College Football: Mississippi State and Ole Miss buy into sizzle

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

Mississippi State and Ole Miss have made what the college football world views as strong hires. Can either coach win a division championship?

Before concluding how much better Lane Kiffin and  Mike Leach can make their new teams, some college football history is needed. Ole Miss has won six SEC Championships. The last one goes back to Johnny Vaught in 1963. Mississippi State has only won once, in 1941. The two schools are equal in Division Titles, with one each. Mississippi State shared a SEC West Division Title with Arkansas in 1998. Ole Miss shared one with LSU in 2003. For perspective, one division title in 28 seasons could be viewed as an aberration.

The stated goal of every SEC program (other than Vanderbilt) is to compete for a SEC Championship every season. Failing that, a division title is something to crow about, exceeding any post-season foray, not including the CFB Playoff. The Bulldogs sniffed a Playoff berth once. The Rebels, even after ignoring certain NCAA restrictions, have never been in a Playoff conversation.

Notwithstanding all the above, ask either Athletic Director, the goal for his football program and the answer will be a bold “win the SEC.” Are either Leach or Kiffin up to such a task? Let’s consider their resumes.

In Mike Leach’s 18 seasons as a head coach, his teams have won 60.7 percent of their games. His last eight seasons at Washington State, the Cougars have won at a 53.9 percent pace. His Texas Tech teams never won a Big 12 championship. His Washington State teams never won a Pac 12 championship. His 2018 team shared a Pac 12 North Championship with Washington.

In Lane Kiffin’s eight seasons as a head coach, his teams have won 64.6 percent of their games. But as a Power Five head coach for four-plus seasons (he was fired at USC after five games in his third season), his winning record is lower, at 62.5 percent. His three, full-season USC teams did not win a division title. His one Tennessee team finished 7-6.

To win a division title, and even more a SEC championship, at their new schools, Mike Leach and Lane Kiffin will have to out-perform their careers. And do it in the toughest division in college football. If either pulls it off, the word aberration will be appropriate.

Make no mistake, Kiffin and Leach are sharp offensive minds. Ask Oklahoma fans about beating Playoff-quality teams with explosive offense and a suspect defense. The Sooners are slowing learning huge offense is not enough. All the offensive wizardry in the game is not enough if you can’t knock your opponent into the dirt.

If Leach and Kiffin are so enamored with their offensive schemes, they fail to recruit and build solid defenses, each season will be about winning the Egg Bowl and going to a meaningless post-season game.

What they will do is inject immediate excitement in Oxford and Starkville. They will make the football at Vaught-Hemingway and Davis-Wade entertaining. The media will love their zingers and bravado. The dynamic coaches will manufacture some upsets. They will fight mightily to ascend to the fifth-best team in the SEC West. Maybe one of the team’s ‘sizzle’ will be the best college football brand in Mississippi. Sizzle is certainly easier to create than trying to build a championship program.

Next. No one handing Bryce Young anything. dark

Mike Leach’s persona reminds me of a line by the actor, Strother Martin in the western, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Martin, playing a Bolivian mine manager, says, “I’m not crazy, I’m just colorful.”