SEC Media Day Musings
July 19, 2023 at 12:00:00 PM
SEC Media Day Musings
The SEC’s annual football smorgasbord that is media days is taking place this week in Nashville.
Somehow, I don’t think Vanderbilt football fanatics will stake out every inch of the Grand Hyatt to catch a glimpse of Commodores football coach Clark Lea like Alabama fans do when the SEC hosts this event in its hometown of Birmingham.
Maybe it is just as well the league took its show north this season because for the first time in many years, the Crimson Tide are an afterthought heading into the 2023 season, which will be the final one for East and West Division play.
As someone who has followed and covered the SEC for more than three decades, here are my top three storylines as the league’s head coaches try to win the sneaker game during their time with media this week and as players get ready to report to school and begin practice.
HOW ’BOUT DEM DAWGS?
It is difficult to tell which is a bigger storyline - Georgia attempting to win a third straight national championship or Georgia’s lawlessness, especially when it comes to obeying speed limits?
The Bulldogs face a huge task on the field. Gone are three first-round selections in April’s NFL Draft and 10 overall draft picks, including steady quarterback Stetson Bennett. That loss of talent sort of explains why no school has won three straight national titles since Minnesota won from 1934-36.
As many questions as there are surrounding the Bulldogs on the field, there are even more when it comes to the overall program and whether Georgia coach Kirby Smart has control of it.
On the day Georgia celebrated its second championship, offensive lineman Devin Willock and staff member Chandler LeCroy were killed in a speed-related car crash involving Jalen Carter, one of Georgia’s first-round draft picks.
Since then, four other Georgia football players have been ticketed for driving-related offenses. According to work by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, since Smart was hired in 2015, Georgia players have been cited nearly 300 times for driving-related offenses, including excessive speeding, street racing and driving under the influence. It is almost incomprehensible that it took until 2023 for someone to lose their life. The AJC report also discusses more serious offenses, but Georgia has strongly denied those. The driving issue is a different matter.
“I'm disappointed anytime we have traffic incidents,” said Smart Tuesday. “It's very evident when you look at it, we've had traffic citations and incidents throughout the history of being at the University of Georgia. We actually don't have more now than we've had in the past. What concerns me most is the safety of our players, and when you drive at high speeds it's unsafe. We don't want that to happen. We're going to do all we can to take that out and make sure that's eradicated.”
Action is always stronger than words, and we’ve seen what little Georgia school officials have done.
Pressure... What pressure?
If there is a team favored to knock Georgia off its perch as top dog in the SEC, how about one with a feline for a mascot?
Brian Kelly begins his second year at LSU under immense pressure. Why?
For starters, it comes with the job. Consider only Bill Arnsparger and Nick Saban have left LSU without being fired or pressured to resign in the past 50 years. That list includes Charles McCendon, the winningest coach in school history, and two coaches who won national championships for the Tigers.
It also didn’t hurt that Kelly’s first year wildly exceeded expectations when LSU won the SEC West Division, beat Alabama, and won 10 games, capped by a 63-7 win over Purdue in the Citrus Bowl.
LSU returns Jayden Daniels at quarterback and seven more starters on offense, not to mention a dozen transfers into the program. Whereas the defense carried the Tigers last season, it should be the offense that carries the load in 2023. Add in any type of positive contribution from special teams, and the Tigers should be a favorite to win their first SEC title since 2019 and advance to the College Football Playoffs.
“There’s two programs that are a model” of consistency, said Kelly Monday. “It’s Georgia and Alabama. We’re new to that. And one of the reasons why I’m in this position is that there wasn’t consistency. So, building consistency, you’ve got to do it more than just one year. You’ve got to do it year in and year out. We’re not there yet.”
Neither was another program at LSU in year two of its “new” coach, but that didn’t stop Kim Mulkey from leading the Lady Tigers’ basketball program to its first national championship in April. A few weeks ago, Jay Johnson led the baseball program to its seventh national title in his second season.
So, how about it, Coach Kelly?
“The bar is set that you’re playing for championships,” said Kelly. “But, again, that’s why I took the job.”
GIG ‘EM OR GIGGLES?
No offseason coaching hire in the SEC sparked more reaction than Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher hiring Bobby Petrino as offensive coordinator.
Fisher, whose offense at A&M has floundered since coming from Florida State, is known as a control freak in the image of his one-time boss, Nick Saban. Seeing him relinquish play-calling duties to someone else has been difficult to imagine. But, to turn over those duties to Petrino will either result in spectacular results or a spectacular implosion. Add to the equation the addition of longtime A&M rival Texas to the SEC for the 2024 season, and the pressure is on Fisher and his mediocre program to produce yards, points and more importantly, victories. Petrino’s teams have never had an issue in yielding those kinds of results. It’s been Petrino’s personal failings that have been his downfall.
“He’ll make us better and knows that I’m still going to be in the offensive coordinator room some, but going to be in the defensive room some, too,” said Fisher. “We share ideas and we’re not afraid to challenge each other.”
Contrary to popular opinion, Fisher pointed out, there has been little drama between the two thus far.
“Yeah, we’ve had three wrestling matches, two boxing matches,” joked Fisher.