One of the largest preseason college football media events, SEC media days, is just days away.
By Monday, more than 1,000 media members will flock to Hoover, Alabama, to interview coaches and players from each of the conference’s 14 teams in anticipation of the 2015 season.
Earlier this morning my colleague Edward Aschoff previewed the SEC East teams ahead of this year’s SEC media days. I’ll give you a glimpse of some of the storylines ahead for the SEC West attendees:
Once again the SEC favorite? After making it to the inaugural College Football Playoff, can Nick Saban & Co. return? Alabama must replace some big-time players (don’t we say that every year?), most notably receiver Amari Cooper and quarterback Blake Sims. Improvement must be made in the secondary, too. The good news? The front seven on defense is stacked, Lane Kiffin is still around as the offensive coordinator to work with Jake Coker (or whoever the quarterback winds up being) after doing a tremendous job developing Sims last season and the Tide will be able to run the ball. Player for player, the Crimson Tide still own the most talent in the conference and that’s a nice place to be if you’re Saban.
Time for the Hogs to take the next step: This will be Year 3 for Bret Bielema and 2014 was when the Razorbacks showed tremendous growth. They were in most of their SEC games until the end and broke a 17-game conference losing streak toward the end of the season. By the time they put the finishing touches on a stomping of Texas in the Advocare V100 Texas Bowl, they looked like a team few wanted to mess with. Can the Hogs carry that momentum into 2015? They return most of their offense, including two 1,000-yard running backs (Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams) and Robb Smith enters his second season as defensive coordinator but much will hinge on the play of senior quarterback Brandon Allen. If he excels, the Hogs just might have the chance to make serious noise in the SEC West.
All eyes on Jeremy Johnson: Certainly there will be plenty of questions about new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp and the Tigers’ D but Muschamp won’t be there; Johnson will be. Auburn's new starting quarterback comes in with palpable hype as a more polished passer than his predecessor, Nick Marshall, to run Gus Malzahn’s and Rhett Lashlee’s breakneck tempo attack. We’ve seen Johnson start only twice in his career, so Hoover will be a proper introduction to the world for Johnson, who many anticipate will have a stellar season.
Hello, Leonard Fournette: Tigers coach Les Miles always provides entertainment at SEC media days and this year should be no different. Expect an update on his summer vacation plans and family. Last season he made a unique comparison of then-true freshman Leonard Fournette to Michael Jordan. Well, Fournette gets the opportunity to introduce himself to the folks Miles hyped him to and folks are certainly curious about the former ESPN 300 No. 1 overall recruit, who figures to be a preseason Heisman Trophy candidate. The New Orleans native finished 2014 in a strong fashion with memorable performances against Texas A&M and Notre Dame and he should be a source of much intrigue at the Wynfrey.
Can the Bulldogs avoid a drop-off? Making it to the Orange Bowl was quite an accomplishment for Mississippi State, a team that went 10-3 in 2014. Replicating that without some of the integral parts from that magical season is the challenge. The SEC’s best quarterback, Dak Prescott, is still around and that will go a long way for the Bulldogs. The questions surround how the Bulldogs go about replacing Benardrick McKinney, Preston Smith, Ben Beckwith and Dillon Day. For good measure, the return of defensive coordinator Manny Diaz -- who will succeed Geoff Collins at the position -- is also a likely topic of conversation for head coach Dan Mullen.
The Laremy Tunsil saga: There are few times worse than just before SEC media days for uncertainty to loom involving high-profile players. Unfortunately for Ole Miss, that’s the case with their star left tackle, Tunsil, who is involved in a legal scrape and, apparently, an NCAA investigation. Tunsil won’t be in Hoover, but you can bet there will be plenty of questions directed to coach Hugh Freeze about the entire situation. Nothing is for certain at this point but it’s something Freeze will have to handle in the meantime until it’s resolved.
The Chavis effect: The Aggies' biggest move this offseason was swiping defensive coordinator John Chavis to repair their struggling defense. To that effect, Kevin Sumlin no longer has to worry about Johnny Manziel questions (yeah, that happened last year); he’ll field plenty about “The Chief.” Defensive lineman Julien Obioha is the only defensive player the Aggies are sending to SEC media days, so there’s no doubt Obioha will be talking up Chavis during his time there. The one disappointment? No Myles Garrett. Unfortunately, Texas A&M is leaving its brightest defensive star at home.