By JOHN ZENOR
There’s plenty of issues to discuss in the Southeastern Conference.
The league opens its annual media days — four days instead of three now — on Monday in Hoover, Alabama, with radical change in the college athletic model appearing imminent and the SEC Network soon to take the airwaves.
Football will also be on the agenda, of course; Florida State ended the SEC’s seven-year run of national titles by beating Auburn. Six SEC teams will be led by new starting quarterbacks after an exodus that included big names like Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Alabama’s AJ McCarron and Georgia’s Aaron Murray.
SEC Commissioner Mike Slive opens with his annual address. Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, whose Tigers matched the biggest one-season turnaround in college football during his debut, will be the first coach to address the media. The SEC issued about 1,100 credentials for the event in suburban Birmingham.
Here are 5 things to watch at SEC media days:
SLIVE SPEAKS: The five wealthiest conferences will likely be granted more decision-making powers after an August vote by the NCAA board of directors, including more money for athletes. Slive has been an outspoken advocate of the need for change and figures to talk about that prospect and the SEC Network again. The SEC Network goes on the air in August, with negotiations continuing with some cable and satellite providers.
TENSION IN THE AIR? Alabama’s Nick Saban and Arkansas’ Bret Bielema were part of a behind-the-scenes offseason push for a new pre-snap 10-second rule to slow down all these fast-paced offenses. Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, Mississippi’s Hugh Freeze and others were outspoken critics of the rule, which didn’t pass. The tempo debate led to one of the more memorable moments at the 2013 media days. When Bielema was told Malzahn initially thought concerns about no-huddle offenses leading to more defensive injuries was a joke, the Arkansas coach wasn’t laughing. He’s no comedian, he shot back. The subject of speed vs. safety might just come up again.
STAR POWER: Jadeveon Clowney and Johnny Manziel were the headliners at last year’s SEC media days, drawing swarms of reporters and getting shadowed by cameras. No disrespect to the current group, but none of the 42 players coming to Hoover have been under quite the same spotlight. Georgia tailback Todd Gurley might come the closest.
QUARTERBACKS: Six quarterbacks were initially scheduled to speak at media days but Auburn replaced Nick Marshall with tight end C.J. Uzomah. The Tigers’ quarterback was cited for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana during a traffic stop Friday in Reynolds, Georgia. The remaining group includes Mississippi’s Bo Wallace and Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott and first-year starters Dylan Thompson (South Carolina), Maty Mauk (Missouri) and Hutson Mason (Georgia). Other jobs won’t be settled until preseason camp with the most prominent spot up for grabs coming at Alabama, where Florida State transfer Jacob Coker enters the mix.
PREDICTIONS: As usual, the media will vote on All-SEC teams and predicted finishes. The track record — four correct picks in 22 tries — would get most coaches fired. Nevertheless, the favorite in the Western Division figures to be either Auburn or Alabama with Georgia and South Carolina the presumed front-runners in the East.