NFL Mid-Week Update: SEC Football


By Jim Hurley

Can we call ‘em “The Magnificent Seven”?

Hmm, that may be a bit premature but there—indeed—seven new head coaches in this year’s National Football League and today we’ll go “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” with the new guys on the coaching block and so let’s get to it:

MIKE PETTINE, CLEVELAND BROWNS—Gotta say this was a real head-scratcher pick by the AFC North crew that was wowed by his past as Rex Ryan’s right-hand man with the New York Jets for a few seasons along with last year’s one-and-done deal as the defensive coordinator of the Buffalo Bills.
Pettine already has ruffled some feathers in this great Ohio city plus—and maybe we’re not being quite fair—we don’t think he’s gonna have the “magic touch” when it comes to handling wild rookie QB Johnny Manziel.

Something tells us the Brownies are headed to a 5- or 6-win season at best and there will be plenty of rocky roads ahead for Mr. Pettine who we don’t believe is “cut out” to be an NFL head coach.

Thumbs Down!

JIM CALDWELL, DETROIT LIONS—Make no mistake about it, the Lions had to do something following last year’s ugly/awful 7-9 SU (straight-up) season under then fifth-year head coach Jim Schwartz who proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he wasn’t ever head coaching material.

The Lions played an undisciplined brand of football with countless dopey penalties and unnecessary fouls and blame Schwartz for all/most of that but when the Motowners went searching for a new coach we thought they would grab a hot young NFL assistant but instead “settled on” veteran Jim Caldwell whose three years with the Indianapolis Colts (2009-2011) produced two playoff wins and a clunker Super Bowl loss to New Orleans.

Thumbs Down!

BILL O’BRIEN, HOUSTON TEXANS—It’s rather funny how there seemed to be an universal acceptance of this former Penn State head coach by the NFL fraternity at large but we just don’t get it. Sure, O’Brien gets high marks for masterfully steering Penn State through two years of rough waters in Happy Valley—he registered 15 wins with a scholarship-bereft squad, that’s true—but just because he once was caught on camera screaming at New England QB Tom Brady doesn’t necessarily mean he’s NFL-ready in terms of a head coach.

Thumbs Down!

MIKE ZIMMER, MINNESOTA VIKINGS—Let’s face it, the Leslie Frazier Era was an unmitigated failure for the Vikes as the NFC North crew suffered two sub-.500 seasons in three years and the one playoff berth in 2012 was a non-competitive 24-10 loss in Green Bay when then-starter QB Christian Ponder sat out with an injury. Now, Frazier’s gone and long-time NFL veteran defensive coach Zimmer has been installed and gotta admit we have mixed feelings on the hire.

On one hand, Zimmer is a hardened coach with great defensive philosophies but was he the right man for Minnesota? We would have snapped up the best-possible offensive mind here and probably made a run at San Francisco offensive coordinator Greg Roman.

We’ll give Zimmer the benefit of the doubt but note it’s a “Thumbs Up” with a large-sized asterisk here.

LOVIE SMITH, TAMPA BAY BUCS—Couldn’t quite figure out why this former nine-year Chicago Bears head coach didn’t get a sniff following the 2013 season but now Smith— who won three playoff games and appeared in one Super Bowl (2006) in his tenure with “Da Bears”—is the man in charge in Tampa Bay and it’s a rock-solid move especially with his defensive pedigree.

Thumbs Up, of course!

KEN WHISENHUNT, TENNESSEE TITANS—Here’s the real “home run” of this new head coaching class as the former Arizona Cardinals boss (and most recently last year the offensive coordinator and play-caller of the San Diego Chargers) has been an under-the-radar great coach for years going back to that fantastic Super Bowl run of the 2008 Cardinals (beat Atlanta, Carolina and Philadelphia before that last-minute SB loss to Pittsburgh).

Mark it down, January 13, 2014 was a monumental day in the football fortunes of the Titans who hired Whisenhunt that day—and we expect the AFC South squad to be playoff-bound right from the proverbial get-go.

Thumbs Up!

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JAY GRUDEN, WASHINGTON REDSKINS—The second coordinator of the Cincy Bengals (along with the aforementioned Zimmer) takes control in D.C. and while we applaud the hiring we’d like to add the ‘Skins should have made an all-out offer for the other Gruden.

Still, we give this Gruden hiring a… Thumbs Up.


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The Southeastern Conference‘s seven-year run of BCS Championships—finally—came to an end with last year’s thrill-a-minute 34-31 loss-but-cover against 11-point favorite Florida State but hope you’re not discounting the mighty SEC from winning it all this year in the newfangled College Football Playoff.
The $64,000 question is what team(s) will be potential major surprises—hey, we all know the likes of Alabama, Auburn, South Carolina and LSU will have serious shots to win it all this year but let’s catch you up on two “mystery teams” here that might shake the SEC and all of college football to the core:

OLE MISS— The Hugh Freeze Era has been a real boon thus far with back-to-back 7- and 8-win seasons that include bowl wins against Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech and now you could well see a major jump in the Rebels’ fortunes this season.

Keep in mind that Ole Miss returns 16 starters from last year’s squad and that—of course— includes star DT Robert Nkemdiche who is actually snaring some early-bird Heisman Trophy love (don’t know about that!) plus QB Bo Wallace is a seasoned veteran who is entering his senior campaign and he already is the school’s second all-time passing leader with 6,340 yards.

Check out the sked and you’ll see the Rebs open with a tough game against Boise State (in Atlanta) and there’s also road games at Vanderbilt, Texas A&M, LSU and Arkansas but if Ole Miss stays healthy and gets a monster year from WR Laquon Treadwell (72 catches for 608 yards and 5 TDs last year) then this could be a real contender for the national title… really!

GEORGIA—So, what can a reasonably sane person expect from this year’s edition of the Georgia Dawgs?

After all, Mark Richt’s 14th year on the job could bring a spot in one of this year’s College Football Playoff games or it could bring a .500-type season depending on just how QB Huston Mason plays—he’s been waiting behind Aaron Murray for seemingly half his young adult life!—plus Georgia needs to hunker down on “D” one year after allowing 30-plus points in eight of the team’s 13 games and take note the Bulldogs went a dreary 2-5-1 ATS (against the spread) in those eight tilts.

Georgia has 17 starters back and RBs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall should be running as an “entry” as Heisman Trophy candidates after they combined for 2,144 yards rushing when healthy two years ago.

Let’s see how Georgia does in those high-profile season-opening games against Clemson and then at South Carolina—if Richt’s troops are 2-and-oh out of the gate then this could be filed in the “something special” category.

Folks, let’s take a step back and see what the SEC teams did last year spreadwise with overall and conference pointspread marks listed below…

Auburn12-2-0 .8578-1-0.889
Missouri 11-3-0.7867-2-0.778
Miss State 8-5-0 .615  5-3-0.625
Ole Miss 8-5-0.6153-5-0.375
Alabama7-6-0.538 5-3-0.625
So. Carolina 7-6-0  .5383-5-0.375
Tennessee 5-7-0  .4174-4-0.500
LSU 5-7-1 .4173-4-1.429
Texas A&M 5-8-0  .3852-6-0.250
Arkansas 4-8-0  .3333-5-0.375
Florida4-8-0 .3334-4-0 .500
Kentucky  4-8-0.3332-6-0.250
Georgia  3-8-2  .273 2-5-1.286

We’ll check in with more NCAA Conferences in the days/weeks ahead as we zoom straight towards to the start of the 2014 season!


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