoff berth.  

No, no, no, no and no.

For the life of me, I can't figure out why the "fire Butch Jones" narrative seems to have become a talking point among a very vocal minority of the SEC fanbase.

Why on earth would this be a make-or-break year for Jones?

He has improved his record every year since taking over for Derek Dooley after the 2012 season, built the roster to a point where it is ready to contend for the division title and more, and met the expectation for the program last year when it was picked to (and did) finish second in the division—one fourth down against Florida from winning it.

Yes, the window is wide open in the SEC East this year and, yes, Tennessee was an overwhelming favorite to win it when we predicted the SEC at media days in Hoover, Alabama, last month. If Jones and the Vols don't live up to that hype, and don't have a devastating injury or two that derail the season along the way, the season will be a disappointment.

One disappointment in four years shouldn't and doesn't necessitate a coaching change. It might make things a little sketchy for Jones in 2017, but barring a 3-9 disaster in 2016, a coaching change won't even be discussed on Rocky Top.

Tennessee head coach Butch Jones
Tennessee head coach Butch JonesKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

There's no doubt that a little bit more explosiveness in the passing game would go a long way for first-year head coach Kirby Smart, and that it doesn't matter if that comes from Greyson Lambert, Brice Ramsey or Jacob Eason. 

Assuming running back Nick Chubb comes back at or near 100 percent, the mere threat of a downfield passing attack will take a ton of pressure off Chubb and the offensive line and help that offense.

But quarterback isn't the primary problem at Georgia.

The real problem in Athens is the absence of the depth, experience and versatility along the defensive line. John Atkins and Trent Thompson are the only true established big men up front, and Atkins is the only established upperclassman on the Bulldog two-deep heading into fall camp.

"The biggest concern for me and our team is the defensive line," Smart said at media days. "We have to do a great job there and stay injury-free. We have to develop the guys on campus. If those guys get better, we'll have good depth there."

The Bulldogs aren't there yet, and if they can't stop anybody, "good" quarterback play might not be enough to win the SEC East. 

If those pieces come together, though, Georgia will absolutely be in that conversation. 

Georgia QB Jacob Eason
Georgia QB Jacob EasonJohn Bazemore/Associated Press

    

Quotes obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com, unless otherwise noted. Recruiting information 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.