The SEC will converge Monday for four days of content buffet for its annual media days.
We predict everything else, so why not project the biggest topics of discussion when the players and coaches gather in Hoover, Ala.?
Here are five of the biggest storylines and questions you can expect next week.
1. The SEC’s streak of seven consecutive national championships is over; what is the league going to do about it?
The top team in most major college football conferences will spend media day deflecting questions about the possibility of making the first-ever four-team College Football Playoff.
The SEC’s best? Possibility isn’t part of the lexicon, and neither is participating. Expect some variant of the following: Will you take back what’s ours?
Next week’s gathering at the Wynfrey Hotel is billed as a coach-player-media huddle, but let’s recognize reality: The practical purpose is more than a gentle blow at the fans’ warm embers. Rather, as the season approaches, Commissioner Mike Slive and the rest of the league want to pour gasoline — no, take a blowtorch to the pile of gas cans that represent the SEC fan base.
Fan literally is short for fanatic. Dictionary.com defines the word as “a person with an extreme and uncritical enthusiasm or zeal, as in religion or politics.” And these fanatics don’t care about your non-conference matchup in September or the competition at your backup right tackle spot.
Get agitated all you want, Nick Saban. I know January is legions of months, weeks, days and seconds from entering your thoughts, but kindly shove your Process down a rabbit hole for now. We’re here to talk Playoff.
The fans want it. In turn the media will push for it. Who is going to restore football supremacy to the Southeastern Conference?
2. Who will replace arguably the most accomplished crop of SEC quarterbacks in league history?
No offense, Nick Marshall. Sorry, Dak Prescott. You understand, don’t you, Maty Mauk?
With all respect to the league’s most heralded returning quarterbacks, those names aren’t as exciting as the ones a year ago. Thus, the main focus in Hoover, Ala., will be replacing some megastars.
Texas A&M (Johnny Manziel), Georgia (Aaron Murray), Alabama (AJ McCarron) and LSU (Zack Mettenberger) all must replace quarterbacks selected in the NFL draft. Two other teams lose senior quarterbacks who also will be participating in NFL training camps in South Carolina (Connor Shaw) and Missouri (James Franklin).
The headliner here will be Jacob Coker, who projects as the next Crimson Tide quarterback. Replacing a man who went 36-4 as a starter with two national titles — and an S.I. swimsuit model for a fiance — one season after nearly beating out eventual Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston on Florida State’s national championship team will do that. But ‘Bama is far from the only school facing a barrage of questions about its next signal-caller.
3. Can Will Muschamp survive the firing squad?
Last year was a bit of an anomaly in that the jobs at Texas, USC and Penn State all came open in the same season. That’s not going to happen again, ever.
Nebraska’s Bo Pelini probably represents the only other coach at a traditional football power facing big-time heat entering the season, adding national attention and pressure to Florida’s season.
Much like Norv Turner when he coached the Chargers, the perception of Muschamp in some circles is that he is a terrific coordinator who has no business as a head coach. And it’s growing louder.
Enter offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, the long-time David Cutcliffe protege. Roper and Muschamp may have to execute the equivalent of CPR and the Heimlich maneuver to resuscitate the Gators’ offense. Granted, the unit probably faced more injuries than any other offense in the country, but averaged 316.7 yards per game in 2013, good enough for 112th nationally.
The defense wasn’t drastically different than the one that boosted Florida to 11 wins in 2012. But the Gators won just four times last season, and Muschamp clearly is coaching for his job despite a loyal athletic director in Jeremy Foley.
How Muschamp plans to turn around the program, and how many wins it will take for him to remain employed, will be a big part of this week’s discussions.
4. Will the league continue to evolve to keep pace with the nation’s best offenses?
Much like a 0-to-60 mph time is a common metric to evaluate a vehicle’s performance, average time between offensive snaps is becoming a prominent stat.
The infamous 10-second rule never made it to a vote despite the politicking by Saban and Bret Bielema, but the drama will linger as offenses continue to operate faster for the foreseeable future.
With programs like the Aggies, Tigers and Tigers embracing no-huddle, spread concepts, the SEC West will be an interesting test lab. Will a stubborn approach work, or will coaches who traditionally field oversized, powerful defenses need to rethink their strategy to survive?
Alabama in particular has shown vulnerability on defense against schools like Texas A&M and Auburn. The Tide also hired the embattled Lane Kiffin as its offensive coordinator. Could we possibly see the Tide throw in some hurry-up of its own?
Expect some probing into the plans of more than one program next week.
5. What is the future of the SEC and of college football?
The SEC Network is set to launch in August. The inaugural College Football Playoff has arrived. The NCAA is absorbing more body blows than Butterbean. The athletic arms race continues as teams heap millions into facilities and more lucrative coaching contracts. The major conferences have made some veiled threats to the NCAA and the rest of college football. Players may or may not have the right to unionize.
Transition is more oppressive in college football than the inevitable summer heat and humidity on many of these campuses.
The SEC will continue to thrive, as will the sport. But there are a lot of questions about what that will look like a decade from now. Being the power brokers they are, expect the league’s executives, dignitaries and coaches to get asked about that future.
Bonus Questions: Will the eight-game conference schedule hurt the SEC? Is Alabama slipping? Can Auburn and Gus Malzahn’s offense keep shredding defenses? How many SEC teams will make the CFP? What will Steve Spurrier say this year? Is Vanderbilt doomed without James Franklin? Will Bielema make any friends in the SEC? Will the SEC East stabilize after a bizarre season? How good are the backfields at Alabama, Georgia and LSU? Is 2014 a rebuilding season for Texas A&M? Is it reasonable to expect major progress at Tennessee?