LSU's decision last weekend to remove the interim tag for football coach Ed Orgeron has been met with mixed reviews, but "Coach O" has a staunch believer in the counterpart his team just defeated.
Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin lost all four meetings against former Tigers coach Les Miles, and he's now 0-1 against Orgeron following last Thursday's 54-39 track meet in College Station. Orgeron replaced Miles four games into this season, when LSU was 2-2 and coming off an 18-13 loss at Auburn.
"I think, as other coaches have said, that Ed has done a great job," Sumlin said. "It's not the easiest thing to do to step into that room and have people follow a vision. The thing that you noticed was that the energy level went up, because their guys were flying around and playing hard.
"They played great games even in their losses, and it's a credit to Ed that they bounced back every one of those times. Consistency has been the biggest deal, but you've also seen that energy level go up."
Orgeron's first full season as LSU's head coach could be filled with adventures, as the 2017 Tigers will open against Brigham Young in Houston before beginning their home schedule against the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. LSU also will host Syracuse and Troy, but the really taxing part will be having to play five Southeastern Conference foes (Mississippi State, Florida, Ole Miss, Alabama and Tennessee) on the road.
The five-game road schedule is due to this year's relocating of the Florida-LSU game in Baton Rouge. The Tigers have to play in Gainesville the next two seasons.
Although South Carolina got shellacked 56-7 at Clemson last week to close its regular season, the Gamecocks already had attained bowl eligibility in Will Muschamp's first year at the helm. Muschamp's Gamecocks are 6-6 and will learn their postseason destination Sunday.
South Carolina went 3-9 last season, which was the worst record of any SEC team.
"Coming into the year, we had so many unknowns as far as our roster was concerned," Muschamp said. "We had very little playing time on the offensive side of the ball as far as guys returning, whether they were upperclassmen or not, and we knew we were going to have to rely on some true freshmen to come in and contribute on both sides of the ball.
"Any time you're in that situation, you're hoping for the best, but you need to be realistic on how quickly they mature. It is what it is. Our staff has done a really good job, and our players have continued to invest and work extremely hard to put a good product on the field."
MSU's other Nick
Mississippi State sophomore quarterback Nick Fitzgerald has given Bulldogs fans plenty of offensive hope for the future, having rushed for 1,243 yards this season after torching Ole Miss last Saturday for 258 yards on 14 carries (18.4 yards a carry). Only Auburn's Cam Newton and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel have rushed for more yards in a season than Fitzgerald among SEC quarterbacks.
Nick Tiano, a redshirt freshman from Baylor School, played in five games this season for the Bulldogs. He had one completion for a 5-yard gain in the 38-14 loss to Auburn.
"Nick has done a good job of progressing and learning, and now he's got a big offseason in front of him," MSU coach Dan Mullen said of Tiano. "He's gotten on the field and he's played a little bit, and we're expecting him to really develop this offseason and take that next step to be ready to get on the field of play. That means better execution in the run game and the pass game, and it's understanding the offense better - making the checks and playing at a very, very high level.
"We're talking complete quarterback development, and that always takes time."
Forking it over
Georgia will host Arkansas State in 2019, but the unique news about that matchup is the $1.8 million the Bulldogs will be paying the Red Wolves to visit. The payout, which was first reported by KAIT television in Jonesboro, Ark., is believed to be the largest in college football history.
Contact David Paschall at [email protected] or 423-757-6524.