Day 1 of SEC Media Days is now in the books. After hearing from conference commissioner Greg Sankey on Monday, we finally got to see Dan Mullen, Ed Orgeron and Shane Beamer take the big stage in Hoover, Alabama.
For the most part, things went about how we expected — well, except that Mullen struggled to give a response when asked which Star Wars movie is his favorite. That one should’ve been easy.
Sidebar: if you’re going to wear a Darth Vader costume during a press conference on Halloween, be ready to answer that question at some point. Mullen is usually willing to share his opinion, so it’s a bit concerning that he was not able to give us his favorite Star Wars flick immediately upon request. Also, the correct answer is The Empire Strikes Back.
Anyways, we are now heading into Day 2 of SEC Media Days on Tuesday. Below are ways you can watch, as well as several key storylines that you should follow. Full disclosure: don’t expect much news on the West until Wednesday. Today is all about the East.
Where: Hyatt Regency – The Winfrey Hotel (Hoover, Ala.)
When: Tuesday, July 20
Coverage Starts: 9 a.m. ET (8 a.m. CT)
TV Channel: SEC Network
Streaming: ESPN app, SEC Network+
Lineup (Day 1): Georgia (Kirby Smart); Tennessee (Josh Heupel); Kentucky (Mark Stoops)
Top Storylines for Day 1
1. It’s now or never for Smart, Georgia
We haven’t seen Alabama down much during the Nick Saban era, but there might be an opportunity for Georgia in 2021. Though the Tide will still continue to be one of the top teams in the country, they don’t look as unstoppable as they normally do.
The Dawgs, on the other hand, are returning a ton offensively, including star quarterback JT Daniels and established play-caller Todd Monken. Despite the loss of George Pickens at wide receiver, the offense is littered with playmakers, including new wide receiver/tight end Arik Gilbert.
There’s also enough defensively to give Georgia one of the most complete rosters in college football. They came up just short of a championship in 2017, and a return trip to the College Football Playoff has been harder for them to do than many anticipated. But this year, they don’t just want to get back. They want to win it all.
On Tuesday, expect Kirby to field a few questions about the incredibly high expectations this year.
2. Heupel makes Media Days debut. What are Tennessee’s expectations?
Josh Heupel is making his first appearance at SEC Media Days. Shane Beamer, the newbie from Monday’s session, blew it out of the park. Will Heupel do the same? With everything that’s gone wrong with the Tennessee program over the last year, a solid debut certainly wouldn’t hurt.
The bigger question relates to the field, however. What are the expectations for this Vols squad?
With NCAA issues, substantial roster turnover and uncertainty at quarterback, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Tennessee finish No. 5 in the SEC East this year. But there is also enough there that a bowl game isn’t outside the realm of possibility, and a bowl appearance would certainly be a win for Heupel in Year 1.
Yes, there’s uncertainty at quarterback, but the options aren’t necessarily bad. They’re just unknown.
Let’s wait and see how Heupel handles himself on Tuesday. He’s not going to earn people’s trust with one press conference, but a solid press conference could go a long way in convincing the masses that he’s the right man for the job in Knoxville.
3. Can Kentucky finish second in the SEC East?
Mark Stoops has done a fantastic job in Lexington. Sure, the 5-6 record in 2020 was a disappointment, but with an All-SEC schedule, it wasn’t a complete shock. At least the Wildcats got a win over NC State in the Gator Bowl to close out the year.
Though he went 18-8 the previous two seasons, Stoops still has a hard time getting the respect he deserves. But that won’t be an issue for me, as I strongly believe Kentucky has a chance to finish second in the East.
Florida could seriously regress after a poor defensive performance in 2020 and some significant losses on offense, and Missouri doesn’t look quite ready to be a contender in the East. Expectations for Tennessee, South Carolina and Vanderbilt remain low as well.
In other words, now is the time for Stoops. Here’s why:
- OL once again looks solid
- Good 1-2 at RB with Chris Rodriguez and Kavosiey Smoke
- QB play should be much improved
- Former Rams coach Liam Coen joins staff as OC
- Defense has some key returning pieces
Sure, no one expects anyone to rival Georgia in that division, but finishing second with nine or 10 wins isn’t impossible for this Kentucky roster. The only clear-cut loss on the schedule is that road trip to Athens. Home games against Missouri, Florida and LSU are all manageable.
They’ll likely drop one, maybe two of those, but that’s still a heck of a season.