HOOVER, Ala. - It’s college football season.
HOOVER, Ala. - It’s college football season.
Maybe not officially. For casual fans the season won’t begin until the first ball is snapped in September. But for the diehards, it’s no longer taboo – or too early, at least – to talk college football now that Media Days are arrived.
The Southeastern Conference’s party begins today at the Wynfrey Hotel in suburbana Birmingham, Alabama.
It’s expected, per usual, to be four days of non-stop SEC chatter. Every team brings its head coach and three players. At a rate of three-to-four teams per day, the groups make their rounds. The print journalists ask questions first. Then radio and television.
From 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. it’s football.
Arkansas’ day is Wednesday in the 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. slot. Coach Bret Bielema will speak, of course, and then quarterback Brandon Allen, running back Jonathan Williams and wide receiver Keon Hatcher, all seniors, will join him in the fray.
Bielema drew national attention last year at Media Days with his talk on pace-of-play and player safety. Given the Razorbacks increased national expectations, don’t expect another attention-grabber from the third-year head coach after making something of a frenemy with Auburn coach Gus Malzahn.
Do expect questions about Bielema’s new offensive coordinator, Allen’s growth and the defense’s ability to continue its great play from the end of last season, however.
As for Arkansas’ competition, they’ll each field their own questions. Here’s a look at what to expect as the biggest storylines for each of the Razorbacks SEC opponents this week.
Auburn (Monday) – Malzahn is replacing his quarterback, Nick Marshall, and running back Cameron Artis-Payne. Malzahn’s offenses – from Shiloh Christian and Springdale High School to Arkansas, Tulsa, Arkansas State and now Auburn – have been electric. But replacing the two keys to its success is a task.
Texas A&M (Tuesday) – New defensive coordinator John Chavis isn’t likely to be around, but he’ll be a talking point. The Aggies have been brutal defensively since Kevin Sumlin has been head coach. Chavis left one college football’s most prolific defenses the last six or seven years at LSU for College Station. How much will it help A&M?
Mississippi State (Tuesday) – It’s a simple question in Starkville. Was last year a fluke? The Bulldogs reached No. 1 in the nation at one point last year. With the best quarterback in the conference returning in Dak Prescott but little else offensively, how big a step back does Mississippi State take?
Tennessee (Tuesday) – The Volunteers are Arkansas East. Expectations are high in Butch Jones’ third year much as they are in Bielema’s in Fayetteville. Tennessee has the pieces, the schedule and the excitement, but how big will the stage.
Alabama (Wednesday) – There was a question last year as to who the Crimson Tide would put under (behind?) center. Blake Sims was the answer in the fall and Alabama made the first-ever College Football Playoff in the FBS. It’s the same query this year. Coach Nick Saban won’t tip anything off this week whether he’s made a decision or not. It will be asked about enough, anyway.
Missouri (Wednesday) – Two years in the Southeastern Conference, two SEC title games. Missouri was supposed to struggle upon arriving in the league, if you believed the jilted Big XII. The Tigers haven’t. Yet there are plenty, mostly in the classic SEC states, who believe Missouri is fooling everyone. No one will ask coach Gary Pinkel about that outright, although there will be a few passive-aggressive "How do you do this?" questions posed.
Ole Miss (Thursday) – Laremy Tunsil may be the best offensive lineman in college football, nevermind the SEC. But it wasn’t two weeks ago his step-father claimed, after Tunsil was arrested on allegations he assaulted his step-father while protecting his mother, Tunsil was associating with professional agents. It remains to be seen how big a distraction that will loom as the Rebels prepare for what’s expected to be a big season.
LSU (Thursday) – Can the offense match the defense? Yes, it’s a new defensive coordinator. And, yes, it’s likely a new quarterback. But while the defense will only be slightly inferior (and still likely top 10 nationally) to last year’s, the offense has to improve if the Tigers want any shot at an SEC title and return to their glory days of just a few short years ago.