Why LSU football should watch a couple of Big Ten, Group of 5 coaches this weekend | Toppmeyer

Blake Toppmeyer

This the "Topp Rope," a biweekly SEC football column from the USA TODAY Network's Blake Toppmeyer.

The LSU football team has an open date Saturday, but that’s no reason for Tigers fans to avoid their televisions. This is a chance to perform advance scouting on LSU’s next coach. We don’t know who that will be, but here are some games to monitor:

No. 6 Michigan at No. 7 Michigan State (11 a.m. CT, FOX): When Phillip Fulmer took the reins of Tennessee's wayward coaching search in 2017, he interviewed three then-defensive coordinators: Jeremy Pruitt, Kevin Steele and Mel Tucker. Fulmer hired Pruitt, who was fired in disgrace in January. Tucker became Colorado's coach, and now he’s in his second season at Michigan State. The Spartans are 7-0 for the first time since 2015. It's no wonder Fulmer is out of a job.

No. 2 Cincinnati at Tulane (11 a.m. CT, ESPN2): The Big 12 is in Cincinnati’s future, but will that be enough to retain the country's hottest Group of Five coach, whose team is well-positioned for a College Football Playoff berth? Luke Fickell’s résumé is robust. The Ohio native has never coached in the SEC, but considering LSU is ousting a native Cajun in Ed Orgeron, perhaps background shouldn’t matter.

Texas State at Louisiana (11 a.m. CT, ESPNU): Auburn and South Carolina had interest in Ragin’ Cajuns coach Billy Napier this past offseason. He stayed put, and he’s now 34-12 at UL. LSU athletics director Scott Woodward tends to swing big in coaching hires, which suggests that a Sun Belt Conference coach wouldn’t move the needle. But Napier has experience with big-boy ball, having served as an assistant under Alabama’s Nick Saban and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney.

Florida State at Clemson (2:30 p.m. CT, ESPN): Swinney's Tigers are 4-3. If the two-time national champion coach thinks Clemson is descending from its lofty perch, perhaps he would consider an exit. Woodward, while Texas A&M's AD, lured Jimbo Fisher out of Florida State amid FSU's worst showing during Fisher’s eight-year tenure.

Colorado at No. 8 Oregon (2:30 p.m. CT, FOX): Oregon's Mario Cristobal isn't attracting much media attention to this point of the coaching search. But his Ducks are College Football Playoff contenders after one of the most impressive wins of the season – a road triumph over Ohio State in Week 2. A jump to LSU would result in a nice pay bump. A former Alabama assistant, Cristobal finished in the Top 25 once in his first three seasons at Oregon, but Year 4 is shaping up as his best showing.

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No. 9 Ole Miss at No. 21 Auburn (6 p.m. CT, ESPN): If LSU hired second-year Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin, I promise you this: It wouldn’t be a boring tenure in Baton Rouge. Kiffin is an attention magnet and a brilliant offensive mind. Kiffin got branded as being immature early in his career. Has he matured enough to handle the LSU job? 

No. 12 Kentucky at Mississippi State (6 p.m. CT, SEC Network): If ninth-year Kentucky coach Mark Stoops is ever going to move into a more high-profile job, now is the time. But trading a gig in which Stoops enjoys ultimate job security for a job with unrelenting pressure should give anyone pause. Also, Stoops’ track record for relying on defense and a ground game might give LSU fans flashbacks to the Les Miles era, although Stoops is a superior coach.

No. 17 Penn State at No. 5 Ohio State (6:30 p.m. CT, ABC): I’ve suggested that Woodward should eliminate any coaching candidate who loses on the road to Illinois. That would rule out Penn State’s James Franklin. But I’ve received no confirmation that Woodward plans to take my advice. Plus, I might sing a different tune if Penn State beats the Buckeyes. Franklin seems distracted. Twice during a news conference this week, he referred to Ohio State as Illinois. He also called OSU’s stadium The Big House. That's Michigan’s stadium.

Carrot cake, Lou Saban and Nick Saban

Saban will celebrate his 70th birthday on Halloween, and a reporter reminded Alabama’s coach on Wednesday that another Saban, Lou Saban, coached Chowan University at age 80 (and also at age 81).

“I've got 10 more years, man,” Nick Saban joked, a quip in which he was referencing his age rather than suggesting he'd coach another 10 years.

In seriousness, Saban said he has no timetable on when he’ll retire.

Oh, and he likes carrot cake, if you want to send a birthday treat.

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Dan Mullen’s goofy jokes grow stale

Neither Georgia coach Kirby Smart nor Florida coach Dan Mullen named a starting quarterback ahead of Saturday’s game in Jacksonville, Florida (2:30 p.m. CT, CBS).

Asked twice about the decision between Stetson Bennett IV and JT Daniels, Smart said “both guys have done a good job” and declined to tip his hand.

Florida’s Emory Jones has started every game this season, but freshman Anthony Richardson has made highlight-reel plays and deserves more playing time with Florida’s season busted.

“We’ll have a quarterback on the field,” Mullen joked Wednesday when a reporter referenced UF’s quarterback situation.

Mullen went for another laugh later when he said Florida might align in the wishbone formation against No. 1 Georgia.

Those are the type of jokes that elicit reluctant chuckles when your team is 6-1. When it is 4-3, they evoke an eyeroll.  

Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.