SEC winners and losers from the 2019 college football season
Another college football regular season is in the books, and the conference for which it simply matters more has the top-ranked team in the playoff.
Bowl prep will soon begin for the league’s nine teams playing in the postseason, and the early signing period is less than 10 days away.
So now seems like as good a time as any to look at who fared well, as well as those who didn’t.
Coach O. It has been a long journey for LSU head coach Ed Orgeron. He has twice held the title “interim head coach,” yet he finds himself now leading the No. 1 team in the country after navigating an undefeated regular season. He is a shining example that there is no set path for getting to the top.
While more is out there for his LSU Tigers, their season is an overwhelming success no matter what happens in the playoff. Coach O avoided stubbornness this offseason and overhauled his entire offensive approach. The result is the No. 1 offense in the country and a quarterback who will collect the Heisman Trophy this weekend.
Gus Malzahn. Auburn’s head man used this season to remind everyone why he is the greatest coach to ever walk the sidelines at Jordan-Hare. His Tigers have played in a bowl game every one of his seven seasons on the Plains. After picking up a huge neutral-site win over No. 6 Oregon, the eventual Pac-12 champion, Malzahn has the opportunity to register double-digit wins for the third time in his Auburn tenure.
With one of the most difficult schedules year after year, he has faced perhaps the toughest seven-year run of any coach in college football history. And last month he notched his third win over Nick Saban, an achievement only one other coach on the planet can claim.
Tua. Alabama fans are not going to be the only ones who miss their fearless on-field leader. We all are. Anyone who appreciates football enjoyed watching him spin the ball out of that quick, effortless throwing motion. When adversity hit by way of his season-ending hip injury, Tua showed the country what he was truly made of. He was outspoken about his reliance on his faith to carry him through the trial. And, unlike other some other superstar players in recent years, Tua stuck around to support his teammates even though his college career is likely concluded.
That’s why he’s firmly in the winner category this season — and in life.
Derrick Brown. No one can ever blame a player for leaving school early to become a high draft pick. Brown could easily have done that, and he would have been congratulated in the process. Instead, he returned to Auburn for a season which saw him become virtually unstoppable on the field. His performance garnered him Defensive Player of the Year honors, with more awards expected to pile up.
Brown is also another example of an athlete displaying character off the field. Set to graduate this month, he’s involved in numerous causes in the community and is a finalist for the Lott IMPACT Trophy, which seeks to recognize players for integrity both on and off the field.
Paul Finebaum. There’s a common saying in marketing that your brand should make someone mad. For Finebaum, mission accomplished. He is at a point where he is maximizing his exposure on the SEC Network and ESPN properties. He has perfected his schtick and has the ability to set fans, players and coaches alike off with his commentary and observations. Finebaum’s currency is controversy, and he’s trading feverishly these days.
Don’t expect any drop off in performance next year, either. The league returns personalities such as Coach O, Saban and Jimbo Fisher. And now Ole Miss has gift-wrapped Lane Kiffin back into Finebaum’s world. Another sneaky pick for Finebaum fodder will be new Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman. We’re in the golden era of Paul Finebaum.
Greg Sankey. Sankey, commissioner of the SEC, denied an injured Tua a waiver to cheer his teammates from the sideline of the Iron Bowl. While Tua was on crutches following season-ending surgery and obviously unable to play, Sankey determined Tua would still count against the SEC’s 70-player limit for road teams. This put Tua in the unfair position of having to take a spot away from another player in order to be with his teammates during the biggest game of the year. Tua embodies everything that’s right about SEC football. This should have been an easy decision for Sankey.
Then there’s the refs. Officiating in the SEC has been criticized this year for its inconsistency and some glaring mistakes in high-profile games. Sankey did not help himself with an awkward mid-season explanation of the conference’s approach to officiating. Here’s to a better Sankey season in 2020.
12th Man. It’s realistic to think Texas A&M expected a bit more when it guaranteed Jimbo Fisher $75 million to be its head football coach. For $75 million, they should be expecting quite a bit more. In Jimbo’s two seasons in College Station, his teams have gone a combined 16-9, with a 9-7 record in conference. Not terrible. But not $75 million good, either. This year, the Aggies did not beat a single ranked team, and squeaking out a win against the SEC’s worst team (Arkansas) proved to be the difference in getting to seven wins.
Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy summed up the pain of Texas A&M’s mediocrity in 2019 on a conference call announcing his team’s invitation to the Texas Bowl against the Aggies. Gundy called Texas A&M “the best 7-5 team in the history of the NCAA.”
Ole Miss urinating guy. That’s what to type into Google when you are looking for more info on the stupidest play of the 2019 season. Elijah Moore is his name. Everyone has seen the play by now. Any way you parse it, Moore’s pretending to lift his leg and urinate like a dog in the endzone cost Ole Miss a win in its most important game of the year. No matter how much his coaches tried to cover for him and say they were going to kick the extra point, a two-point conversion for the win was the only play. Instead, Moore cost his team the win and cost his coach a job.
The silver lining to Moore’s stupidity is that it brought Lane Kiffin back to the SEC. An Ole Miss player’s peeing like a dog got Lane Kiffin hired. Sounds about right.
Paul Finebaum. He did it. He went there. At 7:18 a.m. CST on Tuesday, December 3, Paul Finebaum declared that the Nick Saban dynasty has ended. It takes a unique talent to land in both categories of this column. Ole Miss urinating guy almost pulled it off because he brought Lane Kiffin to Oxford. But Finebaum is a generational talent right up there with Bo Jackson and Tua. Suggesting the Saban dynasty is over far exceeds the stupidity of costing a 4-8 football team a win. Has Finebaum not seen Saban dance, lately? By our calculations, Saban will coach until his 110th birthday. So at his current pace of winning, we estimate he will bring the Tide another 21 national championships before he finishes in Tuscaloosa.
Tide fans are better off printing their “38” bumper stickers than worrying about Finebaum’s prediction that Saban’s reign is over.
Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia