Three new faces will take the reins of three SEC football programs for the first time in a few months: Will Muschamp, Kirby Smart, and Barry Odom. The three couldn't be more different personality-wise, but they're the same in that they're replacing three men with decade-plus tenures at their respective programs. As new eras begin for South Carolina, Georgia, and Missouri, what can we expect from Muschamp, Smart and Odom in year one? Let's take a look.
Will Muschamp, South Carolina
Pros: Muschamp has always thrived as an defensive mind, and that won’t change with the Gamecocks. Although the talent level he had at Florida is greater that what he has here (add to the fact that defensive leader Skai Moore is missing), that may be attributed to simply poor coaching received during the Spurrier regime. Under Muschamp, the Gators’ defense never finished worse than 20th in points allowed (including 2012, where they gave up 14.5 a contest - fifth in the country) and never ranked below ninth in yards allowed nationally. (He’s also the only one on this list with head coaching experience.)
Cons: It’s hard for Muschamp critics to look past a mediocre 28-21 record at Florida that saw him go from a 11-2 mark (7-1 SEC) and a share of the SEC East title in 2012 to just 10-14 (7-9 SEC) in his final two seasons. That’s on top of a horrible offense that was 12th-worst in FBS in points scored in 2013 at 18.8 (improving under Kurt Roper’s offensive system to 27.9, 72nd in the country). At Auburn, he was unable to replicate the defensive success he had in Gainesville, said to have been caused in part by differences in philosophy between him and Tigers head coach Gus Malzahn.
2016 outlook: We’ll dive more into Muschamp and what we can expect in 2016 in much further detail (this is a South Carolina blog, after all), but I’ve said beforehand that I’d sign up for six wins and a bowl. That might be the ceiling for this team right now. If they get there, I feel good about Muschamp continuing that momentum into 2017 and beyond when he gets more of his players recruited and his system fully implemented.
Kirby Smart, Georgia
Pros: It’s pretty impressive to look at what Kirby Smart did over at Alabama: four national championships in nine seasons as Nick Saban’s right hand man from 2007-2015 and nine first-round draft choices from 2010-2014. The 2015 defense was top three nationally and ranked as the top run-stopping D in FBS (75.7), an improvement over 2014’s group that finished fourth and just another notch on a resume that included many other top finishes before that. The man got it done in Tuscaloosa, and that will give him the upper hand in getting kids to come to Athens.
Cons: Two things stick out for Smart detractors: a) if he’s such a good assistant coach, then why didn’t he get a job before this and b) was he good because of Nick Saban or in spite of Nick Saban? Smart certainly helped lay the groundwork for what the Tide has become, but this is his first time running a program. Will he run it the same way Saban runs his or will he bring his own ideals to the table? Despite the talent that Georgia returns, it’s a blank slate that throws a little uncertainty into the mix.
2016 Outlook: I think Smart will have the more successful year out of the three. He’ll have a breakout performer from last year returning at RB in Sony Michel, although Nick Chubb’s return is still up in the air. Freshman Jacob Eason, considered to be a potential star, will likely start from Day 1. Even without a few of last year’s tentpoles on D, Smart is one of the brightest defensive minds in the game today. Year one with him at the controls should turn out relatively well.
Barry Odom, Missouri
Pros: Odom's basically a lifer over at the other Columbia. Apart from a three-season stint as the DC at Memphis under Justin Fuente from 2012-2014 (where he was responsible for a defense that was 5th in the country in points allowed and a respectable 23rd in total yardage allowed in 2014), he's been at the Zou since coming on board with his alma mater as a grad assistant in 2003 under his predecessor, Gary Pinkel. Odom may have been the best choice for the Tigers from a continuity standpoint after Pinkel's sudden retirement due to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Simply put, he knows the lay of the land and should run the team similar to the way Pinkel ran it.
Cons: Roster-wise, Odom enters a sticky situation. He will be tasked with the improvement of a quarterback in Drew Lock that disappointed in the stead of Maty Mauk, and is also without 4/5ths of his starting o-line, part of his rushing attack (Russell Hansbrough), and top defender Kentrell Brothers, among others.
2016 Outlook: No one's expecting a return to divisional dominance in 2016 for the Tigers, and with several key offensive pieces missing from last year's squad, it might be a little bit of a rough patch for Odom in year one and will lead him to lean on his defense a little bit more. However, with leading RB Ish Witter and two top WRs returning, along with some key components on the other side of the ball (Michael Scherer, Charles Harris, Walter Brady), all is not lost for Mizzou.