Sometimes a coordinator can make all the difference. Just ask Arkansas fans who watched as Dan Enos helped transfer Brandon Allen from a middling quarterback to one of the SEC’s best in his first year with the Razorbacks.
Since the end of last season, there have been 13 new coordinators hired in the conference. For today’s roundtable, we asked the question -- which new hire will make the most impact?
Edward Aschoff: Butch Jones’ hiring of former Penn State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop was an outstanding hire. Tennessee’s defense was lagging before, but Shoop will bring a much more aggressive style to a unit that already has a ton of athleticism and speed. Tennessee’s defense had OK overall numbers in 2015, but it also helped the Vols lose three games in which they led by double digits. Shoop’s last five defenses, including three with Vanderbilt, ranked in the top 25 in total defense and forced a total of 120 turnovers. This past season, the Nittany Lions ranked 14th nationally in total defense (324.5 ypg) and 25th in defensive efficiency (69.2).
David Ching: Although I’m tempted to pick Shoop at Tennessee – he’ll have plenty to work with in his return to the SEC – LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda seems like the most obvious choice. Look at the numbers his Wisconsin defenses posted over the last three years. The guy was doing incredible work in the Big Ten: first in the FBS in total defense (289.4 yards per game), second in scoring defense (17.03 points per game), third against the pass (180.9 ypg) and fourth against the run (108.5 ypg) between 2013 and 2015. On one hand, he’ll have to deal with more explosive athletes now that he’s in the SEC, but on the other hand, he’ll be defending those athletes with a huge collection of future NFL players from LSU. It’s going to be fascinating to watch as he helps LSU make the transition from the 4-3 it ran under John Chavis and Kevin Steele to an adaptable 3-4. If he lives up to his billing, this could be a special season for LSU – and especially its veteran defense.
Sam Khan: LSU's hire of Aranda intrigues me. The Tigers' new defensive coordinator has been successful in stops at Hawaii, Utah State and Wisconsin before he was called to Baton Rouge, and he'll bring his 3-4 scheme to a defense that has more talent than Aranda has ever worked with. His success at other places with not as much talent or depth as LSU makes me believe that the ceiling is high for him this season. Aranda is well respected and highly thought of by coaches around the country I've spoken with, and I know several who think he's going to be a home run for LSU. I think the potential for great success is there and I'm really interested to see how things play out for the Tigers' defense under his watch.
Greg Ostendorf: Shoop and Aranda are arguably the best SEC coordinators hired this offseason. I’m not debating that. But the most impactful? I lean towards Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. While at Georgia, Pruitt’s defense finished top-five in the conference in scoring defense in each of the last two seasons. The same goes at Florida State where he helped lead the Seminoles to a national championship in his lone season there. Now he returns to Alabama, where he inherits a defense loaded with potential NFL talent like Jonathan Allen, Reuben Foster and Eddie Jackson. But can that unit produce under Pruitt the way it did under Kirby Smart for all those years? If so, then the Crimson Tide are the odds-on favorite to win the SEC again.
Alex Scarborough: Arden Key, Kendell Beckwith, Tre'Davious White, Jamal Adams, Kevin Toliver II. Listen, Aranda could be an average coordinator and stumble into a top 10 defense with the group he inherits at LSU. And Aranda is far from average. He's young, aggressive and whip-smart. With so many talented players to work with, it will be interesting to see how he mixes and matches parts, whether it's creating one-on-one rush opportunities for Key or giving Adams free range to make plays in the secondary.