This week’s look at the coaches with the most to gain and the most to lose has a decidedly SEC flavor. You’ll see why.
As always, let’s begin with the coaches with the most to gain.
Derek Mason: There’s no overstating this — Saturday’s game with Alabama is the biggest game of Mason’s career. After starting 11-23, Mason is now 5-1 in his last six games and 3-0 this season, anchored — get it? — by a stifling defense. Vanderbilt has allowed a grand total of 13 points, ranking first nationally in total defense, first in scoring, third in yards per play allowed, fourth in third downs defense and first in red zone defense. No, Middle Tennessee, Alabama A&M and Kansas State aren’t exactly a murder’s row of late-2000’s Big 12 offenses, but this ‘Dores defense gives Vanderbilt a puncher’s chance to pull off the unthinkable.
Vanderbit’s offense is only 103rd in total offense, but quarterback Kyle Shurmur is playing perfect complementary football right now. He ranks sixth nationally in passing efficiency, nailing 71 percent of his throws for 10.2 yards an attempt with eight touchdowns and no interceptions. And it’s not all dump offs, either.
— CFB Film Room (@CFBFilmRoom) September 22, 2017
Shurmur will have to play the game of his life, but if he does there’s a 14-13 game in here that Vanderbilt can win.
Jeff Brohm: Brohm was here last week, and Purdue went on the road and beat the stuffing out of Missouri, 35-3. That win proves Purdue is good by Purdue’s recent standards, and Saturday brings the opportunity to prove these Boilers are good, period, by anyone’s standards. Michigan comes to Ross-Ade Stadium, attracting a sellout crowd and a national television spotlight.
This presents one of the most interesting yin-and-yang matchups of the weekend, with Brohm’s surgical passing attack taking on a defense that ranks fourth nationally and has allowed three touchdowns in as many games.
Mark Stoops: Believe it or not, Kentucky could sit alone in first place in the SEC East by Saturday night. Kentucky, Florida, Georgia and Vanderbilt are the only East teams that have yet to lose in conference play. Georgia hosts Mississippi State in a game the Bulldogs could play well and still lose. Vanderbilt hosts Alabama. And Florida heads to Lexington, riding high off last week’s Hail Mary defeat of Tennessee.
But Kentucky is riding high as well. The Wildcats went to Columbia and manhandled South Carolina, out-rushing the Gamecocks 184-54 and out-possessing them by more than 13 minutes in a 23-13 win.
Florida is a slight favorite here, but that win over the Vols in no way fixed the Gators’ problems. In fact, that Feleipe Franks rainbow was still just the Gators’ second offensive touchdown in two games and the ninth in their last eight games against Power 5 opponents. These Gators are ripe for the picking.
The problem for Stoops: this is, what, the third year in a row we’ve said this could be a breakthrough year? The East has been up for grabs the entire time he’s been at UK, and Stoops has yet to grab it, evidenced by his 0-12 mark against the division’s big three of Florida, Georgia and Tennessee. Kentucky has lost 30 in a row to Florida, the longest intra-divisional streak in college football. Now’s as good a time as ever for him to end it.
The coaches with the most on the line this week. See if you notice a theme here.
Kevin Sumlin and Bret Bielema: Well, what is there to say? These coaches get paid more than $9 million between them are a combined 31-41 in SEC play.
Like it or not, Sumlin has earned near permanent residence in this space, thanks in large part to big bad tank boy Tony Buzbee. When a regent comes out and says he’d vote you off the island, it’s hard to ignore that. And then this week A&M’s former athletics director publicly distanced himself from Sumlin’s $30 million contract and… yeah, the 2012 season was a long time ago in College Station. And the Aggies haven’t exactly lit the world on fire since the UCLA loss. They were tied with Nicholls State midway through the fourth quarter on Sept. 9 and trailed Louisiana-Lafayette at halftime.
And now the real fun starts.
For Bielema, a loss would mean he carries an 0-5 record against Texas A&M and an 0-2 mark against non-HBCU opponents this season. Not to mention this is the week Arkansas will honor its most famous football alum by wearing his uniforms in his stadium.
Sumlin needs to win because he’s playing Arkansas and Bielema needs to do the same because he’s playing Texas A&M. And only one of them will.
Isn’t college football the greatest?