Here’s an excerpt of “50 things about the coming college football season” from the AJC’s Doug Roberson, with the SEC-related items noted:
Conference wars: The ACC-SEC matchups marks the first weekend of the season. Georgia and North Carolina will meet in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game in the Georgia Dome at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 3. Also that day, Clemson plays at Auburn at 9 p.m. On Labor Day (Sept. 5), Florida State and Ole Miss meet in Orlando at 8 p.m. ESPN is set to televise each game.
Back home in Georgia: Georgia made a bold move at the end of the season, firing Mark Richt and hiring Kirby Smart, a former Bulldogs safety and Alabama defensive coordinator. UGA wasn’t the only college football team in the state to make a head-coaching change. Georgia Southern hired Tyson Summers after Willie Fritz left for Tulane. Summers is a native of Tifton who most recently worked for Mike Bobo at Colorado State. This will be his first stint as head coach, but he inherits a team that went 9-4, won its bowl game and returns 12 starters.
Hurry up and play: Though it didn’t face as much scrutiny as Baylor, Ole Miss is another program that needs the season to start sooner rather than later so the focus can shift to the field. The Rebels must replace Laremy Tunsil at offensive tackle, Laquon Treadwell at wide receiver and Robert Nkemdiche at defensive tackle. All were picked by NFL teams in the draft.
Eyes on Heisman: Alabama running back Derrick Henry won last year’s Heisman Trophy. This year’s way-too-early group of candidates likely will include several running backs (Georgia’s Nick Chubb — depending largely on his recovery from knee surgery, LSU’s Leonard Fournette, Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey and FSU’s Dalvin Cook).
QBs on the move: A trend in college football is the movement of graduate transfers looking for, and often getting, immediate playing time. This is especially true of quarterbacks. Five such players to watch this season: Dakota Prukop (Montana State to Oregon, replace graduate transfer Vernon Adams), Trevor Knight (Oklahoma to Texas A&M), Patrick Towles (Kentucky to Boston College), Davis Webb (Texas Tech to Colorado) and Austin Appleby (Purdue to Florida).
From Aggie to Frog: TCU, which was 23-3 the past two seasons, tries to replace star quarterback Trevone Boykin, the key player in that success. Boykin’s likely successor is Kenny Hill, a transfer from Texas A&M who made a big splash in his Aggies debut in 2014, but walked out the door after losing his job before that season was over.
Under scrutiny: Coaches on the hot seat in the SEC include Kentucky’s Mark Stoops and Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason, but it will be interesting to see what happens at LSU should Les Miles’ team not fulfill immense expectations, and Auburn should Gus Malzahn struggle for a second consecutive year. Lastly, there’s Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin, whose bright start has dimmed amid numerous transfers and a lack of results.
Track record questionable: In trying to replace Steve Spurrier, South Carolina turned to Will Muschamp in an attempt to win its first SEC title. It’s a curious hire because Muschamp’s results in his previous job at Florida were not stellar: 28-21, but 10-13 in his final two seasons. His job will be made that much harder because the team doesn’t have a proven quarterback.
Looking for a quarterback: North Carolina, Georgia’s first opponent of the season in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game at the Georgia Dome, hopes Mitch Trubisky can replace Marquise Williams at quarterback. Williams passed for more than 3,000 yards and rushed for almost 1,000. Trubisky passed for 555 yards and rushed for 101 last season.
Richt and Kaaya: Mark Richt’s time at Georgia saw a long line of solid quarterbacks who went to the NFL with varying degrees of success. It will be fascinating to see what he and his assistants can do in Miami with Brad Kaaya, who has passed for more than 6,400 yards with 42 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in his first two seasons.
Staff changes: Auburn will try to rebound from last season’s 2-6 SEC disaster with 11 changes to its coaching staff. The big hires are defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, secondary coach Wesley McGriff, linebackers coach Travis Williams, co-offensive coordinator Kodi Burns and offensive line coach Herb Hand.
Ghosts of past: Missouri’s assembly line of defensive linemen should continue this season with Charles Harris, who had seven sacks and 18 1/2 tackles for loss last year, and Walter Brady, who had 12 1/2 tackles for loss and seven sacks. Their predecessors among star Tigers linemen include first-round NFL draft picks Ziggy Hood, Sheldon Richardson and Aldon Smith, plus Shane Ray, Kony Ealy, Markus Golden and Michael Sam.
Band aid: Originally citing safety concerns, the marching bands of visiting SEC and non-conference teams weren’t going to be allowed to participate during halftime of games in LSU’s Death Valley. However, if you are a fan of bands, relax. A solution was reached.
SEC arms: Of the four SEC quarterbacks who passed for at least 3,000 yards last season, just one, Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly, returns this season. It would take a significant leap for Tennessee’s Joshua Dobbs (2,291) or LSU’s Brandon Harris (2,165) to reach that artificial plateau.
SEC schedules: Florida will have the easiest non-conference schedule of the SEC’s teams. The Gators will play Massachusetts (3-9), North Texas (1-11), Presbyterian (2-9) and Florida State (10-3). Ole Miss will have toughest non-conference schedule of the SEC’s teams. The Rebels will play Florida State (10-3), Memphis (9-4), Georgia Southern (9-4) and Wofford (5-6).
Ground Gators: The battle to replace running back Kelvin Taylor at Florida takes on added significance this season because not only was he a 1,000-yard rusher for an inconsistent offense, but the new quarterback, either Luke Del Rio or Austin Appleby, has never played for the Gators.
— Special from Doug Roberson of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution