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An early look at the hot seat: Which SEC coaches need to win or risk being fired in 2016?

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

For many, one of the more interesting parts of the college football season is seeing which teams defied the expectations of preseason prognosticators, racking up many more wins than anyone would have thought entering the season.  Equally as enthralling is examining which teams defy expectations in a negative way, putting into question the job security of anyone from the coordinators to the head coach themselves.

Last season, speculation ensued about the jobs of SEC coaches, with few moves involving head coaches being made in the offseason.  Now, it feels as if the coaching scene in the SEC has become more volatile, with a plethora of coaches seemingly down to their last strike.  For a select few coaches, this season could very well be the last one they see at the helm of their current school.  The only question that remains for them is this:  What will it take to ensure that this season isn't their last at the helm?

Les Miles

First up is the fan favorite coach of LSU, who is a legend among college football fans because of his "Mad Hatter" persona.  Most college football fans will remember how, towards the conclusion of last season, there was talk of Les Miles being fired.  These rumors stemmed from the fact that the Tigers, after starting the season with a 7-0 record, went on a devastating three-game losing streak that had the program--and its fans--in a funk.  Miles, of course, was kept on board after LSU defeated Texas A&M to close out the season, leading to the iconic photo of Miles being carried off the field by his own players in what was an ultimate show of loyalty to their coach.

This season, expectations are very high for the Tigers, who were picked at the SEC Media Days to be the main challenger to Alabama for the SEC crown.  This means, of course, that the pressure for Miles to succeed and make--at the very least--a New Year's Six bowl game is astronomically high.  It seems pretty obvious that if LSU encounters another losing streak like they saw last season, Miles will be gone come 2017.  This season could very well be the last chapter in Miles' storied career in Baton Rouge.

Derek Mason

When Derek Mason took over in Nashville in 2014, the Commodores were coming off back-to-back nine-win seasons, which was their highest total in nearly a century. After 2014, however, Vanderbilt went back to their usual selves, winning seven games over the course of their next two seasons.  Mason's squad may have won two SEC games last season, but it isn't clear that extraordinary progress has been made.

This season should certainly give us a clear indication as to whether or not Derek Mason should continue on as Vanderbilt's head coach.  If they can improve upon their four wins from 2015, Mason could very well stay.  The only problem is that, after glancing at Vanderbilt's 2016 schedule, I can't pick out five wins.  Go ahead; take a look:

9/1 South Carolina
9/10 Middle Tennessee
9/17 @ Georgia Tech
9/24 @ Western Kentucky
10/1 Florida
10/8 @ Kentucky
10/15 @ Georgia
10/22 Tennessee State
11/5 @ Auburn
11/12 @ Mizzou
11/19 Ole Miss
11/26 Tennessee

That schedule is rough.

Gus Malzahn

It is hard to believe that, only three years ago, Gus Malzahn had the Auburn Tigers in the BCS title game.  It's not shocking that he made it there; it is shocking that he has yet to replicate that kind of success.  Thanks to a rise in talent in the rest of the SEC West, coupled with an abysmal offense in 2015, Auburn has declined in recent years, culminating in a 2-6 record against SEC teams last season.

Given the success that the program has encountered since 2010, I doubt that Auburn fans will tolerate another season that sees the Tigers finish in last place in the SEC West.  That will be easier said than done this season, as predicting who finishes 3-7 will be very difficult, given the parity between those five teams.  The media recently picked the Tigers to finish sixth in the West this season, which could spell the end of the Malzahn era in Auburn.  However, I do believe that the Tigers will see at least eight wins this season, as their talented defense should carry them through the year.

Mark Stoops

This season will be the fourth in Lexington for the youngest Stoops brother, who has yet to get Kentucky over the hump and into a bowl game.  Many Kentucky fans didn't expect immediate success from Stoops, as they understood that it would take a while to get the program up and running again after being perpetually relegated to the bottom of the SEC standings during the Joker Phillips era.

Now, Stoops has finally gotten Kentucky into a position where they could turn into a perennial bowl team, securing state-of-the-art facilities for the program, as well as turning them into a recruiting force.  Unfortunately, he just can't seem to finish a season strong, as Kentucky has only two wins in November during his tenure (Alabama State in 2013 and Charlotte in 2015).

That being said, I do not think that Stoops will be fired this season unless the Cats go belly-up and finish with 3 wins or less.  This is due to the fact that his current contract makes firing him an incredibly expensive affair.  The Lexington Herald-Leader's Mark Story put that in perspective last fall:

...if UK were to fire the coach without cause before Dec. 1, 2017, it would owe him all the remaining salary in a contract that runs through June 30, 2020.

So if UK fired Stoops now, it would owe him $15.5 million.

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Expect to see Stoops around Lexington after this season.