The SEC enters media days with its talk of realignment and new schedules already in the past. Oklahoma and Texas will join the conference next season to much fanfare and a new era will begin in college football.
So what will the coaches and players talk about during media days? The on-field action, of course.
Alabama’s new look offense under former Notre Dame offensive coordinator Tommy Rees, Brian Kelly’s second year at LSU and the staggering number of transfer quarterbacks in the conference will be the talk of the week in Nashville, Tennessee.
Ahead of all the podium prognostications, bold predictions and sound bites, our writers address the five biggest questions and topics of SEC media days.
1. How does Georgia answer off-field questions?
Alex Scarborough: On the field, the questions are obvious: Who will replace Stetson Bennett at quarterback? How does the offense change without Todd Monken as coordinator? And what about a defense that will now be without stalwarts Jalen Carter and Kelee Ringo?
Georgia’s schedule might be easy, but the path to repeating as national champions for a third consecutive season is no piece of cake. Coach Kirby Smart may spend most of his time in Nashville addressing what’s happened off the field, though, because the speeding-related incidents committed by his players have piled up. Earlier this month, freshman outside linebacker Samuel M’Pemba was clocked going 88 miles per hour in a 55 mph zone — about an hour before Georgia receiver Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint appeared in an Athens courtroom and pleaded guilty to driving 90 mph in a 45 mph zone on May 23. ESPN reported in June that Georgia football players and their cars have been involved in at least 10 reports of traffic-related moving violations in Athens-Clarke County since Jan. 15, when Georgia offensive lineman Devin Willock and football staff member Chandler LeCroy were killed in a reckless driving incident in which police alleged former defensive lineman Jalen Carter was racing them hours after a national championship celebration.
2. How will Alabama navigate change on offense?
Scarborough: It became abundantly clear during the course of last season that something had to change on offense for Alabama. The scheme employed by coordinator Bill O’Brien was too reliant on quarterback Bryce Young; the running game lacked an inside presence; and the receivers who watched DeVonta Smith and Jameson Williams blossom into stars didn’t develop into dependable playmakers. With Young and O’Brien off to the NFL, Nick Saban was given a clean slate. He brought in a more pro-style coordinator in former Notre Dame OC Tommy Rees and opened up the quarterback competition, welcoming in former Fighting Irish QB Tyler Buchner to go with returning players Jalen Milroe and Ty Simpson. With a good group of young running backs, don’t be surprised if Alabama becomes more run-heavy this season, relying less on what will still be an unproven receiver corps and taking some of the burden off whoever the starting QB will be.
3. How will LSU fare in Year 2 under Brian Kelly?
Chris Low: When are expectations not lofty at LSU, especially when you bring in a coach the caliber of Brian Kelly and are coming off a national championship four years earlier?
The Tigers surprised a lot of people a year ago in winning the SEC’s Western Division and knocking off Alabama in Kelly’s first season in Baton Rouge. Taking that next step will prove even more difficult, but LSU has the pieces in place to make another run in the West and get back to the SEC championship game. It starts with quarterback Jayden Daniels, who blossomed last season in LSU’s offense. Having a multifaceted quarterback with experience helps solve a ton of problems, especially when your entire offensive line is back. Tackles Will Campbell and Emery Jones started as freshmen last season, and Kelly believes that unit has a chance to be special. And on defense, linebacker Harold Perkins Jr. returns after establishing himself as one of the SEC’s top big-play defenders as a freshman, and moreover, defensive tackle Maason Smith’s return from injury is another reason to like LSU’s defense. This isn’t Kelly’s first rodeo. He understands the expectations and understands that LSU will be circled on a lot of teams’ schedules this season. But it’s also an LSU team that improved as the season progressed a year ago, and there’s no reason to believe that Kelly, given his pedigree, won’t get even more out of this team in 2023.
4. Can Bobby Petrino save Jimbo Fisher from the hot seat?
Low: The Petrino-Fisher pairing raised a lot of eyebrows around the college football world when Fisher hired Petrino in January to come in and be Texas A&M’s offensive coordinator. Fisher and Petrino are both known for their volatility, and it’s reasonable to wonder how they will mesh in what’s clearly an important season for the entire Texas A&M program. Fisher knew he needed to shake things up on offense, step away from being the primary playcaller and bring in somebody who had done it at a high level. Petrino is a polarizing — going back to his firing at Arkansas — but there’s no denying he’s long been one of the best playcallers in football. Fisher is always going to be involved in the offense, and he will be with Petrino as they put the plan together each week. But Petrino wouldn’t have taken the job at Texas A&M if it weren’t going to be his show.
Ultimately, the proof will be in how the Aggies’ offense fares after finishing 101st nationally in scoring last season (22.8 points per game). Petrino has some promising talent to work with, including receivers Ainias Smith and Evan Stewart, and a more experienced offensive line hell-bent on playing up to its talent level. Center Bryce Foster is the enforcer in the middle of that line and has a chance to be a star. One of the things Petrino has done best during his career is develop quarterbacks, and sophomore Conner Weigman has the arm strength and skills to be one of the country’s breakout quarterbacks this season under Petrino’s tutelage. The Aggies clearly have to be able to throw it better after finishing next to last in the SEC in passing efficiency last season. No doubt, the Fisher-Petrino questions will persist until we get into the season, but look for the Aggies to awaken on offense.
5. Which transfer QBs will have the biggest impact?
Scarborough: SEC coaches weren’t bashful about dipping into the transfer portal for help at quarterback this offseason. There could be as many as five starting QBs in the league this season who were playing in another conference last year. We already covered Alabama adding Buchner to the mix. But right down the road in Auburn, first-year coach Hugh Freeze nabbed former Michigan State starter Payton Thorne to compete with last year’s starter, Robby Ashford. And at Ole Miss, coach Lane Kiffin surprised many by lighting a fire under Jaxson Dart — who threw for 2,900 yards last season after transferring from USC — by adding not one but two QBs via the portal: former Oklahoma State starter and All-Big 12 selection Spencer Sanders and former five-star prospect Will Howard from LSU. In the East, Kentucky quickly replaced its former transfer QB Will Levis with another transfer in former NC State starter Devin Leary. And Missouri — rather than sit tight with Brady Cook coming off an injury that caused him to miss all of spring practice — brought in Jake Garcia from Miami.