Four-day event gets underway in Hoover Monday
By JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
- Will Nick Saban address Cam Robinson’s status for the season-opener?
Alabama won its fourth national championship in seven years in January, but the victory lap since vanquishing Clemson has been anything but smooth.
Long-time defensive line coach and ace recruiter Bo Davis was forced to resign in late April amid allegations of recruiting violations. Then, in May, All-American left tackle Cam Robinson and safety Hootie Jones were arrested in their hometown of Monroe on drug and weapon possession charges.
DA Jerry Jones provided those in T-Town with relief — and those who believe in Bama-based conspiracies some additional firepower — when he declined prosecution against the two footballers on June 20.
Robinson, viewed by many as a possible first-overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, won’t have to face charges in court. However, the question remains unanswered if he’ll face USC when the Tide open up their title defense in Jerry World on Sept. 3.
Saban may shed some light on the subject. He may mock the reporter who asks and direct all further to the coke bottle — possibly Dr. Pepper, given this is an SEC-run event — strategically placed on the podium. Either way, its news.
- Can anyone come remotely close to filling the visor-shaped void?
Let’s all take a moment to realize that Steve Spurrier will, in all likelihood, never again hold court at SEC Media Days. No one has ever so masterfully worked the Wynfrey ballroom like the Ol’ Ball Coach.
But time moves on, and so too does the mantle of ‘most-anticipated presser,’ which Spurrier had held a chokehold on each and every summer he coached in the league. Luckily, there’s two heavyweight contenders to the throne with proven track records of podium excellence as determined by entertainment value: Les Miles and Bret Bielema.
Let’s start with Miles. Not only did he go from nearly-fired to Dean of SEC Coaches in a span of months, but he returns a legitimate title contender. Les-ease has always been as near-indecipherable and frustrating for reporters as it is entertaining for everyone else on Earth, but Les leading his annual Media Day address with a recap of how the Miles Clan spent their summer is can’t-miss.
Then there’s the Boss Hog. He’s a large man who speaks with an in-your-face bluntness that’s rarely found outside of Republican Presidential Nominees these days. And, this side of Spurrier, no coach talks trash like Bert. He ignited a friendly rivalry with Auburn by trading barbs with Gus Malzahn back at 2013 Media Days. Last year, he characterized being able to kneel out the clock on Texas’ 2-yard line to end a Texas Bowl drubbing as “borderline erotic.’
- How will Tennessee handle the hype?
The Vols were a talent-rich dark horse at this time last season, and after finishing 2015 on a six-game winning streak, Butch Jones and Co. have graduated from trendy pick to odds-on favorite to win the SEC East.
Tennessee is led by All-SEC-caliber stars in quarterback Josh Dobbs, tailback Jalen Hurd and pass rusher Derek Barnett. Pundits feel that should be enough to win a division fraught with new coaching regimes and quarterback uncertainty.
The hardest part of any rebuilding effort can be the eventual breakthrough from on-the-rise to being ‘back.’ There hasn’t been that pressure to win since Jones took over a smoldering mess after the 2012 season.
The next step is to translate hype into results by outracing Florida and Georgia for a spot in Atlanta. The other extreme would be to self-destruct right out of the gate as a preseason pick like Auburn did last season. Hoover could be an indication into how the Vols are handling the increased pressure.
- Can Chad Kelly be ‘The Guy’ for Ole Miss?
The SEC as a whole may be light on star-power under center, but its most high-profile passer possesses a similar combination of controversy, notoriety and talent that created a media circus around Johnny Manziel in 2013. Not to that same extent, of course, but Chad Kelly is a captivating-yet-polarizing figure nonetheless.
Kelly played brilliantly through Ole Miss’ run to the Sugar Bowl and subsequent rout of Oklahoma State. His right arm — and legs — are the single greatest reason Hugh Freeze’s club still has designs on returning to a New Year’s Six bowl after losing three first-round draft picks during a tumultuous offseason in Oxford. Freeze will have plenty of his own questions to answer, by the way.
Kelly proved last season that he could operate at an All-SEC level at the helm of a high-powered offense. Now he’ll have to prove he can do it again without Laquon Treadwell split out wide or Laremy Tunsil protecting his blind side.
He’s not only the Rebels’ best player, but also their vocal leader. Ascending to such a role means acting like it when the cameras are rolling and the questions about his colorful past come flooding in.
- Will Leonard speak out?
There’s bigger things in life than sports, and Leonard Fournette, in addition to being college football’s biggest star, has also earned a reputation for both self-awareness and taking a personal stance on off-the-field issues that are frankly uncharacteristic in athletes his age.
Fournette used a live TV interview to force the NCAA’s hand and auction off his game-worn jersey to raise $101,000 for flood relief for South Carolina after the disaster forced a venue change from Columbia to Baton Rouge. He’s spoken at length about the violence and poverty he saw growing up in New Orleans that continue to afflict his hometown today.
With the national eye fixated on Baton Rouge, Fournette made waves by tweeting a picture of himself wearing a t-shirt featuring the image of Alton Sterling, the 37-year-old black man shot dead by police in North Baton Rouge last week. Tensions around the city haven’t cooled much in the days since, with nightly protests occurring as federal authorities continue their probe.
Fournette has demonstrated a deft understanding of how to utilize his platform as a star for causes beyond football. When he speaks Thursday, people will listen.