The unofficial start to college football season will get some fuel injection this year.
The SEC will hold its annual Media Days from July 16-18 in Hoover, Ala. at the Hyatt Regency Birmingham - The Wynfrey Hotel with a star-studded cast in attendance.
In addition to the 14 head coaches making the rounds, reigning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, three-time BCS national champion AJ McCarron, all-around monster Jadeveon Clowney and Georgia's single-season record holder for touchdown passes, Aaron Murray, headline an All-Star roster of Media Days attendees.
The impressive list of attendees is a complete 180 from last year's event, which didn't include McCarron, Clowney, Murray, Manziel, former South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore and former LSU defensive back Tyrann Mathieu.
What does these mean?
Expect more of a madhouse than the usual circus-like atmosphere.
That means instead of 10 minutes to get through the crowd and up an escalator, it will take 15. That means instead of grasping for 10 minutes' worth of questions for players, there will be battles to get all of them in.
In other words, it will be exactly the way the SEC wants it. Here's what to expect next weekend in Hoover.
It's going to be all Johnny Manziel all the time when the Aggies hit the floor Wednesday morning.
Media Days is controlled chaos (the word "controlled" used very loosely). So while the A&M administration will have "Johnny Football" prepped for the event, it will be much different than the media events he has become accustomed to ever since head coach Kevin Sumlin let him speak prior to the Heisman ceremony.
Whether you are morally outraged by Manziel going to Cabo San Lucas, Mardi Gras, pro sporting events and tweeting that he can't wait to get out of College Station, or if you recognize that most 20-year-old men in his situation would be doing the exact same thing, he's going to have to answer plenty of questions pertaining to his offseason.
The steady stream of questions not related to football will be asked by people who have been his most vocal critics.
Restraint will be the word of the day, and Manziel will have to show a lot of it.
If the chance arises to fight through the noise in the system and get down to football talk, it will be interesting to find out what Manziel thinks of his four-headed monster at running back and the ultra-tall yet largely inexperienced wide receiving corps the Aggies are expected to boast in 2013.
Clowney Won't Form Tackle a Reporter...Unless He Does
South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was left off of South Carolina's Media Days contingent last season, but with Heisman hype and Michigan running back Vincent Smith's helmet in tow, the 6'6", 274-pound monster will have plenty to talk about Tuesday afternoon.
How many times has he watched the hit on Smith from the Outback Bowl? Can a true defensive player win the Heisman Trophy for the first time ever? How has Clowney dealt with the hype generated from one hit in the final game of last season?
Aside from Manziel, Clowney is the player with the most intrigue heading into the season from both a personal and a team perspective. He's the likely No. 1 pick in next year's NFL draft playing for a top-10 team that has been on the brink of excellence for two years.
Should be fun.
Coaches to Make a Stand
LSU's Les Miles and South Carolina's Steve Spurrier have been the two most vocal critics of the SEC's insistence to keep permanent cross-division rivalries as part of its scheduling format. Miles will probably take the lead, but expect both to further state their displeasure with the format.
How much of a stand will they make? Miles will probably be more vocal than Spurrier, but since spring meetings—which is when the scheduling discussion will again take center stage—is 10 months away, don't expect either to spend a ton of time on the topic.
A more pressing issue that isn't being talked about enough is the pace of play.
Alabama's Nick Saban and Arkansas' Bret Bielema have been two of the most vocal critics of hurry-up, no-huddle offenses. Bielema has gone so far as to propose a 15-second period for defenses to substitute following every first down, according to AL.com.
Offense sells, and Saban and Bielema know they are fighting a losing battle. Because of that, expect some fireworks from both of them in regard to pace of play next week in Hoover.
Slive to Set the Agenda
SEC commissioner Mike Slive is under contract for one more year, and he could decide to hang up the briefcase and hit the links next summer.
What stands in his way?
The future of college football.
Slive has been instrumental in the development of the four-team College Football Playoff that will start following the 2014 season, and what happens between now and then could determine how successful it is.
Who will be on the selection committee? What specific information will it use? What safeguards can be put into place to ensure that it doesn't expand beyond four teams?
Not only will the playoff be a hight priority for the SEC's top official, but continuing the push to include the $4,000 full cost of attendance stipend in an athletic scholarship will also be important.
Expect a strong showing from Slive in the SEC "State of the Conference" speech on Tuesday at 12:30 p.m.
New Coaches to Continue to Build Brand Identity
Whether it's "a new day" at Auburn, "1-0" for Arkansas, "Yahtzee" at Kentucky or "brick by brick" at Tennessee, expect each of the SEC's newbies to use the grand preseason stage to further publicize the future of their respective programs.
How much of an impact could that make?
Tennessee and Kentucky have been hot on the recruiting trail, Auburn is in its customary position of strength on the recruiting trail and Arkansas lured one of the most accomplished coaches in recent Big Ten history to Fayetteville.
They hype machine will be in full force for the SEC's new coaches specifically for recruiting purposes.
Vanderbilt Head Coach James Franklin to Deflect
The dismissal of four Vanderbilt players amid a sex crimes investigation has cast a negative shadow over the program over the last few weeks.
The specifics of that case, including the identities of the four players, is still a mystery. Because of the uncertainty, Franklin will be in deflect mode when the Commodores make the rounds Thursday.
How much will be learned about the situation?
Franklin will probably be asked about it in every room at the Wynfrey and will have some variation of "no comment" at his disposal to get through it.
Someone to Come out of Nowhere to Bring the House Down
Last year, it was former Missouri wide receiver T.J. Moe who emerged as the star of the show. In 2010, former Vanderbilt head coach Robbie Caldwell came out of nowhere with tales of turkey insemination.
Who are the likely candidates?
My money is on Ole Miss wide receiver Donte Moncrief, Kentucky running back Raymond Sanders or Auburn defensive end Dee Ford.
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