Like always, it was an awesome weekend of college football. The Iron Bowl was electric, Michigan lost to Ohio State again, and Tennessee snapped their embarrassing three game losing streak to Vanderbilt.
Let’s start with the Vols….
Tennessee Dominated Vanderbilt On Senior Night
Freshman Eric Gray rushed for 246 yards and three touchdowns, including a 94 yard scamper that was the longest run by a Tennessee player in 42 years. Gray had only 207 yards the entire year before Saturday; now, he’s on a couple of the Top 5 Vol single game rushing lists.
I don’t want to brag too much, because it’s freaking Vanderbilt and Tennessee should win this game every year, but it was nice that they were able to impose their will so severely in this game, despite the fact that they couldn’t get anything going in the passing game the whole night.
Tennessee finishes with a winning record in conference play (5-3) and will surely find themselves in a January Bowl for the first time since 2015.
Where Does The Tennessee Program Go From Here?
For now, a January Bowl against a Big Ten opponent. But what about next year?
Let’s look at the schedule:
September 5: Charlotte
September 12: @Oklahoma
September 19: Furman
September 26: Florida
October 3: Missouri
October 10: @South Carolina
October 17: Bye Week
October 24: Alabama
October 31: @Arkansas
November 7: Kentucky
November 14: @Georgia
November 21: Troy
November 28: @Vanderbilt
Pretty manageable for an SEC schedule, right? Charlotte, Furman, and Troy should all be wins as long as they don’t pull another Georgia State-level performance. Missouri will have a first year head coach, a new quarterback, and will be coming to Knoxville. Arkansas will have a new coach as well, and at this point, is one of the worst programs in the history of the conference. The Vols own Kentucky, and get the Wildcats in Knoxville, a game they haven’t lost at home since 1984. Vanderbilt was terrible this year and will probably be awful again next season. They go to South Carolina, but they beat them this year, and the Vols will assuredly have more talent than that program, which is slowly deteriorating under the weight of Will Muschamp’s beer gut.
That’s 8 on paper wins right there, all against teams that the Vols appear to be better than right now. Which means the season will hinge on how they do in four games: at Oklahoma, home against Florida, home against Alabama, and at Georgia. Realistically, they need to win at least one of those for me to feel like next year is a success. The Oklahoma game is probably the least important because it’s not against a conference rival, and Jeremy Pruitt is ultimately going to be judged on how he does against Florida, Georgia, and Alabama. Win one of those four and they’ll have their first 9 win regular season since 2007. 2007! Wow.
Sure, its going to hurt losing a lot of these seniors. Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway are their best receivers. Daniel Bituli is their leader on defense, Darrell Taylor is their best pass rusher, and Nigel Warrior was probably the most consistent guy all year in the secondary for them.
On the other hand, they’ll be back to 85 scholarship players in 2020 for the first time in the Pruitt-era, and the quarterback play should be better. Either Jarrett Guarantano takes a leap as a senior with a ton of starts under his belt, or Harrison Bailey comes in as a freshman and plays like Bo Nix. And if neither of those things happen, then Brian Maurer gets the job with a whole year of experience in the Jim Chaney offense. One of those guys should emerge and play well.
Plus, they’ll have a ton of their contributors from this year back. Josh Palmer will be a senior and their best receiver, and Alontae Taylor and Bryce Thompson got better every week and will be back in the secondary. Henry To’oto’o had a fantastic year and will step into the Bituli role, something he should be able to manage with the loads of experience he gained this year. Eric Gray, if he keeps that level of play up, could be the best running back in the conference next season.
Perhaps most importantly, the entire offensive line has a chance to be back, including center Brandon Kennedy, who seems like he may attempt to get a sixth year of eligibility. That unit was very young this year, but improved rapidly as the season went along. The Vols O-Line had resembled Swiss Cheese for the majority of this decade, and isn’t it incredible that they put together a five game winning streak the year they get consistent blocking? Funny how that works.
There’s a lot to be excited about with this program going forward. They haven’t won anything yet, and they certainly aren’t “back”, but there is hope again on Rocky Top. Optimism. A fall to look forward to. We’ve been here before, of course. We felt like this with Butch after 2014, and we all know how that turned out.
Which is why the Vols have to beat one of those four power schools next year. Pruitt can’t afford for them to remain stagnant. And he certainly can’t afford another loss to a Group of Five team.
Jim Harbaugh Lost To Ohio State For The Fifth Straight Year
The Buckeyes have outscored Harbaugh’s teams 221-126 in their five meetings, and only one of the games has been decided by single digits.
There are going to be two narratives coming out of this game, and I think both are actually wrong. The larger, more vocal segment of people leave Saturday saying things like, “WOW, JIM HARBAUGH SUCKS! HE’S NEVER GOING TO BEAT OHIO STATE! LET’S FIRE HIM!”, while the Harbaugh apologists like Joel Klatt and Colin Cowherd will say that Harbaugh has restored Michigan to what they’ve been historically, a 9-10 win team.
For those that want Harbaugh fired, who are you going to get that you’re sure is going to do a better job? Jim has underachieved, but he’s been far better than Brady Hoke or Rich Rodriguez ever were. Plus, he’d be owed $15 million if he was fired today, and that doesn’t even count what they’d owe to buyout his assistants. Do they really want to get into a situation where they pay a fortune to move on, only to replace him with another Hoke that they have to turn around a fire 3 years from now? It’s more likely they’d get someone that doesn’t work out and is worse than someone who does better than what Harbaugh has done. Plus, are we sure Buckeye head coach Ryan Day isn’t Larry Coker all over again? 2019 Ohio State might be 2001 Miami, a dominant team loaded with pros that is coached by a former assistant who didn’t build the program. This dominant roster that Ohio State has was put together by Urban Meyer, just like how that Miami team was assembled by Butch Davis. There’s no guarantee Ryan Day will be able to keep the Buckeye program at the absurd heights that Urban pushed them to. So if the Buckeyes start slipping at all, and Michigan sticks by Harbaugh, this now one-sided rivalry could flip the other way very quickly.
On the other hand, Harbaugh has been paid by the Michigan administration the last five years like he’s Saban or Dabo, and yet, he’s not been close. Jim isn’t getting $9 million a year to “return Michigan to their historical averages”, he’s getting paid that much to beat Ohio State, win the Big Ten, and compete for national titles every year.
You know what? Every single one of these blue-chip programs has a “historical average” of 9-10 wins a year. That’s why they are historically great programs. But sometimes, these historically great programs do what Ohio State or Alabama or Clemson or Oklahoma have done for the last decade and start winning multiple conference championships and have 11 or 12 win seasons. Harbaugh is being paid to get Michigan to that level, and there is nothing stopping him from getting this program there, other than the fact that he’s overrated as a coach. If Dabo, Saban, Lincoln Riley, or Urban were at Michigan right now, do you think there’s any way they’d ever lose to Ohio State five times in a row? No way, right? Because there’s no reason that Michigan, with a $9 million a year coach, should ever lose to any opponent five times in a row. The Wolverines have everything that it takes to win more than they have been under Harbaugh.
Michigan is stuck between a rock and a hard place. They really can’t afford to fire Harbaugh, due to their financial obligations to him AND the fact that there’s no guarantee they’ll hire someone better, but he’s also been underwhelming for what he’s been paid. There isn’t a good answer, and frankly, their best hope is that either Columbus, Ohio is destroyed by a meteor, or that Ryan Day is Larry Coker 2.0. Otherwise, they’re screwed.
Alabama Lost One Of The Highest Scoring Iron Bowls Ever To Eliminate Themselves From The Playoff
The 93 points scored in this game on Saturday are the second most in the history of the rivalry, trailing only the 99 that were put up in the 2014 meeting. The Alabama defense surrendered 34 points, and Mac Jones tossed two pick sixes, including one that bounced off Damien Harris’s back on the goal line and into the arms of an Auburn defender, who carried it 100 yards for a score.
The narrative coming out of this game is that the Saban dynasty is dead, and that Nick is a product of the old college football, and that the sport that has moved away rapidly from Saban’s ground and pound and defense style. Nick is in his late 60s now, and if he wanted a seven figure TV job, there’d be one waiting for him. His defenses are no longer great because he’s gotten torched multiple times by the modern offenses with mobile quarterbacks.
As much as I’d love for all of that to be true, I think it’s a ludicrous position to hold. I hate Alabama more than ISIS, but they have one “down” year and all the sudden it’s over? This is the first time since 2010 that an Alabama team finished the regular season with more than one loss. It’s the first time since the playoff started in 2014 that the Tide won’t be included in it. Alabama lost their first round NFL quarterback and were still able to put up 45 points on Auburn’s elite defense. If Tua had been healthy, they win this game, because there’s no way he would’ve thrown two pick sixes. This wasn’t a great Alabama defense, but it was also an inexperienced one that was starting multiple freshman due to a surplus of injuries. If Tua doesn’t get injured, they finish the year 11-1, make the playoff for the sixth straight year (unless Georgia won the SEC), and would’ve instantly become horrifying to whoever the number 1 seed ended up being.
Alabama is the Patriots. They’ve been counted out before. I’m not going to say the dynasty is finished until Nick is yucking it up on a TV set somewhere.
Does Anyone Have Patience Anymore?
Listen, I love making fun of football coaches. Most of them have no self-awareness and take themselves far too seriously, and a lot of them would be working at 7 Eleven if they weren’t coaching football.
I also call for people all the time to be fired here. However, I mostly only do that with coaches at the blue chip jobs. The coaches at those programs, like Florida State (who fired their coach) and USC (who may or may not have fired their coach) have higher expectations, a higher ceiling, and more resources to win big time, and therefore, have a shorter leash due to all of those factors.
Somehow, as the expectations have risen and the patience has gotten shorter at the big time programs, that has transitioned down to the mid-tier jobs. Barry Odom took over at Missouri before the 2016 season, a school mired in chaos due to a fake racism hoax, took them to two straight bowl games (and it would’ve been three straight if not for NCAA sanctions) and still got fired on Saturday. Matt Luke inherited a mess at Ole Miss due to Hugh Freeze’s phone calls and NCAA violations, and while the Rebels didn’t light the world on fire, their offense was really good this year, and they were a player pantomiming a dog peeing in the end zone away from maybe winning the Egg Bowl. He only got three years. Some people speculated that Joe Moorhead at Mississippi State would’ve gotten fired if he’d lost the Egg Bowl, despite only having his job for two years. Arkansas was all time bad this year, but Chad Morris was attempting to completely re-work the roster away from Bret Bielema’s ground and pound attack into a more modern, open offense. Arkansas knew this was what he would be doing when they hired him, and they knew it might take time. He got fired anyway.
None of these places are big time jobs. Ole Miss hasn’t won the SEC since 1963, and they’ve never been to the SEC Championship Game either. Missouri hasn’t won a conference title since 1969, while Arkansas hasn’t done it since 1989 (and never in the SEC). What do these programs expect? Ten wins a year? I don’t think any of the coaches that got fired were elite, but none of them inherited great circumstances either, and all were given far too little time to turn around their middling programs. I suppose this is just the new reality of sports.
And just like with Jim Harbaugh and Michigan, who the hell are these programs going to get? You have to push all the chips in on Mike Norvell at Memphis right? He’s succeeded big time in a Group of Five conference at a school that is in the middle of SEC country. Of course, if I’m Norvell, why the hell would I want the Ole Miss or Arkansas job? Those places are AT BEST the fifth best job in the SEC West, only they have such unrealistic expectations that I’ll get fired in three years if I’m not winning 11 games a year. Missouri is, in my opinion, the best of those three jobs, but I still have to compete with Georgia, Florida, and what appears to be an up an coming Tennessee, three programs that all have vastly superior resources to me. If I’m Norvell, the only place I’m leaving for is Florida State.
Which brings us to Lane Kiffin. Kiffin is the ultimate high ceiling-low basement hire. Either he’s going be winning ten games in Year 2, or you’re going to be in NCAA trouble after his first recruiting class comes to campus. There is no in between. Of course, if you’re one of these places, you already aren’t good, so Kiffin coming in and screwing up royally only means you’re in the exact same place in three years as you are now. So you might as well roll the dice and hope he works out, which I don’t think is an impossibility considering he recruits like a mad man and knows how to coach offense.
Shut The Hell Up Dabo
I think Dabo might be my least favorite person in college athletics. He’s gone from a nice story, the wide receivers coach turned national champion, to the biggest used car salesman college football has ever seen. Last year, after Clemson beat the hell out of Alabama in the National Championship Game, Dabo referred to his program as, “Little Ole Clemson”. Yes, because nothing screams “Little” like winning two national championships in three years. Shut the hell up.
On Saturday, after Clemson ran through a terrible South Carolina team, Dabo decided now was the time to start whining about the playoff committee. Dabo told the media, “Obviously, if we lose this game, they are going to kick us out. They don't want us there anyway. We'd drop to 20 [had Clemson lost to South Carolina]. Georgia loses to this very same team, and it's, ‘How do we keep Georgia in?’... We win, against the team that beat [Georgia], and it's, ‘How do we get Clemson out?’ It's the dadgummest thing… Again, our league doesn't get enough credit. Maybe we need some of them ACC guys on some of them big network shows they have. Maybe we ought to put [former Clemson sports information director] Tim Bourret on there.”
Shut the hell up Dabo. 1. You’ve been in the playoff four straight years, and will be there for a fifth straight year when you take Virginia apart on Saturday. 2. The ACC does suck, and you all are the only team in the Top 25 that hasn’t played anyone in the current Top 25. 3. Who is trying to keep you out of the playoff? You’re ranked third! I’m sorry that you don’t have the resume of either Ohio State or Clemson. As a fun exercise, let’s look at where Clemson has been slotted in the final playoff rankings the last four years… (checks notes)….
So the committee has viewed your team as either the best or second best team in the country the last four years, but now that they slot you as the third best team, suddenly they want you out? What? The only thing more ludicrous than that take would be when Dabo goes down to the used car lot and attempts to sell a 1986 Toyota Camry with 200,000 miles for $35,000.
Teams Still Alive For The Playoff
As always, you are still alive for the playoff as long as you are a one loss team in Power 5 conference, with the exception of the ACC, which is a league so bad that a single loss eliminates you. (SORRY DABO!) (*by the undefeated teams)
No one tell Dabo this, because it counters his BS narrative, but the Tigers will be in THEIR FIFTH STRAIGHT PLAYOFF as long as they handle Virginia on Saturday in the ACC Championship Game, something they should do with ease.
Big Ten: *Ohio State
The Buckeyes are probably already in the playoff, even if they lose to 10-2 Wisconsin on Saturday in the Big Ten Championship Game, but a win against the Badgers will probably make them the 1 seed in the playoff.
Big 12: Oklahoma, Baylor
These two play again on Saturday in the Big 12 Championship Game. To make the playoff, the winner would need Georgia to lose in the SEC Championship Game to LSU, and they’d probably also need Utah to lose to Oregon in the Pac 12 Championship Game. Personally, I think Oklahoma is better than Utah, but the committee hasn’t seen it that way, at least not yet (I think the Utes are better than Baylor, however).
SEC: *LSU, Georgia
LSU, due to their resume, is probably already in the playoff, regardless of what happens on Saturday in the SEC Championship Game. Georgia must win on Saturday to make it in.
Pac 12: Utah
Based on the committee rankings so far, Utah would be in the playoff as long as they win the Pac 12 Championship Game against Oregon AND Georgia loses in the SEC Title Game to LSU.
My Top 4
1. Ohio State