Ranking the SEC's Rookie Coaches, Week 1

So I am the new guy around here, but you don't really care about me. All you need to know is that I grew up in Baton Rouge, live in Lousiana now, love crawfish, the Tigers, I like Les, and I don't hate Nick Saban. So let's get to some football content.

This past weekend marked the debut of three new coaches in the SEC. Two of the three made their college head coaching debuts as well, and like everybody else in the conference, they got wins.

Well, except for UGA, who saw their defense eviscerated and their offense collapse quicker than a Kennedy marriage at spring break.

But eleven teams got wins, including the three newbies. In fact, the fewest points scored by the rooks was 37 by Auburn, who was playing the most difficult opponent of the three, a game many considered a trap game. Mississippi State and Tennessee both flexed their SEC muscle by destroying weaker sisters.

So let's review each of them*:

1) Lane Kiffin, Tennessee. Kiffin couldn't wait for the season to start to make a splash, making so many brash, inaccurate and just plain crazy statements during the summer that Mike Slive had him on speed-dial.

The Vols were playing Western Kentucky, a team that promised to offer only feeble resistance. Nevertheless, the Vols offensive output was impressive in their 63-7 win. After a scoreless first, they put up 28 quick ones in the second quarter. They started slow in the second half, too, getting a score halfway through the frame, but then again exploded for 28 in the fourth. As you would expect, other numbers are also impressive: the Vols racked up 34 first downs, were 7-for-9 on third downs and rolled up 657 yards of total offense.

The defense was impressive as well, holding WKU to just 83 yards total and six first downs.

So how to evaluate the coach in this situation? The closest the Vols have come to an offensive output like that was a 59-7 win over Louisiana-Lafayette in 2007, and the year before that, a 51-33 win over Georgia which all things considered was probably a better performance than this one.

But it's not just the number that make this a success. Kiffin desperately need something to redirect the spotlight onto his on-the-field product, and dropping 63 on the board is just the thing to make people stop talking about his big mouth or absurdly hot wife and start talking about the Vols.  Methinks that after the next two weeks, this will be the one fond memory that Vol fans can hold on to. For doing that, Kiffin earns the top spot in the SEC rookie coach rankings.

2) Gene Chizik, Auburn. Chizik spent most of the off-season with his head down, not making any splashes. He is in a funny position, inheriting what for most of the last decade has been one of the stronger programs in the SEC, but last season turned so dysfunctional that even Dr. Phil couldn't watch. The offense struggled mightily, the defense lost some swagger and the thing fell apart faster than Barack Obama's health care reform.

With that in mind, Louisiana Tech, who defeated Mississippi State in their opener last year, was a trendy pick to upset the War Eagle/Plainsmen/Tigers/Whatevers. But not to be. Tech kept it close, but even watching the game, one never got the idea that the Bulldogs were going to actually win the thing.

Chizik's team put it out of reach in the fourth, finishing with the twenty-point win.

The 37-point explosion against a respectable opponent is a good early sign. Here's another one: Chizik appears willing to hire an offensive coordinator and then let him do his job. Unlike the Tuberville-Franklin abortion from last year, Chizik and Malzahn appear to have a decent relationship. And Malzahn's offense can put up some points.

The Chizaln combo appears to believe in the theory of letting your quarterbacks do what they are good at: athlete Kodi Burns got more carries (8) than throws (1), whereas Chris Todd threw the ball 26 times and only ran the ball once. Contrast that to last year, when the offensive staff was at war about who to start and what to run.

Chizik earns number two for overcoming some messes not necessarily of his own making and facing down the toughest opponent of all the rookie coaches.

3) Dan Mullen, Mississippi State. No Bulldog blew us a way, but it was a solid effort for the first game in the post-first-African-American-coach-in-the-SEC era. Mullen replaced the immensely classy and win-challenged Sly Croom and inherited a moribund program.

It is folly to expect him to turn it around immediately, but when the opponent is Jackson State, nothing but a strong win will do. And Mississippi State got that.

Until they do something more impressive than what they should, Mullen will have to occupy the third spot in the SEC Rookie Coach rankings.

*Rankings based solely on randomly selected subjective criteria.

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