It’s never too early to discuss July’s supercilious display of media overindulgence that is also known as the SEC Football Media Days. With a 2016 resurgence, Kentucky has nearly joined its peers and entered the year-round football news cycle. The Wildcats will take on a new role of expectation in Hoover.
Let’s take a look at some predictable Media Day’s storylines:
Alabama will most likely be voted as kings of the conference’s financial backbone. Nick Saban will be in a worse than normal mood following his team’s loss to Clemson in the national title game. Some are wondering if his shine is starting to ware off in Tuscaloosa. Not me; got to beat the Kings to be the King. Alabama will and should be preeminent favorites to repeat.
Vanderbilt was the East’s trendy and hip sleeper discussion a year ago. The Commodores conducted itself with distinction on the podium and deservingly drew rave reviews. Vandy finished 6-7 but did earn a bowl bid after shocking Tennessee at home. LB Zach Cunningham’s decision to forego his senior season may hamper Derek Mason’s defense. However, RB Ralph Webb will provide offensive stability after wisely choosing to return for his senior year.
I can foresee South Carolina being this year’s “feel-good” underdog story. Will Muschamp’s Gamecocks exceeded expectation by qualifying for the postseason behind true freshman quarterback Jake Bentley and WR Deebo Samuel. Muschamp has also recruited at a very high level and returns the majority of his team.
I will be in the minority on this one, but consider me skeptical. While vastly improved from the 3-9 fiasco that was Steve Spurrier’s swan song, I have to see more from Carolina prior to hopping on the Sandstorm bandwagon.
The West could be wild again. LSU lost its receiving corps and Leonard Fournette. Auburn could resurface into national relevance with its revamped defense and former Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham. My sleeper from the other side of the league is Kentucky’s permanent cross-divisional opponent, Mississippi State. Dan Mullen may have blundered his way through last summer’s Media Days, but he’s an exceptional play caller with a dynamic QB and a haul of high-level, junior college talent.
Running backs Sony Michel and Nick Chubb decided against early entry to the professional ranks. So did outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter. All three would have been drafted. While the jury is still out on Kirby Smart the head coach, it doesn’t take a genius to see that Georgia will have the most talented team in the East with a phenomenal signing class to even further resupply its roster. Signal caller Jacob Eason should benefit from a year’s experience but the Dawgs must rebuild an offensive line that underachieved a year ago and develop a go-to receiver.
I’m not saying the event won’t be attended by national headline grabbing players, but 2017’s allotment will be less recognizable than the prior year. The SEC will again refurbish the NFL with a truck-load of talent. But, those departures will leave a more than usual and noticeable void in name-recognition in July.
2016 was not a banner year in the Southeastern Conference. It finished 6-8 vs. Power 5 opponents in the regular season and 6-6 in bowl games. Many will argue the reason behind its slightly downward trajectory was the lack of quality quarterbacking. Inquiries will be plentiful, but the question remains; who will fill that role in 17?
Could Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald or Alabama’s Jalen Hurts burst into Heisman contention? Fitzgerald finished 3rd in the league’s rushing category with 1375-yards to go along with 2423 through the air. Alabama’s Jalen Hurts racked up honors after leading his team to an undefeated season and title game appearance by totaling 3734 yards and 36 touchdowns.
Missouri’s Drew Lock tossed around a notebook full of statistics, but Mizzou may continue to struggle. Lock is considered by many to be a “system QB”. Will a star surface from a group of super, rising sophomores that include: UGA’s Jacob Eason, Carolina’s Jake Brantley, or Ole Miss’s Shea Patterson?
A third category is a collection of returning starters that may not be flashy, but were productive while leading their teams to bowl games: Stephen Johnson-Kentucky, Austin Allen-Arkansas, Danny Etling-LSU, and Kyle Shurmer-Vanderbilt.
Media Days will be a curious capsule of quarterback analysis. 10/14 teams return starters.
In a scene out of the 80’s, the running backs which will be the most identifiable stars of the event. RB’s will have serious podium juice behind a collection of 1000-yard rushers: Nick Chubb-UGA, Benny Snell-Kentucky, Kamryn Pettiway-Auburn, Derrius Guice-LSU, Rawleigh Williams-Arkansas, Ralph Webb-Vanderbilt, Damerea Crockett-Missouri, and Texas A&M’s Trayveon Williams.
The Southeastern Conference was hit hard by attrition in this grouping. Kentucky LB Jordan Jones is the league’s top returning tackler after the junior-to-be capped off an All SEC season with 109 stops. The conference’s 2nd leading tackler is Jones’ teammate, Safety Mike Edwards.
This is where the SEC is in dire need of fresh appeal. LSU’s Arden Key is its top returning sack artist after registering 12.5 in 2016. Following Key is a slew of defenders with 7.5-7 sacks including UK’s Josh Allen.
As you can see above, the SEC’s collection of running backs is significant in production and pizazz. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the its pass catchers. Missouri and Texas A&M have WR’s with a high number of catches, but unless something outlandish is said on the podium, this category may struggle to move the needle.
Ed Orgeron will be a must see. I could listen to him talk all day.
With so many unknowns going into next season, spring practice could act as a barometer for preseason prognostication. Going to be another exciting year. But, will the league be able to reclaim its indisputable title as college football’s premier conference? Stay tuned.