SEC Outsider: Indecision time at quarterback; Flag down; Noel and Lane take on UCLA and USC

A few quarterback situations in the AGFC (America’s Greatest Football Conference) remain game-time murky and blurry--call it 50 Shades of Greyson Lambert.

It continues to amaze Rankman how the league thrives despite a lack of star power and\or clarity at the sport’s most important position.

Then again, what bowl game, let alone national title, did John Elway ever lead Stanford to? It’s also true Jared Goff, the Rams’ recent No.1 overall pick from Cal, went 1-11 his freshman year.

The SEC has proved, time and Greg McElroy again, that elite-level quarterback play is way more important in the pros.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

So, Florida is building a comeback campaign behind Luke Del Rio, who couldn’t start at Oregon State. And it may turn out fine.

Ole Miss, Arkansas, Texas A&M, LSU, Missouri, Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Tennessee appear settled cases, yet some of these other names are straight out of Witness Protection.

Auburn finally pulled the trigger and named Sean White, not the Flying Tomato, while Georgia is torn between Jacob Eason and the aforementioned (Greyson) Lambert. Midweek reports have Lambert, the former Virginia cast off, getting first-team reps. (Update: Lambert was named the starter Thursday, which means I guess you can start ordering the SEC championship game t-shirts?)

Rankman knew Nick Saban was not going to start true freshman Jalen Hurts against USC, or anyone else, because he’s in the business of winning championships. So he’ll judge a bake-off between Cooper Bateman and Blake Barnett and see where his 12-win season goes from there.

Mississippi State Coach Dan Mullen is teetering between Nick Fitzgerald and Damian Williams and said he will “probably play more than one in the first quarter” against South Alabama.

First-year South Carolina Coach Will Muschamp still hasn’t decided between Jake Bentley, Perry Orth or Brandon McIlwain but, other than that, the SEC is locked and loaded.


Realizing things tend to move slowly in the South, I was genuinely shocked to read Tuesday that Mississippi State was removing the Confederate state flag from university grounds. The shock was it had not happened already, given the school's recent history on this subject.

Twelve years ago, in a game I attended, Mississippi State Coach Sylvester Croom trotted out on the field as the SEC's first African American head coach. It was such a moving and important moment, I kept the game credential and still have it tacked on my wall.


I'm sure it's a complicated issue and that I'll be criticized as an "outsider" for butting into internal affairs, but a lot of things come to mind here regarding the flag. "What took so long?" is certainly one of them. The University of Mississippi removed the state flag from its campus last season.

I'm already loving this year's "Egg Bowl" more than usual.


Since the Pac 12 and SEC can’t get aligned as bowl partners, we’ll have to settle for rare treats like these two marquee matchups: USC vs. Alabama and UCLA at Texas A&M.

The games pit two assistants scheming against their former schools.

Noel Mazzone, UCLA’s offensive coordinator as recently as last year, assumes the same position at Texas A&M.

Meanwhile, Lane Kiffin, the former offensive coordinator and head coach at USC, has undergone a Heimlich-maneuver revival as Alabama’s OC.

So what’s the skinny on these matchups?

Mazzone knows UCLA’s personnel very well and will likely try to exploit the Bruins’ weakness at linebacker on pass coverage. Mazzone is a “dink and dunk” play caller who had to be reminded last year it was OK to throw deep given he had a future NFL star, Josh Rosen, at quarterback.

What UCLA defensive coordinator Tom Bradley knows about Mazzone is that his packages are pretty simple. Noel has a basic set of plays, with different wrinkles on each.

Mazzone didn’t fall off the talent-truck with his move to College Station. At Texas A&M he inherits elite receivers who will catch many touchdowns from Trevor Knight, the Oklahoma transfer.

This could be a 100-point game.

Kiffin, for all his flaws, has proven to be a skilled play caller with five-star players recruited by Nick Saban. You want Kiffin in the passenger’s seat, though, not at the steering wheel, because he doesn’t know how to brake. Under Saban’s oppressive thumb, Kiffin is allowed to speak twice a year, which is two more times than perhaps any reputable lawyer would advise.

USC followers out West got a big chuckle, though, with Kirk Herbstreit’s recent comments about Kiffin facing the Trojans.

“I do think that deep down there is something a little bit special for him going up against USC,” Herbstreit said on a conference call. “Just to remind the USC folks what they let go.”

What USC folks remember is Arizona State “letting go” for 62 points in 2013, the night before Kiffin was summarily fired upon the team’s return at LAX.

They remember a coach who, in 2012, led a team ranked No.1 in preseason to 7-6. They remember a head coach who said, and did, silly things because he didn’t have the discipline to control his emotions.

Not long after Kiffin left Tennessee for USC, I ran into former SEC Commissioner Mike Slive in a press box. It was after one of those molehills Kiffin turned into a mountain.

I asked Slive if he wouldn’t mind taking Kiffin back.

Slive laughed and said: “No!”

As the head coach of a major, Power 5 program, however, Kiffin sure does make a fine offensive coordinator.[/membership]