From the Podium: 2016 SEC Football Media Days

Yep, it is just about that time again. I know, I know, fond memories of that Fourth of July getaway still linger for many of us. But if you listen intently you can almost hear the crescendo of chatter building toward the kickoff of the college football season. For college football fans, the fragrance of optimism wafts through the air alongside the mosquitoes as the summer heat brings a simmering fervor into a full-fledged fall boil.

Nowhere else does college football have such a deeply embedded investment from the masses as it does in the Southeastern Conference. So it seems only fitting that the SEC helps reignite the college football flame, albeit with a flawed assumption that that flame was ever extinguished.

Beginning on Monday, more than 1,000 media members, 14 head coaches and 42 student-athletes will converge on the Hyatt Regency Wynfrey in Hoover, Ala. Hoover is to college football what Iowa and New Hampshire are to presidential politics. It all starts right here.

What is said here will be repeated, replayed and revisited countless times over the next six months, with the addition of a real-time narrative aided by hindsight and shaped by wins, losses, upsets and unpredictable turns. After all, few could have predicted last year’s national champion being determined, in part, by a fourth-and-25 conversion desperation heave in overtime transpiring 170 miles away from Tuscaloosa.

So on Monday, as SEC Football Media Days officially kicks off four days of wall-to-wall gridiron coverage, what can the best college football fans in the Nation expect from an event previewing an unpredictable season? Here are five topics and storylines that are likely to emerge from the, thankfully air-conditioned, corridors of this SEC extravaganza.

1. Return of the Commish – SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey will open media days late Monday morning in the main media room. This annual, State of the SEC Union, traditionally outlines past accomplishments, current initiatives and a vision for the future of the SEC and intercollegiate athletics. Sankey’s remarks, blended with his keen and societal relevant humor, will help set the course of the nation’s most competitive conference for the year to come. Bets are a few music lyrics will be quoted for good measure.

2. Back on Top – Last year, the questions came in bunches. Was the SEC losing its grip on the helm of college football? After an unprecedented run in the BCS era, the SEC was absent from the inaugural CFP Championship Game. But last year, Alabama ascended the mountain and reclaimed the national title, staking a flag of SEC dominance atop the college football world. Is that hold secure? Who knows, but once again a defending national champion will be making the rounds in Hoover.

3. Coaching Debuts – While the actual on-field debut for a coach at a new school won’t come until early September, the unofficial start of a coaching tenure, at least nationally, begins at SEC Football Media Days. This year, three new head coaches will be taking to the podium and running the gauntlet of media rooms. Missouri head coach Barry Odom and Georgia’s Kirby Smart will be making their first SEC Media Days visit. Odom took over for the longtime Tigers’ coach Gary Pinkel, while Smart traded in his crimson for red and black and a head coaching spot. South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp is not a rookie to media days, but he will be talking Gamecocks for the first time after previously attending as the head coach at Florida.

4. Debating Legislation – Political debates are not the only arena in which leaders stand at a podium and are grilled on pending or potential future legislation. SEC Football Media Days is often a one-stop shop for getting at least 14 influential voices on topics pertaining to the issue of college football. Previous years have been filled with questions for coaches about the College Football Playoff, Cost of Attendance and the speed of play. This year, if you fill your SEC Football Media Days bingo card with satellite camps, Harbaugh, student-athlete conduct, universal drug testing and mandated time off policy issues, you are likely to be on your way to a winning card, even without the use of the free space.

5. Marquee Players – While high-profile coaches traditionally make the biggest headlines, one of the best kept secrets of SEC Football Media Days is the opportunity to connect with some of the nation’s best players. Through the years, this event has proven to be curtain raising to Heisman Trophy winners and college football legends. Each institution selects three student-athletes to attend SEC Football Media Days, and this year’s crop is bound to draw some interest. Quarterback Trevor Knight, an Oklahoma transfer, will attend on behalf of his new school Texas A&M. It will be the third media-day experience for Knight, who made a similar trip to Big 12 Media Days with the Sooners. LSU’s Leonard Fournette leads an impressive group of running backs that also includes Tennessee’s Jalen Hurd and Georgia’s Nick Chubb. In addition to those already in the spotlight, new faces will emerge as the future of the SEC, and we will begin to learn more about the young men who will take to the field this fall.

Don’t have a credential for media days? Don’t fret it. The SEC Network and the ESPN family of networks has you covered. Tune in all this week as the SEC and college football takes center stage.

All the fun begins on Monday and for the sixth straight year, I will have a front row seat as the press conference moderator in the main media auditorium. There is nowhere else I would want to be as a college football fan. So I hope you will follow along each day as I share some thoughts and insights into this year’s festivities.

Heck, as you follow along feel free to break out your fall tailgate. After all, you want to be warmed up and ready to go when your favorite team hits the field in less than seven weeks.

On Tap for Monday (All Times Central)
11:35 a.m. – 2:25 p.m. – SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey
11:35 a.m. – 2:25 p.m. – Auburn (Head Coach Gus Malzahn, DL Carl Lawson, DL Montravious Adams, WR Marcus Davis)
1:45 – 1:55 p.m. – College Football Playoff Executive Director Bill Hancock
2:30-5:30 p.m. – Florida (Head Coach Jim McElwain, OL David Sharpe, LB Jarrad Davis, DB Marcus Maye)
2:30-5:30 p.m. – Vanderbilt (Head Coach Derek Mason, RB Ralph Webb, LB Zach Cunningham, LB Oren Burks)

TV Coverage:
SEC Network – SEC Now: 2016 SEC Football Media Days Special (11:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.)
SEC Network – Paul Finebaum Show (4:30 – 6 p.m.)

For the sixth consecutive year, University of Arkansas Associate Athletic Director for Public Relations Kevin Trainor is serving as the press conference moderator in the main print media room at SEC Football Media Days in Hoover, Ala. Throughout the week, Trainor will share some highlights and observations from this year’s event.