It's always must-win in SEC
When Georgia travels to Oxford to battle Ole Miss at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on Saturday, the two teams' respective head coaches will take the field knowing full well just how important the contest is for their coaching futures at the schools.
That's just how it is on Saturdays in the fall for the faces of SEC programs which have not met expectations recently. After all, the league doesn't know anything else but winning after capturing the last five BCS national championships.
Whoever is associated with a university -- school presidents, athletic directors, boosters, alumni, fans, sports-talk radio hosts, etc. -- usually has high expectations. And the expectations were high when the Bulldogs and Rebels hired Mark Richt and Houston Nutt, respectively.
ICONMark Richt hopes his Bulldogs can rebound from an 0-2 start.
But both coaches, who are each making at least $2.75 million this year, are off to rough starts this fall. Richt's Bulldogs dropped their first two contests to Boise State and SEC East rival South Carolina, while Nutt's Rebels blew their home opener late in the fourth quarter against BYU and looked completely out of sync in an awful loss at Vanderbilt last week. Combined, their teams' two wins have come against FCS opponents.
And that's not good, because even though both coaches have had great success in their current positions, both are coming off of subpar 2010 seasons.
Richt's streak of postseason appearances came to an end last fall, while Nutt's two Cotton Bowl wins in a row now seem like eons ago.
But despite the Dawgs' back-to-back losses to begin the season, they at least seem to be on the right track to salvaging the season after last week's 59-0 shutout of Coastal Carolina.
Aaron Murray is arguably the best quarterback in the SEC, true freshman running back Isaiah Crowell continues to get comfortable as a lead back at the college level, and Tavarres King and Terrence Mitchell give Murray good options in the passing game. But the offensive line needs to continue to gel and not be overwhelmed as it was against Boise in the opener. And while Todd Grantham's defense is a bit banged-up, will getting back linebacker Alec Ogletree in time for the stretch run be enough to make this 3-4 scheme effective?
Ole Miss, on the other hand, is a mess on offense. Junior-college transfer Zack Stoudt took over as the starter under center and threw five interceptions against Vanderbilt, and junior Randall Mackey is just now getting snaps after serving a one-game suspension. Meanwhile, Nutt said at the SEC coaches' teleconference Wednesday that he would like to redshirt Barry Brunetti, who was the starter in the season opener. The once-strong running back depth has been tested because of injuries, the offensive line has disappointed and there's not a lot of experienced playmakers at receiver.
Working on Nutt's side, however, is history. The former Arkansas head coach has dealt with rough patches throughout his career, and he always seems to come back stronger. But does he have enough material this season to buy more time in Oxford?
The Rebels have lost seven SEC games in a row, and athletic director Pete Boone -- himself under pressure -- was the first one to speak at Nutt's weekly news conference. He clearly isn't happy with where Ole Miss currently sits in the league, so business needs to pick up in Oxford or else serious change is on the horizon.
In this series, the Bulldogs have won eight straight over the Rebels. If that trend continues, Richt will continue to forge ahead and try to get his team back in the East division race.
And if Nutt falls again at home, this season becomes an even bigger uphill climb.
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