Bob Holt is a sports reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he sits on the board of directors for the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and a voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 basketball poll. He has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year four times and has been inducted to the Arkansas Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame.
SEC report: Elko the hot name in A&M search
Duke head coach Mike Elko walks along the sideline during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Florida State, Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023, in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Duke coach Mike Elko is high on lists of potential candidates for Texas A&M’s opening in the wake of Jimbo Fisher’s firing.
Elko, 46, makes sense for the Aggies given his age, success in football at a school known for basketball and his previous connection to Texas A&M.
After being Texas A&M’s defensive coordinator from 2018-21, Elko is 15-8 in his second season at Duke.
But Elko understandably stressed his commitment to Duke this week when asked about the Texas A&M job.
“’It’s a profession where people just like to put stuff out there,” Elko said. “I’m committed to this place.
“Everybody knows I’m very happy at this place. We’re doing a lot of special things at this place. My family is very happy here. We love Duke.
“I say this all the time, when you’re doing your job well, everybody thinks you’re leaving. When you’re doing your job bad, everyone thinks you’re leaving.”
The long list of coaching candidates being mentioned for the Texas A&M job also includes Ole Miss’ Lane Kiffin, Oregon’s Dan Lanning, Washington’s Kalen DeBoer, Kansas’ Lance Leipold, Kansas State’s Chris Klieman and Oregon State’s Jonathan Smith.
Kiffin got a raise at Ole Miss last season after being a candidate for the Auburn job.
“I’ve got a lot of practice at that. It’s that time of year,” Kiffin said during the SEC coaches’ teleconference Wednesday when asked about his name being linked to job openings. “It is what it is.
“We’re going to stay focused on what we are doing here and not pay attention to outside noise.”
Lanning is a former Georgia defensive coordinator and Alabama graduate assistant. He has a 19-4 record in his second season at Oregon, including 9-1 this season.
“Everything I want exists right here,” Lanning said. “I’m not going anywhere. There’s zero chance that I would be coaching somewhere else. I’ve got unfinished business here.
“We have the resources, the tools. Anybody that can’t understand why you would want to be at this place doesn’t understand exactly what exists here.”
If Texas A&M doesn’t hire a coach from another Power 5 Conference, an intriguing candidate is UTSA Coach Jeff Traylor, a former University of Arkansas assistant.
Traylor, 55, has led the Roadrunners to a 37-13 record, including 7-3 this season as American Athletic Conference newcomers after winning the Conference USA championship last year.
Having his name come up for the Texas A&M job is natural, Traylor said, given his success as the coach at Gilmer (Texas) High School and UTSA. He also was an assistant at Texas and SMU.
“It means we’ve been winning a lot of ball games,” Traylor said. “So that speculation is always going to come up when you’ve had great players like I have. I’ve been blessed to coach them.”
Mississippi State’s opening won’t attract the same level of interest as the Texas A&M job after Zach Arnett was fired, but there should be coaches with good resumes interested in going to Starkville.
Among coaches being mentioned for the opening are SMU’s Rhett Lashlee, who is from Springdale and played at Arkansas; Liberty’s Jamey Chadwell; Tulane’s Willie Fritz; and Troy’s Jon Sumrall.
Lashlee, 40, was a graduate assistant at Arkansas and assistant coach at Arkansas State and offensive coordinator at Auburn. He’s 15-8 in his second season at SMU, including 8-2 this season.
There also has been speculation about whether Dan Mullen might want to return to Mississippi State for a second stint.
Mullen, 51, led the Bulldogs to a 69-46 record from 2009-17 before taking the Florida job. Since being fired at Florida late in the 2021 season, Mullen has been working as an analyst for ESPN.
Coming & going
There has been lots of coaching turnover in the SEC since Nick Saban returned to the conference at Alabama in 2007.
The other 13 SEC teams have had 55 coaches in Saban’s 17 seasons, and that’s not counting interim coaches who filled in late in seasons for a game or two.
The turnover does include Vanderbilt’s Robbie Caldwell and Arkansas’ John L. Smith, who served as interim coaches for full seasons in 2010 and 2012, respectively.
Assuming Saban returns to Alabama next season — and there’s no reason to believe he won’t — there will be at least two new SEC coaches he’ll face with openings at Texas A&M and Mississippi State.
There also will be two other new coaches with Texas’ Steve Sarkisian and Oklahoma’s Brent Venables joining the SEC.
“Well, I get to meet a lot of coaches when we go to SEC Media Days and we go to SEC meetings, there’s a lot of new guys in the room,” Saban said on Wednesday’s SEC teleconference. “I enjoy developing relationships with all of them.
“But I hate to see anybody [get fired]. I know how hard guys work to try to develop and build a program and I know how difficult it can be sometimes to try to get everybody on board to try to do the things you need to do to do that.
“You need the support of a lot of people to be able to do it, and obviously it’s too bad when those things don’t work out and people can’t stay together to try to build something positive.”
Among SEC coaches Saban — who was at LSU for five seasons from 2000-04 — has faced at two schools in the conference include Houston Nutt (Arkansas and Ole Miss), Dan Mullen (Mississippi State and Florida), Will Muschamp (Florida and South Carolina) and Lane Kiffin (Tennessee and Ole Miss).
When the Crimson Tide play at Auburn next week, Hugh Freeze will become the latest SEC coach Saban has faced at two schools. Freeze was Ole Miss’ coach and faced Saban before being hired at Auburn this season.
Daniels for Heisman
LSU senior quarterback Jayden Daniels leads the nation in total offense with an average of 408.2 yards per game.
Daniels became the first player in FBS history with at least 350 passing yards and 200 rushing yards in the same game in the Tigers’ 52-35 victory over Florida last week. He completed 17 of 26 passes for 372 yards and 3 touchdowns without an interception and rushed 12 times for 234 yards and 2 touchdowns.
“If he didn’t win [the Heisman Trophy] tonight, he has got to be the leading candidate,” LSU Coach Brian Kelly said. “Unless the Heisman is just about popularity. If you want to be the most popular then fine, but he is the best player in college football.
“You can say whatever you want, we are 7-3, and whoever else is undefeated. That doesn’t mean anything.
“What matters is who is the best player — and he is the best player. A night like tonight kind of solidifies that.
“He did something tonight that no one has ever done. If that doesn’t make you the leading candidate, then maybe the Heisman isn’t really for the best player.”
Daniels’ 606 yards in total offense against the Gators broke the SEC record held by Mississippi State quarterback K.J. Costello, who had 585 against LSU in 2020.
Daniels’ career totals, including three seasons at Arizona State, are now 12,102 passing yards and 3,091 rushing yards.
This season Daniels has completed 195 of 273 passes (71.4%) for 3,164 yards and 30 touchdowns with 4 interceptions. He’s also rushed 114 times for 918 yards and 8 touchdowns.
South Carolina fifth-year senior tight end Trey Knox, a transfer from Arkansas, is expected to play against Kentucky on Saturday after missing the last two games with a hamstring injury he suffered against Texas A&M.
Knox has 32 receptions for 277 yards and 2 touchdowns in 8 games.
“I’m proud of him, because he has battled through some injuries,” South Carolina Coach Shane Beamer said. “He was kind of beat up going into that A&M game and then pulled his hamstring.
“That kept him out the last couple weeks, but he’s practiced this week. He’s not at 100%, but he’s tough and working hard to get back.”
Beamer said Knox was a key transfer because the Gamecocks’ tight end depth “was non-existent coming out of the season” after some departures.
“Trey obviously has played a lot of football in the SEC and done it at a high level,” Beamer said. “The fact he has a wide receiver background has really been good for us. He knows how to get open and [quarterback] Spencer [Rattler] has a lot of trust in him. He’s also improved his blocking as well.”
Knox played four years at Arkansas and during the 2021 season he moved from wide receiver to tight end. In 45 games with the Razorbacks he had 81 catches for 883 yards and 11 touchdowns.
After Auburn gained 517 yards in a 48-10 win at Arkansas, Tigers Coach Hugh Freeze seemingly poured it on a little more during his Monday news conference.
“It’s really good to see our kids play with confidence,” Freeze said. “I don’t think that you can be very good at anything unless you have some confidence with what you’re doing.
“They seem to be a confident group right now that is excited about another opportunity. I don’t mean for this to sound any way, but we could have put up a lot of numbers [at Arkansas].”
Freeze said the Tigers played well, “But we really started milking the clock about halfway through the third quarter and did not throw it.”
Auburn had 32 running plays in the second half for 203 yards and completed 3 of 5 passes for 34 yards. The Tigers attempted one pass in the fourth quarter when they had 14 rushing attempts.
“I really wish that I could have gotten Holden [Geriner] some throws in there,” Freeze said of the Tigers’ backup quarterback. “But you want to handle things the right way when you do get those opportunities because I’ve been on the other side of that, too.”
Missouri’s 36-7 victory over No. 14 Tennessee marked the Tigers’ largest margin of victory over a team ranked in the Associated Press poll.
The Tigers’ 29-point victory surpassed their 27-point win over Oklahoma State, 41-14, in 1975.
Georgia, which has a 27-game winning streak and is ranked No. 1 in all the polls, has allowed a touchdown on its opponents’ first possession the last four games in victories over Vanderbilt 37-20, Florida 43-20, Missouri 30-21 and Ole Miss 52-17.
Vanderbilt went 76 yards for a touchdown on its first possession, Florida went 66 yards, and Missouri and Ole Miss each went 75 yards.
Ranking (previous); Record; Comment
1(1);Georgia;10-0;No. 1 in all the polls
2(2);Alabama;9-1;No problem at Kentucky
3(4);Missouri;8-2;Payback against Tennessee
4(3);Ole Miss;8-2;Can’t keep up with Georgia
5(5);LSU;7-3;Daniels putting up unreal numbers
6(6);Tennessee;7-3;Georgia coming to Neyland
7(8);Texas A&M6-4;Nice retirement fund for Jimbo
8(7);Kentucky;6-4;Last win over Alabama was 1997
9(9);Auburn;6-4;Never a doubt in beating Hogs
10(11);Florida;5-5;Entertaining game at LSU
11(13);South Carolina;4-6;Pours it on Vandy
12(12);Mississippi State;4-6;Arnett out after 10 games
13(10);Arkansas;3-7;Home hasn’t been sweet
14(14)Vanderbilt;2-9;Open date before Tennessee
Player to watch
Georgia QB Carson Beck, Jr., 6-4, 220 pounds
The Bulldogs have continued to win big with Beck taking over at quarterback for Stetson Bennett.
Beck has completed 231 of 320 passes for 3,022 yards and 18 touchdowns with 5 interceptions heading into Saturday’s game at Tennessee. He also has three rushing touchdowns.
Beck is on pace to set a school record with his completion rate of 72.2%. Bennett set the record last season at 68.3%.
Game of the week
WHAT No. 1 Georgia at No. 18 Tennessee
WHEN 2:30 p.m., Saturday on CBS
WHERE Neyland Stadium, Knoxville, Tenn.
RECORDS Georgia 10-0, 7-0 SEC, Tennessee 7-3, 3-3
LINE Georgia is favored by 10 points
Georgia, which moved ahead of Ohio State to the No. 1 spot in the College Football Playoff rankings Tuesday, can become the first team with three consecutive 8-0 SEC records since the conference went to divisional play in 1992 if the Bulldogs win at Tennessee.
With Georgia clinching a third consecutive SEC East title last week, the Vols will look to improve their bowl options and spoil the Bulldogs’ perfect season.
Georgia leads the series 27-23-2, including 13-12-1 in Knoxville.
By the numbers
$77,562,500 — Buyout Texas A&M owes Jimbo Fisher after he was fired on Sunday with two games left in his sixth season.
321 — Combined yards rushing and receiving by Missouri running back Cody Schrader against Tennessee. He had 35 carries for 205 yards and 5 receptions for 116 yards.
2-39-1 — Kentucky’s record against Alabama after losing to the Crimson Tide 49-21 last week.
226 — Consecutive passes by Florida quarterback Graham Mertz without an interception. He broke the school record previously held by Tim Tebow, who had a streak of 203 passes without an interception during the 2007 and 2008 seasons.
“Our defense kicked their ass.”
— Missouri Coach Eli Drinkwitz on the Tigers beating Tennessee 36-7 after the Vols pounded his team 62-24 and 66-24 the previous two seasons.
“This team has come a long way.”
— Alabama Coach Nick Saban after the Crimson Tide won 49-21 at Kentucky to clinch the SEC West title.
“We’re just trying to play in the now … Dominate the moment.”
— Georgia Coach Kirby Smart on pressure mounting as the Bulldogs go for a third consecutive national championship.
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