Sapakoff: Muschamp, Dabo have done Coach of the Year-worthy work in their conferences
If Gus Malzahn gets Auburn into the College Football Playoff via late-season victories over Georgia, Alabama and Georgia again in the SEC championship game he deserves a new visor. And the SEC Coach of the Year award.
Georgia’s Kirby Smart gets an SEC Coach of the Year party gift if the Bulldogs pull off an SEC championship game upset against Alabama or Auburn.
Miami’s Mark Richt, for finally getting the Hurricanes into an ACC championship game, is the clear favorite for ACC Coach of the Year.
But Will Muschamp and Dabo Swinney deserve more than consideration, no matter what happens in Rivalry Week. If Alabama and Clemson wind up in the College Football Playoff, the respective conference awards should wind up in Columbia and Clemson.
Georgia was the popular summer pick to win the SEC East.
Auburn was supposed to finish second in the SEC West.
Muschamp’s Gamecocks were left for mediocre in fourth place after voting at SEC Media Days in Hoover.
An 8-3 record looks pretty good from a second-place perch in the SEC East (5-3 in conference play).
Contrary to short memories, Clemson wasn’t supposed to simply flex its defending national champ muscles and blow everybody else in the ACC into a Belk Bowl scramble. Florida State was the overwhelming favorite at ACC Football Kickoff — 121 Atlantic Division first-place votes, 37 for Clemson.
That is, Swinney’s Tigers were closer to third-place Louisville (nine first-place votes) than Florida State.
Richt, Malzahn, Smart
Trendier as an ACC championship game participant pick in July than the latest Cuban-Conch fusion dish on South Beach. The Hurricanes entering Richt’s second year as Miami head coach got 130 Coastal Division first-place votes in Charlotte.
Second-place Virginia Tech got 40.
Not to knock the other guys.
Richt is a good coach on and off the field and proved that at Georgia. The former Boca Raton High School and Miami quarterback is an ideal cure for what ails Coral Gables. Recruiting rankings show more top talent is on the way.
Malzahn, bouncing around from hot seat to hot candidate, always has extra baggage to carry.
Smart has Georgia poised to make sure an SEC East path to the SEC championship game runs through Athens, at least for a while.
Sure beats FSU vs. Florida
And Muschamp and Swinney benefited from the carnage that is the current state of Power 5 football in the Sunshine State.
Florida State was never the same after quarterback Deondre Francois went down in the opener against Alabama.
So did Tennessee.
But South Carolina and Clemson also had injuries, kicking issues and bad losses to deal with.
If these awards are about relative expectations — and they usually are — Muschamp and Swinney should be the leaders in their clubhouses.
They have managed to combine for 18 wins entering Rivalry Week. That’s better than in all but two games during a Gamecocks-Tigers series that began in 1896 (19 in 2013 and 2012 when Clemson showed up 10-1 and South Carolina 9-2 before Gamecock wins).
For that alone, Muschamp and Swinney are Coach of the Year-worthy.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff