Welcome to Election Central!
With all the polls now closed, we’re finally at liberty to make our first projections:
Joker Phillips will not return for a second term in Lexington, Kentucky.
His last campaign rally on Saturday erupted into a nasty scene, with supporters turning on Phillips en masse with a vicious outpouring of invective. Surprisingly, even at Kentucky, where basketball has long reigned supreme, the faithful take great umbrage at losing to Vanderbilt, 40-0, in football.
Apparently, eight straight losses have caused voters to forget the bright optimism that ushered in this season. Phillips proclaimed last summer at SEC Media Days that "What makes us excited is how we finished last season!" Kentucky had split its final four games.
Less exciting was Phillips taking over a program that produced four straight bowl teams, and turning it into this season’s 1-8 disaster.
But not to worry! Basketball season arrived on Monday night, with the long-awaited opening exhibition against Transylvania.
Voters in Arkansas have soundly rejected John L. Smith, effectively deleting both the "interim" and "coach" from his job description.
Since taking office after his predecessor resigned in disgrace amid a very public scandal, Smith took a consensus top 10 team and turned it into a 4-5 train wreck.
Lowlights of his brief term include an overtime loss to Louisiana-Monroe, a 52-zip walkover by Alabama, and a 58-10 loss to Texas A&M, which was the most points tallied by the Aggies in the 69-game history of its series with Arkansas.
En route to losing his job, Smith also called the Razorbacks "the program of the state of Alabama," begged reporters to smile at his weekly news conference, and begged fans "not to give up on us." He stopped short of distributing "WIN" buttons.
According to exit polls, Smith’s fate was apparently sealed after the loss to Alabama, when Smith opened his post-game press conference with an incisive, "I really don’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to say to our team as well."
Out west, voters in Oregon overwhelmingly returned Chip Kelly to office. And why not? Happy days in Eugene, as Kelly posted a 43-6 record, produced a perennial national championship contender, and created one of the most exciting offenses in history.
We sense a trend swelling behind Kelly’s campaign pledge that "the best defense is a great offense." This was never more apparent than on election eve, when Kelly’s Ducks torched Southern Cal for 62 points and 730 yards. Meanwhile, the Ducks’ alleged defenders were surrendering 51 points and 615 yards.
In Tennessee, Derek Dooley ran on Kelly’s platform, but produced only a very good offense. Saturday’s gripping 55-48 win over Troy saw the Vols gain a school-record 718 yards. They also surrendered a school-record 721.
Despite vigorous campaigning by Dooley’s mother, he appears locked in a race too close to call. For voters still awaiting a signature win, sorry. The remaining schedule includes only Missouri, Vanderbilt and Kentucky.
Our exit polls also indicate a race too close to call for Gene Chizik in Auburn, Alabama. While Chizik received a boost from a rousing win over New Mexico State, the fact remains that it was a battle of 1-7 teams.
The faithful expected some growing pains with two new coordinators, but they didn’t expect the pain of losing to seven opponents, including Ole Miss and Vanderbilt.
Our analysts believe that lopsided losses to rivals Georgia and Alabama — both likely — could undo all the goodwill created by winning the 2010 National Championship.
Closer to home, it appears that Paul Johnson will return for another term, despite the abrupt resignation of his fund raising chairman during the election’s home stretch.
Johnson remains about as lovable as athlete’s foot fungus, and just as irritable. That was fine with the voters as long as he was winning. But lopsided losses to Middle Tennessee State and Brigham Young have caused Johnson’s approval rating to plummet.
Still, analysts believe that closing wins over North Carolina and Duke, resulting in a second-place finish in the ACC’s competitive Coastal Division, will save the acerbic Johnson’s seat for another term.
In Athens, Mark Richt rode the groundswell of support and goodwill generated over the past two weeks to win a fourth term easily. Accordingly, Richt gave a big thank-you to his campaign manager, Shawn Williams.
Criticism of Richt reached a crescendo last month after the chaos in Columbia, but voters now seem content with successive wins over the mighty Gators, and a second straight SEC championship game appearance in the offing.
The voters remain a fickle lot. Not unlike athletic directors.