SEC Media Days 2023: Alabama, Georgia covers QB issues among storylines to be seen in Nashville

SEC Media Days is making its debut in Nashville next week when all 14 teams do their rounds at the Grand Hyatt, just steps from Broadway. “Talkin’ Season,” as coined by legendary “Head Ball Coach” Steve Spurrier, will consist of multiple story arcs that will dominate the college football landscape through the 2023 season and throughout the fall.

At the conference, all eyes will be on the two superpowers. Georgia coach Kirby Smart is eager to lead his team to a three-goal — something not seen since Minnesota’s 1934-36 season. Which coach is most likely to knock him off? Of course Nick Saban from Alabama. Saban’s Crimson Tide failed to make the SEC championship game in 2022 for the first time since 2019, and many questions remain before the opener.

Two new coaches will be making their first appearances in Music City. Auburn freshman head coach Hugh Freeze – who is no stranger to the event after five years at Ole Miss – will take the stage on Tuesday to discuss how he plans to rebuild a program destroyed by the unfortunate two was -year Bryan-Harsin experiment. This afternoon, Mississippi State first-year coach Zach Arnett will discuss his vision for a Bulldogs program that suffered a devastating loss last winter when legendary coach Mike Leach passed away.

What are the top storylines? Let’s break them down.

Who will move up as quarterback at Georgia?

The two-year starter, two-time national champion, 2022 Heisman Trophy finalist and all-around legend Stetson Bennett IV won’t be taking the snaps this year. Junior Carson Beck and sophomore Brock Vandagriff are the two main options at the top of the depth chart for Smart.

It appears Beck has the upper hand — at least for now — to land at the top of the depth chart when toe hit leather at UT-Martin on September 2nd. Beck threw for 310 yards and four touchdowns as Bennett’s primary backup last season and took the ball Most first-team snaps come in the spring. However, Vandagriff was a four-star contender and 34th overall in the 2021 class and has the talent to be a star.

Since neither quarterback will be present in Nashville, tight end Brock Bowers, defensive back Kamari Lassiter and offensive lineman Sedrick Van Prann will have to answer these questions.

What’s wrong with the West?

In Chip Kelly’s first season at the helm, LSU came out of nowhere and won the division, and that season included a thrilling overtime win over Alabama. Was that a one-year mistake or is the power structure changing in the league, which is generally regarded as the toughest division in sport?

That answer likely depends on the quarterback situation in Alabama. Ty Simpson and Jalen Milroe feuded at spring camp, and Saban lured former Notre Dame signal caller Tyler Buchner to Alabama in the second transfer portal window. Was Buchner’s push a sign that things aren’t rosy for Saban? Perhaps. What we do know is that Kelly has a trump card in dual threat quarterback Jayden Daniels, which should make it difficult to match the Tigers’ offense.

Does Tennessee have staying power?

The Volunteers became the nation’s darling last season when they defeated Alabama at the top and rose to No. 1 in the inaugural college football playoff rankings. What can coach Josh Heupel’s team do for an encore? That is a difficult question.

Gone are star quarterback Hendon Hooker and wide receivers Jalin Hyatt and Cedric Tillman, all three of whom were instrumental in last season’s success. Joe Milton III – who has an absolute gun but lost starting jobs in Michigan and Tennessee – will step in. Milton will be present when the volunteers make their rounds on Thursday, so it will be fascinating to hear his vision of what the offense is.

Defense doesn’t win championships. “Just enough” defense is enough. That will put some pressure on the pass defense provided the offense takes a small step back. The Volunteers ranked 127th for passing (289.5 yards per game) nationally last season, and they need to step up to strike a little more balance.

Freeze’s vision for the Tigers

Freeze is no doubt asked about the personal issues that led to his sacking from Ole Miss in 2017, though he’s answered them all — countless times — even when he was head coach at Liberty. Can’t we go down this rabbit hole? After all, his plan to rebuild the Tigers is much more interesting.

He lured longtime Michigan State starting quarterback Payton Thorne to the Plains to fight returning dual-threat starter Robby Ashford. Thone is more of a passer, while Ashford is an ultra-dynamic runner. Hopefully Freeze goes into great detail on his plan for offense because that will give us a good look at who has the upper hand ahead of fall camp. He’s hit the transfer portal hard at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, and it’s clear he’ll need some of those players to step up during fall camp if the Tigers are looking to compete.

On the field, Auburn is one of the most fascinating teams in the country. Hopefully the questions stay there too.

Jimbo’s job security

Acquisition of Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher will be approximately $77 million If he’s released after this season and there’s a good chance influential members of the Texas A&M community can bring that piece of change together. However, with Fisher coming off a 5-7 season and a transfer portal season that seemed like a turnstile (both coming and going), it’s safe to say it’s a massive season for the future of the program.

The offense is also extremely fascinating. Fisher brought on Bobby Petrino to lead the offense, and while the two have strong personalities that could pose a problem, Petrino has plenty of talent to work with, including stud receiver Ainias Smith. How will Fisher and Petrino’s relationship work? This question keeps getting asked when the Aggies make their rounds on Monday.

The administrative future

The month of December is absolutely terrible for Trainers. You have to fire assistants, hire assistants, prepare for the early signing phase, recruit players in the transfer portal and prepare for CFP games and big bowl games for some of them. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy. There’s a proposal to shorten the 45-day portal window to 30 days, but it’s still a chaotic time that just can’t be met. Commissioner Greg Sankey and the coaches will no doubt have opinions on the matter.

Another interesting topic will be the future schedule. The SEC gave up scheduling when it announced it will use a 1-7 format — one permanent opponent and seven rotating games — when Texas and Oklahoma join the conference in 2024. What will the format be? go forward?

The same 1-7 format and a 3-6 format – three permanent opponents and six rotating opponents – are the two that have been debated since the apparent Clinton administration. Both sides are adamant and Sankey will have to address the issue in his State of the SEC address on Monday. After that, you can expect each and every trainer to share their preferences throughout the four-day event.

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