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Football Friday Mailbag: Coaches on the hot seat in Big Ten, SEC and why everyone loves Alabama

It has been a while, so let’s see if I remember how to do this…

FancredThis week I decided to take questions exclusively through Fancred. Not on Fancred? Sign up for an account now and be sure to get connected with me there.

The first question I received came from Andrea, who appears to be an Auburn fan wondering why Alabama is getting so much love heading into the 2014 season.

Why is Alabama still presumed to win the SEC when they have a completely unproven QB?
Andrea on Fancred

It really is a fantastic question to get us started, and a fair one at that. Remember, Alabama ended the 2013 season on a two-game losing streak with a bizarre loss to Auburn and a miserable showing in the Sugar Bowl against Oklahoma. Considering the talent Alabama lost to the NFL and, as Andrea points out, the unproven quarterback situation in Tuscaloosa, why does Alabama appear to be getting a free ride to the four-team playoff?

Two words: Nick Saban.

As I said in response to Andrea on Fancred, Alabama has recruited so well for so long under Saban that the idea is the Crimson Tide are at a point where it can pretty much plug in pieces where needed and not lose much of a beat in the SEC race. The thing is, the SEC looks to be pretty wide open this season, and you can make a case for a handful of programs to come out on top of the SEC this fall. In my initial batch of college football playoff projections from May I included Alabama as my SEC champion but make note I have no idea who is going to come out of the conference. So I may be falling into the same Alabama trap. I am not alone though.Alabama is one of the betting favorites to be included in the four-team playoff most places you look. But is the quarterback situation that much of a question mark?

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Alabama added Jacob Coker this offseason after Coker decided to get out from the shadow of Jameis Winston at Florida State. Playing time was not going to be seen in Tallahassee unless Winston suffered an injury and there is a chance to compete right away at Alabama as AJ McCarron moves to the NFL. It is not exactly as if Alabama is adding a scrappy underclassmen with no skills. Coker was just a three-star quarterback recruit according to the 247 Sports composite rankings, but he comes to Alabama as a junior who has been preparing and working under a championship model at Florida State. Moving to Alabama likely will not be that much different given the similarities you can find in the work done by Jimbo Fisher at Florida State and Saban. He absolutely has questions to answer, and the job is not his just yet. But Saban has a way of managing the quarterback situation. He went through some uncertainty following Greg McElroy before letting McCarron win the job. He does not ask his quarterbacks to do too much, so long as they avoid making costly errors. I suspect his demands will be similar for Coker as well.

Let’s move to the other side of the country…

Who wins the Pac-12 North this year?
Gabe on Fancred

Oregon is my team right now. I know Stanford has had their number more recently and the Ducks still need to get over that hurdle, but I think the Cardinal take a minor step back this season and I believe the Ducks will be ready to strike back and reclaim supremacy in the Pac-12. You know I’m high on Oregon this season because I placed them in my preliminary projected playoff field.

I think the Pac-12 is going to be a lot of fun to watch though. Stanford loses Derek Mason to Vanderbilt but I suspect the Cardinal will continue to play the most physical brand of football in the Pac-12. I can’t wait to see if Chris Petersen can elevate Washington, although I think the Huskies will be more likely to be a top threat starting in 2015. Will Mike Leach continue to turn Washington State into Texas Tech 2.0? They have a long way to go still, but the Cougars are not going to be a team to take as lightly as they have been taken before. But or now, give me Oregon against the field and I’ll bank on the Ducks in 2014 if the team stays healthy.

Does [Illinois head coach] Tim Beckman make it through the season?
Michael on Fancred

Put Beckman in the “must win” category for coaches on the hot seat this season. The Illini have been a tremendous disappointment since Beckman took over, perhaps more than I anticipated initially, and it just seems as though he continues to fight an uphill battle. Unless Illinois finds a path to the postseason, Beckman will be looking for a new job in 2015 because he will not be coaching Illinois after a third straight bowl-less season.

Will he be fired before the end of the season? It is a realistic scenario that will have to be considered at some point, but I’ll say he manages to sink with the ship in 2014 before getting the order to clean out his office. I will say that with a caveat. He might be told he’s being let go at the end of the season, but I think he coaches the final game of the season for Illinois. Maybe that is a cheesy way out of this question, but that’s what I will go with.

Speaking of the coaching hot seat…

Which two SEC coaches get the axe this year?
Landon on Fancred

I’m actually going to play the under on this one and say fewer than two coaches will be fired in the SEC in 2014. Nick Saban, Les Miles, Kevin Sumlin, Mark Richt, and Gus Malzahn are not being fired. Neither will Butch Davis or Hugh Freeze Mike Stoops or Bret Bielema (I mean that). The two coaches on the hottest of hot seats in the SEC in 2014 are Will Muschamp at Florida and Dan Mullen at Mississippi State. Could they each be looking for a new job in 2015? Yeah, maybe, but I don’t think either loses their job at the command of their respective employers.

Is Dan Mullen on a real hot seat or not? Photo: Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Is Dan Mullen on a real hot seat or not? Photo: Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

For Muschamp, things cannot get much worse in Gainesville after last season. I have faith Florida will be playing in a bowl game at the end of the 2014 season, and that alone should be enough reason for Muschamp to keep his job. What he needs the most is for the offense to turn things around. As I already said, it cannot get much worse, right?

As for Mullen, I think we have seen what he can do at Mississippi State, and that’s not a bad thing. Mullen has generated some of the most sustained success at the program since he has arrived, and he has done so in the same division as Alabama, Auburn, LSU and now Texas A&M. The pressure may be on to find away to climb the SEC West ladder, but Mississippi State can only go so far in this conference and division. Finishing ahead of Ole Miss carries more weight here, and a win against the in-state rivals may be all that is ultimately needed to save his job.

I’m going to close up the post with that, but I encourage you to check out the Fancred post where more questions have come in, and I am trying to keep up. Because it appears this was pretty fun, I will plan to do this again in the future so connect with me on Fancred and be on the lookout!

About the Author

Kevin McGuire
Contributor to College Football Talk on NBCSports.com. Also a contributor to Athlon Sports and The Comeback. Member of Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. Follow on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.
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