Grading the first-year coaches

Athlon Sports has graded the first-year coaching hires for the 2012 season, and Ohio State's Urban Meyer checks in at the top of the list.

There were 28 coaches who took over programs in 2012, including three from the SEC.

Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin and Ole Miss' Hugh Freeze fared well in Athlon's rankings. Sumlin was No. 2 right behind Meyer and received an A-plus. Freeze was No. 4 behind Penn State's Bill O'Brien and received an A-minus.

Arkansas' John L. Smith, who wasn't retained following the Hogs' 4-8 finish, wound up next-to-last at No. 27 and received an F. The only coach ranked lower was Southern Miss' Ellis Johnson, who was fired after going 0-12 last season.

Here's Athlon's recap of the three SEC coaches:

Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M

What Went Right: New coach. New quarterback. New conference. Three factors that should have made 2012 a difficult year for Sumlin and Texas A&M. Instead, the Aggies finished as one of college football’s top 10 teams, and quarterback Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy after recording over 5,000 yards of total offense. Texas A&M knocked off No. 1 Alabama in mid-November and its only losses came by five points or less. Sumlin is on fire on the recruiting trail, and Texas A&M should be a national title contender in 2013.

What Went Wrong: Just as we mentioned with Urban Meyer, it’s hard to find many faults in Sumlin’s debut season. The Aggies lost offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, and it’s imperative for Sumlin to pick the right replacement this offseason. Texas A&M’s only defeats came to Florida and LSU -- a combined 21-5 -- so there’s nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to the loss column.

Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss

What Went Right: After finishing 2-10 and 0-8 in SEC play in 2011, Ole Miss was one of college football’s most improved teams. The Rebels won seven contests, including the in-state rivalry against Mississippi State and the BBVA Compass Bowl over Pittsburgh. Ole Miss hung tough against Alabama and lost by only six points to LSU. The Rebels are recruiting well, so more help is on the way for a roster that showed marked improvement in 2012.

What Went Wrong: Nothing.

John L. Smith, Arkansas

What Went Right: For a team that began the year in most preseason top 25 polls and ended with a 4-8 record, it’s hard to find much that went right. Arkansas did win two SEC games, nearly knocked off LSU and defeated a good Tulsa team 19-15 in early November.

What Went Wrong: Considering the timing of the coaching change, it’s hard to blame everything on Smith. The Razorbacks never seemed to recover from losing head coach Bobby Petrino, especially on offense where they averaged just 23.5 points a game. Although it’s unfair to blame Smith for all of Arkansas’ woes, the Razorbacks only won two games in SEC play and struggled to be competitive against the bowl teams in the conference.