Mercifully, the college football preseason will officially begin on Wednesday with the start of SEC Media Days.
I can’t remember a year when we’ve had so many good story lines as we head to Birmingham/Hoover. But here are five burning questions that I’ll be trying to answer over the next three days at the Wynfrey Hotel:
1—How much love will/should Georgia get in Birmingham? And if you’re a Bulldog, should you care? Remember that a year ago Georgia was No. 1 in most preseason polls. But when the SEC media assembled last July they picked Florida. Of the 70 media votes, Florida got 36 as the projected champion followed by Georgia (18), and Auburn (13). LSU, Tennessee and Ole Miss had one vote each. Alabama, which started 12-0 and won the SEC West, did not receive a vote to win its division or win the conference championship.
Florida, ranked No. 1 in most preseason polls, should be a pretty unanimous pick to win the conference. But Georgia fans should take heart in this: Only four times in the past 17 years has the media correctly picked the eventual SEC champion:
Year—–Media Pick—–Eventual champ
2—Does Tim Tebow have another “speech” ready if things go wrong in 2009? Tebow’s speech in the moments after last season’s 31-30 loss to Ole Miss was so powerful that Florida has put up a plaque to honor it in the school’s football complex. So what does the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner say if Florida loses an early game this season? Florida will certainly be favored to win its first four games against Charleston Southern, Troy (although I hear Troy will have one of its better teams), Tennessee and Kentucky. After a week off, the Gators go to LSU for what promises to be a very intense football game. Tebow had better get a speech ready for after that game, just in case.
3—How will Lane Kiffin handle his first big encounter with the SEC media? Even the veteran coaches of the SEC will tell you that it was a little unnerving the first time they stood up in front of the assembled media horde at this event. Trust me when I tell you that they don’t have media blitzes like this at Southern Cal, Kiffin’s last college stop. Needless to say the new Tennessee coach has not been bashful when it comes to bringing attention to his program and getting the Vols on the minds of every high school recruit in the country. Now that it’s time to start getting ready to play, does Kiffin hold back because of his surroundings or does he let it all hang out? I say that recruiting season is over and it’s time to start thinking about the first game. I believe coach Kiffin will be a little understated this week in Birmingham.
4—Is Ole Miss for real? Ole Miss is the only team in the SEC West that has not played in the conference championship game since its inception in 1992. But a lot of people feel this is the year the Rebels finally get to Atlanta. Four of the five magazines I use for research have Ole Miss in their preseason Top 10. The Sporting News has them rated No. 5. They have the second best quarterback in the league (Jevan Snead) and a bunch of guys who can really run. But they also lost a first round draft choice (Michael Oher) on the offensive line and a first-round choice (Peria Jerry) on the defensive line. That’s why I have them at No. 12 in my preseason poll. Ole Miss has the most favorable schedule in the division with Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, and LSU all coming to Oxford. I will be very interested to find out where Ole Miss finishes in the preseason media voting when it is released on Friday.
5—Who is going to be the surprise team in 2009? A year ago it was Ole Miss, which became the only team to beat Florida and eventually knocked off Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl. While I don’t think this team will win nine games, it looks like the surprise team could be Arkansas. The Hogs made great strides in the spring and finally have a quarterback (Ryan Mallett) who can make an SEC team sit up and take notice. Nine of 11 starters return from a very bad defense and that will keep Arkansas from having an Ole Miss-like season. But this team is going to beat somebody they are not supposed to beat. I also think they will go to a bowl game.
Programming note: I will be joining my CSS partners Bob Neal, Mark Schlabach and Sandra Golden to do our popular “Talkin’ Football” show from Birmingham during all three days in Birmingham. Starting Wednesday, the show will air live each day at 6 p.m., Eastern time, with replays at 11 p.m. and 8 a.m. the next morning. We will have interviews with every coach and break down the day’s activities. Please tune us in.
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