National title grip for SEC loosened

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Monday, July 15, 2019
Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa reacts after the NCAA college football playoff championship game against Clemson, Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, in Santa Clara, Calif. Clemson beat Alabama 44-16. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa reacts after the NCAA college football playoff championship game against Clemson, Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, in Santa Clara, Calif. Clemson beat Alabama 44-16. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

HOOVER, Ala. -- The SEC is in crisis alert mode.

It's not time for the venerable football-crazy league to panic, but it might be getting close.

SEC Football Media Days

When Today through Thursday

Where Wynfrey Hotel, Hoover, Ala.

What SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey, all 14 head coaches and three players from each school will meet with the media.

Schedule

Today Sankey, Missouri, Florida, LSU

Tuesday SEC coordinator of officials Steve Shaw, Georgia, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Tennessee

Wednesday Alabama, Arkansas, CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock, Mississippi State, South Carolina

Thursday Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Auburn

The SEC, which opens its four days of coverage from about 1,000 credentialed media members at SEC Football Media Days at the Wynfrey Hotel here today, has won just two of the past six football national championships. That kind of drought hasn't been seen around Dixie since LSU's title in 2003 was the only national crown during a seven-year span between Tennessee's 1998 championship in the first year of the old Bowl Championship Series and Florida's title in 2006.

The 13-1 run by the Gators in 2006 touched off the SEC's unprecedented run of seven consecutive NCAA championships.

Now the league is casting about for fresh faces to perhaps spearhead the start of another glorious era and to possibly challenge Nick Saban's reign. The dean of SEC football coaches entering his 13th season at Alabama, Saban is not getting younger. The 67-year-old has won five national championships with the Crimson Tide in the past decade, and six titles in the past 16 years.

Saban bounced back quickly from hip surgery in April. And while he's spawning a formidable group of proteges -- such as Georgia's Kirby Smart, Texas A&M's Jimbo Fisher and Tennessee's Jeremy Pruitt -- none of them have beaten him in 16 tries.

Georgia, which lost both the SEC title game last year and the national championship after the 2017 season in heartbreaking fashion to Saban's Tide, might be a cagey pick to challenge Alabama for the league title by the media members in Hoover.

Alabama has been the media pick to win the SEC in five of the past six years, and the Crimson Tide delivered in 2014, 2016 and 2018. Those correct predictions by the media have helped bolster a dismal record. Since 1992, the media correctly have picked the SEC champion at media days seven times.

Commissioner Greg Sankey, entering his fifth season in the role, will open media days with his annual address today at 11:30 a.m.

Before the event is over, the site for next year's media days is expected to be revealed.

The event returned to Hoover after a one-year hiatus in Atlanta last year, but it is expected to start rotating to large cities in the coming years.

Sankey said Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, St. Louis, Orlando, Fla., Tampa, Fla., Nashville, Tenn., and Charlotte, N.C., all have been under consideration for hosting media days.

So the league is looking for fresh places as well as new faces.

Last year, Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa emerged as the face of the SEC, with strong tutelage from position coach Dan Enos, formerly the University of Arkansas offensive coordinator.

However, Tagovailoa could not guide the Tide to back-to-back national championships, as Alabama fell 44-16 to Clemson in the College Football Playoff championship game.

Tagovailoa is one of nine quarterbacks slated to attend media days. Those looking to supplant the Alabama quarterback include Georgia junior Jake Fromm, who led the Bulldogs to the 2017 SEC championship, and Missouri's Kelly Bryant, whose Tigers kick off the proceedings.

Bryant was a hot graduate transfer last winter who considered signing with the Razorbacks before electing to go with Missouri.

The other quarterbacks set to roll through Hoover are Florida junior Feleipe Franks, LSU senior Joe Burrow, Ole Miss freshman Matt Corral, South Carolina senior Jake Bentley, Tennessee junior Jarrett Guarantano and Texas A&M junior Kellen Mond. Bentley is making his third consecutive appearance at the event.

For the first time since 2006, there was no head coaching turnover in the SEC this offseason. Second-year coaches Chad Morris at Arkansas, Fisher at Texas A&M, Pruitt at Tennessee, Matt Luke at Ole Miss, Dan Mullen at Florida and Joe Moorhead at Mississippi State -- six of the league's 14 head coaches -- have the shortest tenures.

Kentucky's Mark Stoops, entering his seventh year with the Wildcats, is the second-longest tenured coach in the league behind Saban.

Morris tabbed three seniors to attend media days -- defensive tackle McTelvin Agim, linebacker De'Jon Harris and running back Devwah Whaley -- for the second consecutive year.

SEC Football Media Days also will include appearances by Bill Hancock, the executive director of the College Football Playoff; SEC director of football officials Steve Shaw; and other college football officials.

Sports on 07/15/2019

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