HOOVER, Ala. — With 14 SEC football coaches and 42 players standing in front of microphones, television cameras and tape recorders over the course of the next four days, story lines aplenty will be pouring out of SEC Media Days.
Here are five to look for heading into the biggest preseason college football media event in the nation:
1. Chasing the Tide
Whether it’s good or bad for the league, no one knows for sure. But the reality is, the SEC has become Alabama, ruler of the kingdom, followed by everyone else. Alabama has won the SEC four of the past five years and captured the national championship in four of the last eight years. In the West, and in the league in general, everyone is chasing the Tide, and it’s been a losing race. Every year, it seems, a new challenger arises (at least in the preseason). Last year, it was LSU. But, of course, the Tigers faltered and Alabama was off and running to Atlanta again. Who can challenge this year? Auburn may have a chance with the addition of quarterback Jarrett Stidham. It could help that this year’s Iron Bowl is at Auburn. Who knows, maybe it will be Florida? Even though that seems a longshot given the Gators have lost the last two SEC Championship Games to the Tide by a combined score of 83-31.
<b>2. East trying to catch up
The West, of course, has been college football’s strongest division over the past eight years and has clearly separated itself from the East in terms of conference success and championships. The East has not won an SEC championship since Florida defeated Alabama in the 2008 conference championship game, and in head-to-head battles in the regular season over that span, the teams from the West have dominated. But is the worm about to turn? There were signs at the end of last season that the East is starting to at least creep up on the West a little bit. Florida beat LSU in Baton Rouge. Georgia beat Auburn. Missouri took down Arkansas. And Vanderbilt disposed of Ole Miss. It may not seem like much, but it may be a start to the cycle changing a little bit in favor of a different direction — the East.
3. Have a seat on the hot seat
Actually, Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin is already firmly planted there, coming off the Aggies’ third consecutive 8-5 season. A lot of teams would love an 8-5 season, but that record has become unacceptable in Aggieland, where the big-time boosters have provided Sumlin with Alabama-like facilities and are expecting Alabama-like results on the field. Their money isn’t running out, but their patience is. If Sumlin goes 8-5 again, that may be it for him. He appears to be the only SEC coach on the proverbial hot seat heading into the season, but others could end up there along the way. Here are some potential candidates if things start heading south: Tennessee’s Butch Jones, Kentucky’s Mark Stoops and Arkansas’ Bret Bielema.
4. Lots of puppy love
Given the media’s poor track record, being picked to win the East is not always a good thing. A year ago, it was Tennessee getting all the love from the media and was a clear pick to capture the East over Florida and Georgia. The Vols finished second. This year, the preseason loves seems to be going to Georgia, which now has to learn to cope with the expectations that can weigh heavily on a team. Not all, of course, will be picking the Bulldogs. Some point to UGA’s offensive struggles in the second half last season and wonder if things will be all that different this season. Georgia is getting the love, but don’t be surprised if Florida turns out to be the pick in the East.
5. The Big Freeze
At a golf outing earlier this summer, beleaguered Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze abruptly ended a television interview when the subject of the Rebels’ problems with the NCAA was broached. So, how is he going to handle the onslaught of questions about it that surely will be fired his way throughout his time in Hoover? Will he put the freeze on the media? With tougher NCAA sanctions likely headed the Rebels’ way, perhaps in the near future, there is a dark cloud that doesn’t seem to go away for Freeze. It certainly will follow him to Hoover. So far, at least the school is supporting him. But many are wondering how long that’s going to last.
— Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or email@example.com. Also check out Andreu’s blog at Gatorsports.com.