Week 8 SEC recap: Tennessee, Arkansas and Auburn all could have new coaches in 2018

Welcome to The Crock Pot, your one-stop shop for all the SEC football news, notes, quotes and mishaps you might have missed during the weekend. Here’s what we’re stewing over …

Week 8 didn’t give the SEC football faithful much to watch. With five different teams on bye, the conference only played five games on Saturday — and one of those was Missouri’s noon clash with Idaho. Get pumped!

Only one game was decided by fewer than 20 points (LSU-Ole Miss), but the results could have some interesting ramifications with regard to the future of some floundering programs. Struggling Tennessee, as expected, was throttled by Alabama in Bryant-Denny Stadium. Auburn dished out the same treatment to an Arkansas team that has been, in a word,  bad.

Nobody would be surprised if the Vols parted ways with Butch Jones after five seasons. The noted Life Champion and Brick-Layer-in-Chief has lost eight of his last 15 games, including a 2-8 mark against SEC teams during that span. Tennessee already has lost to Florida, Georgia and South Carolina this season, and a road game against Kentucky could see that conference losing streak continue.

Increasingly, the same could be said for Arkansas and fellow fifth-year coach Bret Bielema, whose SEC record at Arkansas now sits at 10-26. The Hogs may not win a conference game this season, even with Ole Miss losing its star quarterback for the year, and the general vibe coming from the fan base is, “We’re tired of this shtick.”

But the coaching changes might not end there. Auburn is 6-2, with its only losses at Clemson and at LSU. But if the Tigers lose to Georgia and Alabama in November, which is entirely possible, do you think the restless Auburn fan base will be happy with 8-4 and the Outback Bowl? We’re not saying Malzahn  deserves to be fired; this is more a reflection of athletic director Jay Jacobs and a fan base, who might be losing patience with a coach who hasn’t eclipsed 8-5 since reaching the BCS title game in Year 1.

Two more names on the list are Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin and Florida’s Jim McElwain.

The Aggies are 5-2 but still have to face Mississippi State, Auburn and LSU. Athletic director Scott Woodward made his expectations quite clear this summer, and Sumlin still has to shake the “can’t win in November” narrative. He’s done a good job in 2017, all things considered, but he’ll probably need to win one or two of those bigger SEC matchups to stay.

As for McElwain, he might be the safest of the bunch even though the offense still looks like it came out of a dusty 1990s playbook. The Gators might only finish 6-5 or even 5-6, with losses to Georgia, Florida State and possibly South Carolina on the table, but McElwain surely has bought himself time with consecutive SEC East championships and the foundation of a great 2018 recruiting class.

What’s more likely, in our opinion, is that McElwain stays but is pushed to fire offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, whose career of mediocrity has already been chronicled in detail.

If we had to put these guys in some sort of order, it might look like this…

SEC hot seat rankings entering the stretch run

1. Butch Jones

How hot? 5 out of 5 flames

Must-win: At Kentucky next week

Will anything save him? SEC Country’s Mike Griffith reports that winning out is the only way Jones keeps his job. And with LSU coming to town, the chances of that happening seem extraordinarily slim. Interestingly, the report also reveals Tennessee’s loss to Vanderbilt last year cost Jones a two-year extension.

Possible replacements: JON GRUDEN, CHIP KELLY, PEYTON MANNING, LANE KIFFIN… Just kidding. Actual candidates would in all likelihood be Group of 5 or lower-tier Power 5 coaches on the rise, such as Iowa State’s Matt Campbell, Purdue’s Jeff Brohm and Memphis’ Mike Norvell.

2. Bret Bielema

How hot? 4.5 out of 5 flames

Must-win: At least three of his next five games; Ole Miss, Missouri and Coastal Carolina make that feat quite possible.

Will anything save him? Upsetting LSU in Week 11 would restore some faith in his program. As Eric Bolin notes, “only about 10,000 people — at most — stayed beyond the midway point of the third quarter” during the Saturday night loss to Auburn. When fans are checking out at home, and affecting athletic department revenue, that becomes a problem for Jeff Long.

Possible replacements: Dare we say Gus Malzahn? If he and Auburn part ways, it could work, given Malzahn’s roots as an Arkansas high school football coach.

3. Kevin Sumlin

How hot? 3.5 out of 5 flames

Must-win: At LSU during Rivalry Week

Will anything save him? Absolutely. As noted above, Sumlin has to finish strong to dispel the running criticism that his teams collapse in November. Coming off a bye week, beating Mississippi State would be an excellent start, and there are two very winnable games after that in New Mexico and Ole Miss. That’d have the Aggies at eight wins. Upset Auburn or LSU and you have to think Woodward considers keeping Sumlin around; he should, at least.

Possible replacements: Again, Sumlin is trending toward holding onto this job. But if A&M does fire him, this would become one of the most attractive openings in the country; Woodward would have a boatload of options.

4. Gus Malzahn

How hot? 3.5 out of 5 flames

Must-win: Georgia, Texas A&M or Alabama

Will anything get him fired? Losing to Alabama, Georgia and Texas A&M might do the trick. More important than the win-loss record, however, is the context of those games. If the Tigers drop a couple of 13-7, 20-10 games, as they have been wont to do of late under Malzahn, lackluster offense could be what gets him canned. Auburn has enough talent that we’re unlikely to see that happen.

Possible replacements: Like A&M, this is one of the top postings in the country.

5. Jim McElwain

How hot? 3 out of 5 flames

Must-win: UAB

Will anything get him fired? Unless the Gators lose all of their remaining games in embarrassing fashion, including UAB, I don’t see how UF gets rid of McElwain. Sorry, Florida fans, but that’s just not a prudent move at this point. The school almost certainly will give him at least one more season to right the ship. Whether he rebounds in 2018 will more likely decide his fate.

3 other things you may have missed in Week 8

A heart of gold (and orange)

The now-infamous Butch Jones term joined a growing list of such phrases this February, when the Tennessee coach boasted that his program was only concerned with “ 5-star hearts and 5-star competitors.”

Fast forward to Saturday, when the Vols — trailing 28-0 midway through the third quarter — picked off a pass from Tide freshman backup quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and returned it 97 yards for a touchdown. Linebacker Daniel Bituli made the play, but defensive back Rashaan Gaulden added some, uh, competitive flair by flipping Alabama fans the double-bird.

Five-star hearts, indeed.

Derrius Guice and Nick Fitzgerald, record-smashers

Facing the porous Ole Miss defense, LSU’s star tailback romped for 276 yards rushing on just 22 carries Saturday night. In doing so, Guice accomplished a feat matched by no other SEC player: Three career games with at least 250 yards on the ground. Last year, he ran for 285 against Texas A&M and 252 against Arkansas.

Guice now sits in second place on the SEC’s rushing leaderboard with 711 yards through seven games played. As far as career rushing yards go, he’s 10th on the Tigers’ all-time list with 2,258, but needs only 320 yards to surpass Joseph Addai for sixth place. With Tennessee and Arkansas left on the schedule, it seems likely he’ll make that happen.

Elsewhere in the SEC West, Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald became the sixth quarterback in conference history to top 2,000 career rushing yards. The junior ran for 115 yards and 2 touchdowns against Kentucky this weekend. With 107 more yards, he’ll pass Johnny Manziel for fifth place, but all-time leader Tim Tebow (2,947) and Bulldogs legend Dak Prescott (2,521) are within reach if Fitzgerald returns in 2018.

Missouri shows life

There was a funny moment Saturday afternoon when Idaho led Missouri, 7-0, after Drew Lock threw an interception that set up a quick Vandals touchdown drive. That didn’t last long, however, as the Tigers reeled off 37 unanswered points after that.

It’s been easy to dismiss Mizzou all season because its defense, which saw coordinator DeMontie Cross fired two weeks into the season, has been awful. But the Lock-led offense remains potent, having dropped 34 points against a decent Kentucky defense and another 28 against No. 3 Georgia. In fact, the junior quarterback connected on some absolute bombs while facing the Bulldogs.

In the past three weeks combined, Lock has thrown for 1,075 yards and 13 touchdowns while averaging more than 10 yards per attempt. Three of his receivers, meanwhile, rank among the SEC’s top nine producers: J’Mon Moore (580 yards), Emanuel Hall (454 yards) and Johnathon Johnson (407 yards). And keep in mind, much of this has been without top tailback Damarea Crockett, who is out with a shoulder injury that required surgery.

Point being, Missouri is poised to cause some trouble for the SEC in November with Florida, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Arkansas left on the schedule. ESPN’s FPI rating system gives the Tigers a 30-plus percent chance of winning each of those matchups, and given the caliber of offenses they’d be playing, we like their chances even more.

So don’t sleep on coach Barry Odom just yet. Missouri might not be ready to play with the big boys just yet, but in a bad SEC, this team can do damage.

Highlight of the week: Group of 5 edition

We love college football in all its various iterations here at SEC Country, and few teams have been more impressive this season that the Scott Frost-led UCF Knights. On Saturday, they improved to 6-0 against a very good Navy team that runs a well-oiled, triple-option machine.

An aggressive UCF defense, however, held the Midshipmen to 4.2 yards per carry thanks to plays like this:

SEC power rankings after Week 7

  1. Alabama: Methodically disassembled “rival” Tennessee, 45-7, in what was the Crimson Tide’s 11th straight victory against the Vols. ( Last week: 1)
  2. Georgia: Enjoyed a week of prep ahead of the annual Florida game in Jacksonville, Fla. ( Last week: 2)
  3. Auburn: Convincingly dispatched an inferior Arkansas squad, 52-20, and the offense looked great all the while. Jarrett Stidham played well and the play-calling had to feel refreshing for Tigers fans. ( Last week: 3)
  4. Mississippi State: Throttled one-loss Kentucky, 45-7, further distancing itself from those two big losses to Georgia and Auburn. A 9-3 finish is within reach for Fitzgerald and Co. ( Last week: 4)
  5. LSU: We’re moving the Tigers up a notch on the back of three consecutive SEC wins. The Bayou Bengals weren’t perfect against the Rebels, but Guice sure looks healthy. ( Last week: 6)
  6. Texas A&M: Coming off a bye, the Aggies have a potential statement game on deck in the primetime-spotlight matchup vs. Mississippi State. ( Last week: 5)
  7. South Carolina: The Gamecocks could finish with eight wins if they knock off Florida at home, and they still have that N.C. State win in their back pocket. ( Last week: 8)
  8. Kentucky: Mississippi State exposed the Wildcats defense in a big way, although UK did keep things close through the first half. Mark Stoops can get his team back on its feet as early as this Saturday, however, with a winnable clash against Tennessee on tap. ( Last week: 7)
  9. Florida: McElwain isn’t going anywhere once the season mercifully ends for Gators fans, but the growing discontent will only get louder if Florida can’t put up a competitive fight against Georgia. ( Last week: 9)
  10. Ole Miss: Held LSU to 13 points through the first two quarters, but losing quarterback Shea Patterson for the season is an absolutely brutal blow in an already off-the-rails season. Fortunately for the Rebels, they get Arkansas at home next week. ( Last week: 10)
  11. Vanderbilt: Another SEC team on bye. The Commodores move up by virtue of  not getting blown out this weekend. ( Last week: 12)
  12. Tennessee: The Alabama game went as poorly as expected for Butch Jones, whose days in Knoxville seem numbered. ( Last week: 11)
  13. Missouri: The Tigers are (very slowly) trending up, relative to where they were at the beginning of the season. The Idaho win was a nice start. ( Last week: 14)
  14. Arkansas: Has not beaten a Power 5 team this season. The Hogs also have lost their last three games by a combined 90 points. Right now, I have them losing their Week 13 matchup at Missouri. Earth to Bret Bielema, you there? ( Last week: 13)

Hittin’ the links: SEC Country news you may have missed

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