Next week’s SEC Media Days are designed to stir up excitement for the upcoming football season, as hundreds of reporters and thousands of fans will converge in Hoover, Ala., to glean information from representatives of every Southeastern Conference team.
SEC Country will be there in full force, and we’re curious about the following 11 things:
11. For Georgia’s Kirby Smart: “What makes you more like Jim McElwain than Will Muschamp?”
Nick Saban’s gigantic coaching tree has yielded mixed results from former assistants who take major coaching jobs. McElwain won SEC coach of the year in 2015, while Muschamp was the one who lost his job at Florida to make way for the ex-Alabama offensive coordinator. Georgia fans are excited to see what Smart will do with the program, but keep in mind that the Bulldogs have averaged 9.8 wins over the past five seasons, and Smart will be trying to keep pace despite an uncertain quarterback situation.
10. For Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen: “What’s it going to take to leave Starkville?”
Bulldogs fans are damn tired of hearing about Mullen’s potential departure, but there are good reasons for the rumors: He’s one of the country’s best coaches, and he’s consistently turned down opportunities at schools with more money, history, talent, etc. Mullen has made it clear he wants to remain in Starkvegas, but with the program trending downward AD (“After Dak”), some of those offers might look more tempting in December.
9. For LSU’s Les Miles: “Is Brandon Harris going to save your job this season?”
Plenty of SEC coaches are feeling the heat in 2016, but none came as close to receiving a pink slip as Miles did last November. Louisiana State has perhaps the most talented roster in America, but one key position — quarterback — threatens to derail the Tigers again. Harris has not proved he can complete easy throws consistently, which could be the difference between the national championship game and the Outback Bowl this winter.
8. For Auburn’s Gus Malzahn: “Does Auburn’s recent coaching history alarm you?”
Gene Chizik won a national title with Cam Newton in 2010, one of those “perfect storm” seasons. Two years later, he was out. Likewise, Malzahn came within a minute of the national title in 2013, but has faltered since. Throw in the demise of Tommy Tuberville (12-0 in 2004) after one bad season and you’ve got an administration that won’t shed many tears if Malzahn gets a seemingly premature hook at some point this autumn.
7. For Florida’s Jim McElwain: “Will your best offensive player be on the field in September?”
There are quarterback battles brewing all over the conference, including in Gainesville. But we’re more interested in the star player that passer will throw to: Antonio Callaway. The speedy receiver/returner was suspended in January for a “conduct code violation,” according to his attorney, but has since been allowed to resume some activities at the university. Odds are he’ll be in a Gators uniform this fall, and McElwain likely knows it.
6. For Arkansas’ Bret Bielema: “How do you really feel about Jim Harbaugh?”
Bielema said he was “disappointed” after the Wolverines pulled out of a future series with the Razorbacks, saying Michigan is one of his “favorite teams from the Big Ten.” It was a polite response, and slightly more polite than Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long, who made sure to let Michigan know how much the late cancellation hurt Arkansas’ future scheduling efforts. Considering the satellite-camp-related tweets sent by Bielema earlier this year, it’s clear that the coach has at least some level of disdain for Harbaugh’s practices, and it would be
best entertaining if he aired out those grievances at media days.
5. For Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin: “Is Trevor Knight going to make fans forget about Johnny Manziel?”
Let’s be clear: Knight, the new transfer quarterback from Oklahoma, is probably not going to win the Heisman Trophy. He’s probably not going to be an All-American. But Sumlin has been looking for consistent play under center since Manziel departed after the 2013 season, and Knight has the type of resumé that allows fans to dream of double-digit wins. A fast start with Manziel in College Station propelled Sumlin to stardom, but that ball of gas is falling fast after back-to-back eight-win seasons. Sumlin needs Knight to be a special player if he wants the hot seat to cool off in 2016.
4. For Tennessee’s Butch Jones: “What is it about Florida?”
Tennessee needs to conquer two demons — Alabama and Florida — if it wants to run the table this season, but the latter has been especially annoying over the past few years. The Gators have an 11-game winning streak against the Vols, including back-to-back wins when Tennessee arguably had the better team. So… what gives, coach? Volunteers fans hope Mr. Jones has a good answer in late September.
3. For Mississippi’s Hugh Freeze: “Is the NCAA going to keep you out of the postseason?”
Freeze likely does not know the answer at this point, but there’s a large NCAA-sized cloud looming over a promising season in Oxford. Rebels fans firmly believe the school’s self-imposed sanctions fit the crimes, and that the almighty college athletics governing body should leave Ole Miss alone. History doesn’t offer much clarity. This topic will follow Freeze and his potential College Football Playoff team around until a decision is made public.
2. For Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason, Missouri’s Barry Odom, Kentucky’s Mark Stoops and South Carolina’s Will Muschamp: “How are you going to make fans care this year?”
These four SEC East squads are projected to finish near the bottom of the standings in 2016. Will one or two of them make a bowl game? Probably. But we want to know if any of them are going to have us glued to the television in November, as South Carolina and Missouri made a habit of doing not too long ago.
1. For Alabama’s Nick Saban: “Are you bored yet?”
The Crimson Tide have several common questions to answer — Who’s playing quarterback? How will you replace those NFL draft picks? How will you survive that schedule? — but Saban has answered all of those (multiple times) throughout his Alabama tenure. With preview magazines already crowning the newest edition of the Crimson Tide, Saban has nothing more to prove in the college ranks. When you’re arguably better than The Bear, what else do you need to accomplish?