Five storylines to ponder for Day 1 of SEC Media Days
FOX Sports South offers a whimsical preview of Day 1 at SEC Media Days, as the conference trumpets podium visits from SEC Commissioner Mike Slive, three head coaches (Gus Malzahn, Will Muschamp, Derek Mason) and the anticipated launch of the SEC Network.
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn (left) and commissioner Mike Slive (right) will headline the Monday session of speakers at the SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala.
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Marvin Gentry / USA TODAY Sports
By Jay Clemons
Here are five potential storylines to monitor for Day 1 of the SEC Media Days, as the conference trumpets podium visits from SEC Commissioner Mike Slive, three head coaches (Auburn's Gus Malzahn, Florida's Will Muschamp, Vanderbilt's Derek Mason) and the launch of the SEC Network.
1. The ever-expanding legion of SEC journalists and broadcasters will have to dig for major storylines this week -- unlike last year
Ever been to Sea World? Remember how the whales have a knack for emerging out of the water and onto the pool deck, so certain customers can touch 'em up close?
That metaphor would have been apt for last year's SEC Media Days.
**Alabama and coach Nick Saban were vying for a third straight national championship (an unprecedented feat over the last 50 years).
**South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney had the relaxed demeanor of a guy who already knew he'd be the No. 1 overall pick in the draft -- roughly 10 months later.
**There was a clear line of demarcation separating the coaches who favor up-tempo offenses (Gus Malzahn, Hugh Freeze, Dan Mullen, Kevin Sumlin) ... and those who didn't (Saban, Les Miles, Bret Bielema).
**The SEC had plenty of star power at quarterback, led by Aaron Murray (on the brink of becoming the SEC's all-time passer), AJ McCarron, James Franklin, Zach Mettenberger, Connor Shaw and, of course, reigning Heisman winner Johnny Manziel.
**And as a bonus, Manziel unwittingly threw the sports-media world a bone by getting booted from the famed Manning Passing Academy just days before arriving in Hoover; and his roommate at the camp, Alabama's McCarron, subsequently had to conceive a thousand different ways to answer the same question.
Who was in charge of setting the early-morning alarm clock in your dorm room -- you or Johnny?
Fast forward to 2014, and the media doesn't have a consensus choice for the conference's No. 2 quarterback, after Auburn's Nick Marshall. Nor do we have a lightning-rod coach or player to sequester if things get a little dry in The Big Room of the Hyatt-Wynfrey hotel.
Unless you count the number of times Brent Musburger (the SEC Network's No. 1 announcer) gets queried about the AJ McCarron-Katherine Webb wedding from last weekend.
2. The charming and avuncular Mike Slive will make us momentarily forget he's potentially the most powerful presence in college sports
Technically, Slive isn't a member of the new College Football Playoff committee.
That honor falls to luminaries like Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long (committee chair), Tom Osborne, Barry Alvarez, Pat Haden, Archie Manning, Oliver Luck, Mike Tranghese (former Big East commish) and former Secretary Of State Condoleeza Rice, among others.
But Slive is still holding the cards for other pressing issues surrounding college athletics -- particularly the growth of the SEC Network, the possible unionization with private colleges and the new rationale for scheduling future nonconference opponents, among the 'power-five' leagues.
3. Gus Malzahn can briefly take solace in Auburn being a better bet to repeat as SEC champs than lead the nation in team rushing again
In 2013, the Tigers claimed the SEC's first-ever team rushing title, cumulatively rolling for 328.3 yards per game. So why the negativity for repeating the feat, if Auburn returns four starters to the offensive line?
Well, for starters, running back Tre Mason (25 TDs in his final 10 games) bolted early for the pros, and lead blocker Jay Prosch has exhausted his eligibility.
Plus, Auburn has QB Nick Marshall (3,044 total yards, 26 TDs last year), receivers Sammie Coates (perhaps the SEC's premier deep threat), Ricardo Louis (the hero from the Georgia game) and tight end C.J. Uzomah back in the mix.
And then there's the illuminating tale of D'haquille Williams, the top-ranked JUCO playmaker and perhaps the most complete receiver in Auburn's awesome vertical arsenal.
4. When dealing with Florida coach Will Muschamp, the over/under for questions or allusions to 'Georgia Southern' is 9.5
On the surface, it wasn't a total shock Georgia Southern upended Florida last November. After all, the Gators had dropped five straight games prior to that, and quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg -- a true freshman at the time -- was getting the baptism-by-fire treatment with SEC defenders.
And if memory serves, the two Florida offensive linemen were infamously blocking each other on a touchdown run in that same game. So ...
The real surprise came with how Georgia Southern pulled off the monumental win, amassing 429 total yards without the help of a single passing yard in the 26-20 victory at The Swamp. And now, some eight months later, Muschamp will tout the Gators' revival as a program -- while simultaneously steering clear of last year's 4-8 mark and the season-ending seven-game slide.
5. The once-maligned Jeff Driskel surely will receive more glowing questions than dour ones from the Florida media
Driskel might have garnered more respect for his contribution as the Gators quarterback after suffering a season-ending injury last September (against Tennessee).
Yes, he accounted for only seven touchdowns in his last eight starts (dating back to the 2012 campaign), but the Gators were also 5-3 during that stretch -- a period that predated Florida's aforementioned tailspin (0-7) at the end of last season.