Update: Florida announced the hiring of Collins Tuesday afternoon, with this statement from Jim McElwain:
"I got to know Geoff personally during my time at Alabama and have stayed in touch with him since and his defenses have been successful everywhere he has been," McElwain said. "It was important to maintain some of the same philosophies and concepts that have made the defenses around here successful with this hire and our players will continue to progress under his direction."
"Coach Durkin will continue to coach the team through the bowl game," McElwain added. "I have the utmost respect for his professionalism and have full confidence in his abilities to lead and coach the team."
Original story follows...
Sports Illustrated writer Thayer Evans has the first big scoop of the Jim McElwain era, if he's right: He reports that Florida will hire Mississippi State defensive coordinator Geoff Collins to the same position. ESPN's Joe Schad confirmed Evans's report later Tuesday morning, as did Fox Sports's Bruce Feldman; at 11 a.m., local paper The Clarion-Ledger confirmed the national reports of Collins's departure.
Collins has been Mississippi State's defensive coordinator since 2011, and had presided over the rise of a defense that went from 49th in total defense in 2010 to 18th in the statistic in 2013.
They rank 82nd in total defense in 2014, though, and have given up 5.46 yards per play; despite being 10th in scoring defense, and yielding fewer than 20 points per game, Mississippi State has been gouged for more than 500 yards four times this season, including in games against UAB and Kentucky, and just gave up a staggering 8.58 yards per play to Mississippi in an Egg Bowl meltdown.
Worse, the Bulldogs have one of the worst pass defenses in the country. Mississippi State is 125th in passing defense, coughing up more than 285 yards through the air per contest, though the Bulldogs do have a healthy 15 interceptions against just 16 passing touchdowns allowed.
So, yeah, the Bulldogs look bad on some pieces of paper this year. But that's not the whole story.
A closer look at the stats reveals that Mississippi State is ninth in defensive F/+, a better ranking than Florida's own No. 12 spot, and boasts the No. 6 Drive Rating, a measurement of defensive efficiency, in the country. Teams have moved the ball on the Bulldogs, sure, but they have been stymied on third down, where MSU ranks 13th nationally, and especially in the red zone, getting points on just 24 of 40 possessions against a defense that is leading the nation in red zone scoring and red zone touchdown percentage.
Incredibly, no team has come away from every red zone possession in a game against the Bulldogs with points this year, and only mighty Alabama scored three red zone touchdowns on Collins's defense. Collins's Bulldogs may have had trouble keeping opponents out of the red zone (40 attempts is middle-of-the-road; Florida has allowed 30), but just six teams have allowed fewer than 24 red zone scoring trips, and none of those teams faced more than 32 red zone possessions all year. (Florida has allowed 25.)
Collins is also doing all of this with, to be kind, talent that is generally considered subpar when compared with the rest of the SEC. Since his arrival in Starkville in 2011, the Bulldogs have signed one player considered a consensus five-star prospect by the 247Sports Composite rankings, defensive lineman Chris Jones; Florida's 2015 secondary will have two, in Vernon Hargreaves III and Jalen Tabor, and its defensive line could have as many as four, depending on how recruiting pans out.
And, what's more, Collins has substantial Florida ties, having coached previously at Florida International and UCF. He was also UCF's recruiting coordinator in 2008 and 2009, and was Alabama's director of player personnel in 2007 — a year when the Tide landed the monster recruiting class with Mark Barron, Terrence Cody, Marcel Dareus, Don'ta Hightower, Mark Ingram, Julio Jones, and Courtney Upshaw that went on to fuel a program that won three national titles in four seasons.
Scoff at Mississippi State's 2014 total defense and yards per play numbers if you like, and agonize about the secondary if you must. But know this: Collins has a much better defense this year than some may think, and has a pedigree that could allow him to do fantastic things at Florida.