Mitchell: The SEC Worst of 2012
Posted Dec 19, 2012

Now that the dust has settled, we take a look back at the best and worst of the 2012 SEC football season. Next up, and in no particular order: The Worst (or in some cases, Most Disappointing). Because only moms (and Vegas) love a loser

READ MORE: Mitchell: The SEC Best of 2012

By Russ Mitchell
Follow me @russmitchellcfb

LSU’s Wide Receivers...LSU finished the season ranked 78 in the nation in total offense, with a passing attack once again in the bottom 25 percent of college football. When it comes to identifying causes for the seemingly perpetual offensive woes in Red Stick, the Tigers’ wideouts are hardly the sole problem. The Bayou Bengals struggled with a plethora of key (and non-key) injuries this season, most specifically on the O line. Still, the receiving corps was relatively healthy, yet for much of the season it appeared as if LSU’s wideouts thought catching was an optional part of the job description. LSU had more drops than AT&T’s wireless coverage. Indeed, some of the early criticism of quarterback Zach Mettenberger was the direct result of poor receiving play. It wasn’t just catching, either - when not dropping passes, this unit failed to run crisp routes consistently and at times even block efficiently downfield, the latter a hallmark of LSU receivers. Sophomore Odell Beckham Jr. was particularly average in comparison to expectations after an All-SEC Freshman campaign in 2011.

Auburn...Where to begin. We expected Arkansas to struggle, but to the best of our knowledge no serious analyst this summer saw Auburn going 0-8 in conference play. Auburn was so bad...even Alabama fans felt sorry. It wasn’t simply the losing but the embarrassing, absolute woefulness in the process; the Tigers finished the season dead last in conference in total offense, in sacks allowed and run defense, second to last in passing offense, in scoring offense, in total defense, in turnover margin... There’s more, but it’s unsporting to point it out. Before the Arkansas game, legendary coach Pat Dye said on the Paul Finebaum radio show that Auburn would never fire Gene Chizik in 2012. I chided him, suggesting Arkansas would get its first conference win on the Plains, and that if Auburn couldn’t beat the Hogs it wouldn't beat anyone in the SEC this year...which would mean the end of days for Chizik. Dye has forgotten more about football than most of us will ever learn, myself included, but no Auburn coach survives 0-8 in conference...not even one two years removed from a BCS Championship. Perhaps Dye was merely blind that day to just how inept and rudderless this Auburn program had become...but if so, he was hardly alone.

Tennessee...Tennessee’s offensive line finally rebounded after two largely inconsistent seasons, and both its rushing game and passing attack benefited. The Vols’ run offense improved from 116 last season to 63, and its pass offense from 49 to 16. If that’s not enough, Tennessee’s total offense and scoring offense improved from 103 and 106, respectively, in 2011, to 19 and 23 in 2012. And Tennessee won just a single SEC game, and that came against winless Kentucky. Sigh. After three years, head coach Derek Dooley was 5-19 in SEC play. It certainly didn’t help matters that Tennessee’s in-state “little brother” Vandy, a perennial SEC doormat, won five conference games this year alone. Dooley was able to identify and admit mistakes, he just couldn’t fix them. The Volunteers had one of their worst statistical defensive years in school history...and with that brings a new head coach to Knoxville: Butch Jones.

Brent Pease...You might be surprised to find the Florida offensive coordinator on this list, given the Gators finished the season 11-1 and narrowly missed a chance at the BCS title. But Pease’s play calling, particularly in the second half, lands him in the worst column. The Gators finished the year near the bottom of the nation in both total and passing offense (102 and 114, respectively)...which wasn't that surprising given Pease and head coach Will Muschamp were breaking in an inexperienced sophomore quarterback in Jeff Driskel. As a result, Florida, behind a large, veteran offensive line, spent much of the season’s first half running the ball - to great success. After being dominated by LSU in the first two quarters, Florida only ran the ball four times after the break, and sent a very good Tiger defense packing. Same thing with its game against TAMU. UF ran the ball 75% of its plays in College Station, 83% vs. LSU, 68% in Knoxville... Yet startlingly, in the season’s key game against division rival Georgia, Florida abandoned its successful strategy and forced the passing game - even though (i) Pease was clearly aware of Driskel’s struggles beforehand, (ii) Jeff was throwing and fumbling his way through the game, and nevertheless (iii) Florida was still never down by more than a single possession. The Gators ran on only 42% of its offensive plays against a Georgia run defense ranked near the bottom in the SEC, that would go on to surrender 350 rushing yards to Alabama in the SEC championship game. During the next two games, Pease would repeat this mistake (~40% rushing) in near embarrassing home losses to Mizzou and UL-Lafayette. To his credit, he finally righted the ship in Florida’s best game of the second half. Against FSU, and what was then the nation’s best run defense, in Tallahassee no less, Florida again committed to its running game to the tune of 65% of its plays and ran away with the game in the fourth quarter. Pun intended.

Arkansas...Firing Petrino was a mistake that will eventually cost Arkansas millions of dollars and AD Jeff Long his job. After that, and as we mentioned back in August, Long straddled his bad options and instead chose a worse one - hiring John L Smith for the 2012 season. As we told you then, Long's handing a man like Smith this team sealed the fate of what was already then a season in a precarious situation. It didn’t help that both coordinators were also relatively new to Fayetteville. Some might have added running back Knile Davis to this list as a standalone failure...although John L's inexplicable decision to keep the redshirt junior out of contact drills until days before the season led to a very rusty Davis, which in turn begat fumbles and the eventual benching of the superstar back. Still, there was simply too much talent at Arkansas to explain all around shocking performance.

Barkevious Mingo...With great power comes great responsibility, KeKe. Mr. Mingo was supposed to be a dominate force this season playing across from All American DE Sam Montgomery. While by no means a flop, he failed to meet these lofty preseason expectations - certainly not on a consistent basis. His sack production fell to roughly half what it was last season, as did his number of tackles (both solo and assisted). He also failed to register a single forced fumble; compare that to the now departed DB Tyrann Mathieu, who had 11 in about a season and a half. Regardless, Mingo will likely be a first round NFL draft choice, and as such should depart early for the League. But 2012 should leave a sour taste long after KeKe starts cashing NFL paychecks.

Vandy’s finish vs. South Carolina...Vandy’s defensive coordinator Bob Shoop is a Yale man, which makes him far too intelligent for his fourth quarter brain freeze against South Carolina to kickoff the 2012 season. Vanderbilt dominated the game’s first three quarters, exposing Carolina’s weak pass protection and receiving corps, and nearly knocking quarterback Connor Shaw into 2013. Carolina entered the fourth quarter 4-of-10 passing for just 30 yards, then proceeded to quickly go 3-for-3 for ~30 yards in taking the 17-13 lead. After a subsequent three and out, Vandy was forced to punt and SC took over on its own 14 yard line with the Dores desperately needing a stop. The Gamecocks then predictably ran the ball six straight times for 50 yards, with Shoop’s defensive backs stuck in man coverage being lured away from run support by decoy fly patterns - as if overcompensating for the previous series. Credit should also go to Shaw’s toughness that evening, but we hope Vandy’s defensive collapse in that fourth quarter still haunts Shoop as much as it does Vandy fans...and those of us crazy enough to go out on a ledge and predict a Vandy win. OK, I'm not over it yet. (Kudos to Shoop on a successful year, finishing 17 in the nation in total defense after losing a number of senior leaders off the 2011 squad.)

UGA’s 35-7 loss to Carolina...Oh yeah, that. If you don’t consider late scores in blowout games against a winning team’s third string, and we don’t, the final in this one was really 35-0, as the Bulldogs drove 75 yards and scored with under two minutes to play in what the record book mercifully only recorded as one Carolina “win”. But anyone who actually sat through this nightmare in its entirety knows better (and there weren’t many of us there at the final gun other than SC fans and reporters). The Dawgs found themselves down 21-0 less than nine minutes into this disaster, and seemed to throw up their arms and head for the showers. Again, if you factor out that last minute drive against SC’s reserves, UGA ran the ball 26 times for only 40 yards (1.5 ypc). Quarterback Aaron Murray’s stat line was an anemic 11-for-30, 109 yards, no touchdowns, one interception, with a passing efficiency rating of 58.

Alabama’s defense...Yes, Bama’s defense. Again, it's not that Bama's defense is bad, but with great power comes great responsibility, and the 2012 Tide defense was hardly impressive in go time. Alabama benefited from a soft schedule (by SEC standards), only playing three teams in the top 10 (LSU, TAMU & UGA). Against these, Bama’s defense surrendered 1,247 yards - an average of more than 400 yards per. By comparison, in its top three games last year (LSU, Arkansas & LSU), Bama’s defense surrendered just north of 500 total yards. But it’s deeper than that. Three freshman had spectacular days running over Saban/Smart’s charges (TAMU’s Johnny Manziel, LSU’s Jeremy Hill and UGA’s Todd Gurley); that’s not supposed to happen. The Capstone was unable to find a bonafide pass rusher and its defensive backs looked far too susceptible in big games. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, against good teams Bama’s defense struggled with takeaways. The casual observer will point to Bama’s turnover margin ranking as 12th best in the land. However, do your homework: against the aforementioned three top opponents, Alabama struggled with just one takeaway to seven turnovers of its own.

LSU’s Two Minute Drill defense...With so much riding on the line, that last minute is going to sting for a long, long time, Tiger fan. After 30 minutes of their November 3 matchup in Baton Rouge, LSU was down 14-3 to the Tide, but the Tigers would go on to simply dominate Alabama in the second half. LSU scored 14 unanswered points to take the lead, and held the defending BCS champs to three and outs on four of their next five possessions...until 1:43 to play. Then, with no timeouts and facing said defense over 72 yards, Bama scored in 43 seconds. If you were paying attention that night it was less shocking than most thought, as the Tigers did the exact same thing at the end of the first half - allowing Bama to drive 63 yards for a touchdown in just 57 seconds. The prevent defense once again only preventing a good defense from working.

Honorable mention: Mississippi State’s swan dive (thank goodness for Arkansas); the SEC only being allowed two teams in the BCS bowls; three teams named “Tigers”; Joker Phillips (note: we like and respect Phillips, and he was a solid get for Florida, but Brooks handed him a great opportunity at his alma mater no less, and Joker dropped the ball... And then got run over by a truck).

Russ Mitchell is the lead SEC Columnist for CFN. Follow him @russmitchellcfb

READ MORE: Mitchell: The SEC Best of 2012