SEC Media Days Football

Ole Miss coach Matt Luke speaks during SEC media days, Tuesday, July 16, 2019, in Hoover, Ala.

TUESDAY REWIND

GEORGIA

THE TIME IS NOW: After coming within a whisker of a national championship two seasons ago and a loss in the 2018 SEC Championship Game that kept the Bulldogs out of the playoffs (both losses to Alabama), the Bulldogs are the team to beat in the SEC East and considered a prime contender for a College Football Playoff berth. Georgia just has to avoid the kinds of clunkers it had at LSU and against Texas in the Sugar Bowl, the latter a hangover from that come-from-ahead loss to Bama for the SEC title.

WHAT’S UP? The Bulldogs have arguably the SEC’s top offensive backfield duo in quarterback Jake Fromm and tailback De’Andre Swift. Fromm isn’t looking over his shoulder at Justin Fields or Jacob Eason anymore. This is his team and his chance to bring Georgia that elusive second national title it has been chasing since 1980.

COACHSPEAK: “I’m well aware.” — Smart, Nick Saban assistant at LSU and Alabama, on Saban being 16-0 against his former assistants, including 2-0 against Smart at Georgia

OLE MISS

LET GO, LUKE: Give third-year Ole Miss coach Matt Luke credit for not conning himself into thinking he had all the answers to make Ole Miss a player again in the SEC West. He hired former West Virginia/Michigan/Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez as offensive coordinator and ex-Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre as defensive coordinator. Rich Rod, once a Tulane assistant, brings the spread offense with him, while MacIntyre installed a 3-4 (sounds familiar?).

WHAT’S UP? OK, Corral, it’s your offense. Redshirt freshman Matt Corral, who attended Tuesday’s session, was judged the best fit for Rich Rod’s RPO predilections. He’ll have to produce with his feet as all three starters in Ole Miss’ talented receiving corps are gone. That said, Scottie Phillips could be the best SEC running back you haven’t heard of.

COACHSPEAK: “To walk into a living room and not have a cloud hanging over your head, I think you're seeing an immediate impact on the recruiting trail because of that.” — Luke on the end of Ole Miss’ NCAA sanctions

TENNESSEE

PARDON OUR PROGRESS: The Volunteers are trying to recapture the glory days, but Tennessee is at its worst where you need to be best: in the trenches. The offensive line had QB Jarrett Guarantano scrambling all season, and while there is reason for optimism there the defensive line was wiped out by graduation.

WHAT’S UP? The level of frustration on Rocky Top. The Volunteers haven’t been to a bowl game since 2016. The road back to respectability is a rocky one, but the addition of ex-Georgia offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and legendary Vols quarterback Tee Martin to coach receivers should smooth some bumps for second-year coach Jeremy Pruitt.

COACHSPEAK: “It starts up front in this league with a D line. We lost three seniors up front. We have one senior and one junior on our roster. Our guys have worked extremely hard to get their bodies where they're ready to compete in this league. But until you've done it, you don't know.” — Pruitt

TEXAS A&M

AGGIELAND WHEN IT SIZZLES: Powered by a four-game winning streak to end the 2018 season, including that seven-overtime epic against LSU and a 52-13 rout of North Carolina State in the Gator Bowl, the Aggies are a trendy pick to be on the rise in the SEC West. That said, A&M must grapple with what may be the nation’s toughest schedule, featuring trips to LSU, Clemson and Georgia plus a home game with Alabama.

WHAT’S UP? Second-year coach Jimbo Fisher has recruited well, but there are some gaps to be filled. Especially on defense, where only one starter returns among the front seven and the pass defense ranked 12th in the SEC. That said, the offense figures to be improved led by a more experienced Kellen Mond at quarterback, who welcomes back all his key receivers save tight end Jace Sternberger.

COACHSPEAK: “Very proud of our team, the things we were able to accomplish last year. Didn’t do all the things we wanted to do, but we’re laying the foundation.” —Fisher

Scott Rabalais

Email Scott Rabalais at srabalais@theadvocate.com