Why is LSU firing Ed Orgeron while Dan Mullen marches on at Florida? | Toppmeyer
This the "Topp Rope," a biweekly SEC football column from the USA TODAY Network's Blake Toppmeyer.
These are both high-pressure jobs, where four victories entering the second week of November is unacceptable.
So why is LSU’s Ed Orgeron getting fired at the end of the season, while Florida’s Dan Mullen has avoided a pink slip? For starters, because Orgeron is working for an athletics director who didn’t hire him, while Florida AD Scott Stricklin hired Mullen.
Scott Woodward became LSU's AD in 2019 and inherited Orgeron, who led the Tigers to the national championship that season. But LSU has soured with a 9-10 record since its championship, and Woodward showed a quick trigger. Fair enough. Orgeron wasn’t Woodward's hire, and this is a chance for an AD who hired Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M and Chris Petersen at Washington to put his stamp on LSU’s program.
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Meanwhile, Stricklin was Mullen’s boss at Mississippi State, and he brought Mullen to Florida in November 2017. Mullen delivered three straight New Year’s Six bowl appearances for the Gators before the train jumped the rails. The Gators are 4-8 in their last 12 games, dating to last season.
Florida got whipped by a mediocre South Carolina team and its first-year coach Shane Beamer in a 40-17 loss on Saturday. The Gators are struggling in recruiting, and Mullen has uncorked a series of news conference gaffes.
With a different athletics director, Mullen might be looking for work today.
Nevertheless, Stricklin can only hold the wolves (or in this case, Gators fans) at bay for so long, and the teeth-gnashing is building after a loss to one of the SEC’s worst teams.
Certainly, it doesn’t help Mullen, either, that rival Georgia is the best team in the country.
The case for Texas A&M
I’m not sure whether we should applaud Texas A&M for winning four straight, including an upset of then-No. 1 Alabama, or criticize the Aggies for losses to Arkansas and Mississippi State that torpedoed their College Football Playoff hopes before Columbus Day.
The Aggies’ resurgence continued with a 20-3 victory over Auburn, and I’m thinking Texas A&M (7-2, 4-2 SEC) would be a bigger threat to Georgia (9-0, 7-0) in a potential SEC Championship Game matchup in Atlanta than Alabama.
The Crimson Tide would win the SEC West as long as it defeats Arkansas and Auburn. Lose either, and the Aggies will earn the spot in Atlanta as long as they don’t lose another SEC game.
Texas A&M has the SEC's second-best defense behind Georgia. Could the Aggies turn a meeting with the Bulldogs into a bare-knuckled tussle of strength?
No team is on Georgia’s level, but for the past month Texas A&M has looked superior to Alabama.
Ole Miss should apologize for apologizing
The Ole Miss football program has one of the sauciest Twitter accounts in college football, but the Rebels backpedaled from their snark on Saturday.
Ole Miss deleted a pair of tweets that poked fun at former coach Hugh Freeze after the Rebels beat Freeze’s Liberty Flames 27-14.
Coach Lane Kiffin told ESPN he didn’t know about the tweets until after they were posted. He apologized to Liberty and Freeze and told ESPN he was “completely embarrassed” by the tweets. Ole Miss AD Keith Carter also apologized.
Carter and Kiffin should apologize for their apology. Freeze deserves all the shade that comes his way after he resigned from Ole Miss in 2017 and left the program in shambles.
Ole Miss was under NCAA investigation for a recruiting scandal at the time of Freeze’s exit, and the NCAA later hammered the Rebels with penalties that included a two-year bowl ban and scholarship reductions. Frankly, Ole Miss welcoming Freeze back onto its campus Saturday was far too kind.
And Ole Miss football’s tweets didn’t even reference that Freeze's resignation came after his phone calls to an escort service became public. A treasure trove of potential wisecracks were left untouched.
KJ Jefferson, Arkansas are the SEC’s true Cinderella
Why isn’t KJ Jefferson throwing the ball away?
That’s what I kept thinking as Jefferson tiptoed through Mississippi State pass rushers during a red-zone play in the final minute of Saturday’s game. Jefferson held onto the ball and danced past four defenders for a 5-yard gain. One play later, Arkansas was in the end zone for the game-winning score in a 31-28 victory.
Jefferson was masterful on the 76-yard winning touchdown drive. The Razorbacks (6-3, 2-3) and their first-year starting quarterback remain the Cinderella story of the SEC. Arkansas went 4-20 in the two seasons before Sam Pittman’s arrival. The Razorbacks are bowl eligible in Pittman’s second season.
SEC Cinderella, Part II
Tennessee continues to exceed expectations in Josh Heupel’s first season, adding a 45-42 victory over Kentucky on Saturday.
Tennessee (5-4, 3-3) is one win away from bowl eligibility, and manageable foes South Alabama and Vanderbilt remain on the docket after the Vols play Georgia this week.
UT's roster was decimated by transfer departures during the offseason, but the Vols also gained a few quality transfers, and Virginia Tech transfer quarterback Hendon Hooker became a parting gift from the previous coaching staff.
Hooker threw for a career high 316 yards and four touchdowns against Kentucky, and he ranks fourth in the nation in passing efficiency.
He said it
“We should've won the game. Those guys played their hearts out.” – Orgeron, after LSU’s 20-14 loss to Alabama. The Tigers didn't score in the fourth quarter despite three drives that penetrated Alabama territory.
Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at BToppmeyer@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.