LSU and USC are already open, and Florida could follow. Three top-10 jobs all in need of coaches in the same offseason, and several intriguing names that could be on the move.
It sets up an absolutely fascinating coaching-carousel season that may be more interesting than this ho-hum year to this point.
Jimbo Fisher (Texas A&M), James Franklin (Penn State), Dave Aranda (Baylor) Luke Fickell (Cincinnati), Mel Tucker (Michigan State) and Lane Kiffin (Ole Miss) will be in play, some maybe at the others’ posts.
It was already set up to be interesting with LSU and USC open — two top programs. But the situation at Florida, where Dan Mullen’s tenure has taken a nosedive in his fourth season, adds to the intrigue.
Florida has lost eight of its last 10 games to power-conference opponents, and then came Saturday. The Gators won a game, but put forth an embarrassing effort in a 70-52 win over middling FCS foe Samford. The Gators’ basketball team almost allowed the same amount of points (55) in its upset of No. 20 Florida State. The football team allowed a program-record 42 first-half points the same week the school fired defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and offensive line coach John Hevesy. After the game, Mullen didn’t do himself any favors. He called it a “great win,” and said, “Calling a win a disappointment is disrespectful to the game.” Florida fans probably feel the same about his team’s performance this year, as it has fallen to a dismal fifth in the SEC East.
One big LSU target is likely to be Fisher since his friend and former boss is the athletic director there. Another is Aranda, who has Baylor in the hunt for a Big 12 title in just his second season and served as LSU’s defensive coordinator in its national championship season in 2019. There have been whispers that USC will target Franklin, although that could change now that Penn State has lost four of five and is 10-9 the last two seasons. Someone is bound to make a run at Fickell, the Cincinnati coach who is 30-4 the last three seasons and knocking on the College Football Playoff door. Kiffin, a brilliant offensive mind, would be one of my top choices at LSU or Florida. He has Ole Miss closing in on its first 10-win season since 2015 and has developed a Heisman Trophy contender in Matt Corral. Maybe former Texans and Penn State coach Bill O’Brien, serving as Nick Saban’s offensive coordinator at Alabama, gets himself in the mix.
It will be a coaching carousel full of intrigue. Get ready for non-denials followed by departures, clandestine interviews and buyout talks, and mega-contracts.
Sooner or later
The only surprise is that it took this long for Oklahoma to suffer defeat. Saturday’s ugly loss to Baylor, likely knocking the Sooners out of the playoff chase, has felt inevitable for a while. Oklahoma has flirted with disaster all season, struggling to get by the likes of Tulane, West Virginia, Texas and Nebraska at home.
Now, I thought the Sooners were going to be very good this year. I picked them to win it all, which says it all about my prognostication skills. The playoff committee got it right by ranking Oklahoma eighth when it was undefeated. After this loss, it should fall into the teens, and expect at least one more loss in the regular season for Lincoln Riley’s team.
Bringing up the rear
Don’t do it. Do not lose out. That’s our best advice for Texas coach Steve Sarkisian. This has already been a first season to forget, one that hit a new low with a 57-56, overtime loss to conference punching-bag Kansas. But if the Longhorns don’t win one of their last two games, they could end up finishing dead last in the Big 12. That didn’t happen to Charlie Strong or Tom Herman, and neither of those men made it past four seasons in Austin.
Texas, which has lost five straight games, visits West Virginia and then hosts Kansas State to close out the season. These are beatable teams. Sarkisian isn’t getting fired after one season, but he could expedite his departure without some damage control the next two weeks.
1. Georgia (10-0) (Last week: 1)
Georgia trailed twice on Saturday, which is a headline unto itself. It was the first time that has happened this year. Of course, the Bulldogs scored 34 of the next 41 points to make Tennessee pay for having the audacity to even think about an upset.
2. Alabama (9-1) (2)
I’m sure there was a point to Alabama hosting independent New Mexico State, but it sure wasn’t in the best interests of any players. The Crimson Tide’s 59-3 bashing of the Aggies wasn’t productive for either team.
3. Ohio State (9-1) (3)
The Buckeyes appear ready for their Michigan two-step, obliterating pesky Purdue by four touchdowns to remain all alone atop the Big Ten East. Now comes the teeth of their regular-season schedule.
4. Cincinnati (10-0) (4)
You can poke holes in the Bearcats’ résumé, their uneven victories against woeful opponents, but they haven’t lost a game yet, and they own a road victory over a top-10 team. That has to matter.
5. Oregon (9-1) (6)
Anthony Brown has put together a nice season despite ample criticism, producing 20 touchdowns and a 64.6 completion percentage. Now he has to finish this off with a Pac-12 title and a playoff berth.
6. Notre Dame (9-1) (7)
Notre Dame is headed to its fifth straight double-digit-win season, and seventh since Brian Kelly took over in 2010. The Irish had two of those in the 16 seasons before Kelly arrived in South Bend.
7. Michigan State (9-1) (8)
The Spartans’ defense wasn’t impressive in giving up 451 yards of offense to skidding Maryland after getting shredded by Purdue. It’s hard to see them upsetting Ohio State unless that unit pulls a 180.
8. Michigan (9-1) (9)
How about this for irony: Michigan has to root for bitter rival Ohio State on Saturday. If the Buckeyes knock off Michigan State, the Wolverines can win the Big Ten East by winning out — provided that comes with a win over the hated Buckeyes.
9. Oklahoma State (9-1) (NR)
The Cowboy defense has allowed 23 points in this three-game winning streak, putting Oklahoma State in position to win its first Big 12 regular-season crown in a decade.
10. Ole Miss (8-2) (NR)
Overshadowed all season, Ole Miss’ defense came up big this week, producing two turnovers and a safety in a 10-point win over Texas A&M that kept the Rebels’ faint SEC West title hopes alive.
Dropped out: Oklahoma (9-1) and Texas A&M (7-3)
(in predicted order)
QB Bryce Young, Alabama
Young now has four games with at least four touchdown passes, even if the latest one, in a 59-3 obliteration of New Mexico State, came in a glorified scrimmage.
RB Kenneth Walker III, Michigan State
Over his last three games, the junior is averaging 158.6 rushing yards and 2.6 touchdowns. He’ll probably need to surpass those numbers against Ohio State to move the needle in his chase of the Heisman.
QB C.J. Stroud, Ohio State
The Heisman Trophy is within reach for Stroud with a big finish. He took a big step in the right direction on Saturday by completing 31 of 38 passes for 361 yards and five touchdowns.
QB Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh
It’s been a magical season for the senior, who has set career-highs in virtually every category of note, and can lead Pittsburgh to the ACC Coastal crown with a win at Virginia on Saturday.
QB Matt Corral, Ole Miss
Barring an Alabama collapse, Corral won’t have a conference championship game to state his case. Instead, it’s stat-padding season against Vanderbilt and Mississippi State.
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