Home for the Holidays: SEC
An SEC Newcomer, Some Traditional Powers, and a Recent BCS Champion All Missed the Postseason in 2012
The SEC has built a reputation as the nation’s toughest, most competitive conference, claiming the last six BCS championships. Alabama is responsible for two of those titles, and will play for the conference’s seventh straight when it takes on undefeated Notre Dame on Jan. 7.
Not every SEC team has had the same success as the Crimson Tide at boosting the conference’s profile in the last decade.
Of the five teams not playing in a bowl game in 2012-13, four of them will have new head coaches next year – Arkansas did not renew interim coach John L. Smith’s one-season contract, Auburn fired Gene Chizik after the team’s final game, and Tennessee and Kentucky dismissed their coaches partway through the teams’ disappointing seasons.
Auburn won the BCS title just two seasons ago, but they’re already back at the bottom of the SEC West. Their winless season in conference play was the final straw for Chizik, who was fired after following the 2010 national title with two subpar seasons.
Arkansas was expected to be a player in the West division this year, coming off an 11-2 season and a Cotton Bowl win, but when former coach Bobby Petrino’s motorcycle went off the road in the offseason, the rest of the year went into the ditch with it. The Razorbacks finished 4-8 and got a jumpstart on 2013 when they hired Wisconsin’s Bret Bielema as their new coach.
Kentucky and Tennessee have struggled often in the last few years, but both programs hope to turn a new leaf in 2013, terminating their coaches mid-year to get a head start on finding the person who they hope will rejuvenate their teams and make them competitive in the conference once again.
Missouri is the lone non-bowl-bound team in the SEC to keep its coach, but the Tigers were playing under different circumstances. It was Missouri’s first season in the conference after coming over from the Big XII, and the Tigers struggled against new competition.
All five of these SEC teams ended their seasons early than hoped, but with all of them undergoing big transitions, things could look very different at this time next year.
The program has been on a downward slide since the tail end of the Phil Fulmer era, but the UT fans clamoring for Fulmer's firing didn't know how good they had it. Since his firing, Tennessee has had just one winning season and not much luck at landing a long-term coach. Lane Kiffin left after 14 months, and Derek Dooley and his orange gameday slacks were given the boot earlier this year.
Now, the Vols have turned to Butch Jones, who was 23-14 in three seasons as Cincinnati's head coach. Jones, who was signed to a six-year contract, will start fresh in 2013. Quarterback Tyler Bray and wide receiver Justin Hunter have already declared for the NFL draft, and WR Cordarrelle Patterson is expected to follow.
Kentucky was the first SEC team to can its coach in 2012. In early November, the university announced that Joker Phillips would finish out the year but would not return next season. He's already taken a position as the new receivers coach and recruiting coordinator for the Florida Gators, leaving the Wildcats' rebuilding project to new head coach Mark Stoops. Most recently, Stoops was the defensive coordinator at Florida State. Hopefully, he's equally capable at handling an offense: UK's was at the bottom of the SEC this year.
Few teams, and few coaches, have fallen as far and as fast as Auburn and Gene Chizik. With considerable help from one-and-done quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton, the Tigers shot to the top of the college football ranks a few seasons ago but haven't been back since. Auburn struggled to find consistency at quarterback and hired Gus Malzahn, the architect of the national title winning offense, in attempt to get the team back on track in 2013.
Arkansas had one of the most interesting years in college football - but for the wrong reasons. Former coach Bobby Petrino was fired after a motorcycle accident that revealed an affair with a subordinate. The team suffered one of the season's biggest upset losses, falling to the University of Louisiana-Monroe in overtime on Sept. 8. The season went downhill from there. Quarterback Tyler Wilson suffered a concussion against ULM, accused the team of quitting in a postgame press conference, and struggled with a lack of experienced receivers. Running back Knile Davis, returning from a serious ankle injury, also fell short of his preseason Heisman potential and will try his luck in the NFL next year.
Missouri had a rough welcome to the SEC, finishing 5-7 in the first season in a new conference, although five of the seven losses were to ranked opponents. The team's offense sputtered throughout the year, in part due to a rash of injuries, to starting quarterback James Franklin and his linemen. The Tigers were the only team that didn't axe their coach after a rough season, but expect to see some differences next season, after offensive coordinator David Yost resigned after the end of the year.