Enough Is Enough: Leave Hugh Freeze Alone

I have kept my mouth closed for a while, but I will not tolerate this Hugh Freeze slander. I have been critical of Hugh Freeze in the past, but enough is enough. This is getting ridiculous. All this latest outrage from me started with this:

Now, in Greg Sankey’s defense (Sankey seems like a cool guy even though my only interaction with him is riding down the same elevator at a UGA game I was covering.) Hugh Freeze becoming an offensive coordinator (or at least a co-OC for now) under Saban at Alabama would be both unfair and inherently sinful.

Just think about Hugh Freeze coaching Tua Tagovailoa? That is a scary enough thought for God, himself, to intervene on behalf of all humanity.

But put that morbid thought aside. Could you imagine what this offensive genius could do at LSU? (Yes, LSU was rumored to be pursuing ol’ Hugh as an offensive coordinator.) He could possibly save the job of that proven loser, who somehow got the head coaching job at LSU. (Yes, I am talking about that unintelligible buffoon named Ed Orgeron.)

The fact that Sankey discouraged anyone from the SEC hiring Hugh Freeze ticks me off. Now, I will say it was cool to realize that there is someone out there with more power than Nick Saban in college football.

But please, people, let Freeze live his life.

There is a lot that people can criticize Freeze for, but his offensive coaching is not one of those things. I would put him up against any offensive mind in the country. He is a great head coach too.

If I were an athletic director in major college athletics, I would pull the trigger and hire the guy. Has he made his fair share of mistakes? Hell, yes. Freeze calling escorts is not an admirable thing to do, but that is ultimately an issue between him and his wife. A lot of guys would do the same thing if they were in that situation.

That is obviously wrong in my book, but everyone makes mistakes. I am all about giving a guy another chance. Now, clearly, the big reason an athletic director does not what to take a chance to hire Hugh is because of his NCAA troubles.

I would bet my house, though, that Freeze will be slow to pay players again or commit any violations after everything that has transpired. However, an athletic director should still take all the steps to make the environment Freeze is in one of accountability and transparency, so nothing like what happened at Ole Miss happens again.

I am not too naive to not realize that actions from your past can affect your future, but I think it is a little hypocritical in Freeze’s case. (Let me be clear. This is not a criticism of Sankey but just this whole moral high-horse hypocrisy in college football as a whole.)

What ultimately matters to employers (in most cases) is if your work good enough that it outweighs your baggage. I can list countless examples of this in all walks of life, but let’s keep it to football.

How do you think Bobby Petrino got a job again? How do you think Pete Carroll got a job again? I can go on. Let’s do a college basketball example. You think no school is going to take a chance on Rick Pitino again? Exactly, someone will because, even though he has a lot of baggage, he is a damn good coach.

Let’s also not act like Freeze’s NCAA problems of paying players is morally wrong in any way. Frankly, it makes more moral sense to actually pay the players that the NCAA and institutions are making millions off of every year. It is downright upsetting.

Also, don’t be naive that most (if not all) of the major institutions in college football are not paying players already. Now, it may be more hidden or based on boosters’ underhanded schemes, but pretty much everyone does it. Freeze just got caught.

So, I am imploring everyone to please leave Freeze alone. Everyone makes mistakes.

*Side Note: Yes, it has been quite a minute since I have written an article before now. I have done a lot of inward searching and have altered my career path. I am still not against writing online, but my interest in pursuing print journalism as a career is over. I will address this in full detail in a later post. 

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THE Game: Alabama-Georgia National Championship Preview

What a great New Year’s Day of college football earlier this week. It was outstanding. From some very entertaining bowl games to the two semifinal games later that day, it made for very good television.

The game of the day was without a doubt the first CFB Playoff semifinal game between Georgia and Oklahoma at the Rose Bowl. In my opinion, it was the best game I have ever watched in my short lifetime. The Bulldogs defeated the Baker Mayfield-led Oklahoma Sooners 54-48 in double overtime.

The Sugar Bowl balanced the excitement of the semis as Alabama simply dominated the Clemson Tigers. It was not even close. The Tide looked like their old selves. With the two victories, the stage is set for an all-SEC CFB Playoff National Championship in Atlanta this coming Monday.

Despite the childish whining by fans not in the South and some prominent members in the media, the best two teams are in the national championship period. (Don’t even start with the UCF argument. They would not stand a chance with any of the playoff teams.) It is going to be an interesting game with a bunch of storylines. Let’s get right into it.

National Championship Game: Alabama vs. Georgia

As I have said, this game has no shortage of storylines. Many people have waited in anticipation of seeing the latest coaching battle between the teacher (Nick Saban of Alabama) and the apprentice (Kirby Smart of UGA). The nation will finally get to see this. Saban is 11-0 against former assistants who have become head coaches, but this might be a different animal with Smart.

Saban and Smart have both had similar paths at Georgia and Alabama. Both coaches had disappointing seasons in their first year at the helm at their respective schools (7-6 for Saban and 8-5 for Smart). Both coaches bounced back with very successful seasons in their respective second years. Saban’s team went undefeated in the regular season before dropping their last two games to Florida in the SEC Championship and Utah in the Sugar Bowl.

Smart’s second year has been extremely successful so far. The Bulldogs went 11-1 in the regular season and then went on to avenge their embarrassing road loss to Auburn in November by beating the Tigers 28-7 in a rematch in the SEC Championship. With UGA’s latest victory in the Rose Bowl, Smart has gone further than Saban in his second year by reaching the national championship game against his former boss.

Smart and Saban seem to also be very similar as coaches. Saban is known to be very detail oriented, a next-level recruiter and an outstanding developer of talent. Smart seems to be in the same mold.

Alabama and Georgia are also very similar teams from the detail-oriented system that both coaches employ to their similar styles of stifling defenses and powerful running games and more. Smart came into Athens trying to make the Bulldogs the Alabama of the SEC East, and it seems like he has been pretty successful at doing it so far.

If there is any team in the SEC that can challenge Alabama consistently, it is Georgia. The nation will likely see this matchup in the SEC Championship for many years to come. Everyone knew that Smart and Saban would be destined to clash many times, but no one thought the first meeting would be in the national championship.

The game, itself, will feature the two most powerful teams in the country. Alabama is the early favorite in the game according to Vegas. They looked like the soundest of the two teams in the semis, particularly on defense. However, to ignore that UGA had to play the best offense in college football in Oklahoma in their game would be short-sighted.

This game will not be even close to UGA’s first game of the playoff. Expect a tight yet equally thrilling game this time around. Alabama will be led by their powerful defense that is led by an intimidating defensive line headlined by Da’Ron Payne (who had an interception and a touchdown catch in the semifinal against Clemson) and Raekwon Davis, Rashaan Evans at linebacker and Minkah Fitzpatrick in the secondary among many others.

The Tide defense as a whole is ranked No. 3 overall in the country. More importantly, Alabama has the No. 1 rushing defense (measured in average rushing yards a game) in the nation. They only give up an average of 2.43 yards per attempt. That will prove extremely important in this game, as they will face the best rushing attack they have seen all year. (That will come up later.)

On the offensive side of the ball, the Crimson Tide football team is led by a strong running game led by Damien Harris (983 yards) and Bo Scarbrough (573 yards) behind a stout offensive line. Quarterback Jalen Hurts is the second leading rusher on the team with 808 yards but has also passed for 2,060 yards and accounted for 25 touchdowns both through the air and on the ground.

The more interesting and impressive stat was that he only threw one interception all year. Say what you want about Hurt’s ability passing from the pocket, but the guy is quite the weapon.

Fortunately, Hurts has not had to win a game himself. The Tide have won behind their strong defense and running game. That might change in this game. This Georgia defense is not to be taken lightly.

The linebacking corps leads the Junkyard Dawg defense and is headlined by Butkus Award winner Roquan Smith and Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy on the outside. The defensive line is also one of the best in the country and is anchored by the 6-4, 309 pound Trent Thompson, who is the best of the many big, physical and athletic linemen the Bulldogs boast.

The “weak link” on the Dawgs’ defense is the secondary which has shown vulnerability at times this season. However, UGA still boasts the least passing yards per game allowed by any defense in college football.

Overall, defensive coordinator Mel Tucker’s stop unit comes in at No. 7 in total defense in college football. (The Bulldogs aren’t nearly as good stopping the run, although the metrics are skewed by their lone regular season loss to Auburn and by the fact that they played several run-oriented teams.)

The biggest storyline on the offensive side of the ball is easily the emergence of true freshman quarterback Jake Fromm. Fromm has not been asked to do a whole lot mainly by design in the Bulldogs’ run-first offense and because of his lack of experience. However, the youngster from Warner Robbins, Ga., has done an admirable job this season after he took over the job from the incumbent starter Jacob Eason after he was injured in their first game against Appalachian State.

Fromm has managed the offense well, been a great leader and made the throws he had too particularly in important situations. He has shown the poise and clutch factor that coaches want to see from their quarterback.

In my opinion, he has played his best football in the final three games of the season as he went 12-of-16 for 224 yards and two touchdowns with a 75.0 completion percentage in UGA’s regular season finale against Georgia Tech. He then threw for 183 yards on 16-for-22 passing and two scores with a 72.7 completion percentage in the SEC Championship against Auburn.

In the Rose Bowl, Fromm put together his best performance (again in my opinion) and helped the UGA offense keep pace with the high-scoring Oklahoma Sooners. He was on point in the game as he completed 20 of his 29 total passes (69 percent) for 210 yards and two touchdowns.

Fromm’s job is made easier by a rushing attack led by the best rushing duo in college football history  in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Chubb has rushed for 1,320 yards this year, and Michel added 1,129 yards (average of eight yards gained per carry). The two star running backs have also combined for 31 touchdowns on the ground. True freshman D’Andre Swift has also proved to be a weapon as he has rushed for 603 yards and is also fourth on the team in receiving yards. (Some even think Swift could be a Heisman candidate next year as well.)

Both squads have very good weapons at receiver including guys like Calvin Ridley and Jerry Jeudy of Alabama and Javon Wims and Terry Godwin of UGA. (I am not even mentioning the capable tight ends.) Both teams are pretty even as a whole.

However, on special teams, Georgia should get the overall nod. The only thing separating these teams is probably at kicker – an area that Alabama has struggled with all year. Andy Pappanastos of Alabama has looked very shaky at times this season, but Rodrigo Blankenship of UGA has been excellent this year and currently holds the longest field goal in the history of the Rose Bowl (55).

To sum it all up, Alabama-Georgia should make for one outstanding championship game. This game has all the storylines one could ask for: the Evil Scientist (or coach in this instance) versus his capable understudy, two outstanding defenses versus two excellent rushing attacks, two teams from the same conference facing off for the national title for the first time in the playoff era and more.

I am not going to pick this game. I have learned that I cannot pick bowl games. (Thank God, I don’t bet.) I will say I could see either of these teams winning. I see both teams matching up pretty fairly even in the trenches. If one team proves they can get the upper hand on the line of scrimmage, the game is over. However, I think this matchup will ultimately come down to the performance of the two quarterbacks and who will make a play. (Turnovers and special teams’ play are always a factor as well.) It is pretty simple in my opinion.

Either way, it should be a very exciting game, and I couldn’t be more excited to see a champion be crowned on Monday night in the metropolitan capital of college football – Atlanta.

*Featured Image via @BigPooh_91 on Twitter

Why Has the SEC Been Struggling Recently? It Is All About Coaching

The SEC did not have a good 2016. That is just the reality. Outside of Alabama and their well-documented dominance over the last multiple years, the rest of the SEC has just not been getting great results recently. Look at last season, no team besides Alabama finished with less than four losses. That is ridiculous.

While some people say the SEC beats up on itself (and it was true in year’s past,) it just was not the case last season. While the SEC struggled a lot of times against decent to good teams in non-conference play (see Tennessee almost losing to Appalachian State, SEC East winner Florida being blown out by Florida State and more,) the conference was at its worst in the postseason. They went 6-6 overall with some really ugly results.

Vanderbilt was destroyed 41-17 in the Independence Bowl. Texas A&M lost a close game to Kansas State 33-28 in the Texas Bowl. South Carolina lost to USF in the Birmingham Bowl 46-39 (big second half comeback by the Gamecocks) in OT. Arkansas blew a 24-0 lead at halftime to the Virginia Tech Hokies and ended up losing 35-24. Kentucky lost 33-18 to Georgia Tech in the Gator Bowl.

That is definitely not ideal as far as results go. The SEC has plenty of talent, as shown in the recruiting success of the conference. In fact, nine SEC squads finished in the top 25 of recruiting last cycle, which was the best of any conference. The problem is on the coaching front.

Coaching in the SEC sucks. Let us just say it how it is. Outside of the great Nick Saban, one would be hard pressed to find any really good coaches. Whenever I ever think about or compare coaches, I always put myself in an athletic director’s shoes. Who would I pick to coach my team if I had to choose a current SEC coach not named Nick Saban?

The question is really hard to answer. Let us look at each coach. We will start in the West. Gus Malzahn? Maybe, but, other than his first year as head coach at Auburn when he won the SEC and his team appeared in the national championship, he really has not done all that much (8-5, 7-6 and 8-5 since.) No way I would hire Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin either. Sumlin has been just as mediocre as Malzahn since the Johnny Manziel days in College Station, Texas.

Ed Orgeron at LSU seems to be a great defensive coach, but he has failed so far to really do anything with the Tiger’s offense. (We will see how new offensive coordinator Matt Canada does, so we can judge him fairly.)

Bret Bielema is charismatic and a funny guy (see video below), but he has not really done all that much at Arkansas. The Razorbacks went 7-6 last season and finished in ugly fashion with losses to 4-8 Missouri and Virginia Tech in their bowl game, in which they surrendered the aforementioned 24-point lead.

The two coaches at the two Mississippi schools might actually be the next best coaches to Saban in reality, but they both have their flaws. Dan Mullen at Mississippi State has done a good job in Starkville (when he was hired in 2009) as he has coached SEC cellar dwellers MSU to 61 wins with 42 losses for a .592 winning percentage.

Mullen’s best season was in 2014, when the Bulldogs led by star quarterback Dak Prescott went 10-3 on the year, were ranked No. 1 in the country at one point and appeared in the Orange Bowl. However, the Bulldogs have yet to reach the SEC Championship under Mullen and, other than 2014, have not even seriously challenged for the SEC West crown.

Hugh Freeze has seen similar success at Ole Miss. Freeze has done an outstanding job, although he is currently mired by the well-documented NCAA issues that are weighing over Ole Miss (including being charged with the dreaded lack of institutional control.) However, Freeze has been exceptional on the football field. The Rebels were in dire straights (2-10 in 2011) when he was hired ahead of the 2012 season.

Freeze resurrected the program and has gone 39-25 (0.609 winning percentage) in the five seasons he has been in Oxford. Highlights of his coaching career at Ole Miss so far has been beating Alabama twice in a row, appearing in the Peach Bowl and winning the 2016 Sugar Bowl in dominant fashion. Despite all this success, the Rebels have still never made it to the SEC Championship game.

The coaching in the East could easily be seen as worse, as there are no great coaches in the division. Jim McElwain is probably the best coach in the division. After all, he has won the division in both years he has been at Florida, but the Gators have wilted down the stretch each season (minus their bowl game against Iowa after last season,) and McElwain cannot seem to figure out the offensive side of the ball (even though that is supposed to be his strong suit) in Gainesville. (Some of that can be attributed to having horrible quarterback play.) Also, McElwain has not had enormous success on the recruiting front so far. He has not brought in a class better than No. 5 in the conference.

Let us look at the other East coaches. Derek Mason might be the second best coach in the East, but he is at Vanderbilt. We cannot know his true worth for sure. Even though Mason struggled in his first two years at the helm in Nashville, he had a very improved season that included upsets of both Georgia in Athens, Ga., to a huge home win over in-state rival Tennessee to making a bowl game.

However, Vanderbilt has some issues of its own from (sometimes) lack of focus on football, lack of history and recruiting difficulty. Nonetheless, Mason has still done a good job, and Vanderbilt is definitely happy as they gave him an extension this week.

The rest of the coaching in the East is not much better. Kirby Smart had a disappointing season (8-5)  in his first season at the UGA reigns, but it is kind of unfair to judge him based on Georgia lacking talent in key positions and being so young last year. He has certainly made waves on the recruiting trail, but I believe this is a put up or shut up year for him.

Do not even get me started on Butch Jones. He is the worst coach in the entire SEC in my opinion. (I personally think he is one step away from teaching high school PE, but I digress.) Anyway, the guy has been all promises about building Tennessee back up “brick by brick” on the road to national prominence. He has consistently underachieved in Knoxville since being hired prior to the 2013 season. In 2013, he went 5-7, 7-6 in 2014 and 9-4 the past two seasons.

Last year was supposed to be Tennessee’s year as they were undoubtably the most talented team in the division led by guys like Josh Dobbs, Jalen Hurd (left mid-season), Alvin Kamara, Josh Malone, a talented defense and the list goes on. They beat both Florida and Georgia but still somehow ended up not winning the division due in part to injuries and just lack of good coaching/execution. The biggest low point was the Vols’ double-digit loss to Vanderbilt in the last week of the regular season.

Even though the Vols’ recruiting success has been a bit inconsistent, Tennessee still brings in good talent. However, the development and on-field coaching just does not seem to be good enough. A large number of Tennessee fans want Jones gone. He better have a decent year this season, or things could get really ugly.

As far as the rest of the East coaching goes, Will Muschamp seems to have South Carolina trending upward, and hopes are that Muschamp will do better as a head coach in Columbia than he did at Florida. Mark Stoops finally got Kentucky to a bowl game, but that should have happened earlier, and the jury is still out on now second-year head coach Barry Odom at Missouri.

Needless to say, SEC coaching outside of Nick Saban is largely crap. It is even crazier when you look at the head coaches they had in the not-so-distant past. Guys like Les Miles at LSU (in his prime), Bobby Petrino at Arkansas, Urban Meyer at Florida, Steve Spurrier at South Carolina (besides his last season) and others. Oh, how times have changed.

That is the biggest reason the SEC struggled last year. They still attract top talent, but the quality of coaching (overall) is just not there.

This is exactly why you saw a league like the ACC have such a strong season and do the best of any conference in the postseason (8-3). It is because their quality of coaching has gone up.  I even foresaw the ACC’s improvement before the season last year.

Guys like Jimbo Fisher at Florida State, Dabo Swinney at Clemson, Justin Fuente at Virginia Tech, Bobby Petrino at Louisville, Mark Richt at Miami, David Cutcliffe at Duke, Larry Fedora at North Carolina and more are all very good coaches that hail from the ACC. That is the biggest reason for the conference’s rise.

Players are the most important part of college football. We all know that. But if teams do not have the coaching in place to develop those players and make good decisions, they are severely limiting their on-field success.

The SEC definitely regressed last year, but it was not a surprise. The coaching is just not where it needs to be.

Friday Column: Georgia’s bowl chances, Bama-LSU and SEC picks

Thank God It’s Friday could not ring more true today. On the verge of another weekend, I look at the top storylines from the upcoming slate of games on Saturday. In this article, I look at Georgia’s bowl chances and how they have to win this Saturday, preview the big one – Alabama vs. LSU and give my Week 10 SEC picks. Let’s get started.

Georgia’s Bowl Chances

Georgia has definitely struggled this year under first-year head coach Kirby Smart. They are currently 4-4 and have yet to find any identity and are very inconsistent. Though they have struggles across the board, this could all be somewhat hidden by at least a decent offensive line. That is something the Bulldogs simply do not have. It is one of the poorest units I have seen in Athens, but that’s another topic for another day.

After suffering a double-digit loss (24-10) at the hands of bitter rival Florida last week, Georgia travels to Lexington, Ky., to take on a Kentucky Wildcats team that is FINALLY going to be bowl eligible this year under Mark Stoops (unless they somehow lose to Austin Peay).

Lexington in November is never an easy place to play, particularly considering the way Georgia is playing right now. Georgia’s remaining schedule this year is very tough (at least for this team). Next week is Auburn; that’s a loss. Then, they play Louisiana-Lafayette at home before hosting in-state rival Georgia Tech. Georgia could easily go 1-2 in those games, so a win over Kentucky this weekend is critical to the Dawgs reaching a bowl game.

This is a dangerous team led by quarterback Stephen Johnson, who has thrown for over 200 yards the past two weeks, and running back Boom Williams, who is currently 3rd in the SEC in rushing with 821 yards and three touchdowns. Kentucky has produced more yards per game this year than the Dawgs, but Georgia has the better defense statistically.

If Smart and co. do not beat Kentucky this Saturday night, I do not believe Georgia will reach the postseason. That would make the season even more of a failure (obviously) to Bulldog fans.

Bama-LSU

The big one is here. No. 1 Alabama (8-0) travels to Baton Rouge this Saturday night to take on the No. 13 LSU Tigers (5-2) fresh off a bye week for both teams.

This matchup lost its luster early in the season when LSU was struggling. Since then, LSU fired Les Miles as head coach, and it has paid dividends so far. Fast forward to today, and LSU has a lot of momentum, under the reign of interim head coach Ed Orgeron. They have finally opened up their offense and are thriving. Danny Etling has stepped up at quarterback and is effectively using his multiple weapons on offense.

Combine that with a healthy Leonard Fournette, who rushed for 284 yards and three scores in the Tigers’ last game against Ole Miss and a solid defense, and LSU is a very dangerous team.

The best team to handle LSU, though, is Alabama. They have so much talent on offense. They have a deep wide receiver corps, a stellar rushing duo in Damian Harris and Bo Scarbrough, arguably the best tight end in the conference (outside of Ole Miss’ Evan Engram) in O.J. Howard, a top-five defense in the nation and an excellent (overall) special teams unit.

Add to that mix a true-freshman sensation in dual-threat quarterback Jalen Hurts (who I believe is good enough to win a Heisman at some juncture in his career), and it is just unfair.

Frankly, I do not see anyone beating Alabama this year, at least in the SEC. LSU should offer them a good test, though, on Saturday night in primetime. These are arguably two of the most talented teams in the country. It’s going to be a fun one.

SEC Picks

Georgia Southern (4-4) vs. Ole Miss (3-5)     12 p.m., ESPNU

Winner: Ole Miss

No. 4 Texas A&M (7-1) vs. Mississippi State (3-5)     12 p.m., SEC Network

Winner: Texas A&M

Vanderbilt (4-4) vs. No. 9 Auburn (6-2)     12 p.m., ESPN

Winner: Auburn

No. 11 Florida (6-1) vs. Arkansas (5-3)     3:30 p.m., CBS

Winner: Arkansas

Missouri (2-6) vs. South Carolina (4-4)     4 p.m. SEC Network

Winner: South Carolina

Tennessee Tech (3-5) vs. Tennessee (5-3)     4 p.m.

Winner: Tennessee

Georgia (4-4) vs. Kentucky (5-3)     7:30 p.m. SEC Network

Winner: Georgia

No. 1 Alabama (8-0) vs. No. 13 LSU (5-2)     8 p.m. CBS

Winner: Alabama

*Note: All times Eastern Standard Time

 

That’s all guys. Make sure to follow Fallen Pylons on Twitter to keep up with the goings-on this Saturday and every Saturday during football season. Have a great weekend!