Football season in the Southeastern Conference begins far before the first kick-off in the fall. Most fans will tell you it never actually ends.
For SEC fans, Clemson’s dramatic last-second win in the 2017 College Football Playoff title game over Alabama was just an end to a day rather than an end to college football as a whole. Players, coaches, and fans alike live and breathe college football in this part of the country all year.
When the official season ends in January, competition on the recruiting trail heats up. National Signing Day, when most colleges secure their respective recruiting classes, is a national spectacle on its own, and once many high school seniors sign on the dotted line, fans are already gearing up for spring practice.
There is, however, a small period of time where things take a turn towards slowing down. Following spring practice, SEC fans enter the “dog days of summer” in June. Summer is the time of year where no one wants to hear their team’s name in the news. Basically, summer news is bad news. June headlines are usually linked to some form of scandal or player arrests that no school or fans want to deal with.
But just after June things pickup. Steve Spurrier coined this time of year talkin’ season, and we are just days away from the peak of talkin’ season as the 2017 edition of SEC Media Days rolls into Hoover from July 10-13.
If football season does in fact end somewhere after the College Football Playoff national title game, then its unofficial start in the SEC is its Media Days. Coaches from all 14 schools, with three of their top players, gather over a four-day span at the Hyatt-Regency Hotel in Hoover to talk to local and national print, digital, and TV media.
Unfortunately for fans and media, Steve Spurrier will not be in Hoover as a coach supplying bulletin board material for teams across the conference, but that should not steal your joy. Plenty of other head coaches have participated in talkin’ season over the last few years. Arkansas Head Coach Bret Bielema and Auburn’s Gus Malzahn exchanged comments at the 2014 edition of SEC Media Days concerning pace of play and the hurry-up no-huddle offense.Arkansas and Auburn have had three battles on the gridiron since then, and the two teams still do not like each other. Players will also participate in a little trash talk. If they are not well trained to handle media, fuel can be added to quite a few regular season matchups.
For 2017, anticipate talkin’ season to get feisty between the two-time defending SEC East champion Florida Gators and the LSU Bengal Tigers. To say these two teams do not like each other is an understatement, and things only escalated after Florida postponed an Oct. 8 home game against LSU in 2016 as a hurricane came through Gainsville, Fla. LSU refused to go to the Gators, and forced them to travel to one of the most hostile environments in college football, Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The Gators would win the matchup at LSU, but words, and tweets, did not stay between the hashes. Just this week, Florida announced LSU as its 2017 homecoming game. If you know anything about football, the homecoming game is supposed to be an easy win, essentially a cupcake victory. Expect some knockout blows to be thrown between UF Head Coach Jim McElwain and LSU’s Ed Orgeron and from players from both universities.
While some teams and use this event to make names for themselves, some coaches use the time in front of the media to voice concerns about the game, Nick Saban in particular. In his time as an SEC head coach, Saban has used the podium and cameras to explain his views on how the game should look, and to speak a message to his team. Coaches like Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason, Georgia’s Kirby Smart, Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen, and others seem to take a quieter approach to SEC Media Days, not giving too much away, but still getting their points across.
Check out this list to see when your favorite coach and players will take the stage at the 2017 SEC Media Days.
*Head Coach listed first followed by players
Monday, July 10
- Greg Sankey, SEC Commissioner
- Arkansas – Bret Bielema, Austin Allen (QB) Frank Ragnow (OL), Kevin Richardson (DB)
- LSU – Ed Orgeron, D.J. Chark (WR), Derrius Guice (RB), Christian LaCouture (DE)
- Tennessee – Butch Jones, Emmanuel Moseley (DB), Jashon Robertson (OL), Kendal Vickers (DL)
Tuesday, July 11
- Steve Shaw, SEC Coordinator of Officials
- Georgia – Kirby Smart, Nick Chubb (RB), Sony Michel (RB), Roquan Smith (LB)
- Vanderbilt – Derek Mason, Oren Burks (LB), Kyle Shurmur (QB), Ralph Webb (RB)
- Mississippi State – Dan Mullen, Donald Gray (WR), Dez Harris (LB), Martinas Rankin (OL)
- Florida – Jim McElwain, Duke Dawson (DB), Marcell Harris (DB), Martez Ivey (OL)
Wednesday, July 12
- Bill Hancock, Executive Director of the College Football Playoff
- Alabama – Nick Saban, Bradley Bozeman (OL), Minkah Fitzpatrick (DB), Calvin Ridley (WR)
- Missouri – Barry Odom, Eric Beisel (WR), Drew Lock (QB), J’Mon Moore (WR)
- Texas A&M – Kevin Sumlin, Christian Kirk (WR), Koda Martin (OL), Kendal Vickers (DL)
- Kentucky – Mark Stoops, Mike Edwards (S), Stephen Johnson (QB), Courtney Love (LB)
Thursday, July 13
- South Carolina – Will Muschamp, Jake Bentley (QB), Hayden Hurst (TE), Deebo Samuel (WR)
- Ole Miss – Hugh Freeze, Javon Patterson (OL), Shea Patterson (QB), Breeland Speaks (DT)
- Auburn – Gus Malzahn, Daniel Carlson (K), Tray Matthews (DB), Braden Smith (OL)
This year, Marble City Media will have wall-to-wall coverage of the 2017 SEC Media Days on Yea!106.5, 105.1 WRFS, and online at SylacaugaNews.com, and we have a few specific questions we want answered for our in-state schools as we inch closer to Monday.
The University of Alabama
Will Alabama bounce back?
A heart-breaking loss for the Tide in the national title game can have two effects on Saban’s star-studded roster. First, the loss can be used as motivation. The loss could also have a hangover-effect on the Tide. Teams in most sports do not fair well following a national title loss. Clemson is obviously an exception to this rule. But teams like Notre Dame, Oregon, LSU, Texas, and Auburn have all struggled since losing national title games. Alabama, however, should be perfectly equipped to overcome what other teams have not due to the talent that sits on the roster.
Can the Tide replace key losses on the roster?
This Alabama team, with a returning starting QB for the first time since 2013 and a wealth of talent at the receiver and running back positions, has the potential to have an explosive year on offense. But a significant loss of depth on the defensive side of the ball could leave the Tide with some holes on defense.
Ryan Anderson, Tim Williams, Jonathan Allen, and Reuben Foster have all departed from the Alabama front seven of 2016, and the Tide also lost defensive backs Eddie Jackson and Marlon Humphrey to the National Football League. Look for Anfernee Jennings, Dashawn Hand, Terrell Hall and Josh Frazier to fill holes in the front seven, and Trevon Diggs to help fill holes in the Alabama secondary.
What really happened with Lane Kiffin?
Animosity between Saban and Kiffin ran rampant on the sideline in Tuscaloosa for all three years Kiffin was at the Capstone. The results on the field, however, necessarily did not change. Alabama did not miss the College Football Playoff while the offense was orchestrated by Kiffin, but Kiffin may indeed have cost Alabama its fifth national title in eight seasons. Someone, maybe me, will ask Saban a question about the debacle that was Lane Kiffin and his departure from Alabama after the opening round of the playoff in Atlanta versus Washington.
And his head will explode.
The question though, must be asked, and the media and the fans deserve an honest answer. Does that mean they will get an honest answer? Absolutely not. Saban is known to say what he wants when he wants, and if he does not want to answer a question, he will refuse to.
Is this the perfect storm for the Auburn Tigers?
The Auburn Tigers may be exactly where they want to be: confident, but not overly hyped. Shades of 2010 and 2013 may be seen this season. Coming off of an abysmal 3-9 season in 2012, Auburn took the college football world by storm. The Tigers went 11-1 in the 2013 regular season which was topped off by the infamous “Kick Six,” but the post-season did not end the way the Tigers wanted. Since the national title loss versus Florida State in Pasadena, the Tigers have performed with average seasons of 8-5, 7-6, and 8-5.
There is obviously some buzz surrounding transfer QB Jarrett Stidham which will most likely get Auburn ranked in the preseason top 25 and most likely picked by the media to finish behind Alabama for the second spot in the SEC West. But flying somewhat under the radar seems to be right where the Tigers want to be in the preseason.
Is Stidham “The Guy” at quarterback?
All signs point to yes. Although he has limited reps in college, Stidham has all the tools a Gus Malzahn coached team could ask for. He impressed during his short stint at Baylor passing for nearly 1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns while throwing just two interceptions. He is a multi-dimensional QB who can run and pass, and quickly make decisions, which is every defensive coordinator’s nightmare. Sean White, who was Auburn’s 2016 starter at QB, played multiple games while injured and under performed last season. He still has a shot to win the job, but most likely will not. The buzz surrounding Stidham alone may be enough for him to get the nod for the starting job.
The weapons Stidham will have around him in 2017 should help Auburn’s cause. Darius Slayton and Nate Craig-Myers at receiver can and will shred many SEC secondaries in 2017. Coming into 2016, the Auburn running backs were a question mark. The Tigers had to replace Jovon Robinson, Peyton Barber, and Roc Thomas. In 2017 there are no questions concerning the Auburn backfield. Kerryon Johnson has the potential to be a top back in the league, and expect Kamryn Pettway to be a bruiser between the tackles once again in 2017.
What about the defense?
The hiring of Kevin Steele as defensive coordinator for the 2016 season – following the departure of Will Muschamp – left many scratching their heads. The hiring felt more like a middle school kickball game where there was one option left, and Auburn had the last pick. To the surprise of most, the Auburn defense kept its team in many games last season while the offense, with an injured Sean White and no viable options for a back-up QB, sputtered at best in the latter half of the season.
The defensive line was a shining light for Steele’s unit in 2016, but many of those names and faces have moved on to the NFL. Cal Lawson and Montravius Adams were monsters up front for the Tigers and among the best in the nation. Luckily for Auburn, they have a few studs set to take their places. Derrick Brown, Marlon Davidson, and Dontavius Russell should be able to make the same plays, if not more, as their predecessors.
Does Gus feel the heat?
If Gus is honest with the media (and himself) he will say the coaching seat is hot.
Not warm. But scalding hot.
He is 35-18 (66%) in 53 games as the head man on the plains and just 1-3 in bowl games (only win vs. Memphis in the 2015 Birmingham Bowl). These are not results the Auburn administration and fan base will bask in much longer. Is Gus a victim of his own success in 2013? Maybe so. Is the comparison to its in state rival unfair? Most Likely. But the Auburn fan base is hungry and has a lot of say-so on the plains, and if they start to turn the administration usually follows suit. Another 8-5 season in 2017, and Gus Malzahm may be looking for a new job.
SEC Media Days always has its unexpected twists and turns that no one in the media can prepare for. That is the fun of Media Days. Coaching taking digs at other schools, players who are not well equipped to deal with the media have microphones in front of their mouths, and many other variables make this event one of the best spectacles in all of sports. SEC Media Days 2017 will be one for the books.
Throughout SEC Media Days 2017, SylacaugaNews.com will take an in-depth look at each team in the SEC. For wall-to-wall coverage at SEC Media Days in Hoover, be sure to follow SylacaugaNews.com from July 10-13, and listen to Yea!106.5 and 105.1 WRFS for special editions of The Breakdown with Jeremy Law featuring Birmingham sports broadcasting icon Matt Coulter.
Jeremy Law for SylacaugaNews.com | © 2017, SylacaugaNews.com/Marble City Media LLC. All Rights Reserved.