It’s the middle of summer with a little more than 2 1/2 months left until the start of college football season and I find myself on vacation.
And while I take my break with thanks, I also have to acknowledge that I got into this business as a labor of love. I like what I do, so I’m looking forward to getting back to work because my work gives me so much to look forward to.
And the good news is that with the August kickoff to the season this year, I don’t even have to wait for the end of what we traditionally think of as the “summer months” before I get to check off a whole laundry list of things I’m excited to see.
Here are six things I can’t wait to see in the SEC, all before September arrives:
1. The launch of the SEC Network (Aug. 14): How will it look? How to fill 24-hour, seven-day-a-week programming with solely SEC material?
I can’t wait to find out.
If the SEC was overexposed before, this is going to be overkill. And I can’t wait to see it and its 45 football games this season.
2. LSU’s QB competition (August): Perhaps the most absurd element of the coverage of August camps is the limited access the media gets.
At same places, you get no access at all. At others, like LSU, media members get 10- to 15-minute windows in which they can watch selected August drills.
So there will be few practice drills more scrutinized than those brief periods when Louisiana media members get to watch Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris, who has already made great strides this spring, go to work on the same drill for a few precious minutes.
A floated pass by one will be overblown on message boards. A brilliant pass by the other might have him declared the starter.
It’ll make for an interesting August in what may be the SEC’s most heated quarterback battle.
Derek Mason addresses the media as he is introduced as the new Vanderbilt football coach during an NCAA college football news conference Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. Mason was previously the defensive coordinator at Stanford. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
3. The post-Franklin era at Vanderbilt begins (Aug. 28 vs. Temple): There have been better teams in the SEC East the last couple of years than Vanderbilt but, to me, none have been more compelling than the Commodores, who put together back-to-back 9-4 seasons before James Franklin left for Penn State.
If you don’t appreciate how big consecutive nine-win seasons are in Nashville, you don’t know Vandy’s modest history.
Derek Mason will make his debut as the Commodores’ new head coach and while Temple won’t likely be the best gauge of whether he can continue Franklin’s move toward consistent respectability for Vandy, we can get an early look at whether Mason’s team plays with that same spark that Franklin’s teams played with — a spark that allowed him to make the most out of what was often modest talent.
4. Lane Kiffin calling plays (Aug. 30 vs. West Virginia): After Lane Kiffin’s comments about Alabama’s talent at running back, one might expect the new Crimson Tide offensive coordinator to have his new quarterback turn and hand off 40 times when Bama opens the season against West Virginia.
Something tells me it won’t quite happen that way.
By then, Jacob Coker will have had August to prepare to be Alabama’s new quarterback and he’ll have some pretty good wide receivers to throw to.
But how will Kiffin’s offense look? Will it be the 50/50 hybrid offense he talked about in the link above? Will it be vintage Kiffin? Or vintage Nick Saban?
5. Clemson vs. Jeremy Pruitt’s Georgia defense (Aug. 30): The Bulldogs’ new defensive coordinator, fresh off a national championship experience with Florida State, has a tough test in his first game attempting to reverse the fortunes of a Georgia defense that gave up a school-record 377 points last season.
No, the Tigers offense no longer has Tajh Boyd running it, nor Sammy Watkins catching passes, but Chadd Morris’s attack should be quite a test for Pruitt, who has to deal with the loss of three secondary starters in the offseason.
Leonard Fournette was just a spectator at LSU’s spring game, but the nation’s top prep recruit should get carries in the Tigers’ season opener against Wisconsin in Houston. (Photo by Brett Duke, Nola.com | The Times-Picayune)
6. Leonard Fournette’s LSU debut (vs. Wisconsin, Aug. 30): By LSU’s first offensive snap, we’ll see whether it’s Harris or Jennings at quarterback.
What will rule that day’s storyline, however, might be the impact of the nation’s top 2014 prep recruit, Fournette. In his college debut, he’ll get an opportunity to run right into the teeth of a good Big Ten defense.
And don’t doubt LSU will try it. After all, the Tigers will be breaking in the aforementioned new quarterback and LSU returns one of the nation’s best offensive lines, led by left tackle La’el Collins. So look for LSU to run the ball to try to take pressure off Jennings/Harris.
Certainly, Fournette won’t carry all the load, not with seasoned veterans Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee also back, but expect Fournette to get his fair share of carries and an early test to show us whether he’ll live up to the hype.