SEC East lessons learned from media days

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2021 SEC Football Kickoff Media Days
(Jimmie Mitchell/SEC)
[caption id="attachment_360361" align="aligncenter" width="2560"] (Jimmie Mitchell/SEC)[/caption] That was some week in Metro Birmingham. KSR was hanging out at The Wynfrey Hotel all week providing coverage from the mega-event. National media interviews, Twitter updates, Dr. Pepper reviews, daily podcasts, and Nick Saban busting chops were all part of a wacky week in Hoover. Some of it was a blur, but there was plenty of information presented after getting to speak with every coach in the league. After gorging ourselves with SEC football talk for 96 hours, now is the time to take a step back and recognize what was learned about all 14 members. The East is up first.

Florida: Belief in Emory Jones

Kyle Trask is gone after a terrific season in 2020, and Dan Mullen will be on his third starting QB in four seasons. Emory Jones was one of Mullen's first big recruiting wins as the Gators were able to flip the top-100 recruit from Ohio State just before signing day. There are plenty of questions surrounding the program after three straight losses to end the season, but there is faith in the redshirt junior. "I think Emory has shown the maturity early on that it wasn't I have to play from day one, it's I have to continue to be developed from day one to prepare for my moment and my time, and that's what he's been able to do," Mullen said at SEC Media Days. "As I said, you're looking at a guy, as he comes into the season, he's not coming in what a stat line of nothing. He's coming in with a stat line that he's played in key times in significant games. I think that's huge, and it's prepared him for this time." The 13-year SEC head coaching veteran believes in the experience of his veteran quarterback. Jones has played in 24 games over the last three seasons while collecting 514 rushing yards, 613 passing yards to go along with 13 total touchdowns. The Gators believe he is primed for a huge season in whatever style of offense Mullen decides to utilize this fall. However, if Jones is not ready to be a star this could be a team that takes a major step back in 2021.

Georgia: Pressure in Athens

Once again, Alabama was picked to win the league at SEC Media Days, but Georgia was the clear pick in the SEC East. Kirby Smart might have the most talented roster in college football thanks to elite recruiting and a productive offseason in the transfer portal. A national championship is the last thing left to accomplish, but the 45-year-old and his players know that. The Bulldogs were not going to give the media a soundbite this week. "Expectations. That's the next one," said Smart. "I've got a quote for you here that really drives home what we think about expectations at University of Georgia. Success comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it. Say that again. Success comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it. That's Henry David Thoreau. For me, that's it. I'm too busy working. I'm too busy trying to do the next thing. I'm too busy trying to take the next step to give our team a competitive advantage to really worry about expectations." The Dawgs got out of Hoover without making much news and that was the goal. However, the pressure is obvious, and the season-opening clash against Clemson in Charlotte could tell us a lot.

Kentucky: Quiet confidence

Mark Stoops has now been the head football coach in Lexington for nine seasons, and only Nick Saban has lasted longer at his current job. Kentucky is 37-26 over the last five seasons as the program continues to make steady progress in the SEC. The Wildcats were pegged to finish third place in the SEC East showing that the media's level of respect for the job Stoops has done has continued to improve. The head coach was very comfortable behind the podium at SEC Media Days. "I said it when I got to Kentucky that we were going to recruit, we were going to develop, we were going to complete, and I wanted to take this program to national prominence, and people laughed at me," Stoops said. "We're not there yet, but we're on our way. I'm going to continue to work. I feel good about where we're at." "I think we have a very good team, and we have some things in place, and we're constantly learning, constantly growing, and we're getting better." Kentucky is climbing the ladder and has made some great strides. With a soft non-conference schedule, this could be a season where the Wildcats make a big splash. The head coach certainly seems to have some quiet confidence heading into the year.

Missouri: Swagger and experience

Eliah Drinkwitz didn't get to make his SEC Media Days debut until Thursday, but the second-year head coach made a big impression. Drinkwitz cracked jokes, was very loose talking about his program, and flashed some surprising charisma that is certainly paying off on the recruiting trail as Mizzou is on pace to have a top-15 class in 2022. With a proven quarterback and 16 starters returning, the Tigers could be primed to have another good season. https://twitter.com/CoachDrinkwitz/status/1418262270220677125?s=20 "We return eight starters on defense," Drinkwitz told reporters on Thursday. "We return eight starters on the offensive side of the ball and four specialists. We got an opportunity to have a really strong line of scrimmage, which is one thing that we learned last year was needed in order to be successful in this league." "We have a commodity at the quarterback position. We're excited about the growth he can show and earn. We've added playmakers around him." The Tigers have faith in redshirt sophomore quarterback Connor Bazelak, and Drinkwitz feels like new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks and a few transfer portal additions can fix the holes on the defense. Despite a lack of recruiting star power on the roster, Mizzou seems confident.

South Carolina: Shane Beamer's PR masterpiece

A long season is coming down the chimney in Columbia. The Gamecocks have holes on the roster, and Shane Beamer is entering his first season with a couple of unproven Power Five coordinators. There is the Clemson matchup in the non-con and plenty of blowout losses could be in store in South Carolina. However, the son of a legendary college coach was able to sell promise on Monday afternoon. "There have been some great days in Columbia, South Carolina, some great days for South Carolina football, but I am 100 percent convinced that the best days of South Carolina football are right in front of us, and I couldn't more excited about that, couldn't be more excited about being the head football coach of South Carolina," Beamer said. Beamer's time at the podium was half recruiting infomercial and half sales pitch to the media. The Gamecocks are trying to gain as much positive attention as possible before the season starts. This program has added 12 verbal commitments to the class of 2022 since June. The schedule must be played, but the Gamecocks are all about the future right now.

Tennessee: Things could be ugly 

Josh Heupel is another young coach in the SEC, but unlike Missouri and South Carolina, recruiting is not going great for the Volunteers. Tennessee is on pace to have a recruiting class finish outside of the top-25 while also dealing with an absurd amount of losses to the transfer portal. The roster is not in a great place. "I know I'll get asked this question in a little bit, but we were hit by the transfer portal certainly before I got to campus, but that's been a double-edged sword, and I say that meaning we were able to add eight guys after spring ball through the transfer portal as well, and I think, as we've gone through this summer and we get into training camp, those guys are going to have an opportunity to help us out as we get on the football field this fall," Heupel told the media. Double-edge sword, indeed. The Vols have new schemes on both sides of the football to go along with the biggest roster turnover in college football we've seen in quite some time. For the first time since he took over as offensive coordinator at Missouri, Heupel will not inherit a proven quarterback. If that position does not hit this season it will be a long year on Rocky Top.

Vanderbilt: Year zero will be ugly

Speaking of messes, new head coach Clark Lea has a ton of work to do on the West End. The Commodores are in tough shape and will be taking the first steps this season as the program begins what should be a very long rebuild. "But for us, there are no cheat codes to winning," Lea said on Wednesday. "You can't simply hack your way to sustained success. We have to go the long, hard way, but we're going to do it together at Vanderbilt, and that's what's going to make this special." Vanderbilt is beginning to raise its recruiting ceiling slowly, but this will always be a program that will need elite player development to succeed. Lea and his new staff will need a couple of years to show that proof of concept. Therefore, things could be pretty ugly before they get better in Nashville.

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2021-09-20

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