Kirby Smart is on the verge of boldly going where only Bernie Bierman has gone before.
Who is Bernie Bierman? Just the last college football coach to win three consecutive national titles. Bierman did that at Minnesota from 1934-36 – nearly a century ago.
Now Smart and Georgia are threatening to do the unthinkable by winning three consecutive College Football Playoff titles. The last program to try for the trifecta was Nick Saban’s Alabama. But after winning two straight BCS titles in 2011 and ’12, the Tide came up a Kick 6 short on the Plains of Auburn.
“I don’t care about the three-peat, the two-peat or the one-peat,” Smart said. “I care about complacency. If the focus is on that and the outcomes, I think the rest will take care of itself.”
I don’t care about the three-peat, the two-peat or the one-peat. I care about complacency. If the focus is on that and the outcomes, I think the rest will take care of itself.
Kirby Smart, football coach University of Georgia
Making his annual appearance at SEC Media Days, held this year in downtown Nashville, Tennessee, Smart indicated Georgia’s best antidote for complacency rests in a senior class that first arrived at the height of COVID-19. Georgia signed 20 freshmen that season through virtual visits.
Amazingly, 17 players remain with the Bulldogs, an astounding number in the age of the transfer portal.
“You know what we evaluated that class on?” Smart added. “Love of the game and being selfless. Like, that’s not hard. It’s hard to find, but it’s not hard to evaluate.”
Thankful for New Opportunity
Hugh Freeze didn’t leave Ole Miss and the SEC under the best of circumstances, something he’s never shied from. Now he’s back at Auburn, something he didn’t believe was possible just a few years ago while coaching at Liberty.
But four seasons and 34 wins later Freeze became a hot commodity again with upsets of Power 5 members Arkansas, Virginia Tech and Syracuse.
“It’s good to be back,” Freeze admitted. He thanked SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey because, “he’s always shot me dead straight and been very truthful with me, which I respect and really admire and love.”
David Cutcliffe, his predecessor at Ole Miss, also got a shoutout for helping him return to the league. Cutcliffe is now a special assistant to the commissioner in the Birmingham office.
A former high school basketball coach, Freeze’s first head coaching job in college football was at Arkansas State, leading him to his first SEC appointment. Ironically, the two Arkansas State coaches that followed him in Jonesboro – Gus Malzahn and Bryan Harsin – preceded him at Auburn.
‘I Am Forever Indebted’
No one has bigger shoes to fill than Mississippi’s State new head coach Zach Arnett. He was elevated from defensive coordinator after the untimely death of Mike Leach last December.
“Mississippi State has forever changed my life and that of my family,” Arnett said. “For that, I am forever indebted. To Mike Leach, to all of Starkville, I could not ask for a better collection of people, players, coaches and support staff.”
A one-time college baseball player, Arnett is already setting his sights high for 2024.
“The College Football Playoff is going to expand to 12 teams moving forward, OK? You look back to the first season, when the first College football Playoff came out,” Arnett said. “Mississippi State was the No. 1 ranked team in the country.”
Mississippi State has forever changed my life and that of my family. For that, I am forever indebted. To Mike Leach, to all of Starkville.
Zach Arnett, head coach Mississippi State
A Faster Game in ‘23
Plan your bathroom breaks accordingly this football season. Like Major League Baseball, which has shaved off 25 minutes a game by implementing new rules this summer, the college football rules committee is hoping to do the same by normalizing pro rules.
John McDaid, the SEC’s Coordinator of Officials, said the best way to do that is to adapt the NFL’s timing rules after first downs. College football tradition has been to stop the clock after a team gains a new first down. But beginning in a few weeks the clock will run unless the previous play goes out of bounds.
With an average game time of 3 hours, 21 minutes in 2022 (3:25 in the SEC), college football fans would likely welcome the expected brevity. But the emphasis for this rule changes zeroes in on player safety.
“Obviously, if you decrease the number of plays, you’re probably also going to drive down the game time,” McDaid said. “But the impetus for this rules change was to address the number of plays in our game.”
Don’t sell Vanderbilt Short
The best-kept secret in the SEC may be little ol’ Vanderbilt. Under Clark Lea, the Commodores have gone from 0-9 prior to his arrival to 2-10 and 5-7.
But there’s even more going on campus, including facility upgrades that include a renovation of FirstBank Stadium.
“Though we can celebrate progress, we will never be satisfied with 5-7,” Lea said. “Vanderbilt football pursues success at the highest level, and we will not back down from our mission to build the best college football program in the nation.”
Don’t sell Lea short. He’s just 41, and the former defensive coordinator at Notre Dame. He’s followed one of the most unusual paths to get to the SEC, starting with an NAIA baseball title at Birmingham-Southern College as a freshman. He then spent one year on the Belmont baseball team before heading crosstown to play fullback for the Vanderbilt football program.