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(Photo by Jimmie Mitchell/SEC)[/caption]
There is quite a bit to unpack from last week’s SEC Media Days. I was unable to make the trip to Hoover and was unplugged for the week. So, I’m playing catchup. Nick Roush and Adam Luckett did a fantastic job covering the media-frenzied event.
I think it’s safe to say that times are changing in college football. 2021 has produced the influx of the transfer portal and the legalization of NIL (Name, Image, and Likeness). Both are game changers. And then, the news dropped about Oklahoma and Texas potentially departing the Big 12 and moving to the Southeastern Conference. Incredible. Heck, I’m still getting used to Arkansas and South Carolina. Let’s take a deeper dive into some story lines from Hoover.
Sooners and Longhorns
This morning, Oklahoma and Texas issued a joint statement notifying the Big 12 that they will not renew their grants of media rights
, which expire in 2025, the first step in leaving the conference. All signs point to the SEC becoming college athletics’ first super-conference with 16 teams. This will become the trend across the nation, which could see the demise of the Big 12 and potentially the NCAA. Mega-leagues could possibly break away from the NCAA and create their own governing body; that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Of the two, Oklahoma is the most SEC-ready. The Sooners are highly talented and have played with more physicality in the past couple of seasons. OU is a turn-key, instant competitor in the nation’s top conference. Texas, well, let’s just say that new Longhorns head coach Steve Sarkisian has his hands full in Austin. I like everything about Sark. He’s one heck of a play caller and went through the Bama coach’s development program under Nick Saban. However, Texas will bring an entitled fan base and a finesse football team into an unforgiving league. Good luck asking for the “Horns Down” hand gesture to be outlawed in the conference that sports some of the most intimidating home field advantages in the country.
Fortner’s the Center
News broke in Hoover that super-senior Luke Fortner will play center in 2021
. Fortner was also voted to the All-SEC team by attending media. This move makes sense. I compared the sixth-year offensive lineman to Jon Toth coming out of high school. He’s been a consistent presence on the Big Blue Wall for many seasons. A move to center will bring valuable experience to the position vacated by longtime starter Drake Jackson and boost Fortner’s draft stock. In addition, this move also projects depth at guard. Eli Cox and Jager Burton will join veterans Austin Dotson and Kenneth Horsey to form a deep rotation on the inside. Quintin Wilson will spell Fortner. Wilson played meaningful snaps at guard a year ago and can play both positions. Kentucky has solidified a two-deep at every position on the offensive line, which is a team strength. The SEC Network’s Cole Cubelic believes that Kentucky has the top OL in the conference
. I agree with Cole.
[caption id="attachment_325739" align="alignnone" width="2560"] Photo by UK Athletics
Keaton Upshaw’s Injury
Matt Jones reported on Tuesday that Kentucky tight end Keaton Upshaw suffered an injury during preseason training
. Upshaw underwent successful surgery
and is out indefinitely. The 6’6, 245-pound tight end was poised for a breakout season in Liam Coen’s new offense. Upshaw totaled 16 catches for 193 yards and 3 touchdowns last season. Those numbers were expected to increase in 2021.
Justin Rigg's decision to return for an additional year of eligibility looms large with Upshaw being out indefinitely. The super-senior will be counted on to increase his production in the passing game while maintaining his status as the league’s top on-line blocking TE. Brenden Bates has enjoyed an impressive offseason and will play a larger role in 2021. In addition to Bates, true freshman Jordan Dingle will form a three TE rotation.
What Does All This Mean?
Last week was historical. College football’s landscape is changing. Super-conferences are the future. The SEC is at the forefront of the new era and all signs point to Oklahoma and Texas joining the league. As expected, Texas A&M is not happy. Heck, I wouldn’t be either. Sides are taken in rivalry games. I’m all-in on A&M after an unforgettable trip to Kyle Field in 2018. However, money drives the train and the Aggies will have to adapt.
Kentucky suffered a significant injury at the tight end position. Keaton Upshaw was trending to become a star in the Wildcats' new offense. His injury is unfortunate. Justin Rigg, Brenden Bates, and Jordan Dingle will need to stay healthy in order for Liam Coen to have multiple tight ends at his disposal.
Super-senior Luke Fortner takes over at center. The Wildcats have been fortunate to field two of the best in program history in Jon Toth and Drake Jackson. Fortner is an All-SEC performer at guard. This move assures depth at every spot on the offensive line.
College football traditionalists have seen more change in 2021 than in decades prior. The transfer portal and NIL have surfaced into quite the uproar. Now, Oklahoma and Texas are joining the SEC? Wow. Just wow. I’m enjoying the chaos from afar. Time are a changing.