SEC West football is plenty interesting as it is. Moreover, the 2017 season certainly contains its share of intrigues and mysteries.
The upper half of the division should create a fascinating three-way competition involving Alabama, LSU and Auburn. LSU's pair of star coordinators under an unconventional head coach, combined with Auburn's fortuitous obtainment of Jarrett Stidham in the Baylor exodus, will give big, bad Bama two possible roadblocks on the road to Atlanta -- to the SEC Championship Game, yes, but also the College Football Playoff National Championship Game. Atlanta will host both events once the 12-game regular season has run its course.
Nick Saban. Dave Aranda-Matt Canada-Ed Orgeron. Gus Malzahn and his long-sought Quarterback Star (capital Q-S is fully warranted).
That's a compelling cast of characters heading into Labor Day weekend of 2017.
One could do much worse.
However... one could do much better as well, and this is where the SEC West becomes less than it could be.
It's true that life and college football both throw big overhand curveballs at times. Seven years ago, a man named Dabo Swinney seemed out of his depth at Clemson. Now he's a superstar coach who just dusted off Saban in a national championship game. Who thought in 2007 that Tennessee would go nine straight seasons without an SEC East title and wallow in a ditch of misery, with no hope in sight?
Who saw 2016 Penn State going from a two-loss September to a team which came within a whisker of a top-three national finish in the polls? Who predicted that Oregon and Notre Dame would both go 4-8... and that Michigan State would be even worse?
Sports are full of instances in which coaches on their career deathbeds improbably reach NCAA Tournaments or make Sugar Bowls to save -- and then transform -- their careers. Sports have recently given us the Cubs winning the World Series, and Northwestern both making the NCAA Tournament and winning a game in March Madness, and Cleveland both winning and losing championships after 3-1 series leads went down the drain twice in a span of four months. Sports constantly surprise us, so if the 2017 SEC West offers a plot twist or six, all of what's about to be said will need to be scrapped (at worst) or moderately revised (at best).
Nevertheless, even though sports can always elicit slack-jawed amazement, it's hard to shake the following overarching thought:
Teams four through seven in the SEC West -- after the Bama-LSU-Auburn trio -- enter 2017 appearing rather dull.
Does anyone think Texas A&M is going to get over the hump with Kevin Sumlin, or Arkansas with Bret Bielema? What can Hugh Freeze possibly do to reverse -- and control damage at -- the downward spiral Ole Miss football has become? At Mississippi State, what more can Dan Mullen prove after his big year with Dak Prescott?
Real talk: It would be so much more entertaining and informative -- so much more revealing and illuminating -- if SEC West coaches outside the states of Alabama and Louisiana switched spots...
... but not randomly.
There would be no point to Freeze coaching Mississippi State -- he has already lifted a Magnolia State program's profile.
Freeze, the former coach at Arkansas State, would make an interesting coach at Arkansas. Remember that Bobby Petrino took that program to a great height, and that smashmouth-loving Bielema hasn't been able to set the same standard. An aggressive Freeze passing game -- the one which has given Nick Saban's defense fits the past three years -- would create a pigskin laboratory in the land of Woo Pig Sooie.
Similarly, Mullen at Ole Miss wouldn't work, but Mullen at Texas A&M would be fascinating. Mullen thrived in the Mountain West as Alex Smith's quarterback tutor at Utah. He then guided Tim Tebow in Florida, one of the ultimate hotbeds in national college football recruiting. Put Mullen out of Starkville and into the state of Texas. How would he do? It would be a verdict on his chops as a coach, something a lot of people who follow football would like to get. Seeing him remain in Starkville won't detract from his reputation if he can't win big again. Seeing him win 11 games in a season would increase the nation's estimation of him... but that seems close to impossible unless he improbably finds his next version of Dak.
Kevin Sumlin -- who thrived at Houston but has not been able to sustain success at A&M -- would become an interesting case study at Ole Miss. Rebel fans wouldn't like it, but it should be harder to win at Ole Miss than at A&M. If Sumlin wants to prove he's better than the past four years have indicated, going to Oxford would give him a chance to do so.
It's similar for Bielema. Wisconsin was the perfect fit for him and his style. Outside the Big Ten, he seems like a fish out of water. When coaches struggle at prominent programs such as Arkansas, they ought to be forced to make downward moves. Put Bielema at Mississippi State, and see if he could resurrect his career, changing (or perhaps, re-changing) the minds of those who have soured on him during his stay in Fayetteville.
Nick Saban is the iconic coach at the iconic program. Gus Malzahn is the mad scientist who might finally have the specimen quarterback he needs to go to the top. Coach O is a wild card who is relying on his coordinators in Baton Rouge. All three of those coaches are either right where they belong (Saban), or are in situations which will reveal a lot about them (Coach O and Gus). For the other four coaches in the SEC West, it seems that the dramas have played out and that the ceilings of potential are low in all four locales: Fayetteville, College Station, Oxford, and Starkville.
Maybe one of the coaches at Arkansas, A&M, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State will surprise us all this fall... but in a world governed by realism, the SEC West's lower tier can sure use a shuffling of the cards.