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SEC Media Days Preview: The biggest storylines heading into Nashville

Credit: Georgia athletics

It's mid-July, which can only mean one thing: SEC Media Days are officially here.

That's right, media days mark the unofficial start of college football season, and as always, there is plenty of intrigue as all 14 SEC schools get together in Nashville.

So what are the biggest storylines heading into this year's media days? Let's take a look:

Can Georgia just cake walk to an SEC East title?: One look at the Bulldogs’ schedule would lead everyone to say "yeah, probably."

First off, the two-time defending champions are loaded once again. Quarterback is a question mark with Carson Beck being the suspected frontrunner as a redshirt junior, but he has a high bar to meet after what Stetson Bennett IV was able to do these last two years. Brock Bowers enters the season as the best tight end in the country and the Bulldogs also have Ladd McConkey returning at receiver. Rara Thomas and Dominic Lovett also come over from the transfer portal to help. Lovett was an All-SEC performer last year at Missouri while Thoma led Mississippi State in catches. The offensive line is loaded with four starters returning but loads of depth behind them. The defense is going to be a force with names like Mykel Williams, Zion League, Nazir Stackhouse, and Tramel Walthour being ones look at for up front. Linebacker is elite, with Jamon Dumas-Johnson and Smael Mondon Jr. are great on the inside.

The secondary needs the most players to step up, but they should be fine, with them being led by Javon Bullard. Georgia is the king of the SEC, and it remains to be seen if any team can topple them this season.

And again, this is a schedule where the Dawgs could - and maybe likely - will be favored by double figures in every game. It's hard to see anyone else taking them down in the East.

Should we be worried about Alabama? We saw an unusual season from Alabama last season. They finished 11-2 but were undisciplined and easily could've lost two or three games more than they did. Now, their leaders, Bryce Young (offense) and Will Anderson (defense) are gone.

Now they enter the new era with their biggest question at quarterback in years. Jalen Milroe has game experience, but many expected Ty Simpson to take the job in the spring. Now, Tyler Buchner - who wasn't even going to start at Notre Dame - has transferred in, and some believe he may win the job. Beyond that, there are questions other places too. Jase McClellan is the running back to watch, but Alabama needs a wide receiver to step up after they were limited in that department last year. The offensive line should be improved under the watch of new coordinator Tommy Rees, but they need to be better.

The defense needs a playmaker on the front seven after Will Anderson was a wrecking ball on that side of the ball. The linebackers should be decent too, and the secondary had a bit of a transformation, but Kool-Aid McKinstry anchors the secondary at cornerback, with Jaylen Key and Trey Amos joining the secondary through the transfer portal.

Alabama has some questions, but if they get answered they could be the best team in the SEC.

Is LSU next up? There’s an argument to be made that LSU and not Alabama is the best team in the SEC West and the team most likely to dethrone Georgia. Jayden Daniels comes back and is immediately the best quarterback in the SEC. The Tigers also have all five offensive linemen returning and Mason Taylor at tight end. Malik Nabers is the top target in the receiving corps while Aaron Anderson transfers in from Alabama to provide additional help. Josh Williams and Logan Diggs round out a backfield that needs to step up after last year.

On defense, Harold Perkins Jr. was unstoppable for the Tigers last year, finishing with 13.5 TFL's and seven sacks, and should only be better in 2023. Greg Penn III is back as the Tigers leading tackler, and then Maason Smith and Mekhi Wingo round out a dominant defensive line. The secondary is loaded with transfers with, as Denver Harris (Texas A&M) and Duce Chestnut (Syracuse) are both expected to take on significant roles. Greg Brooks III and Major Burns are the two biggest keys at safety too. LSU should be very good this season and has a very good chance of beating Alabama once again this year.

Is Tennessee here to stay? Tennessee is coming off an incredible, 11-2 season - but with Hendon Hooker gone, are the Vols here to stay? Joe Milton is the quarterback that fills Hooker’s shoes, and he had a great showing in the Orange Bowl, which should hopefully translate to an entire year. Jalin Hyatt and Cedric Tillman are gone, but Bru McCoy and Squirrel White are the two biggest receivers that should play well this season. The running back room also returns its two leading rushers, with Jabari Small and Jaylen Wright splitting reps. The offensive line is questionable, but a lot of transfers were brought in to fortify that area.

Tennessee should improve even more on defense with Tyler Baron and Roman Harrison being keys up front at pass-rusher. Aaron Beasley at linebacker, Doneiko Slaughter at cornerback, and Tamarion McDonald at safety are all players to watch this season especially after the Orange Bowl.

Tennessee has the ingredients for staying power.

Can Texas A&M Improve? The biggest disappointment in the conference last year was the Aggies, after the Aggies went from Top 10 in the preseason to a 5-7 finish.

The big off-season move, of course, was Jimbo Fisher turning the reins over to Bobby Petrino on offense after the team struggled on that end all year last season. We'll see if he can get the most out of this talented group. It's a group that starts at quarterback, where Connor Weigman should eventually win the job after starting five games a season ago.Ainias Smith is back after getting injured and he joins Evan Stewart and Moose Muhammad III in a talented receiving corps. Devon Achane is gone so expect a running back by committee approach from the Aggies. An injury-ravaged offensive line was probably Texas A&M's biggest disappointment a season ago, and needs to be better for this team to reach its potential.

Defensively there is again plenty of talent. McKinnley Jackson and Fadil Diggs are standouts on the defensive line. Chris Russell Jr. and Edgerrin Cooper need step up more at linebacker. The secondary is a big plus this season with Demani Richardson and Jardin Gilbert at safety and then Tyreek Chappell and transfer Tony Grimes at cornerback.

What happens with the Hugh Freeze experiment at Auburn? Auburn made a big change by bringing in Hugh Freeze to replace Bryan Harsin this offseason. Freeze needs to inject life into an offense that was lifeless last season. Robby Ashford or Payton Thorne will be the starting quarterback for the Tigers this year. The Tigers tackled the portal hard for the receiving corps and brought in Shane Hooks (Jackson State), Jyaire Shorter (North Texas), Caleb Burton (Ohio State), and Nick Mardner (Cincinnati) who join Camden Brown too. Jarquez Hunter will be a great running back for the Tigers and he has a career ypc of 6.5. The offensive line is a question mark but was revamped a lot through the transfer portal with quality starters.

A usually good to dominant Auburn defense struggled all year last season. Marcus Harris is the main piece on the defensive line, and he’s joined by Justin Rogers from Kentucky. Jalen McLeod and Elijah McAllister also come in for help off the edge.

Auburn has a lot of things to fix, but they have a chance to be much better if a few things fall into place.


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