SEC teams not named Alabama, Georgia struggle to keep pace
Things look pretty good for the Southeastern Conference, which has a solid chance to win a national title with top-ranked Alabama and No. 2 Georgia leading the way.
But the rest of the league is struggling to keep pace with the Crimson Tide and the Bulldogs.
Florida's frustration at chasing the SEC elite was evident last weekend, when the school parted ways with coach Jim McElwain .
The Gators were the first to make a move. Others may follow.
It's been another top-heavy year in the SEC, with undefeated Alabama and Georgia rolling over opponents and heading for a seemingly inevitable showdown in the league's championship game. They also occupied the top spots in the first College Football Playoff standings released Tuesday .
But the league's drama won't be confined to the national title chase.
McElwain's departure wasn't all about wins and losses — recent off-the-field events had created a rift with his administration — but a lopsided 42-7 loss to Georgia on Saturday certainly didn't help. His swift fall was particularly stunning considering he'd won the SEC East title his first two years before a steep dropoff this fall.
"This is a place where you can compete for championships at the highest level," Florida athletics director Scott Stricklin said.
Most SEC programs feel the same way and are spending millions on coaches and facilities to make that happen. The problem is not all of them can succeed at the same time.
Now that Alabama and Georgia are dominating, other schools will try and keep up.
LSU coach Ed Orgeron said the pressure and expectations are just part of the job description.
"These are very prestigious jobs," Orgeron said. "When you're at a place like LSU — I'm only going to speak for myself — you're expected to win. You're expected to do well and when you don't, the pressure's going to be on. That's just part of the job and I understand that.
One of the trouble spots is Tennessee. The Volunteers are mired in a four-game losing streak and coach Butch Jones is facing constant questions about job security.
"I understand everybody being upset, and if I was a fan I'd be upset too," Jones said. "I bleed with them, but also I understand we need to win some football games, and I'm going to do everything in my power for our players, for our university and for our program to get that done."
Ole Miss is another school that's likely to make a coaching change. Hugh Freeze resigned before the season after a school investigation into his phone records found personal misconduct. Interim coach Matt Luke hasn't had much success in Freeze's place, with a 3-5 record, including a 1-4 mark in the SEC.
Other schools feeling various levels of frustration include Arkansas, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt and Missouri. Some of the situations are particularly volatile, with one win or loss changing the trajectory of a program.
There's even been some discontent at Auburn — and the Tigers are No. 16 in the Top 25. But some Auburn fans have not been able to get over the Tigers blowing a 20-0 lead in losing to LSU.
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema was under considerable pressure before a 38-37 win over Ole Miss on Saturday. The Razorbacks rallied from a 31-7 deficit in the second quarter to snap a three-game losing streak. Of course, that just raised the heat at Ole Miss.
The game's aftermath was a rare moment when Bielema could joke about the constant pressure and expectations.
"When you're in these situations everyone has a lot of answers for you," Bielema said with a wry grin. "I appreciate all the advice that I've gotten from everyone from A to Z. I said the other night on a radio show, I've gotten more references for scripture than I could ever possibly read."
There are a few SEC programs outside of Alabama and Georgia somewhat pleased with their current staffing. Mississippi State is among them; the Bulldogs have won three straight games and are coming off an impressive 35-14 road win over Texas A&M.
Dan Mullen has been at Mississippi State for nine years, which makes him the league's second-longest tenured coach behind Alabama's Nick Saban.
Mullen said SEC jobs are particularly tough because expectations jump so quickly. He said most new coaches inherit tough situations, so the first step for success is to have a winning record and go to a bowl game.
That seems reasonable. But once that's achieved, the next move is a doozy.
"Step two is a national title and all the ones in between are gone," Mullen said. "I think that puts a lot of pressure on the people in this league and puts a lot of expectations on the fan bases."
AP Sports Writers Mark Long, Steve Megargee, Brett Martel, Teresa Walker and John Zenor contributed to this story.