The unofficial start of football season commenced today in Hoover at the Wynfrey Hotel as SEC Media Days cranked up once again for its annual summer showcase. The big news from Commissioner Greg Sankey was that Media Days will be held in Atlanta next year and Nashville in 2021. Don’t know what that means for Hoover going forward. It’s been a great venue for the event, but the SEC is expanding the brand, I guess that’s what you’d call it, and Atlanta and Nashville are major cities in the South and nationally, so that was the decision. Still, a classic event today and going forward the next 3 days in Hoover.
Speakers today were Dan Mullen of Florida, Ed Orgeron of LSU and Barry Odom of Missouri. Here’s what each coach said about their respective teams.
Dan Mullen, Gators
The Gators finished the 2018 season 10-3 and blasted Jim Harbaugh and Michigan 41-15 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta. So Mullen’s first year was a pretty resounding success after the struggles the program experienced under Jim McElwain.
The Gators kick off the 150th season of college football on Saturday, August 24th against Miami at Camping World Stadium in Orlando. That’s a phenomenal opener for the college football season. The game kicks off at 6 PM CT and will be broadcast by ESPN. The Gators are then off Sat, 8-31, host UT Martin, Sat. 9-7, @ Kentucky Sat. 9-14, host Tennessee, Saturday, 9-21, host Towson Saturday, 9-28 (No line), host Auburn for homecoming (interesting) on Saturday, 10-6, @LSU, Saturday, 10-12, @ South Carolina Saturday, 10-19, Off Saturday, 10-26, Georgia in Jacksonville Saturday 11-2, versus Vanderbilt Saturday, 11-9, @Missouri Saturday, 11-16, Off, versus Florida State, Saturday, 11-30.
This is a possible SEC Championship team. The FPI index produced by ESPN gives Florida a 19% chance to win the East behind Georgia’s 58%, but this team does return quite a lot of talent. Junior quarterback Feleipe Franks returns. After some up and down results for the first 9 games of the season, Franks finished the season throwing 12 TDs in his last 4 games against 0 interceptions. He’ 6’6”, 240 and can run. Mullen was asked how Franks was able to turn it around and Mullen said he started listening to quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson and Mullen, and not Twitter. Mullen asked him towards the latter half of the season if he was going to listen to him and Johnson or to people on Twitter. Mullen told him if the Twitter people knew more about coaching quarterbacks than his coaches, that they should coach him. Franks got the message. He finished the season completing 188 of 322 passes (58%) for 2,457 yards 24 TDs against 6 ints. So a lot to build on off his performance from last year. Franks also rushed for 7 TDs. Mullen said Franks figured out with his size that if defenses are going to give him the middle of the field he’s going to run 20 yards for a TD.
Lamical Perine returns to lead the running game. He rushed for 826 yards and 7 TDS last season. Van Jefferson is a stellar wide receiver. He pulled in 35 passes for 503 yards and 6 TDs last year. The offensive line has been an issue for the Gators for several years now, so playing well up front is critical to the Gators taking a very good season last year and making it a great season this year.
D end Jabari Zuniga will anchor the defense. The senior is 6’3”, 295 pounds. He posted 11 tackles for loss and 6 sacks last season. Linebacker David Reese, a 6’0” 221 pound linebacker, was the second leading tackler on the team last year with 81 tackles.
Zuniga was at Media Days today and was asked about the wide assortment of shoes that Dan Mullen shows off. Zuniga said, “He’s definitely got a deep closet.”
Mullen had a hole in one this summer at Lake Oconee Golf Course at Reynolds Plantation in Georgia. He sank his 173 yard shot with a 7 iron. That’s probably just one less club than Dustin Johnson would have used. That’s pretty large.
Florida, which returns 13 starters, 7 on offense, 6 on defense, should have a very good team this season and their fortunes depend on the play of their offensive line and Franks.
Coach O, LSU
Coach O is pretty fired up about his team this season as the Bengal Tigers come off a 10-3 season and a hard fought Fiesta Bowl victory over UCF, 40-32. That was LSU’s first New Year’s Six/BCS bowl victory since 2007.
O hired Joe Brady as his quarterbacks coach. Brady comes to Baton Rouge from the New Orleans Saints and their prolific NFL offense. Brady will team up with offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger as they implement a spread offense for the Tiguhs. Joe Burrow was a resounding success last year at quarterback for O and the Tigers. Joe completed 219 of 379 passes, 58%, for 2,894 yards, 16 TDs and 5 ints. He also ran for 399 yards and 7 TDs. Coach O said they’re going to give Burrow more chances to run the ball. O is confident in Burrow’s backup Myles Brennan who was a highly sought after recruit in high school, a high 4 star, so if Burrow gets hurt, they have a pretty solid backup. But I really hope Joe stays healthy. He’s an awesome guy and really good for college football. He’s a heckuva competitor too. O better not run him too much. That would be a mistake.
O brought in 99, 5 star running back John Emory Jr. and 94, 4 star Tyrion Davis to compete for the starting running back job with returners Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who ran for 658 yards and 7 TDs last season, and Lanard Fournette, Leonard Fournette’s younger brother, among others. So there is some real talent in the backfield for the Bengal Tigers.
Justin Jefferson is the leading returning wide receiver. He caught 54 passes for 875 yards and 6 TDs last season. There is talent and depth on the perimeter according to O.
4 of 5 offensive linemen return and the defense will be anchored by the secondary with projected top 5 NFL draft pick safety Grant Delpit, who had 5 ints last season, leading the D. Cornerback is in good shape with junior Kristian Fulton, whom O is very high on, and star 5 star freshman and 3rd ranked player in the country in 2019, Derek Stingley Jr. manning the corner positions. The defensive line will be anchored by Rashard Lawrence.
O wants his team to be more physical on both sides of the line of scrimmage and become better at stopping the run and pressuring the quarterback. Key games include @ Texas, Saturday, 9-7, at 6:30 PM CT on ABC. Texas could be a top 10 team in the preseason poll though I’m not sure I’m buying that. It’ll be tough in Austin though. Florida comes to Baton Rouge Saturday, 10-12, @ Mississippi State the next week, 10-19, Auburn at home Saturday, 10-20, and after an off week, at the Crimson Tide, Saturday, 11-9, sure to be at 7 PM CT on CBS. @ Ole Miss, Saturday, 11-16, and home to A&M, Saturday, 11-30. That A&M game is going to have those Tiger fans charged up after last year’s 74-72, 7 overtime loss at College Station in which it looked like the Bengal Tigers had that game won 3 or 4 times only to be reversed by instant replay. It was a tough pill to swallow, so A&M better buckle up. The key for LSU is navigating this difficult schedule and somehow defeating Alabama, which is hard for any team to do. Clemson seems to have the best luck with that, but they’ve dropped a couple to the Crimson Tide as well. But the Alabama game isn’t the be all, end all for the Tiguhs. They have 11 other games and can have a highly successful season regardless of their result in Tuscaloosa. Looks like this team has a serious shot at winning 10 or 11 games and making another New Year’s Six Bowl. Could be even better with the talent on this roster.
Barry Odom, Missouri
Two major things happened for Odom and Missouri. Kelly Bryant decided to transfer from Clemson to Mizzou after deciding he wasn’t going to get a shot at quarterback with the prolific Trevor Lawrence taking over from him. That has really generated a lot of excitement in Columbia, MO.
But another thing happened and it’s not too good. Missouri received a bowl ban for the 2019 season due to a former tutor completing course work for several football players. It’s a tough thing to handle. Missouri is appealing the decision and will find out in August if the NCAA will lift the bowl ban. It’s tough on the players, but academic integrity matters.
This team has good talent with Bryant under center along with running back Larry Rountree III returning. Rountree rushed for 1,216 yards and 11 TDs in 2018. Wide receiver Johnathon Johnson returns after catching 59 passes for 737 yards and 5 TDs last season. The offensive line will be big and physical.
On defense, middle linebacker and leading tackler Cale Garrett returns. Garrett finished 3rd in the SEC in 2018 with 106 tackles. Cornerback DeMarkus Acy picked off 3 passes last year. He’ll be the leader in the secondary.
The Tigers open the season @ Wyoming on Saturday, 8-31, at 6:30 PM CT on CBS Sports Network. Wyoming should be a pretty good challenge on the road. Then the Tigers host West Virginia and new coach Neal Brown, who came to WVU from Troy where he had tremendous success. So 2 challenges right out of the gate. South Carolina comes to Mizzou on Saturday, 9-21. The Tigers are @ Kentucky, Saturday, 10-25, then they’re off, then @ Georgia, Saturday, 11-9, then Florida (10-16), and Tennessee (10-23) come to Faurot Field. The Tigers finish the season off @ Arkansas in Little Rock.
This team has a good talent and is coming off an 8-5 season in 2018 though they lost their bowl game to Oklahoma State in the Liberty Bowl, 38-33. How good this team will be depends on how Bryant can execute in Derek Dooley’s offense. The team has offensive weapons. They’ll need to play better defense to get themselves to the 9 win plateau this year.
Kirby Smart, Georgia, Jimbo Fisher, A&M, Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee and Matt Luke, Ole Miss