How far Texas A&M and Ole Miss have risen, and how far they still have to go

Momentum is a funny concept. How can something that can't be seen, can't be touched come and go so easily?

A year ago, Ole Miss signed the most-talked about recruiting class in the country, headlined by the nation's No. 1 player Robert Nkedmiche, five-star offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil and five-star wide receiver Laquon Treadwell. The Rebels jumped from Rivals' 40th-ranked class in 2012, signed shortly after Hugh Freeze's arrival, to seventh. Ole Miss' 2014 class ranked 19th nationally.... and 10th in their own conference, one spot behind Kentucky. On the field, Ole Miss improved from 7-6 to 8-5 from 2012 to 2013, but its SEC record remained static at 3-5. The Rebels broke through with wins over Texas and LSU, but gave much of that progress back with an overtime loss to Mississippi State to close the regular season. Ole Miss actually lost a spot in the SEC West standings from year to year, falling from fifth in 2012 to sixth in 2013. 

Speaking of sixth place in the SEC West, that brings us to Texas A&M. Almost impossibly, SEC media pegged the Aggies at sixth place heading into the 2014 season. After a debut season that exceeded every single expectation set before them, Texas A&M fell back to 9-4, 4-4 in the SEC, in 2013, good for fourth place in the SEC West. Not long removed from a Heisman Trophy, from a team that legitimately may have been college football's best over the second half of the 2012 season, from a preseason spotlight unlike anything we've ever seen in college football, A&M is picked one spot above the cellar in their own divison. And yet, the Aggies will likely start the upcoming season ranked among the top 25 nationally. Those ideas seemingly can't coexist, but here they are. 

Combined, Ole Miss and Texas A&M are 35-17 over the past two seasons - 19-1 outside the SEC, and 16-16 inside of it. 

This isn't to dispute the progress each coach has made. Ole Miss was the worst program in the conference upon Freeze's arrival. The Rebels were 1-15 in conference play in 2010 and 2011. Sumlin inherited a talented roster, but a program in a complete state of flux that hadn't competed for championships in more than a decade. 

Neither school lacks top-end talent. Kevin Sumlin noted his Aggies had three first-round picks in May's NFL Draft - tied for the most in college football - and none after that. "Thursday night in New York was a great night," Sumlin said Tuesday. "Alabama and LSU had nine and eight guys drafted. That speaks to depth across the board. For us to be where we need to be, we need to have depth."

Freeze said Thursday that his program is ahead of even his own expectations. He's right. But even getting Ole Miss to its highest peak since the Johnny Vaught days guarantees the Rebels no better than fourth in their own division. Alabama and LSU aren't going anywhere, to say nothing of the Auburn program that blew the Rebels, Aggies and the rest of the conference by over the course of last season. In 2013, the year Ole Miss finished seventh nationally in recruiting, it still finished third in the West behind Alabama and LSU. This February, Texas A&M finished sixth nationally, but fourth in the SEC and third in the West. 

The West has produced five straight SEC champions. With another SEC championship, the West will match an SEC record for most consecutive title game victories by one division. With two more wins, it sets a national record. By any measure, the top of the West is stronger than any division in any conference has ever been. And, of course, in talking about top of the West, we're truly talking about Alabama, LSU and Auburn.

In a league where everyone is well-paid, everyone's facilities are the best in the nation, where everyone expects to compete for championships, only a handful truly do. Nearly three-fourths of the SEC loses three conference games or more every season. 

This isn't to say the positive momentum Ole Miss and Texas A&M has been wrong, or misplaced, or over-inflated. Each program has been a freight train over the past 24 months. Only, that freight train has only brought them to the middle of the pack.

"This league is as tough Sunday through Friday as it is on Saturday," said Sumlin. "Obviously the NFL believes that, because there's more guys drafted out of this league than any other league in the country."

The inevitable, yet uncomfortable, questions to ask are: What happens when that momentum stops? How often can Ole Miss and A&M reasonably expect to win the division? Can you realistically expect SEC fan bases plunging their entire reserves of resources to be okay with finishing fourth?  And what happens to Freeze and Sumlin when they don't?

For a middle-class SEC program to have an honest conversation with itself regarding its own expectations, well, it would be the first. There's a clock ticking in everyone's heads, an expiration date to get to Atlanta or get somewhere else, in everyone's head, even if no one is willing to speak it out loud yet. To his credit, Sumlin admitted as much Tuesday. "Our expectations are not going to change," he said. "We don't have in this business, and you know this, we don't have time for a bunch of rebuilding years. There would be another guy standing up here real quick."

There's no question how far Freeze and Sumlin have brought their programs. There's also no question of how far they still have to go.

Meet Bubba Walker, new Valdosta State defensive coordinator

In June, Valdosta State defensive coordinator Seth Wallace accepted a coaching position at Iowa. Many, at the time, expected linebackers coach Bubba Walker to be promoted to defensive coordinator and this morning we heard that the move has now become official. 

I reached out to Bubba to congratulate him and to ask about what philosophical changes he'll bring to the defense now that he is in charge. 

Have a listen. Walker provides good insight into his plans and had a great answer when I asked him what first went through his mind when he learned he would be a coordinator. Good people come from and through Valdosta.

Video: Glass City, where the "strongest creations are forged by fire"

Excellent video here from Toledo where they proudly take the nickname of their city and use it as a metaphor for building a program. 

Matt Campbell and his staff can be very proud of this one. I'm no expert in city nicknames, but I can't think of another city that could do something as clever as this.

"Here in the Glass City we understand that our strongest creations have to be forged in fire.
Meticulously crafted and shaped, before they can brought out of the furnace,
and put on display for the world to know that this is who we are."

Toledo opens the season on August 30th against New Hampshire at home in the Glass Bowl before heading to Missouri in week 2. Their other non conference games take place on the road at Cincinnati and Iowa State.

Dallas-Fort Worth expects a $300 million economic impact for the College Football Playoff Championship

The inaugural College Football Playoff Championship is 179 days away - and some in Dallas-Fort Worth believe they are in for a $300 million payday.

A report for AT&T Stadium's Stadium Events Organizing Committee, obtained by the Dallas Morning News, expects $308.6 million in total spending and $16.1 million in tax revenue for the Jan. 12 title game. The report projects 91,781 ticketed spectators and 12,500 credentialed attendees, with another 18,000 visiting the Metroplex but not attending the game. 

These types of reports are all over the place. Atlanta expected a $70 million economic impact for the 2013 Final Four, while the 2014 Final Four - held in the same stadium as January's football championship - was expected to generate $200 million more than that. The Super Bowl XLIX host committee expects a $600 million benefit for the Arizona economy this February, up 20 percent from a reported $500 million windfall for Super Bowl XLII in 2008. 

These reports are often unreliable, and always optimistic

In this case, AT&T Stadium's report is based on a projected number of more than 61,000 out-of-town visitors for the CFP championship. Considering that the two fan bases entering the championship game will have just traveled to the Rose and Sugar bowls, respectively, many working people will have exhausted their allowance of vacation days from the Christmas-New Year's holiday season, and the championship game is on a Monday, 61,000 feels like a lofty number. 

Our coverage of SEC Media Day: Day 4

The final day of SEC Media Day wraps up today with Mark Richt (9am CST) leading things off, followed by Hugh Freeze (10:30am), Nick Saban (12:10pm), and Mark Stoops (1:40pm).

9:00am - Georgia head coach Mark Richt

10:30am - Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze

12:10 - Alabama head coach Nick Saban

1:40pm - Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops

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