The SEC Championship features plenty of intrigue this year, as Missouri and Auburn are set to meet for one of the more surprising matchups in this game in recent memory.
Auburn pulled off a huge upset over Alabama last Saturday, and with an Ohio State loss to Michigan State, the Tigers would play for the national title – provided Auburn wins on Saturday night.
Missouri entered the season with several question marks, including hot seat questions about coach Gary Pinkel. Injuries and an adjustment period hampered the Tigers in their first year of the SEC last season, which prompted Missouri’s first losing record since a 5-6 mark in 2004.
With Auburn and Missouri ranked in the top-five of the BCS standings and a win away from potentially playing for the national championship, who should be the SEC coach of the year? Is it Auburn’s Gus Malzahn or Missouri’s Gary Pinkel?
Gus Malzahn or Gary Pinkel: Who is the SEC Coach of the Year?
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I’d vote Gary Pinkel over Gus Malzahn, but it’s a close call. Malzahn inherited a roster that underachieved last season but still had plenty of talent. Under Gene Chizik, Auburn recruited three top-15 classes, including two top-10 classes in 2010-11. Talent certainly isn’t an issue at Auburn, but talent development and coaching were an issue under Chizik. One underrated aspect of Malzahn's coaching job this year: Molding Nick Marshall from a defensive back at Georgia and a junior college passer to a starting quarterback at Auburn. Pinkel’s 5-7 mark last year had a lot to do with injuries, particularly at quarterback with James Franklin and on the offensive and defensive lines. Prior to last year’s 5-7 record, Missouri won at least 10 games in three out of the five seasons and finished in the final Associated Press poll three times. Most expected Missouri to show improvement this year – just not to 11-1 and in position to compete for a national title. Both coaches have done a tremendous job this year, but I would give Pinkel a slight edge over Malzahn for the coach of the year award. Of course, if Auburn wins on Saturday night and plays for the national championship, Malzahn would probably be a little more deserving.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
That is a simple question with a simple answer and no one will know it until the two Tigers meet in Atlanta. The winner of the SEC title game should be the SEC Coach of the Year and will get heavy national consideration. Gus Malzahn's team had a worse record last season (3-9, 0-8) than Mizzou (5-7, 2-6) but Auburn had a dramatically better overall roster in terms of recruiting talent. The Tigers of Auburn were in the top 10 in recruiting nationally under Gene Chizik. The average Athlon Sports recruiting ranking for Auburn between 2010-12 is 8.0 nationally (7th, 5th, 12th) while Mizzou's average national ranking is 35.3 (26th, 47th, 33rd). That said, Malzahn was in his first season as a head coach in the SEC with a first-year quarterback, while Gary Pinkel has benefit of long-term stability in Columbia and the learning experience of last season. The bottom line is both coaches have done a fantastic job this season and the winner of Saturday's SEC Championship Game is the deserving SEC Coach of the Year.
Can we call it a tie? Both Malzahn and Pinkel are worthy of not only winning SEC Coach of the Year, but they have to be among the leading contenders for any and all national honors too. But if I have to pick one, I am going to take Malzahn because Auburn's worst-to-first turnaround has been more impressive to me than Missouri's, which is not to slight what Pinkel and his team have accomplished one bit. While it can be argued that Malzahn's Tigers have gotten their share of breaks, especially in the last two weeks, than Pinkel's Tigers, let's not forget where Auburn was at this point a season ago.
Auburn was wrapping up a disastrous 3-9 season that saw the Tigers go 0-8 in the SEC. They were outscored by nearly 24 points per game in conference play and were ranked near the bottom of FBS teams in total, scoring and passing offense. With Malzahn at the helm, the 2013 Auburn Tigers have been one of the nation's most potent offensive teams, especially on the ground. And after taming the likes of Alabama, Texas A&M, Ole Miss and Georgia, Auburn is headed to Atlanta to play for the SEC title on Saturday with a realistic shot at a spot in the BCS National Championship Game. Even with all of the excitement and optimism surrounding Malzahn's hire exactly a year ago, I don't think even the most die-hard Auburn fan could have predicted this degree of success in his first season on The Plains.
Josh Ward, (@Josh_Ward), Mr. SEC
It’s a close call, but I’ll give the nod to Gus Malzahn. Both coaches did a great job, far exceeding expectations to reach the SEC championship game. Gary Pinkel helped Missouri win seven games in the SEC when much of the offseason discussion was focused on his job security. Pinkel also helped Missouri’s offense stay together despite the mid-season injury to starting quarterback James Franklin. Pinkel did a terrific job. But Malzahn wins out because he won the West. To do that, Auburn had to beat No. 1 Alabama. The Crimson Tide beat Auburn 49-0 last season. One year later, Auburn was pulling off a tremendous upset to win the SEC West. Malzahn made the great decision to bring in Nick Marshall to play quarterback, which helped build Auburn’s unstoppable running attack on offense. The Tigers are clearly a better team than they were at the beginning of the season. That’s thanks to Malzahn, who deserves to be named the SEC’s Coach of the Year.