Missouri zig-zagged its way to Appalachian State coach Eliah Drinkwitz as the replacement for Barry Odom, salvaging an awkward search. Poor Arkansas settled for Georgia offensive line coach Sam Pittman after suffering multiple rejections.
Meanwhile, Ole Miss made the biggest splash with its newsworthy hire of Lane Kiffin. This was the ultimate boom-or-bust move, arguably riskier than the Tigers betting on the up-and-coming Drinkwitz.
Kiffin revived his career at Florida Atlantic after failing with the Oakland Raiders in the NFL and at Tennessee and USC in the college ranks. He started his comeback by serving as Nick Saban's offensive coordinator at Alabama before heading down to sunny Boca Raton.
“I’m very grateful for my time (at Alabama),” Kiffin told reporters Saturday after Florida Atlantic crushed UAB 49-6 for the Conference USA championship. “Learned a lot from Coach, obviously. I wouldn’t be here today without coach Saban. We wouldn’t be having other discussions that are going on without coach Saban, so I’m very grateful to him.”
Now Kiffin takes on the huge challenge of facing Alabama every season, along with LSU, Auburn and Texas A&M in the SEC West. Is he up to that?
At Florida Atlantic, he inherited a team that won just nine games over three seasons. He quickly turned things around and went 26-13 in his three seasons.
Stepping down to the mid-major college level after his Alabama stint helped Kiffin refocus and mature.
“I was used to all players thinking they were going to the NFL,” Kiffin told reporters Saturday. “Your job is to get the players drafted highest as you can is what I thought as a head coach. This place changed me. I realized I had a bigger calling than that. My calling is to really help those kids develop and go through things in life. They really helped me a lot. There’s more to coaching than winning games and getting guys drafted.”
Writing for the Jackson Clarion Ledger, Nick Suss had this take on Kiffin's hiring:
Less than a month into his tenure as the athletic director at Ole Miss, Keith Carter has made it clear that he's not afraid of making power moves.
For years, the criticism surrounding Ole Miss has been that the Rebels don't think big enough with their hires. Matt Luke was an offensive line coach here before he got promoted to head coach. Glenn Boyce was a consultant on the search committee for Ole Miss' chancellor before he was named chancellor. Even Carter was an internal candidate for his job.
By record, Kiffin hasn't consistently proven to be a top-tier coach; he has a 35-21 record as the leader of Power 5 programs.
But by name, Ole Miss is making a splash.
Hiring a candidate like Memphis coach Mike Norvell or Louisiana coach Billy Napier surely could've been the right choice. But in his press conference last week, Carter said a major reason he fired coach Matt Luke was fan apathy.
In hiring a lightning-rod candidate like Kiffin, Carter has guaranteed apathy won't be a problem.
Attention follows Kiffin. In the NFL, Kiffin was the youngest head coach in league history. At Tennessee, Kiffin left the program after one season and left NCAA sanctions in his wake. The beginning of his USC tenure included a 10-win season and a preseason No. 1 ranking. The end of his tenure with the Trojans left Kiffin fired at the airport five games into his fourth season at USC.
We know this much: Ole Miss is done being dull. It will be interesting to compare his progress to what Drinkwitz is able to accomplish at Mizzou.
THE GRIDIRON CHRONICLES
Here is what folks are writing about college football:
Pat Forde, SI.com: "We have a playoff field that, on paper, might be the strongest in its six-year history. There are three powerhouses and one wobbly team that nevertheless possesses the firepower to potentially keep things interesting. This is the best collection of offenses we’ve ever seen in the playoff. For the first time, all four teams rank in the top five nationally in scoring: Ohio State is No. 1, LSU third, Clemson fourth and Oklahoma fifth. All four teams are averaging scoring in the 40s per game, a playoff first. And even the defenses aren’t too shabby. The national rankings in scoring defense: Clemson is No. 1, Ohio State third, LSU 27th and Oklahoma 49th. That’s a massive upgrade for the Sooners over their two most recent playoff teams, which finished 101st (2018) and 68th (2017). Average winning margins are all three scores or better: Ohio State 36.2 points, Clemson 35.9, LSU 26.6, Oklahoma 18.7. This playoff seems likely to feature the No. 1 draft pick in 2020 (either Ohio State’s Chase Young or LSU's Joe Burrow) and the No. 1 draft pick in 2021 (Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence). Each team could have a Heisman finalist, if as many as four players are invited to New York. (We’ll find that out tomorrow.) You have one quarterback who has never missed the playoff (Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts, who played for Alabama the previous three years). You have another QB who has never lost a college game (Clemson’s Lawrence). You have three QBs who transferred because they were not on top of the depth chart (Hurts, Burrow and Justin Fields) and became saviors in their new locales."
David M. Hale, ESPN.com: "There was a time -- a month ago, in fact -- when LSU's defense was bad. It wasn't a crazy narrative. Ole Miss -- before mimicking dogs or firing coaches or hiring Lane Kiffin -- put up a mind-boggling 614 yards on LSU's defense. Sure, the Tigers won easily, but boy that defense. No way this was the No. 1 team in the country. And now? Derek Stingley's second interception of the game in Saturday's SEC championship (a 37-10 LSU win) sealed what was assuredly one of the most impressive defensive performances of the season for a College Football Playoff contender, an utter dismantling of Georgia's entire game plan in which Jake Fromm, the same QB who nearly upended Alabama in each of the past two years, looked overwhelmed. That bad LSU defense has now given up only 42% completions, 2.6 yards per rush and racked up 12 sacks in the three games since the Ole Miss debacle. Yes, this is probably the country's No. 1 team. Meanwhile Saturday, Ohio State made the case a bit easier for the committee, too. The Buckeyes had dominated Wisconsin in the teams' previous meeting this season, but they looked lost in a woeful first half that ended with a 21-7 Badgers lead and a flurry of analysts wondering what this all means. But, of course, Ohio State is still Ohio State, and for another year, the committee dodged a bullet."
Brent Sallee, CBBSports.com: "Both LSU and Ohio State went 13-0 and won their respective conference championships. Both had dominant seasons. Ohio State was a bit more dominant, however. One of the more remarkable stats about Ohio State's season came from its 34-21 win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship. Wisconsin won the coin toss and chose to receive the ball, and it proved to be a prescient choice as the Badgers would score on that opening possession to take a 7-0 lead. That 7-0 Wisconsin lead was the largest deficit Ohio State had faced all season until that point. Wisconsin would later score again to make it 14-0 and set a new mark for the largest deficit Ohio State had faced. If a slow start played a role in Ohio State slipping to No. 2 after LSU dominated Georgia in Atlanta, well, is trailing a top-10 team like Wisconsin 21-7 at halftime worse than trailing Northwestern State 7-3 after a quarter? Because LSU did that way back in September. I would argue it isn't, but I'd also argue that neither should matter. I'm just trying to make a point here. Ohio State dominated teams all season long and played poorly for one quarter. The Buckeyes played 13 games this season and never trailed heading into the fourth quarter. It won those 13 games by an average of 36.2 points per game, and none of its wins came by fewer than 11 points. That's right: not a single Ohio State game ended with its opponent only one score away from tying or taking the lead. Compare that to LSU, which had three wins by seven points or fewer (though, I'm not sure Alabama should count)."
Pete Thamel, Yahoo! Sports: "This marauding Clemson team’s only deficiency is their lack of quality wins, as the Tigers’ demolition of Virginia may mean that they finish the season with no wins over teams that finish in the Top 25 . . . But that doesn’t make the Tigers any less menacing than the team that blew out both Notre Dame and Alabama last year in cruising to the national title. The Tigers have an elite quarterback (Trevor Lawrence), a high-end collection of receivers and a versatile scheme on defense that’s compensated for the talent drop-off with the three first-round picks that departed the defensive line."
“You win the SEC Championship, and it’s great. We did that three years in a row. It’s a different locker room (at Florida Atlantic). These kids hadn’t experienced this, and we are coming from a place where they do it every year. It’s awesome to see the kids and the way they sing the fight song. I feel like sometimes when you’re up there at Alabama, it’s like, ‘let’s sing the fight song, alright, and see how fast we can get out of here and win another championship. Where am I going to get drafted?’ It’s one thing to go to a place that’s won a bunch, and you continue that. It’s another thing to build something.”
• Lane Kiffin, after winning the C-USA title.