HOOVER, Ala. — A year ago, it’s a lineup that provided two of the conference’s biggest star power, with Johnny Manziel and Jadeveon Clowney. They’re not, as Rick Pitino once told us "walking through that door."
Still, Day 2 of the SEC Media Days has a serious draw, thanks in no small part, in the form of coach who is a guaranteed sound bite. Here are five storylines to watch as the conference’s kickoff continues here at the Wynfrey Hotel:
Nine years ago, Spurrier declared in his return to the conference after a four-year layoff, "I learned it doesn’t pay to make cut remarks."
That didn’t stick.
Over the years since he was hired at South Carolina he’s been every bit the quote machine he was in his Florida heyday, taking shots at Notre Dame’s independence, Nick Saban’s resume, Georgia, Dabo Swinney, the SEC’s cross-division scheduling practice, his own age and more.
While there are concerns — namely new full-time starting quarterback Dylan Thompson’s progress, replacing Clowney and Kelcy Quarles on defense and a thin secondary — the Gamecocks offense could be the most complete of his time in Columbia.
South Carolina has a top-tier running back in Mike Davis (1,183 yards and 11 touchdowns), receivers Shaq Roland, Pharoh Cooper, an experienced offensive line and is expected to contend for a East title.
The Head Ball Coach has every reason to be loose and it should make his time at podium can’t-miss.
Five QBs will speak at media days, among them Florida’s Jeff Driskel — who impressed Monday in discussing his preparation in new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper’s new scheme — South Carolina’s Thompson, Missouri’s Maty Mauk (Wednesday), Ole Miss’ Bo Wallace (Thursday), and Tuesday’s entry, Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott.
(NOTE: A sixth, Auburn’s Nick Marshall was scheduled to be in Hoover, but was pulled after his citation for marijuana possession.)
After the exodus at the position, the title of best QB in the conference is up for grabs. Prescott makes an intriguing case after throwing for 1,940 yards and 10 TDs and running for 13 more with 829 scores. But how he’s dealing with the expectations as the catalyst to the Bulldogs’ West hopes figures to be among Tuesday’s more intriguing elements.
Manziel’s exit wasn’t the end of issues away from the game for coach Kevin Sumlin and Texas A&M.
He’s already had to dismiss two of the top defensive players on his roster in Darian Claiborne (linebacker) and Isaiah Golden (tackle), who were arrested on charges of aggravated robbery and QB Kenny Hill was arrested in March for public intoxication.
Add in that A&M will have a first-year starter under center — one that’s trying to replace one of the program’s all-time greats — it is seeking to replace first-round NFL draft picks at receiver and offensive tackle and fix a 109th-ranked defense and Sumlin’s time at the dais could be a downer.
Butch Jones’ first class included four-star receiver Marquez North and linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin, both of whom made names for themselves in last fall in their first years in Knoxville. The coach followed with Scout.com’s fourth-ranked haul, which included a whopping 32 players, three more than any other team in the Top 25.
Among that new crop of freshmen, four-star RB Jalen Hurd and WR Josh Malone and three-star offensive tackle Coleman Thomas, who won the job this spring, figure to make the biggest impacts.
Jones is getting players, and is working on a class that is currently ranked eighth with 20 players committed, but of more immediate concern is whether the Volunteers can get back to bowl eligibility after going 5-7 and 2-6 in the SEC a year ago.
Building for the future is a positive, but expect him to get plenty of questions surrounding a four-year postseason drought.
After averaging 47.4 yards per punt last season, Texas A&M junior Drew Kaser established himself as one of the nation’s best players at the position and stands as the lone returning Ray Guy Award finalist from 2013.
His being at the SEC Media Days should then be no surprise, but it’s an oddity as far as these proceedings are concerned.
Kaser is the second specialist to attend the event in the last seven years and the first since Georgia’s Drew Butler in 2010.