Let’s talk some ball.
On Monday, Greg Sankey will get the party started when the commissioner addresses the media at The Wynfrey Hotel at 12:30 p.m. EST. After that, players and coaches from all 14 member institutions will field questions and promote their football programs over the four days.
The mega-event will be a circus as always even with limited attendance this season. All-SEC teams and preseason standings will be announced, but there will also be storylines to emerge from this week that will carry us into the season beginning on Labor Day weekend. That’s why it is called the talking season.
Here are the talking points that KSR will be monitoring throughout the week as the 2021 football season is officially upon us.
Alabama or Georgia
Playoff, playoff, playoff. That word will be said at least 5,000 times on the SEC Network this week as SEC Media Days receives major television coverage. When the talk about the final four emerges, two teams will hear their names in almost every conversation.
Both Alabama and Georgia enter the season with top-five rosters in college football. Both programs recruit at a top-four level and each improved their roster with a few transfer portal additions this offseason. The student — Kirby Smart — and teacher — Nick Saban — won’t meet in the regular season, but all signs point to another meeting in Atlanta.
The Crimson Tide lose a lot of last year’s national championship squad, but the talent and Saban are inevitable more times than not. Meanwhile, Smart has a large national championship monkey on his back. The votes will likely be close for who folks think will win the league, but we’ll probably see it play out on the field regardless. Both teams could make the College Football Playoff no matter who wins the league.
Kentucky’s star power
The Wildcats have plenty of questions to answer in year nine under Mark Stoops, but there is no denying the star talent on the roster. Darian Kinnard, Chris Rodriguez Jr., Wan’Dale Robinson, Dare Rosenthal, Josh Paschal, and Yusuf Corker all are good enough to show up on some first-team All-SEC ballots.
Will that actually happen? Only time will tell.
Slowly and steadily, Stoops and the Kentucky football program have started to receive some more respect nationally. The Wildcats are consistently going to bowl games, have players receiving All-America honors, and are developing individuals into draft picks. However, that still does not always translate into preseason love.
Ed Orgeron heat
Coach O was on top of the world as the 2019 season ended. The Tigers brought home their third national championship in the BCS/CFP era while running the table and fielding the best offense that college football has ever seen.
Then the collapse came.
LSU finished the All-SEC season at 5-5 but there was a lot more good than bad. The Bo Pelini reunion was a disaster as the Tigers had one of the worst defenses in the league and allowed a bad Mississippi State offense to set records in a demoralizing opening season loss. The Tigers started three different quarterbacks, took a bowl ban, and needed some fortunate bounces to log season-ending wins against Florida and Ole Miss.
— Darren Heitner (@DarrenHeitner) December 13, 2020
Now the Tigers have two new coordinators while Orgeron and the university are dealing with a Title IX lawsuit due to alleged mishandling of sexual conduct allegations. A lot is riding on that opener against UCLA at the Rose Bowl.
Orgeron and the LSU job will take up a lot of oxygen when the Tigers take the stage on Monday afternoon. How the fifth-year head coach handles the questions will be one of the biggest talking points of the event.
Josh Heupel has inherited a bad situation. The football program at Tennessee was gutted by the transfer portal, lost commitments from a top-15 recruiting class, and has NCAA sanctions coming down the chimney at some point. Most are expecting a tough first season for the Big Orange.
For the first time since he was hired by new athletic director Danny White, Heupel will be able to promote his program on a big stage. The former offensive coordinator at Oklahoma and Missouri had an offense that put up big numbers at UCF but the Knights were not able to live up to the bar set by Scott Frost. Still, Heupel was able to land a premier job but it’s one with plenty of landmines to deal with.
The Vols have really fallen behind with in-state recruiting and there is practically no buzz for the team entering the year. Huge quarterback questions remain while signs point to this being one of the worst defenses in the league. However, the starting 22 does have some legitimate talent on it but depth is a huge worry as this is a team that could have around 70 or fewer scholarship players this season.
Heupel needs to hit a home run behind the mic and get some positivity around the program because everyone else is going to be talking down when the Vols come up on Tuesday morning.
The state of the program at Florida
Dan Mullen has done a good job in Gainesville. The Gators are 29-9 since the Mississippi State coach arrived on campus and have gone to the New Year’s Six three years in a row. Mullen has beaten four top-10 teams and had Florida in the SEC Championship last year giving Alabama their biggest challenge of the season.
Still, some doubts remain after the Gators lost three consecutive games to end the year and were embarrassed by Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl.
Mullen has proven to have the ability to recruit at a top 10-12 level but Florida is a clear tier behind Alabama, Georgia, LSU, and Texas A&M when it comes to winning on signing day. Due to that, it is putting a hard ceiling on the potential of the program. Meanwhile, Todd Grantham has a defense that is stuck in the middle of the pack in the SEC.
When he takes the stage, Mullen will have a state of the program speech that will detail what kind of shape the Gators are in and how the program plans to keep climbing the ladder. However, this is a clear transition year with a ton of firepower to replace on offense and no real superstars on defense.
This could all equal some criticism or worry about the Florida program heading into a big season.