It took us 2 years, but we’re finally back, SEC Media Days.

The annual event will take place at the Hyatt Regency Birmingham-Wynfrey Hotel, July 19-22 in Hoover after it was originally slated for Nashville. Instead of 3 player attendees for each SEC team, only 2 will represent each squad in Hoover. The crowd will be a bit reduced with fewer media members, as well.

But it’ll still be the SEC’s unofficial kickoff to the 2021 season with plenty of noteworthy moments and developments. At least we hope.

(If you aren’t already following Saturday Down South on all forms of social media, you should be.)

It remains to be seen just how different it’ll feel with some COVID-related restrictions in place. We’ll get an answer to that question soon enough.

These are the 10 questions I have as the week of festivities begins:

1. Which of the many first-time coaches will make the best impression?

Here’s a wild thought: The last SEC Media Days was in 2019, and 8 of the 14 SEC coaches are entering Year 1 or Year 2. That means over half the league’s coaches will be experiencing the event for the first time. Well, at least with their current team. Technically, Lane Kiffin got 1 year of experience when he was at Tennessee.

But think about that. All of these coaches will be first-timers:

  • Sam Pittman, Arkansas
  • Bryan Harsin, Auburn
  • Mike Leach, MSU
  • Eli Drinkwitz, Mizzou
  • Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss
  • Shane Beamer, South Carolina
  • Josh Heupel, Tennessee
  • Clark Lea, Vanderbilt

It certainly won’t feel stale with so many new faces in Hoover. I mean, only 2 SEC coaches (Mark Stoops and Nick Saban) have been at their current jobs longer than Kirby Smart. Weird.

Everyone expects Kiffin and Leach to make a loud first impression, which could be the case. The fact that we had to wait an extra year to get both of those personalities was a bummer.

But I wouldn’t be surprised if Beamer ends up being the guy who steals the show among that group. The South Carolina coach is personable, and in a genuine way. He comes across extremely authentic, and it’s not difficult to see why Beamer had such momentum to get the job once those Steve Spurrier-era players found out he was a candidate.

Also, if we don’t get a “YYYYYYYESSSSSIIIIIIIRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!” from Pittman, that would be extremely disappointing.

2. What will the approach to addressing NIL be like?

I imagine that everyone is going to be pro-NIL. Nobody wants to be the coach who sounds anti-NIL because that’s a tough look for recruiting. Even Dan Mullen, who shared some skepticism about NIL earlier in the offseason, since voiced his desire for Florida lawmakers to put NIL legislation in place.

The politically correct way to address it is to talk about the benefits of giving college athletes an opportunity to learn about financial literacy. I imagine some coaches will talk about the challenges about managing that in season, though I’m not sure you’ll get many to speak out about a specific plan in place. In their defense, they probably don’t really know.

Then again, we can picture what that would sound like coming from Saban:

Spot. On.

3. Who will give off the most Benny Snell vibes?

The highest compliment I can give someone is to say that they remind me of the former Kentucky star. Jordan Davis and Nick Muse are my best bets here based on their personalities. Both have a certain confidence about them in their interactions.

At 2018 SEC Media Days, Snell was the one who talked openly about things like getting disrespect individually and as a team (he was proven right). He also discussed things like his rap career. You know, the type of stuff that’s infinitely more entertaining than the same coach speak that the vast majority of Media Days attendees deliver.

The “Benny Snell Award” should go to the most entertaining player at SEC Media Days. And hey, we’re in the NIL era. Let’s get Snell himself to sponsor it and there could be some cash incentive for the winner.

Boom. I just made Media Days better.

4. How will Derek Stingley Jr. talk about 2020?

In an ideal world, Stingley would be an open book about 2020. We’d get things like, “yeah, 2020 was like falling face-first into the sidewalk every day for 4 months” or “you know that meme of Will Smith’s character standing in the empty house at the end of ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air?’ Yeah, that was how I felt every day.”

Stingley will be prepared to talk about Bo Pelini in a more polite way than the LSU faithful would. He won’t say things like “every time another team went in motion, I assumed it was going for 6” or “I pretty much stopped listening to Pelini by Week 2.”

Again, Stingley won’t say that. What will he say? I never expect much from NFL Draft prospects as decorated as Stingley because obviously, their words get dissected that much more. But the elephant in the room will be the fact that he played for the worst pass defense in FBS in 2020. It was a lost season.

Will Stingley walk and talk like the guy who’s ready to get back to his 2019 self? It wouldn’t be surprising.

5. How much will Ed Orgeron be asked about the ongoing Title IX lawsuit?

A few weeks ago, the LSU coach was named as a defendant in the lawsuit alleging that LSU didn’t follow proper Title IX protocols. Orgeron was accused of not reporting an alleged rape of a former student by former LSU running back Derrius Guice, despite being told about it.

It’s a sensitive subject matter, though the issue isn’t going away because it involves a public university that could potentially have its federal funding revoked. I’d doubt Orgeron would say anything more than “I’m not addressing the Title IX lawsuit because it’s ongoing.” From his perspective and LSU’s perspective, nothing positive can happen by speaking about the matter on a national stage.

But it would be strange to see Orgeron spend more time discussing the defensive line than the very real cloud that currently hangs over him and the university. The most likely scenario is Orgeron stands by his statement from August.

That doesn’t mean he’ll avoid all questions related to it.

6. How much of Mike Leach’s press conference will be about football?

Maybe 20%? Leach is going to be coming on at the perfect time. Right when we need a little boost after lunch on Wednesday, he’ll step in front of the media and hopefully snap us out of our Day 3 haze.

If Leach wants to launch into a monologue about whether or not we should’ve been in Vietnam, he’d be more than welcome to do so. Or if he wanted to discuss if there’s an ideal way to eat a sandwich because we’d be in that post-lunch mindset, I’d be awake for that, too.

Wait a minute. Apparently he already had some fire takes on the hot dog-as-a-sandwich debate:

Sure, Leach is well within his rights to talk about quarterback play and how much closer his team is to being able to execute the Air Raid at a high level, but would anyone complain if Leach schooled the masses on the great french fry debate?

(Waffle fries are criminally underrated.)

7. Will JT Daniels be asked about last year’s disagreement regarding his availability?

Remember that there are a lot of national media members who haven’t ever been able to talk with Daniels, especially not in person. Daniels wasn’t able to speak even to local reporters until after his first start against MSU last year. That night, Daniels said that “I was not cleared for the Arkansas game. Other than that, that’s really coach decision-based” (via AJC). Smart and Daniels both moved on, and Daniels’ dad said he supported the decision to be cautious with his return.

I imagine at some point, Daniels will be asked about that decision. Lord knows he’s had plenty of time to come up with the right answer to that question, and given how polished he’s been, I’d expect him to give whatever team-first answer comes to mind.

Daniels could have the biggest swarm of any player at SEC Media Days. There are, after all, only 3 quarterbacks who will be in attendance (Bo Nix and Matt Corral are the 2 others). Daniels is the only one who is expected to lead a preseason top-10 team. He’s also leading the team with more preseason intrigue than any in America. The majority of Daniels’ session will probably be focused in 2021 and whether it can be Georgia’s year.

8. Will anyone actually say anything negative about the 12-team Playoff?

I honestly have no idea.

It’s different than NIL because the 12-team Playoff doesn’t really have a lot of recruiting association. The most politically correct answer is “we’re just trying to focus on winning football games and we’ll let the chips fall as they may.” Gosh, I hope we don’t just get 14 coaches talking about that.

A few years ago at Big Ten Media Days, I asked Jim Harbaugh, James Franklin, PJ Fleck and others about how they felt about the current 4-team Playoff, which delivered a variety of answers. None was more interesting than Harbaugh, who advocated for a 16-team Playoff. That was a different reaction coming from the conference who was left out of the Playoff in the previous season (and it was ultimately left out a few months later in 2018).

Will SEC coaches advocate for the benefits of the current 4-team field? Or will it be unanimous that going to 12 will grow the sport? There’s no doubt that question will be asked this week.

9. What version of Dan Mullen will we get?

The 2020-21 school year version of Mullen was, um, a lot? He was stubborn, blunt and a bit on edge. Some Florida fans liked it, others thought he needed to take a deep breath and settle down.

One would think that now that Mullen has his extension that he’ll be a bit more at peace than he was throughout last season. Mullen doesn’t really have much to be upset about. He’s the well-paid coach of a premier program coming off 3 consecutive New Year’s 6 Bowls, but more importantly, he gets to address the SEC media first, which means he can get in and out of Hoover before anyone else.

What do I hope for? Mullen pokes some fun at himself and picks an even better time to bust out the Darth Vader costume:

10. Can we please get another Finebaum-Saban battle? Or something like that? Please?

Ah, who could forget it the famous SEC Media Days dustup of 2016:

Finebaum and Saban mended fences since the Cam Robinson arrest sparked a heated exchange between the two, which continued off-camera, as well.

It’s been 5 years since that moment, and unfortunately, we have yet to repeat anything quite as captivating. At least not at SEC Media Days. The arrest isn’t typically something that’s addressed on the network’s airwaves. Perhaps that’s why we haven’t seen a confrontation like that in recent memory.

Maybe Mullen will still be a bit defensive and he’ll get into a verbal spat with Finebaum? Or perhaps Orgeron will get into a stare down with a media member who insists on asking about the Title IX lawsuit? There are possibilities there.

Fingers crossed for an eventful week in Hoover.