Saturday Football: Dabo Swinney vs. Ohio State, Auburn's disastrous coaching search and Bret Bielema's back!
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Good morning and happy Wednesday! The regular season might be over, but there’s still plenty happening in the world of college football. Bowl season is also underway, with a pair of games on the schedule for tonight and one game each on Christmas Eve and Christmas.
Today, we’re going to discuss Clemson coach Dabo Swinney’s growing beef with Ohio State. Then, we’ll take another look at the mess unfolding before our eyes at Auburn. Finally, we’ll look at what Illinois’ decision to hire Bret Bielema as its head coach means for the program. Let’s get started!
DABO SWINNEY VS. OHIO STATE
Dabo Swinney continues to disrespect Ohio State. Is this shaping up to be an epic CFP semifinal?
The Clemson Tigers and Ohio State Buckeyes will meet up in a College Football Playoff semifinal game for the third time on New Year’s Day at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. The Tigers are 2-0 in those games against the Buckeyes, so Ohio State will be eager to turn the tables this time around.
They’ll also have plenty of motivation, as Clemson coach Dabo Swinney has made several interesting comments about the Buckeyes in recent weeks. This growing feud is going to be fun to watch, and the game should be intense, since there’s a spot in the title game on the line. Let’s take a look at what Swinney is doing to rile up Ohio State:
- Clemson has played 11 games this year, including 10 ACC games. The Buckeyes, meanwhile, have only played a total of 6 games. That’s why Swinney said before the Playoff field was announced that he’d find it difficult to pick the Buckeyes over teams like Texas A&M. Urban Meyer quickly defended his former team, saying they’re clearly one of the four best teams, regardless of how many games they’ve played.
- Dabo wasn’t talking just to talk, either. He backed up his words. On his final coaches poll ballot, he had Ohio State ranked No. 11. His CFP field would have been Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and Texas A&M. For comparison’s sake, Nick Saban had Ohio State at No. 5, behind the same top 4 as Swinney. Even LeBron James had a reaction to Swinney’s ranking of the Buckeyes.
- Let’s just say this budding feud is becoming bulletin board material. Ohio State coach Ryan Day created some of his own, though, with this expletive-filled postgame speech after the Buckeyes won the B1G title game. Sporting News’s Bill Bender writes that this feud between Day and Swinney is making the Playoff matchup even more interesting. Fansided’s Shawn Spencer gives us three reasons why Swinney isn’t afraid to trash talk the Buckeyes. Meanwhile, Saturday Tradition’s Ryan Clark reveals seven reasons why Ohio State fans hate Swinney.
There’s nothing like a good coaching feud to get the blood boiling! This matchup between the Buckeyes and Tigers is shaping up to be a great one. There’s plenty of motivation on both sides with a spot in the title game on the line, but all the extracurricular chatter is entertaining, too. Let’s hope it keeps going until New Year’s Day when they meet on the field in New Orleans!
- Since 2014, 24 teams have played in the College Football Playoff. Alabama and Clemson account for five of those teams, each, and both schools are making their sixth appearances this year. But, which teams are the best all-time Playoff teams? Saturday Down South’s Connor O’Gara ranked every team to appear in the Playoff.
- Every year, teams are upset about being left out of the Playoff. This year, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Cincinnati and others would have liked to have a chance to play for a title. So, will the Playoff ever expand to eight teams or more? Saturday Down South’s Matt Hayes spoke with his sources to discuss that very question to kick off his weekly First and 10 column.
- The Heisman Trophy is still very much up for debate this year. There are a number of intriguing candidates, including Florida QB Kyle Trask, Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence and Alabama’s trio of QB Mac Jones, WR DeVonta Smith and RB Najee Harris. Bleacher Report’s Adam Kramer explained why Smith should win and snap a streak of QB dominance.
- Should Indiana be playing in a New Year’s 6 bowl game? The Hoosiers have only one loss against a Playoff-bound Ohio State team. Meanwhile, three-loss Iowa State is in an NY6 game. Saturday Tradition’s Ryan O’Gara explains how the Hoosiers were snubbed in his weekly B1G Monday Morning column.
AUBURN’S DISASTROUS COACHING SEARCH
The Auburn coaching search is spiraling out of control. Does anyone actually want the job?
We all remember the 2017 Tennessee coaching search. When the Vols moved on from Butch Jones, a wild, unpredictable search took place. During the drama, AD John Currie was fired and numerous coaches turned down the job. Ultimately, it ended with the hire of Jeremy Pruitt.
This year, Auburn’s search for a replacement for Gus Malzahn is at least giving that Tennessee search a run for its money in terms of craziness. So, what’s the latest from The Plains? Here’s what’s happening with Auburn.
(UPDATE: It was reported on Tuesday night that Auburn was expected to hire Boise State coach Bryan Harsin. The school had yet to confirm the report, but news could be coming today! Per 247Sports, Harsin was one of three candidates — including Clemson DC Brent Venables and Louisiana head coach Billy Napier — who was given serious consideration for the job):
- We’ve already discussed the Kevin Steele situation. The defensive coordinator-turned-interim coach reportedly had the support of a number of boosters, but fan reaction to that potential hire was negative, to say the least. Now, Auburn officials are scrambling to find anyone who wants to take the job. SEC Network host Paul Finebaum ripped Auburn boosters, saying it’s “one of the worst cases” of meddling he’s seen.
- Seriously, it seems as though no one wants to coach the Tigers. Louisiana’s Billy Napier emerged as a leading candidate earlier this week, but he quickly turned the job down. Oregon’s Mario Cristobal signed a big extension to stay with the Ducks last week. Clemson DC Brent Venables turned Auburn down. UAB’s Bill Clark is no longer a candidate, according to reports. When Auburn first fired Malzahn, many thought Liberty’s Hugh Freeze would be a top candidate. It appears he wasn’t contacted at first, but has now been reached out to by Auburn officials. Interesting.
- Even if a good hire is made, the search has taken a toll on Auburn. Speedy Auburn WR Anthony Schwartz had an interesting tweet after the Napier news broke. He also lobbied for an interview for the job, citing his impressive record with the Tigers on the old NCAA Football video game. Meanwhile, Saturday Down South’s Connor O’Gara writes that no matter who the Tigers ultimately choose, this has been a bad look for the school.
No hire has been made official as of Tuesday night, but it’s hard to imagine this search dragging on too much longer. If it does, it’s tough to see the Tigers recovering in time to put a halfway decent team on the field in 2021. Whatever happens, it’s clear moving forward that everyone involved in this coaching search needs to get on the same page, and quickly!
JUST FOR FUN
Nick Saban was named the SEC Coach of the Year on Tuesday by his fellow coaches. Since taking over the Alabama program in 2007, Saban has won the award four times now (2008, 2009, 2016 and 2020). So, for today’s quiz, can you name the other coaches who have won the SEC Coach of the Year award (either as voted by the coaches or the Associated Press) since 2007?
Scroll down for the answers to today’s quiz.
BRET BIELEMA’S RETURN
Illinois has its new head football coach. Can Bret Bielema find success with the Fighting Illini?
Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman didn’t waste any time on the coaching search. A week after making the decision to terminate Lovie Smith after five seasons, Whitman pulled the trigger on former Wisconsin and Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema.
The announcement came on Saturday morning, hours before Illinois played in its final game of the season against Penn State. Given Bielema’s success at Wisconsin followed by the struggles at Arkansas, everyone on social media was weighing in on the hire — and there were plenty of varying opinions. Was this the right hire for a program that’s been struggling for a decade?
- Bielema is already recruiting Illinois better than Smith. One of the biggest gripes of the Smith era was that the coaching staff essentially ignored in-state talent. That won’t be the case with Bielema. During his introductory press conference, Bielema made it clear he wants to “put up roadblocks” so that the top players from Illinois won’t leave the state. He’s already been in contact with high school coaches across the state and plans to dedicate a region of Illinois to all 10 assistant coaches. That’s music to an Illini fan’s ears.
- His big personality should be a welcomed change in Champaign. Shortly after Bielema was hired, he was willing to pull over on the side of the road for a brief interview on College GameDay. He drove from New York to State College to check out Illinois’ final game against Penn State. In his press conference on Monday, Bielema said that he’s learned how to be more humble, but he’ll “always be confident” as a college football coach. He also said he’s looking forward to fan interactions in the coming years, which is something that was absent during Smith’s run.
- Bielema’s time at Arkansas wasn’t really a failure. It’s easy to label Bielema’s run at Arkansas as subpar, but he did lead the Razorbacks to three winning seasons and three bowl games in five seasons, which is no easy task in the SEC West. Pair that with his 68-24 record at Wisconsin and the three B1G titles to his name, and it’s easy to see why Whitman has a lot of confidence in Bielema. He doesn’t have to win B1G titles on a regular basis in Champaign — getting Illinois to bowl games regularly should be the goal. Saturday Tradition’s Ryan O’Gara sums it up perfectly, saying Bielema has a chance to make Illinois relevant in the B1G.
Bielema has a 6-year contract with a base salary of $4.2 million and a larger pool for assistant coaches in an effort to be more competitive in the B1G. Bielema seems happy to be back in his home state and to be returning to the B1G. And with that contract, it appears Whitman and the Illinois program have a lot of faith the new head coach can get the job done.
The coaches who have been named SEC Coach of the Year by either the Associated Press or their fellow coaches since 2007 are:
- 2007: Sylvester Croom, Mississippi State
- 2008: Nick Saban, Alabama; Bobby Johnson, Vanderbilt; Houston Nutt, Ole Miss
- 2009: Nick Saban, Alabama
- 2010: Gene Chizik, Auburn; Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
- 2011: Les Miles, LSU
- 2012: Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M; Will Muschamp, South Carolina
- 2013: Gus Malzahn, Auburn
- 2014: Gary Pinkel, Mizzou; Dan Mullen, Mississippi State
- 2015: Jim McElwain, Florida
- 2016: Nick Saban, Alabama
- 2017: Kirby Smart, Georgia
- 2018: Mark Stoops, Kentucky
- 2019: Ed Orgeron, LSU
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“If there’s an internal investigation, those are usually tightly held. Auburn, if I remember correctly, withheld an NCAA investigation letter for months, I’m not even sure they still acknowledged it in basketball … yeah, they did because they finally self-imposed. But it seems like someone on the inside was or is out to get Jeremy Pruitt. I can’t tell you who it is, I really don’t, it’s a little fuzzy at the moment. …
“I think the Tennessee situation across the board is very fluid. I felt better about Jeremy Pruitt’s future on Sunday when the bowl was announced, and I felt worst about it yesterday when the bowl was scrapped. I realize why it was scrapped because of COVID issues, but it’s still a very tenuous situation and I don’t know where it’s going. But if that is the case, it really makes me feel sorry for Jeremy Pruitt because that’s a pretty dirty way to do something.”
– SEC Network host Paul Finebaum said it seems someone is out to get Jeremy Pruitt fired at Tennessee. It has been a rough year in the Vols’ program, and many are speculating Pruitt could be fired.
TWEET OF THE DAY
How crazy has Auburn’s coaching search gotten? Well, this tweet comparing it to Tennessee’s wild 2017 search is a bad look for the Tigers. What additional twists and turns will we see before Auburn officially has its new coach? Will Bryan Harsin keep the Auburn search from continuing much longer?