College football season essentially begins Monday when the SEC launches its nearly week-long media day event in Atlanta, Georgia at the College Football Hall of Fame. No conference does media days like the SEC, for better or worse, and this year should be no exception.
Coming off a wildly successful year of football, the SEC is the first conference to get the media day schedule underway (no disrespect to BYU, who had their media day a couple of weeks ago). The conference brings in the largest media contingent of any conference, and with that will come a massive number of fans across the SEC footprint that use this as a pilgrimage for a chance to see their school’s coach or players walk from one media opportunity to the next.
Get ready, because the SEC Media Day event will be loaded.
Basking in the glory of the College Football Playoff
Just as the SEC bragged about the conference’s success during the BCS era, the SEC will have the ultimate bragging rights to boast about when SEC commissioner Greg Sankey addresses the masses. The SEC became the first conference to land two teams in the College Football Playoff, with Alabama and Georgia, and those same two teams battled it out in an epic national championship game in Atlanta. Don’t think for one second that will not be mentioned.
Aside from Alabama winning its second College Football Playoff national championship in its third appearance in the national title game, the SEC will use the playoff glory to drive home another key point about the strength of the conference: revenue. The conference just paid out an average of $41 million to each of its members, and that revenue distribution is only likely to increase next year following last football season.
The Big Ten paid out a larger sum to most of its members for the most recent fiscal year, but the Big Ten and SEC continue to easily out-pace the other power conferences. With ESPN updating its recent digital streaming push, we may be likely to hear how the SEC will continue to work with ESPN in that effort with the SEC Network and more. If there are any on the table, this is when we would likely find out about it.
This is also the first time the SEC is hosting the event in Atlanta, which has become a hub for college football with big matchups in early-season games, the SEC Championship Game, the College Football Hall of Fame, and multiple bowl games each season, including the national championship game last season.
Say hello to Jimbo Fisher, Joe Moorhead, and Chad Morris
They are not the only new head coaches in the SEC this year, although this will be their first year in the SEC with their new jobs.
The big attraction will be new Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher making his first appearance at SEC Media Day. Being paid so richly by the Aggies (and already with a national championship trophy ready to be inscribed), there is no question there is a good amount of pressure for Fisher to win big in College Station. Fisher is a natural charmer in these settings, as he was with Florida State at the ACC Football Kickoff during his time in Tallahassee. His quick way of talking and his smile will fit right in this setting as well. Fisher won’t have to wait long to make his SEC debut, as he is the headliner scheduled for Monday.
Morris will get his chance to meet the SEC media on Tuesday, and Moorhead is scheduled for Wednesday. Both will be overshadowed those days, in all likelihood, by last year’s championship game coaches with Kirby Smart of Georgia up on Tuesday (as well as Dan Mullen, now of Florida) and Nick Saban of Alabama going on Wednesday. Kudos to the SEC media day scheduler for making sure Mullen and Moorhead weren’t going to the podium on the same day, although that would have been fun to see from a neutral standpoint.
Of course, the other new coaches will take their time in the spotlight as well. Former Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt is now the head coach at Tennessee, and Matt Luke is now officially the full-time head coach at Ole Miss after being labeled the interim head coach last year.
Asking Nick Saban questions he will not answer, a tradition unlike any other
Jalen Hurts or Tua Tagoavailoa? If you are hoping to get some light shed on the Alabama quarterback situation next week, don’t hold your breath. Given the history of Nick Saban in these types of settings, he is highly unlikely to show his cards with his thinking on the starting quarterback decision. (On a related note, don’t expect Georgia head coach Kirby Smart to go into too much detail about his quarterback situation either.)
When Nick Saban speaks, the college football world will come to a collective pause to hear what he has to say, even when he has nothing to say at all. Odds are Saban will show his grief with having to answer questions he will say he has no answers for, as this happens on a regular basis both in and out of the season. Even though Saban will not say a word about the quarterback situation other than that he has no timeline for a decision, Saban will be likely to shed some quotes worth paying attention to.
Saban is known to share some ideas about the future of the sport of college football that do not always gain much support from his SEC colleagues. But he does think about the future of the game and has ideas about how to improve it, including scheduling and more. Saban will undoubtedly say something that will be overanalyzed and broken down from multiple angles. Will it be about transfers? The playoff? Or something else?
Who is on the hot seat?
Barring any complete disasters of a season that nobody can possibly see coming, there may be two coaches who should definitely be placed on the coaching hot seat in the SEC for the 2018 season. Ed Orgeron of LSU and Mark Stoops of Kentucky are the two that really stand out given what they have or have not accomplished and the rest of the coaching landscape within the conference.
Saban can dictate his own terms. Smart just won the SEC at Georgia. Florida, Tennessee, Texas A&M, and Arkansas have new coaches. Ole Miss is in year two with theirs. Gus Malzahn, Will Muschamp, Derek Mason, and Barry Odom should be in good shape as well.
Orgeron is 15-6 as LSU’s head coach since taking over for Les Miles early in the 2016 season, but the Tigers are in a position where getting past Alabama seems incredibly challenging, and a new coach at Arkansas could close the gap and possibly move the Razorbacks past LSU if the Tigers do not grow offensively.
Stoops is in his sixth season with no bowl wins in two trips to show for it. Granted, it is Kentucky, but if the Wildcats float around .500 again, there is a reason to believe that may not be good enough to keep moving forward with Stoops.
Can anyone challenge Alabama and Georgia?
Well, yes. Of course, someone can. Auburn beast both teams last season and the Tigers are being given a 7/1 shot at winning the SEC according to one sports gambling outlet. So it’s certainly not impossible that a team could step in the way of either Alabama or Georgia – or both of them.
Auburn may once again be the trendy pick to be that x-factor, but every program in the SEC will be assessed for the upcoming season. LSU still feels a bit off from being on that level, and Texas A&M has some work to do to build a team that can keep things going for a full season. Could this be a year where a school like South Carolina jumps up and throws a wrench in the SEC East? Just how quickly can Mullen get Florida’s offense fixed? What about Missouri, home to one of the more entertaining offenses in the SEC with one of the top quarterbacks in the conference not playing for Alabama or Georgia?
Expect Alabama and Georgia to be the preseason favorites in the media day polling, but pay attention to how the rest of the order stacks up. The SEC media rarely gets it right, but it is always worth reading the temperature around the conference.
SEC Media Days run from Monday, July 16 through Thursday, July 19. SEC Network will air live coverage each day.