ATLANTA — In 2016, the SEC was stuck in a rut. This fall, Maria Taylor predicts a resurgence.
“I think what we’re seeing is just a re-emergence of the conference,” Taylor, who will make her debut as a reporter on ESPN’s College GameDay and ABC Saturday Night Football this weekend, told SEC Country. “If there was a down year [in 2016], per se, which I think a lot of people would agree with that, I think what we’re seeing now is that we’re going to have more coaches in place who have had some time, whether that’s Kirby [Smart] at Georgia, so you know that there’s probably going to be an uptick there. Even in Jim McElwain’s case, I think a lot of people aren’t counting on Florida, and he’s got a couple of quarterbacks there if he needs them.
“You know his defense is going to be great. We know there are going to be some great D-lines, and I know that Alabama is head-and-shoulders above in this conference. … We know they’re going to lock and reload. But I think that it’s a time, especially for the [SEC] East, to have an uptick.”
Taylor, 30, has experience to back up her vision. She’s a former Georgia volleyball and women’s basketball player. She has worked for the SEC Network since 2014 before receiving the call in May to replace Sam Ponder in the prominent College GameDay and ABC Saturday Night Football role. Taylor, a native of Alpharetta, Ga., will appear Saturday in Atlanta when Alabama faces Florida State at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in a massive season opener for both teams.
As part of a recent conversation with SEC Country about her career, Taylor touched on multiple SEC-related topics about the coming college football season.
Check out some of her thoughts:
- Why the SEC will have a resurgence this fall: “I think we’re going to start seeing that, because if you think about it, all the young coaches were in the East, so of course there are going to be down years. It’s going to be down. … That’s what’s going to lead the resurgence. Once you’ve been there for five years, and you have all your guys in place and you’re able to run your system, hopefully that’s what happens in the East. Because that’s what I want to see again. It’s more about I want that [SEC] Championship Game in Atlanta to look great. The last thing you want is, every single year to be like, ‘We know what’s going to happen.’ … I want everyone to be excited about that championship game again, because think about some of the thrillers we’ve had in the past. That’s kind of my hope for the season.”
- On Georgia’s potential: “I’m excited about this idea that we know that [quarterback] Jacob Eason is the starter, but we also know Jake Fromm pushes him. I think that’s a dynamic that was not there last year that can most certainly help prevent a sophomore slump of any kind. If anything, it could accelerate [Eason’s] improvement. So I think that’s huge. I think, obviously, Sony Michel and Nick Chubb being a year now, two years away, from their injuries is going to be huge, because they just weren’t the same [running] backs. … Now they’re running for their NFL future. They’re running for their final season. There’s a lot on the line, I think. And then we know the defense is experienced. I think there’s a lot of experience, plus the young talent that is added through recruiting [is beneficial]. … I think it can be one of those years where, I know the expectations are already high, but [Georgia] can potentially exceed the highest of expectations.”
- On Georgia’s win total in 2017: “I think at least 10 wins. Fans would love that.”
- Picks for the SEC title game: “Definitely Alabama. I feel like there has been a lot of talk like, ‘Oh, Auburn is going to beat them.’ I just have to see it. I have to see it first to believe it, because I feel like I got on an Auburn hype train a couple of years ago with [quarterback] Jeremy Johnson, and I’m just not going to ride on the Auburn hype train. I think that Gus Malzahn likes it that way. Honestly, I think he feels really good about his team, and I think that’s going to be cool. The East [champion], I feel like I can’t say, because either way, I’m doomed. I can’t make a decision [because of Georgia ties], because I’m going to get drilled for it. But any team that makes it, great. I’ll be excited for them.”