In six days, several hundred of my colleagues and I will be hunkered down in Hoover, Ala. Insight on the 2013 SEC football season will be spewing in all directions.
The rite of summer that is SEC Media Days is a reminder college football season is imminent. Bring your seat to an upright position and lock the tray-table. Above all, make sure the remote has fresh batteries.
Here’s a preview of some of the questions and issues certain to be addressed next week:
If not Alabama, then who?
Fourteen seasons have passed since Tennessee repeated as SEC champion in 1997-98. No one has gone back-to-back since. Only twice did the winner even make the championship game the following season (Georgia in 2003, Florida in 2009).
Is ’Bama powerful enough to overcome that history and defend its SEC title?
Quite likely. Georgia, LSU and Texas A&M hope otherwise.
Are Vanderbilt and Ole Miss for real?
Vandy is coming off a nine-win season and has ceased to be a joke on brash James Franklin’s watch. Ole Miss went 7-6 under new coach Hugh Freeze and has been recruiting like it’s Alabama or USC. But building — or even maintaining — momentum in the SEC is a never-ending challenge.
The coming season will reveal how much staying power the ’Dores and Rebs have. Their Aug. 29 collision will be huge for the winner.
What does Johnny Manziel do for an encore?
No freshman had ever won the Heisman. Only Archie Griffin has repeated. Nick Saban has had a whole year to scheme a game plan.
Tim Tebow didn’t repeat after his sophomore Heisman but Florida went 26-2 the next two years and won a national title. Forget another Heisman, but Manziel and Texas A&M will be fine in 2013.
Which coaches are on the hot seat?
Check Mississippi State’s record on Dec. 1. Last year the Bulldogs won four SEC games and all four losing coaches got fired: Gene Chizik, Derek Dooley, Joker Phillips, John L. Smith.
Steve Spurrier is new on State’s schedule this year. The guess here is he’s not shaking in his boots.
Which of the four new coaches makes the biggest splash?
Tennessee’s Butch Jones, Arkansas’ Bret Bielema and Auburn’s Gus Malzahn have offensive backgrounds. Kentucky’s Mark Stoops is a defensive guy and hired Neal Brown to run an “Air Raid” offense.
None of the four inherit settled quarterback situations. All will strive for balance, Kentucky less than the others.
A bowl game is not a cinch for any of the above.
Prediction: Tennessee will have the most improved defense of the
four. Going way out on the limb there.
Is Missouri up to this gig?
Despite preseason optimism and decent talent, the Tigers limped home 2-6 in their maiden SEC donnybrook.
Maybe it was injuries. Maybe it was culture shock. At least Mizzou shed Alabama off the schedule in 2013.
Still, doubts linger until proven otherwise.
Can Georgia take the next step?
No East team has won an SEC title since 2008. Georgia came within a whisker and a timeout last year. The Bulldogs are well armed again on offense but the defense took a Jadeveon Clowney-scale hit in the NFL draft.
Getting to the Georgia Dome is very doable. Hoisting the trophy there is probably still just out of reach.
What will goofy Les Miles do this year?
Win. He’s 85-21 in eight years at LSU. That’s a 10.6 wins a year. If new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron can coax the best out of quarterback Zach Mettenberger the Tigers will hit the “over” again.
Mike Strange may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at Strangemike44.