It's almost football time once again
SEC Media Days (Dale Zanine/USA Today Sports)

SEC Media Days have come and gone again. Coaches are heading back from vacation and equipment managers are finishing practice gear orders. Football is close.

Players have been working out, but not much is happening in July. In the meantime, it’s the media’s job to critique every word from schools’ players, coaches, media members, janitors, message boards, and boosters.

If we aren’t here rambling about Tua’s attempt to learn English, being shocked by Hugh Freeze’s horrible missteps, or clapping back at Lincoln Riley for making statements about a team he just lost to, what else are we supposed to do in the dog days of summer?

Here is a quote from each team (more than likely ripped from context) at SEC media days which will define each SEC football program in 2018 and beyond.

Alabama Crimson Tide:

“I really enjoy what I’m doing right now, and as long as I’m healthy and I can do it, I’m going to continue to do it and not worry about any numbers or what my age is or anything like that.”

Rejoice, Alabama fans. Saban turns 67 on Haloween, but he’s not making plans outside of football anytime soon. As long as Saban strolls the sidelines, Alabama will continue winning.

Don’t be distracted by a quarterback controversy. Saban will let Hurts and Tua both play so that neither decides to transfer. The talent around the quarterback will cover every flaw. Alabama’s offensive and defensive lines are dominant. The Bama wideouts could be electric. And no one will worry about Alabama’s defense.

At the end of the day, Nick Saban won’t let his guys lose focus or take the foot off the gas. Alabama fans can once again clear their schedule in early January for football.

Tennessee Volunteers:

Aaron Murray about new Vols head coach Jeremy Pruitt:

“When he was at Georgia, the way he acted, the way he treated Coach Richt I thought was poor. He wasn’t as respectful as I thought a defensive coordinator should be to a head coach…I don’t know if his personality is fit to be a head coach. I don’t.”

So this one came a day before Tennessee’s SEC Media Days timeslot. But it defines the program better than anything said in Atlanta.

Tennessee went through a brutal offseason. After firing Butch Jones, the university had a fresh start for its proud football program. They then decided to set the campus on fire before making a football hire.

After losing Dan Mullen to arch-rival Florida at the last hour, the coaching search turned to Greg Schiano. He signed a contract with the university, but then rumors about his troubling past began to make round nationwide. Landmarks on Tennessee’s campus were painted with accusations against Schiano covering up child rape. And the leaks were seemingly coming from somewhere in Knoxville from someone in the know (but we will get back to Phillip Fulmer in a second).

All of the sudden, the animosity of the fanbase was united and aimed at one man: athletic director John Currie. The program apparently had enough. This coaching search was taking more than a week, and they almost hired a guy from the Joe Paterno scandal!

Currie was fired and a short “search” made Tennessee legend Phillip Fulmer the new athletic director. He soon hired Jeremy Pruitt, who interviewed for other SEC jobs but didn’t land jobs in Starkville or Fayetteville.

Phillip Fulmer was in the middle of every rumor running rampant through a rowdy, riled-up fanbase. Yet, he amazingly was the biggest winner of the offseason turmoil by landing the Tennessee Athletic Director position. Sketchy? Yes. Fishy? Absolutely. The right move? Time will tell.

Will Fulmer and Pruitt get along? We will find out after Tennessee likely loses to Florida, Georgia, and Alabama again this season.

Ranking of New Hires in College Football

Winning fixes everything, but the margin for victory in college football is small. Any unhealthy distractions add up over the long run. Pruitt is a great defensive coach, but the talent at Tennessee is not enough to win now. For Tennessee, a lot must be addressed off the field if they ever want to contend in the SEC East again.

Georgia Bulldogs:

Kirby Smart: “You guys keep printing how many we lost, and I think that helps us. This gives us the chip on the shoulder that so many people want…Only pressure is what you put on yourself. We have to go out and do what we have to do.”

(Joshua L. Jones/Athens Banner-Herald via AP photos)

The first SEC Media Days in Atlanta was run amuck by a massive Georgia contingent. Coming up just short of a national title is heartbreaking, but the fanbase is clearly ready to love again.

The Georgia delegates grew tired of answering some version of the question, “How bad did losing to Bama hurt?” They’ve been thinking of the play every moment since it happened. It’s a fair question because that throw and catch was the difference in the elusive College Football Playoff title.

The fans crowding the downtown Atlanta streets outside SEC Media Days show how hungry this program is for success. The Dawgs are ready to eat.

Mississippi State Bulldogs:

Joe Moorhead: “Until someone knocks off Alabama, they are the standard there…I want to elevate this program from good to great.”

Dan Mullen did a lot of good at Mississippi State. The program earned respect, bowl victories, and a #1 ranking for over a month. The elephant in the room, however, was his 0-9 record vs Alabama. This is the only crimson stain on an otherwise blemishless tenure.

Alabama vs Mississippi State each year is decided by a sizeable talent gap and a poor matchup of State’s offensive style vs Bama’s defensive front 7. Mississippi State was a better team only in 2014 but was plagued by a slow start and turnovers. This year’s State team has more talent and experience coming back than any since 1999, and if they want to make the leap to a championship, the time is now.

Joe Moorhead has exuded confidence from the moment he stepped off a plane in the Golden Triangle’s airport. He’s told the team to get their ring size measured because a championship standard is being set.

Moorhead has won a conference championship at all four of his last jobs, but none of those teams had to go through Alabama.

The November 10th showdown is circled, and the West will be won that day.

Florida Gators:

Dan Mullen: “I want us to go compete for a championship with this year’s team. But I also want to build a program that’s going to do that every single year on a consistent basis. And when you’re consistent, you’re going to have an opportunity to go win that championship.”

Florida is coming off an abysmal 4-7 season, but a talented defense and an offensive mastermind in Dan Mullen should get Florida back to a bowl game in year 1. But bowl games aren’t celebrated in Gainesville. Heck, SEC East championships aren’t celebrated. It’s all about bringing home the nicest trophy of them all.

This Florida team won’t do that. It could, however, bring home another SEC East crown by upsetting Georgia in Jacksonville and defeating South Carolina in one of the East’s best matchups.

If Dan Mullen is given enough patience by the Gator Nation, he will develop the best QB in the SEC within the next two seasons. The man is a QB whisperer. And when the best player on the field is your quarterback, you have a chance to win every night. Dan Mullen made Tim Tebow into arguably the greatest college QB of all time.

Will those big shoes be filled by Emory Jones or Feleipe Franks? Mullen made Chris Relf into an average SEC QB. Expect to see a Florida QB make an All-SEC team this season.

Auburn Tigers:

Gus Malzahn: “Once again, I feel like we have the toughest schedule in all of college football, just like we did last year.  We open up the season against Washington, a top 10 team.”

Auburn comes into the season with lofty expectations after winning the SEC West last season. Despite having two losses headed into the SEC championship game, Auburn had a shot at the College Football Playoffs.

A beautiful thing about the CFP is teams don’t have to quit on the season when they lose one game. Even teams with two losses have a chance.

Auburn will need leniency from the CFP committee in 2018 because their schedule is beyond brutal. The opening game against top-10 Washington is only the 4th most difficult game on the schedule. The Tigers have ROAD GAMES against Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi State this season. Woof.

Auburn has the offensive and defensive talent to win every game on their schedule. But playing the best teams in the country away from home on a weekly basis will test this team.

There’s a reason the best NFL teams lose multiple games a year. Everyone has talent, and the ball doesn’t bounce your way every week. Auburn will get an understanding of how unforgiving football truly is.

Missouri Tigers:

Drew Lock: “I’ve always been the guy to think no one respects me as a quarterback. And that’s always kept a chip on my shoulder.”

Lock feels Missouri does not receive the respect it deserves in the conference. He may be the best quarterback in the conference, and Terry Beckner is a freak on the defensive front.

However, respect in the SEC is displayed in the trophy case, not the practice field. Missouri surprised the SEC by winning the East their first two seasons (2013-2014). Both SEC championship games were blowout losses, and the program has been trending down ever since.

Beating Georgia would land Mizzou respect. But then there’s the SEC championship game. This team isn’t deep enough to earn the respect Lock is looking for.

Arkansas Razorbacks:

Chad Morris: “Right now, I would say our biggest rival is the Arkansas Razorbacks.”

Morris is known as a great motivator. His first step to success will be raising the program’s expectations within the locker room.

Brett Bielema is an honest man and fantastic mentor to his players. His on-field results, however, were a product of the effort he demanded from his players year-round. No one rises to low expectations.

After Arkansas finished 7th in the SEC West in 2017, wholesale changes were needed. With the ghosts of Bobby Petrino gone, the Razorbacks are set to build from ground zero.

Morris is the right guy for the job. The positive results will likely not be on the scoreboard this season, but this program will be taking the right steps forward. Razorback fans should strap in and enjoy the beginnings of the rebuild so that the winning seasons in the future “just mean more.”

LSU Tigers:

Ed Orgeron “We feel that Justin, Myles, Lowell are three excellent quarterbacks. We’re going to let this thing play out and let the best man win.”

STRAP IN FOR ANOTHER LSU QB CAROUSEL! It’s not a requirement to have a starting QB picked before the season starts, but the Tigers have struggled to find a star QB in the last decade.

Ohio State transfer Joe Burrow seems to be the favorite to start the season opener against Miami. With LSU athletic director Joe Alleva joining Ed Orgeron on the hot seat, a lot of grown men’s careers depend on the success of a QB with 287 career passing yards.

However, there will be no panic in Death Valley. The defense, as always, is extremely talented and will give the Tigers a chance every Saturday. But 8-4 won’t quiet the boosters or critics. Joe Burrow is the key to a special year on the Bayou.

South Carolina Gamecocks:

Will Muschamp: “Deebo for 11 quarters last year was probably the most explosive player in college football, so we’re looking forward to giving him the ball a bunch and him having a healthy senior season.”

Deebo Samuel and AJ Brown are the two best receivers in the country, and both reside in the SEC. Despite both being 1st team preseason All-SEC, neither is getting enough hype.

If Deebo stays healthy this season, South Carolina has the talent to make some noise in the East. Georgia is obviously the favorite, but only Florida and South Carolina can make decent cases to contend for the division in 2018.

Ole Miss Rebels:

Matt Luke: “I put a lot of pressure on myself to put a product on the field that the Ole Miss fans are proud of.”

Ole Miss is still on probation and cannot compete for anything this year. Yet this will an exciting bunch on offense with plenty of opportunities to play spoiler.

However, the program’s focus is on re-establishing its identity.

Elite talents in wide-receiver AJ Brown and lineman Greg Little will leave for the NFL draft after this season, and only three 4-star players are on the defensive roster. Recruiting is down, and many of the figures in the middle of the last recruiting scandal, including Matt Luke and AD Ross Bjork, are still running the program. Some players on the current roster have had their recruitment laundry made into public news.

Luke claims to be ready to turn the ship around. Young players must step into leadership roles to lead Ole Miss to a winning future.

But the lingering effects of Hugh Freeze’s regime still linger. There’s only so much Matt Luke can do before Ole Miss’s unsettled past hampers the present. Success for the Rebel program is more likely to come during the next head coach’s tenure.

Texas A&M Aggies:

Jimbo Fisher: “Well, I think your timetable is as quick as you can put things in place and everyone buys into what you’re trying to do. You have a timetable, your timetable is now. You want to win immediately and that’s your place, but is that realistic? I don’t know.”

The pressure to succeed at Texas A&M is much like the price for a barrel of Texas oil: higher than ever. Sure, Jimbo will be given some time to establish the program. However, he is being paid to win a national championship.

Jimbo’s guaranteed $75 million contract only heightens and hurries expectations.

Texas A&M has not been to a New Year’s Six or better bowl since joining the SEC. Sure, they have lots of money in the program now, but will there be enough patience and trust to build the program over the next 5-6 years? Championship programs aren’t made overnight, and A&M has several programs to pass before making out of the SEC West. Time will tell if Jimbo is able to recapture the magic which fueled his run to a national championship in 2014.

Kentucky Wildcats:

Benny Snell: “From my freshman year to now, I feel like I’m the best I’ve ever been. My time is now.”

It’s a good thing Snell is up for the challenge because he will have to carry this roster to their third bowl game in a row. Snell is truly an elite talent, but everyone else in the SEC has those guys, too.

Linebacker Josh Allen (1 INT and 66 TKLS) and safety Mike Edwards (4 INT and 96 TKLS) headline the defense which gave up a whopping 426 yards-per-game in 2017. Should Kentucky win all four non-conference games, including rival Louisville, a 2-6 SEC record would keep Kentucky’s bowl streak alive. Behind Benny Snell, the Wildcats could get it done.

Vanderbilt Commodores:

Derek Mason: “For the first time in my tenure, I got guys that can play up front.”

Mason is right to be concerned about the trenches. Vanderbilt will never be the powerhouse of the SEC, but moving up the totem pole begins at the line of scrimmage.

Vanderbilt has made a bowl each of the last three even years (2012, 2014, 2016), so this is not a perennial laughingstock. But for the Commodores to post a winning season, they will need a physical brand of football up front.