League looking for eighth consecutive national title
As the college football world descends on Birmingham, Al., for SEC Media Days, questions abound for the nation’s premier conference. The SEC has captured seven consecutive national titles and boasts several contenders to bring home an eighth. The league also features several new head coaches who will be getting their first taste of life in the Southeastern Conference. With the season just over a month away, here are the burning questions for each of the SEC’s 14 teams.
Alabama: Can the offensive line reload in time for Alabama to win another championship?
The Crimson Tide bulldozed Notre Dame in the national title game, but Chance Warmack, D.J. Fluker and Barrett Jones are all gone from Alabama’s front line. Head coach Nick Saban knows better than anyone that SEC games are won in the trenches and his new starting five will have to gel quickly.
Arkansas: How will the Razorbacks handle a new offensive system under Bret Bielema?
Arkansas zipped the ball around during the Bobby Petrino era, but new head coach Bret Bielema made his name at Wisconsin with a power-oriented offense. The Razorbacks have recruited dynamic skill players for years and might not have the personnel to run Bielema’s scheme in his first year at the helm.
Auburn: Can Gus Malzahn recreate the magic of his offensive coordinator days with the Tigers?
Malzahn’s offensive attack led Auburn to a national championship in 2010, but this year’s squad has much less talent than the 2010 Tigers. With no Cam Newton or Michael Dyer to lean on, Malzahn will likely have to be creative in order to keep Auburn competitive in the brutal SEC West.
Florida: Can quarterback Jeff Driskel improve enough to take Florida to a conference title?
The Gators boasted a dominant defense last year, but the offense struggled to put points on the board throughout the season. Driskel was more of a game-manager than a playmaker and Florida will likely need their quarterback to be more dynamic if the Gators want to capture the conference crown.
Georgia: How will the Bulldogs reload a defense that lost seven players to the NFL?
Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham has helped Georgia rediscover a sense of nastiness, but the Bulldogs have plenty of holes to fill this season. Georgia lost two first-round draft picks from the 2012 team, and if the Bulldogs struggle to stop opponents, fans could be calling for Mark Richt’s head again.
Kentucky: Can new head coach Mark Stoops get results that will keep Kentucky fans excited?
Stoops energized the Wildcat fan base with an aggressive approach on the recruiting trail, but Kentucky still needs to get results. No one expects the Wildcats to be a force in year one of a new coaching regime, but Stoops will need to give the fans something to be excited about to keep the momentum in Lexington.
LSU: How do the Tigers deal with the off-the-field controversy surrounding the program?
Not only does LSU have to contend with Alabama, but now the Tigers aren’t sure if they will have their top running back for 2013. Jeremy Hill has pleaded guilty to misdemeanor simple battery stemming from his role in a fight back in April and it is unclear whether he will be on the team when the Tigers take the field this fall.
Mississippi State: Can Mississippi State take another step towards an SEC West title?
The Bulldogs finished 8-5 last season, but they are still not on the same level as Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M. Dan Mullen has done great things in Starkville and has to compete with some of the country’s best programs, but Mississippi State fans may soon be clamoring for more than just postseason appearances and winning seasons.
Missouri: How do the Tigers rebound from a disastrous debut in the SEC?
Missouri stumbled to just five wins in their inaugural SEC campaign and head coach Gary Pinkel took plenty of fire for his team’s struggles. Quarterback James Franklin, who was injured for most of the 2012 season, will have to return to form if the Tigers hope to improve in their second season of SEC competition.
Ole Miss: How quickly will the Rebels’ new recruits make an impact on the field?
Ole Miss brought one of the country’s top recruiting classes to Oxford, led by Robert Nkemdiche, the nation’s highest-rated recruit. Now that Hugh Freeze has an improved talent pool to work with, the Rebels’ march towards a division title will hinge on how quickly the young players adapt to college ball.
South Carolina: Can the Gamecocks score enough to take advantage of a manageable schedule?
No one questions the talent that South Carolina has on the defensive side of the ball, but USC lost two of its top weapons in Marcus Lattimore and Ace Sanders. The Gamecocks avoid Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M this year, but USC will have to put up points in order to finally win an SEC title.
Tennessee: How do the Volunteers improve one of the worst defenses in school history?
Tennessee’s defense was atrocious in Derek Dooley’s last season in Knoxville and Butch Jones has the task of revamping the Vols. Tennessee has talent, as the Volunteers have two players on the preseason watch list for the Bednarik Award, but Tennessee will have to show that talent on the field.
Texas A&M: Can Johnny Manziel possibly repeat his freshman year performance at A&M?
Johnny Football has made plenty of news off the field, but don’t be surprised if the sophomore and defending Heisman Trophy winner has problems once he gets on the field as well. Defenses will key on the mobile quarterback and Manziel no longer has his top offensive lineman or his leading receiver.
Vanderbilt: Can Vanderbilt become a serious contender within the Eastern Division?
Head coach James Franklin has helped turn Vanderbilt into a bowl team in his time in Nashville and now other SEC teams are taking notice of the Commodores. Vanderbilt can no longer sneak up on anyone and Franklin’s new challenge will be to take the Commodores to the next level and compete for a spot in Atlanta.