Fox Sports South is officially set up all over the Wynfrey Hotel — from the main ballroom to the TV rooms to the food tables — and conference commissioner Mike Slive will take the podium in a matter of hours. Both conference newcomers are in attendance today. Two conference quote machines will also pipe in.
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And with that in mind, here’s a look at the coaches and players taking center stage today:
–Spurrier raised the issue of paying players over the offseason, which he is wholeheartedly in favor of, and that will certainly be a topic of interest throughout the week. Surely the likes of Les Miles and Nick Saban have opinions on the matter as well, but Spurrier will kick the week off right by taking to the podium first.
–How good can Connor Shaw be this season? It appears Spurrier finally, after years of waiting in Columbia, has a quarterback he can trust. Sorry, but Stephen Garcia never reached that level of admiration. Shaw put together a solid season in 2011 — passing for nearly 1,500 yards and 14 touchdowns — and he and running back Marcus Lattimore are expected to form one of the top backfields in the conference.
–How many sacks are the Gamecocks expecting this season with bookends Devin Taylor and super sophomore Jadeveon Clowney returning?
–Can the Gamecocks reclaim the SEC East title? Georgia is loaded on defense, but could stumble early due to suspensions. Florida and Tennessee are still trying to gain some footing under relatively new coaches (Derek Dooley and Will Muschamp). And, sure, Vanderbilt and Missouri are expected to be competitive, but this appears to be a two-horse race at the moment. How pivotal will the Georgia-South Carolina showdown, scheduled for later in the season now, be in the division race?
— Steve Spurrier has a few zingers up his sleeve. Between Georgia’s suspensions and Clemson’s recruiting headlines, there’s plenty of ammunition.
Under the spotlight:
Coach Kevin Sumlin, WR Ryan Swope, OLB Sean Porter, OT Luke Joeckel
— Texas A&M has not fared well in the Big 12 the past few seasons — remaining dormant enough to make a coaching change this offseason — so how do the Aggies expect to contend in the rough-and-tumble SEC?
— Can passing offenses work in this league? Sumlin led record-breaking quarterback Case Keenum and his offense to plenty of success at Houston, and he will surely want the ball in the air next season. But he is breaking in a new quarterback (Jameil Showers). And a new program. The road map looks bleak.
— How will the team adjust not only to a new system, but a new quarterback. Last year’s signal-caller Ryan Tannehill was a top-10 pick in the NFL Draft, and his successor, Showers, comes in with little fanfare and even less experience. Showers is not in attendance, but questions about his presence will linger.
— Swope sneaks in a “Howdy” before every answer.
— Coach Kevin Sumlin gets frustrated hearing about how passing offenses rarely excel in the conference, pulls out a bag of balls from under the podium and starts throwing corner routes to members of the pass-friendly Arkansas media.
Under the spotlight:
Coach Gary Pinkel, OL Elvis Fisher, CB E.J. Gaines, WR T.J. Moe
— Yet another newcomer, and even more questions revolving around, “Can you compete?” Gary Pinkel is not short on confidence — even piping in that his program is one of the winningest in the country at the two teams’ conference introductions in Atlanta — but what will the players have to say on the field?
— The health of running back Henry Josey. Josey was a 1,000-yard rusher last season for the Tigers before a brutal leg injury knocked him out for the remainder of the season. Team doctors were quoted as calling it a “one in a million” injury. Reports are that progress has been slow in Josey’s recovery, so now the question is will he make an appearance in 2012 at all?
— Is James Franklin the real deal (and is he healthy)? Franklin was a dual-threat monster in the Big 12 last season. Will he be able to replicate that production against the likes of Georgia, Alabama and LSU?
— Dorial Green-Beckham, star recruit and potential Missouri superhero, is on campus. How has he looked? Could he truly be the next Randy Moss?
— An old-time SEC media member asks a Missouri player what his name is.
— Gary Pinkel makes the bold claim that his team will compete in the SEC Championship in Season One.
Under the spotlight:
Coach James Franklin, QB Jordan Rodgers, RB Zac Stacy, LB Trey Wilson
— Is this the year? Vanderbilt knocked on the door last season under Franklin, who has turned the program around in short time, finishing with a respectable 6-7 record and a Liberty Bowl appearance. But most of the important pieces are back, and this might be the best shot the Commodores have in the next couple of years to give the SEC East a run for its money.
— The development of Rodgers under center will play a huge role in the Commodores success this season. How has he come along this offseason after a modest, yet solid redshirt junior season?
— The “assistant coaches with hot wives” approach. Franklin will certainly be prodded to expand upon his humorous offseason comment.
— James Franklin gives one of his trademark inspirational speeches from the podium, and then goes off on a tangent that he would never hire a media member unless their better half was attractive. It’s all about recruiting, right?