Mike Strange: SEC Media Days question: If Not Alabama, then who?

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 strangem@knoxnews.com. Follow him on Twitter at Strangemike44.

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Comments » 7

BigVolinCarolina writes:

Can't wait for the season to start.

But, I really can't wait for the day when Tennesseee is back in the mix for an SEC Championship. It's been awhile, and getting close doesn't really count.

sameolvolalum writes:

Considering which SEC team looked like it was getting stronger last year, I'd say A&M has the best shot at coming out on top of the SECw, but Alabama and LSU will be strong again, particularly the tide, with none of the SECe guys finishing off the SECw champ in Atlanta. South Carolina and Auburn may be slipping somewhat....middle of their divisions. Jawja' and Arkansas, although potential contenders, have numerous question marks, as well as FU (although they could be a dark horse contender with such a wealth of returning and arriving talent.....sad but I'm just being honest). Ole Miss and MSU are getting better but won't get there in '13.....no way. 'Good teams, though. Mizzou's not up to SEC toughness and who knows if or when they will be. They need to beef up their recruiting machine just to begin to start dreaming. UK and Vandy will be their older cellar-dweller selves.....disappointing their revitalized fans due to some good recruiting for the kitties(remember the '14 class will provide only one year's worth and depth, that thinness of personnel being a primary mitigating factor, along with a subpar overall coaching staff) and Framklin's got to at least match last year's record with the commodes (he won't). If not he'll move on to greener pastures. They won't be surprising anybody this year. As for the Tennessee Volunteers: I'm thinking no worse than 3rd in the SECe with W's over a pair of teams to whom they're supposed to lose. CBJ's looking like the coach we've been looking for, even though few of us (including your's truly), had no clue he'd so capably put this toy back together. All in all, we Vol fans are going to feel pretty darn good this year..........and then we've got bball to enjoy. GBO!

Shake_Bake writes:

I'm not going to get my hopes up. Keep it real. We lost a ton of talent on offense to the NFL. Our QB's and WR's had better learn fast...and I mean real fast! We need to see major improvements on the defense, which was just terrible last year. CBJ has been pretty impressive so far. But games are won and lost on the field.

Mostly I just want to see a better football team! Not expecting miracles with the schedule we have, but 6 or 7 wins would be nice. One way or the other, I can't wait for it to get started. GBO!!!

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

When Vandy beats somebody in the top#25 I'll be a believer. They beat the snot out of us but we were a beat team before we even walked on the field just like at KY the year before. Has Vandy ever beat Florida in their whole history?? Whens the last time they beat GA?? Frankly some of the best SEC games this year will be played by the lower echelon. Vandy vs Ole Miss and UT..TN vs Auburn;Vandy and Mizzo..MSU vs Auburn and Iam predicting KY will upset State in Lexington. All the lower half teams are hungry and looking for a break out with new coaches. Should make for some interesting footbaall

antonio14313 writes:

nice article! great tease to the start of the season...

if not alabama, then who? texas a&m could make the championship game, but i'd have them losing to georgia, or florida, or south carolina. any of those three. lsu could win the SEC. any one of those 6 teams could. but if i had to choose one SEC champion today, it'd be georgia...

is vanderbilt for real? no. they still have that black eye on the program, which isn't overcomable, but they're new to scandal. and why do we still not know who those players are in that whole debacle??? doesn't matter. even without the scandal, they're still no serious factor.

is ole miss for real? no. neither them nor vandy would make the SEC championship game. but, that's not to say that neither won't have great seasons. for them at least.

manziel will have his sophomore slump. count on it...

tennessee's D improving. you better believe it! in fact, UT's D will surprise some people!...

go vols!


rbwtn writes:

We're all excited and It's going to be interesting to see how Tennessee's coaching staff handles things but we in the SEC have to face reality, even though I don't want to and that is; the SEC is going to loose a National championship soon and this could be the year. I hope not and we all know when it happens because that's all we'll hear for the next year; the pointing fingers, the boasting, we've lost our touch, we're not the strongest anymore, those southern kids got their butts whooped etc. For me, I personally hope it isn't Meyer at Ohio State who wins it. Hey don't get me wrong the SEC will kick butte but sooner or later it's going to happen and you know what? It will just make us tougher. SEC! Baby.

grandtad#1402265 writes:

I think we can throw all the predictions out the window and watch UT and Coach Butch Jones surprise a lot of people! Hey, we got a lot of bricks piled up to use! GO Volunteers!

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