I’ve got good news, SEC fans. The 2023 season is officially over.

OK, so you could’ve said that for the SEC after New Year’s Day. But now, with the national championship in the rearview mirror, it’s officially on to 2024.

It’s a new era of SEC football and really college football as a whole. We’ve got conference realignment, new media contracts starting and a Playoff that’s 3 times the size of the last decade.

You know. In case you haven’t heard.

There is no shortage of questions facing the new 16-team SEC in 2024.

I narrowed it to 10:

1. How do Oklahoma and Texas fit in with their new SEC surroundings?

It’s been 12 years since the SEC added programs. Go figure that Mizzou and A&M immediately gave us the best and worst-case scenario in their inaugural season. Mizzou missed a bowl game for the first time in 8 years while A&M had its best AP Top 25 finish (No. 5) since 1956 and Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy.

Oklahoma and Texas are entering with much higher expectations. After all, they’re both traditional powers that went a combined 22-5 in 2023. Texas, of course, made the Playoff. Both teams had 4-win improvements from 2022 and their respective coaches quieted some lingering doubt. Of course, this conference is a “what have you done for me lately” league. Every SEC team will face either Texas or Oklahoma in 2024 (the Georgia-Texas game will be one of the most anticipated games of the entire season). It’d be quite the statement if either reached Atlanta in Year 1.

2. Will the Heisman Trophy be won by an SEC QB or the field?

If you just asked that question the past 5 years, you would’ve been wise to take “SEC QB.” Joe Burrow, Bryce Young and Jayden Daniels all won college football’s most coveted award. There’s a decent chance another SEC quarterback will join the fraternity. Look at the early odds:

  • Quinn Ewers, Texas +750
  • Carson Beck, Georgia +750
  • Jalen Milroe, Alabama +750
  • Dillon Gabriel, Oregon +1,000
  • Will Howard, Ohio State +1,500
  • Nico Iamaleava, Tennessee +1,500
  • Jackson Arnold, Oklahoma +1,800
  • Conner Weigman, Texas A&M +1,800
  • Garrett Nussmeier, LSU +2,000
  • Noah Fifita, Arizona +2,000
  • JJ McCarthy, Michigan +2,000
  • Jaxson Dart, Ole Miss +2,000

That’s half of the SEC starting quarterbacks who have 20-to-1 odds or better. Eight of the top 12 preseason Heisman contenders are SEC quarterbacks, and that’s not even including Mizzou’s Brady Cook at +3000. That’s wild. I’m not sure that there’s ever been a year like that.

Time will tell if that’s still the case heading into late November.

3. Can Ole Miss still take that next step if Quinshon Judkins doesn’t return?

Judkins hitting the portal sent shockwaves through Oxford and the entire college football world. The preseason All-America got off to a slow start, but he still became the first SEC player since Herschel Walker to have 15 rushing touchdowns in each of his first 2 seasons. If Judkins doesn’t return, what does that mean for all that Ole Miss buzz?

It’s a fair question considering Lane Kiffin’s squad, fresh off the first 11-win season in program history, returned a bevy of returning standouts while adding the nation’s top-ranked transfer portal class. Some would argue that running back is the most replaceable position on the field, but at the same time, there’s not a great margin for error if we’re talking about reaching the 12-team Playoff and making some noise. There’ll be a whole lot of discussion about that Ole Miss backfield if Judkins doesn’t return.

4. How significant will Blake Baker’s return to LSU be?

Speaking of teams with buzz coming off a monumental New Year’s 6 bowl victory against a Big Ten team … Baker was a big part of Mizzou’s rise in 2023. His blitz-heavy defensive scheme was a godsend over the past 2 years. It’s what helped the Tigers stay in every game, even though the 2023 schedule included 6 FBS teams that won at least 9 games.

Brian Kelly fired his entire on-field defensive staff and ironically enough, poached Baker with a $2.5 million annual salary. That’s the richest in college football … to a guy who wasn’t retained by Kelly when he took over at LSU 2 years ago. How will that ignite LSU after a disastrous year on that side of the ball? One would think it’ll mean big things for Harold Perkins after he averaged just 12.8 pass-rusher snaps per game as an off-ball linebacker.

The flip side is that Mizzou is tasked with not skipping a beat after losing one of the nation’s top assistants. Reverting to the 2021 doormat defense we saw with Steve Wilks would be a disastrous scenario that could blow up Mizzou’s Playoff hopes.

5. Will Trevor Etienne become the next great Georgia back after crossing enemy lines?

I love me some Etienne. He was impressive during his first 2 seasons at Florida. But after being in a timeshare role wherein Billy Napier wanted him to improve in pass protection, Etienne hit the portal. Crossing enemy lines to Georgia added more intrigue to Etienne’s 2024 season.

Maybe it’s shades of Jermaine Burton with how he’s received by an understandably scorned Florida fan base. Or maybe Etienne takes another step and becomes the one that got away for the Gators. There’s a ton to like with what we’ve seen so far. That doesn’t guarantee that Etienne will become Georgia’s best back of the 2020s. It does, however, mean that there’ll be no shortage of eyeballs on the Dawgs’ newest addition … especially when he takes the field in Jacksonville.

6. Will the Nico Iamaleava hype train pick up or lose steam?

If the Citrus Bowl was any indication, the Iamaleava hype train couldn’t slow down even if it wanted to. I already gave you the early Heisman odds — and he is starting at No. 5. That tells you all you need to know about the excitement for the Vols’ new QB1.

He’s as decorated of a quarterback recruit as Tennessee has had since Peyton Manning. Can he follow the Hendon Hooker path to superstardom in Josh Heupel’s offense? Or will Iamaleava have growing pains facing sky-high expectations? We don’t know. We do know that he returns Tennessee’s top 2 targets, Bru McCoy and Squirrel White, along with promising tailback Dylan Sampson. We also know that until 2023, Heupel had 5 consecutive top-8 scoring offenses.

Will Iamaleava start another streak? We don’t know. Until then, Tennessee fans can spend an entire offseason dreaming of throws like this becoming the norm in the Iamaleava era:

7. Will DJ Lagway get a chance to be the guy in a pivotal year for Billy Napier?

The Gatorade Player of the Year is being billed as the potential savior for Napier, who faces an all-important Year 3 against what some are dubbing the most difficult schedule in college football history. No big deal, right? Lagway doesn’t figure to beat Graham Mertz for the starting job, but how short is the leash for Florida’s incumbent starter?

The expectation is that Lagway will have an immediate role in the offense. Florida is no stranger to getting a young, talented quarterback some early reps. Tim Tebow, Emory Jones and Anthony Richardson all fit into that camp. The question is if Lagway will get a chance to take over the offense, and if he does, what will the implications be? Could his promise help fend off Napier hot-seat discussions? Or will he never get a chance to be the guy and potentially save his coach’s job?

Lagway has never played a down of SEC football, and you could argue he’s already the conference’s most intriguing player.

8. How many SEC head coaches are fired in 2024?

As mentioned with Napier, he’s 1 of 4 SEC coaches who figure to show up on hot-seat lists. That includes Sam Pittman, Clark Lea and even Shane Beamer, who had a disappointing 3-win regression in Year 3. That’s 25% of the conference that could need to show significant improvement to return in 2025.

Napier and Pittman will be the most obvious “hot-seat” coaches after missing out on the postseason in brutal fashion. It might not be as simple as “postseason or bust” for those 2. Getting to an 8-4 regular season might be the only thing that can guarantee a return.

9. How many SEC teams contend/make the first 12-team Playoff?

It’s a new era of preseason expectations. We’re no longer talking about 3-4 teams in the SEC having Playoff upside. Now, I’d argue that at least half the conference could have 12-team Playoff upside:

  • Alabama
  • Georgia
  • LSU
  • Mizzou
  • Oklahoma
  • Ole Miss
  • Tennessee
  • Texas

As we know, 8 SEC teams won’t make the field. That’s why they play the games. The automatic bids alone will prevent that from happening. Although, if the Playoff shifts to the 5-7 model wherein only 4 Power conferences and 1 Group of 5 bid is guaranteed — that’s eliminating the gutted Pac-12 — I guess there technically could be 8 SEC teams … but don’t bank on it. My guess is 4. After all, that’s how many made the New Year’s 6 in 2023, and this was considered a “down” year for the SEC.

10. Is this the last year for Nick Saban at Alabama?

If I’m a gambling man, I’d lean “no.” That’s been the safe bet so far, has it not? In this ever-changing sport, Saban adapted to NIL and the transfer portal by winning the SEC for the 3rd time in the last 4 seasons. He’s not losing a step. If your argument to that is “Alabama just went 3 years without a national title for the first time in the Saban era,” I’d say, “Cool. Same with every other coach in the sport’s history.”

But he’s a coach on the other side of 70 years old. He’s not escaping that storyline until he does finally call it a career. In this era of the sport with a year-round calendar, there’s no harm in wondering how long Saban wants to do this.

Just don’t hold your breath on retirement.