SEC Football Q&A: Pressure for Saban and Malzahn, New QBs and New Stars

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterMarch 14, 2014

Alabama head coach Nick Saban (left) and Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn
Alabama head coach Nick Saban (left) and Auburn head coach Gus MalzahnButch Dill/Associated Press

Every Friday, we feature questions from Twitter. Do you have a question for next week's Q&A? Send it to SEC lead writer Barrett Sallee on Twitter at @BarrettSallee.

You have SEC questions, and I have SEC answers. Thank you for your questions. If I didn't get to them this week, they will be saved and used in the future.

And we're off! 


@BarrettSallee Between Gus and Saban, who is under the most pressure to succeed heading into 2014?

— Scott Hardy (@Scott_Hardy) March 7, 2014

Let's get this out of the way first: Neither's job status is in any kind of jeopardy. With that said, it's Alabama head coach Nick Saban without a doubt—mostly because the two are fighting two different levels of expectation.

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn
Auburn head coach Gus MalzahnChris Carlson/Associated Press

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn led his team to within 13 seconds of a BCS National Championship in Year 1 and has a ton of talent coming back. However, if the Tigers fall short of repeating as SEC West champs and play in a Florida bowl game over New Year's, is that an indictment of the program?


In fact, it proves stability, which is something Auburn has lacked over the last few years despite two national-title-game appearances and one crystal football in four seasons.

Stability isn't good enough for Alabama. Not after Saban led the Crimson Tide to three national titles in four seasons from 2009 to 2012. If Alabama doesn't win the division, win the conference and secure a spot in the College Football Playoff, that signifies a step back for the program.

Not a major step back, but a step back nonetheless.

That creates more pressure for Saban to succeed in 2014. 

Alabama head coach Nick Saban
Alabama head coach Nick SabanGerald Herbert/Associated Press


@BarrettSallee With so many programs replacing QB's which is likely to be successful next year?

— aggiedave (@aggiedave) March 7, 2014

I don't buy into the "new quarterback creates a rebuilding year" talk. In fact, any team preview that suggests that a new quarterback will present problems for a school is ignoring history.

Four of the last five national-title-winning quarterbacks were first-year starters. Former Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron was the exception after he repeated in 2012. On top of that, seven of the last 10 starting quarterbacks in the BCS National Championship Game were first-year starters.

Georgia QB Hutson Mason
Georgia QB Hutson MasonStephen B. Morton/Associated Press

Hutson Mason at Georgia is set up well. He is a redshirt senior who's comfortable with the offense and has a ridiculous amount of talent at the skill positions coming back around him. The same could be said for Dylan Thompson at South Carolina, Maty Mauk at Missouri and whoever wins the job at Alabama. 

At Texas A&M, Matt Joeckel, Kenny Hill and Kyle Allen each have traits that make them desirable to head coach Kevin Sumlin. Joeckel is the veteran, Hill possesses dual-threat capabilities that allow Sumlin to run an offense similar to the one he ran with former quarterback Johnny Manziel, and Allen is the gunslinger that can run an offense similar to the one Sumlin ran at Houston with Case Keenum.

The weapons around the Aggie program coupled with Sumlin's ability to change his offense based on personnel should allow the eventual winner to step in and keep the team playing at a competitive level.

New quarterbacks don't scare me. New quarterbacks without weapons do. Most SEC programs have weapons to help ease the transition into a starting role for any SEC quarterback.

Texas A&M QB Kenny Hill
Texas A&M QB Kenny HillScott Halleran/Getty Images


@BarrettSallee what offensive and defensive players in the sec do you see making the biggest steps to being elite going into next season?

— Look at Steele (@tylersteele33) March 9, 2014

I'll give you two—one on offense and one on defense.

On offense, I love Marquez North at Tennessee and what he's capable of doing on Rocky Top. He was solid last season with 496 yards and one touchdown, but he wasn't a superstar.

He'll be a superstar in 2014. With another year in the system to grow and hopefully some sort of stability at the quarterback spot, he'll be the go-to guy in Butch Jones' second year as the head coach. If Von Pearson—who had a ridiculous one-handed catch in spring practice earlier this week—or somebody else can take some attention away from him, it will only make him better.

Tennessee WR Marquez North
Tennessee WR Marquez NorthJim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

On defense, I'll go with Auburn defensive end Carl Lawson.  

He was a rotational player in 2013 as the Tigers won the SEC title, but he showed up in some key spots along the way, including a two-sack performance versus Ole Miss and a key fourth-down stop of Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon in the fourth quarter of the Iron Bowl. 

With Dee Ford gone, Lawson's now "the guy" at one of the two defensive end spots in defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson's 4-2-5 scheme. He'll be living in backfields around the South this fall.

Auburn DE Carl Lawson
Auburn DE Carl LawsonJohn Reed-USA TODAY Sports


Do you have a question for next week's Q&A? Send it to SEC lead writer Barrett Sallee on Twitter at @BarrettSallee

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