The head coaching debuts
Last year, interim Vanderbilt head coach Robbie Caldwell stole the show at the SEC Media Days with his self-effacing, homespun humor. But on the field he only lasted one season and was replaced by James Franklin, the former Maryland offensive coordinator. Franklin joins Vanderbilt with a reputation as a good recruiter, and he’s living up to it already, but he can’t really talk about his commitments. So clearly the most curious media days debut will be Florida’s Will Muschamp, who as a former Georgia player and Auburn assistant is well-known to the conference but has never been a head coach. He figures to be a bit more glib than the strictly business Urban Meyer but less quippy than Steve Spurrier, the other former Florida head coach. Of course, it doesn’t really matter too much: Caldwell being the star of the show last year didn’t get him very far.
Muschamp has the delicate task of putting his own stamp on a program that was wildly successful but was apparently ready for a change. The spread option is gone, replaced by the pro style offense led by veteran play-caller Charlie Weis. Gators quarterback John Brantley, who struggled to replace Tim Tebow last year, will be in Hoover, Ala., to discuss how he thinks he’ll do in Weis’ system. Muschamp is also likely to be asked how he has dealt with the rash of arrests in the program, almost all prior to his arrival. That includes star cornerback Janoris Jenkins, who left the program after multiple citations for marijuana possession. It should also be interesting to see whether Muschamp uses the coaching transition as a chance to downplay expectations, or the fact this is still Florida to say his team should be back in the mix for an SEC title.
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Richt handles the heat
Media members might dance around it, but almost every question directed at Georgia coaches and players will have this undercurrent: Is this a make-or-break year for head coach Mark Richt, and will the team be good enough to save his job? The talent appears to be there for the Bulldogs, judging by their showing in the coaches’ preseason All-SEC list -- six on the first team, nine overall. And none of those include three potential impact newcomers: tailback Isaiah Crowell, nose tackle John Jenkins and outside linebacker Jarvis Jones. Richt and the three players selected to visit Hoover -- quarterback Aaron Murray, cornerback Brandon Boykin and center Ben Jones -- figure to be asked about the highly rated incoming recruiting class. If he is asked directly about his job status, Richt’s response should be interesting. The taciturn Richt has begun to show a bit of aggressiveness, like before the Liberty Bowl when he cited his status among the game’s winningest active coaches. He might, if pushed hard enough, exhibit a bit more defensiveness in Hoover.
No, the South Carolina quarterback won’t be there, and the fact Stephen Garcia wasn’t among the three the Gamecocks are bringing says a lot. He has been suspended numerous times, the most recent in the spring, and it’s doubtful he’ll ever leave Spurrier’s doghouse. South Carolina has so much other talent: receiver Alshon Jeffery, tailback Marcus Lattimore, cornerback Stephon Gilmore and freshman defensive end Jadeveon Clowney to name a few. The conventional wisdom is that if Garcia gets his act together and plays like a veteran, South Carolina should repeat as division champion. The chances of that happening will be a frequently asked question of Spurrier and Garcia’s three teammates who make the trip to Hoover.
Has Tennessee turned the corner yet?
Or is the bottom still approaching? If only two Volunteers made the preseason All-SEC first, second and third teams, what does that say about the talent on hand? Head coach Derek Dooley at least is back for another year, after Lane Kiffin’s one-year stop through Knoxville and Phillip Fulmer’s long farewell tour. Dooley will try to play up last year’s strong finish, including the play of quarterback Tyler Bray. That offers some hope. But it wouldn’t be a surprise for Tennessee to get a few last-place votes. All this is against the backdrop of looming NCAA penalties, and the Vols are still searching for a new athletics director.