The SEC unofficially starts its football season today in Hoover, Ala., with the annual dog and pony show known as media days. All 12 coaches will have their time at the podium, starting today and running through Friday. And while the first game doesn’t start for another 45 days, that doesn’t mean it’s not time to look ahead to the 2009 season. Here are 10 SEC storylines:
Can anyone knock Florida off its pedestal?
Fresh off its second national championship in the last three years, Florida only seems stronger this season, returning nine defensive starters and all-everything quarterback Tim Tebow. Everybody in the SEC is going to have a hard time unseating the champs.
Can Alabama reload on the offensive side of the ball?
Left tackle Andre Smith, tailback Glen Coffee and quarterback John Parker Wilson, the three cornerstones of last year’s ball-control offense, are gone. The Tide’s defense will carry the day, but it needs something offensively to hang its hat on other that wideout Julio Jones.
Will Ole Miss be able to handle the burden of expectations?
The Rebels are a fashionable pick after finishing 2008 on a tear. But Houston Nutt has only won 10 games in a season, once as an SEC coach, and Ole Miss has never made an SEC championship game appearance. That’s a lot of history to overcome.
Can Georgia — minus its offensive stars — still contend?
Quarterback Matthew Stafford and running back Knowshon Moreno are gone, but the Bulldogs, mercifully out of the spotlight, still have a veteran offensive line, wide receiver A.J. Green and a defense out to prove last season was a fluke.
Is LSU starting a decline or was last year an aberration?
The Tigers followed up their 2007 national championship with an 8-5 record in 2008. Quarterback was a season-long question mark and could be again, but it’s LSU’s normally stingy defense that will have to get back to its dominating ways after collapsing late last year.
Has South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier lost his touch?
Urban Meyer has overshadowed the Ol’ Ballcoach’s accomplishments at Florida. And Lane Kiffin seems to have taken the mantle as “SEC coach most likely to offend/amuse in front of a microphone.” Oh, the Gamecocks have also gone 15-17 in the SEC under Spurrier’s watch. Pretty mediocre.
Will defense rule the day once again?
The SEC had 11 teams ranked in the top-40 nationally in total defense last season and five in the top-20. Once you get past Tebow and Ole Miss’ Jevan Snead, its slim pickings at quarterback, meaning it could be another year of defensive slugfests dotting the SEC schedule.
New faces in new places…
Auburn’s Gene Chizik has to follow up Tommy Tuberville, the last SEC coach to complete a perfect season, while at Tennessee, Kiffin replaces Phil Fulmer, who has a national title to his credit. Meanwhile, longtime Meyer assistant Dan Mullen will try to reverse Mississippi State’s years of offensive ineptitude.
Will the conference be as deep as it has in past years?
Eight teams were bowl eligible last season, and that was during a year when traditional SEC powers Auburn, Tennessee and Arkansas failed to qualify for a postseason game. Those programs appear to be back on the upswing, while Florida, Alabama, Ole Miss, Georgia and LSU all expect to start the season in the top-25, so things will be tough top to bottom.
The SEC champion has also gone on to win the national title in each of the last years. Will that streak reach four?
Florida is the odds-on favorite to repeat as national champion, as it should be, but Alabama and even Ole Miss have legitimate reasons to think they could hoist the crystal football at the end of the season. Bottom line: If you make it out of the SEC alive, you’re a contender for the national title.
SEC Media Days coaches schedule: Wednesday — Bobby Petrino, Arkansas; Bobby Johnson, Vanderbilt; Dan Mullen, Mississippi State; Rich Brooks, Kentucky. Thursday — Nick Saban, Alabama; Mark Richt, Georgia; Houston Nutt, Ole Miss; Urban Meyer, Florida. Friday — Gene Chizik, Auburn; Steve Spurrier, South Carolina; Les Miles, LSU; Lane Kiffin, Tennessee.