As the SEC football season heads toward the regular-season homestretch, divisional races are unfolding with some interesting possibilities (hello, Kentucky) and with Alabama still considered the far-and-away top team in the league (everywhere this week except Baton Rouge, La.).
Also unfolding is how some postseason awards will be cast. Of course it doesn’t mean as much in the grand scheme of things, but it’s always interesting to see what players and coaches emerge as favorites. OK, so Tua Tagovailoa is the easy choice right now for Player of the Year in the league — and the Heisman Trophy for that matter — and there are others who will fill expected spots on the All-SEC team at the end of the year.
But maybe the most intriguing vote will be for SDEC Coach of the Year. How that vote unfolds will receive a lot of attention. Or maybe there’s a clear choice.
What do you think?
As folks like myself are wont to say, “There’s still a lot of football to be played.’’ And if past seasons are any indication, there are a few more surprises, twists and turns still to be unveiled before championship But if you had a vote, right now, who would be your choice for Coach of the Year? There are a few candidates, but I’ll limit it to five for the sake of this argument — Alabama’s Nick Saban, Kentucky’s Mark Stoops, Georgia’s Kirby Smart, Florida’s Dan Mullen and LSU’s Ed Orgeron.
It’s probably just a two-man race at this point, but hey, let’s not deny others a chance to get in the mix. Although you won’t be reading of the hinting of others, including Malzahn, Morris, Odom or Pruitt, in the following paragraphs.
Saban is the best college coach in the country, when all things are considered, and he really doesn’t have a close second at this point. So he could be the SEC Coach of the Year every season. However, because of his prestige and ranking, when votes start being counted he is sometimes — perhaps often — skipped over in the voting. Yet his team is currently undefeated, the favorite to win the national title again and this year’s team is, at the moment, considered one of the best Alabama teams ever. As in ever. So that’s a pretty strong case.
Stoops is of course getting a lot of attention and support for the award this year because, well, Kentucky. He had a fairly warn seating arrangement with the Wildcats coming into the season and instead of being concerned for his future employment he has put together one of the best Kentucky teams in recent memory. Here’s all you need to know about Stoops’ candidacy for this job: if the Wildcats beat Georgia on Saturday they will be the SEC East champions and play in the SEC Championship Game.
Mullen is a legitimate candidate. He left Mississippi State in great shape — it is often overlooked how good and competitive his teams were when he was in Starkville —and he has handled the pressure and expectations in Gainesville well, moving the Gators ahead of where many felt they would be this season. He was going to be allowed to get his feet wet a bit, but instead, has the Gators a little ahead of schedule.
Smart has to be a candidate based on the Bulldogs’ solid foundation since he arrived as head coach and of course because of the Dawgs’ Top 10 national ranking. True, Georgia was a playoff pick in the preseason and they will have to do some work to get back in that mix, including beating a hot and confident Kentucky team this week, but Smart could get them there and if he does, his SEC Coach of the Year status will obviously increase.
Orgeron is the biggest surprise on this list, with the exception of Stoops. The Crazy Cajun has an LSU team that some predicted would be a 6-6 or 7-5 team this season based on a difficult schedule of games and, in truth, Orgeron’s previous successes as a head coach, not to mention the team’s inconsistency of late, in the national title hunt. If he leads LSU to a win over Alabama this Saturday his stock in this category will go way, way up, not to mention the actual stock for Red Bull.
It’s a good guess folks would like to wait at least one more week before casting their ballots — if Kentucky wins, Stoops could be a shoo-in for the crown, and if LSU beats Alabama, Orgeron could make a case as well. And what about Saban?
Of the five, right now, my ballot would be, in order: Stoops, Saban, Orgeron, Mullen, Smart. But that’s me. Good thing the official vote isn’t for a few more weeks.
Things could change.
Tommy Hicks, a Phenix City native, has covered sports in Alabama for more than 40 years. Contact him at