John Clay: Scratching a summer itch for some SEC football

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistJune 14, 2014 

We are exactly one month away from the spectacle that is SEC Football Media Days down in the heart of Dixie. To get your summer football fix, here are five burning conference questions:

1. What will Lane Kiffin do with the Alabama offense?

Nick Saban hired the most hated man in Tennessee to fix an Alabama offense that was good last season, but not great. Kiffin may have failed as Southern Cal's head coach, but he is something of a quarterback guru. His first Tuscaloosa task is replacing AJ McCarron.

Jacob Coker, a Florida State transfer, is preseason favorite to win the job. Florida State Coach Jimbo Fisher was quoted last week saying Coker is the most talented Tide quarterback in the Saban era.

2. Can Florida's Will Muschamp save his job?

Coming off a 4-8 season, Muschamp didn't need a June scandal that caused his recruiting coordinator to abruptly resign. Former Kentucky coach Joker Phillips quit Wednesday after — reports say — someone connected with the Miami Hurricanes sent a picture to the NCAA of Phillips dining with a recruit during a dead period.

Muschamp desperately needs new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper to jump-start a Florida offense that flat-lined under former coordinator Brent Pease.

3. Does Georgia have anyone left to play defense?

Jeremy Pruitt won a national championship last season at Florida State after taking over a Seminoles defense built by current Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops. Pruitt will have a tougher task at Athens.

For starters, the Bulldogs gave up a school record for points last year under former coordinator Todd Grantham, now at Louisville. And several Georgia starters have followed the former DC for one reason or another.

Josh Harvey-Clemons, who started 11 games at defensive back last season, is at U of L after being dismissed from Georgia in February. Cornerback Shaq Wiggins, who started eight games, also transferred to Louisville.

Now, Tray Matthews, who started six games at safety last season, has been booted and says he'll go to Auburn.

4. Can Steve Spurrier keep it going at South Carolina?

Somewhat lost last year was the fact that South Carolina went 11-2 for the third consecutive season. After a 35-28 record his first five seasons in Columbia, Steve Spurrier has lifted the Gamecocks to 42-11 the past four years.

The Ol' Ball Coach has his work cut out for him this season. Gone is overall No. 1 NFL Draft pick Jadeveon Clowney. Gone is starting quarterback Connor Shaw, the heart and soul of the team.

Dylan Thompson takes over at quarterback. He's a better pure passer than Shaw, but lacks Shaw's leadership skills. The return of tailback Mike Davis, who rushed for 1,183 yards last season, will help. And the guess is Spurrier will tweak his scheme to suit Thompson's strengths.

5. Can the three M's do it again?

That would be Gus Malzahn, Missouri and Johnny Manziel.

As the first-year head coach at Auburn, Malzahn took the Tigers to the BCS title game. In its second SEC season, Missouri played in the league title game. Meanwhile, Manziel, former Texas A&M quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner, is now a Cleveland Brown, leaving the Aggies in a post-Manziel world.

Missouri should return to planet Earth, what with quarterback James Franklin, running back Henry Josey, wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham (dismissed from the team) and SEC co-Defensive Player of the Year Michael Sam all no longer in Columbia.

Common sense says Texas A&M will suffer from withdrawal without Manziel and star wide receiver Michael Evans.

Meanwhile, Auburn might be even better this season, if that's possible. True, the Tigers lost quick-as-a-cat running back Tre Mason, but quarterback Nick Marshall will be in his second year under Malzahn. And word from the Plains is that junior-college wide receiver D'haquille "Duke" Williams might be the league's next big offensive star.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com.

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