In honor of the tried-and-true coaching axiom that you’re either getting better or you’re getting worse, we’ve classified teams as either Stock Rising or Stock Falling in today’s look at the SEC West teams.
ALABAMA – RISING
It’s hard to keep going up after winning three of the last four national titles, but there’s no reason to think the Crimson Tide is falling. Nick Saban has managed to hold onto defensive coordinator Kirby Smart for one more season it seems, and all the personnel losses can be overcome (aren’t they always?). The biggest hit Alabama takes is on the offensive line where Chance Warmack, D.J. Fluker and Barrett Jones are gone to the NFL, but the skill position talent returning – quarterback A.J. McCarron, running back T.J. Yeldon and wide receiver Amari Cooper – should survive just fine.
AUBURN – FALLING
New head coach Gus Malzahn saw the Tigers at the top when he was coordinating the offense for the 2010 national title team. That was a long time ago. The coaching staff has been overhauled from the top down and defensive end Corey Lemonier left early from a defense that didn’t have enough talent to start with. The good news is that the recruiting class closed strong, Malzahn should be able to help an offense that finished No. 115 in the nation last year and Ellis Johnson has a proven track record on the defensive side.
ARKANSAS – FALLING
There are some reasons for optimism, but the slide that started when Bobby Petrino put his motorcycle in a ditch two years ago hasn’t stopped yet. The best offensive talent – quarterback Tyler Wilson, running backs Dennis Johnson and Knile Davis and wide receiver Cobi Hamilton – is gone. New coach Bret Bielema also will have to fix a defense that finished 73rd in the country in a division where Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M are on major rolls.
LSU – FALLING
Like Georgia, the Tigers might be taking a step back, but it doesn’t mean they won’t be a handful for everyone on their schedule. The most shocking development for LSU is the fact that 11 players with eligibility left entered the NFL Draft. Head coach Les Miles made LSU fans nervous when he took a call from Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long about the Razorbacks head coaching job, but that deal never came close to happening.
OLE MISS – RISING
In his first season, Hugh Freeze led the Rebels to seven wins, and he was just getting started with that. A sampling of the teams Ole Miss beat on the recruiting trail this year: Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas and Oregon. The Rebels signed defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche, the consensus No. 1 high school player in the country.
MISSISSIPPI STATE – FALLING
It’s a zero sum league, and that’s particularly true in the state of Mississippi, where the Rebels’ rise probably means a step back for rival Mississippi State. Dan Mullen’s stranglehold on the Egg Bowl was snapped this year by Ole Miss, and there has been some shuffling on the coaching staff. Mullen demoted Chris Wilson from defensive coordinator, and Wilson subsequently left the staff (to replace Rodney Garner at Georgia). Co-defensive coordinator Geoff Wilson was promoted to the team’s defensive play caller. The good news is quarterback Tyler Russell comes back for his senior season and could be one of the country’s top passers.
TEXAS A&M – RISING
Alabama’s Nick Saban won another national title. Oregon’s Chip Kelly got his NFL job. But no coach in the country looked smarter last year than Sumlin in his first year with the Aggies. The main reason he looked so smart? Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Johnny Manziel, but it doesn’t end there. Sumlin, who previously coached at Houston, arrived at TAMU at the perfect time and has taken advantage of the school’s new spot in the SEC. The Aggies lost two very talented linemen – offensive tackle Luke Joeckel and defensive end Damontre Moore – to early NFL entry, but a top five recruiting class will help ease the blow. Offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury left to take the head coaching job at Texas A&M which is worth watching, but Sumlin should be fine on offense.