ATLANTA — The talent roster for the SEC Network is currently being filled, and one member of the on-air team when the network launches on Aug. 14 will be a familiar face.
Greg McElroy, former Alabama quarterback and recently retired signal-caller for the New York Jets and the Cincinnati Bengals in the NFL, was announced as a college football analyst for the network on March 24.
What will his new role be? How is he adjusting to his new life in front of the camera? How does he think the SEC will shake out in 2014?
Bleacher Report caught up with McElroy prior to an Alabama alumni event at Hudson Grille in midtown Atlanta.
Bleacher Report: How excited are you to join the SEC Network, and what do you feel will be its strong points when it launches?
Greg McElroy: I'm thrilled about it. I think the biggest attribute is really the SEC itself. The entire country will be able to look and see what goes on day to day in the SEC. On game day, they'll see the pageantry and the things that make this area great. That's going to be the most special aspect of the network. Obviously, the people who are on board are first class, and we're really looking forward to having a great start in August.
B/R: How much pressure were you under to make the decision to retire and move to television right now as opposed to waiting out the offseason and seeing what happens in the NFL?
GM: To an extent, it was difficult. But at the same time, I realized all of the things that the SEC Network would allow. The fact that it really is football without having to play. Everything I'm doing on a week-to-week basis in preparation is really consistent, so I feel like those things, the lessons I learned in the NFL and college, will be able to translate to what I'm doing now.
It was a difficult decision because I've played the game for so long, but once I evaluated the pros and the cons of the situation between the NFL and the SEC Network, it was really no contest. I couldn't be happier with where I'm at and the resources ESPN is putting into it, and I haven't second-guessed it or thought twice about it.
B/R: When you were playing, was there a point when it sort of clicked and you realized that you could have a career talking football on television for a living when you were done playing?
GM: Never really when I was playing in college, but I would say the first inkling when I thought this might be something I wanted to do long term was when I was covering the 2011 BCS National Championship Game following the 2010 season, when Auburn was playing Oregon in Glendale, Arizona. I was on the field and did some work with [ESPN's] Jesse Palmer, and we broke down what Auburn's defense was doing and Auburn as a team in general. Having played them just a few weeks earlier, I kind of brought an interesting perspective.
As I'm sitting there watching the film, I'm thinking to myself, "This might be something I could do and improve at." I can't say it was something I ever considered in school, but after having that opportunity to be able to talk about the game and having played the game, it was something that just sort of came natural to me.
B/R: At Alabama's spring game, you got into some hot water with some Alabama fans when you talked about AJ McCarron's complacency comments on WJOX (via AL.com) and when you picked Auburn as the favorite to win the West (via AL.com). Are you prepared for everything you say being about Alabama and Auburn being scrutinized through the Iron Bowl lens?
GM: Oh, of course. That's what makes the Iron Bowl rivalry as good as any in college football. No matter what, I can't please Alabama fans and I can't please Auburn fans. If I say Auburn is going to win the SEC, then Auburn fans are going to say, "Well, he has to say that" and Alabama fans are going to say, "He's such a traitor." If I say Alabama's going to win the SEC, well then Auburn fans will say I'm a homer and Alabama fans will say, "Well, of course we are."
You can't ever win in that particular case. My job is to be honest in the way I approach it, have an unbiased opinion and tell the people what I think. If that doesn't necessarily please everybody, then that's the unfortunate reality of what I do.
I have love for every SEC school now. I played all of them. I have been around a lot of guys who have played for those schools, and that creates a certain appreciation for what they do and how each organization operates.
B/R: What's going to be your typical week with the SEC Network during the season?
GM: I couldn't tell you any details right now of what I'm going to be doing. At this point, there's such a great lineup of cast members and analysts, I think everybody is still trying to figure out exactly what they're going to be doing. I'm excited to get going, and I know a lot of my week is going to be spent watching film and preparing, and whatever day or days I'm on television, whether that's on site or in studio, I'm going to do my best.
B/R: Assuming you're on site somewhere on game day, whether that's with the SEC Nation pregame show or otherwise at some point this season, what's the one thing you never got to experience as a player that you're most excited about?
GM: I never was able to go to Florida. We played there my redshirt year , and I wasn't traveling at that point. I'm really looking forward to getting to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. I'd also like to see The Grove at Ole Miss. From what I hear—my dad speaks highly of it and he just loves The Grove—I want to see it.
Those are the two places that I've heard a lot about and I'm really looking forward to seeing.
I've also never been to Faurot Field at Missouri. I'd like to also go see a game again at Texas A&M. I went to a game there as a kid, but it's been a while. The new schools would be nice to visit as well.
B/R: Speaking of Texas and you being a Texas kid growing up (Southlake-Carroll), was there anything that shocked you about the magnitude of SEC football once you came in as a player?
GM: It's interesting that you say that, because somebody asked me about that a few weeks ago. I played high school ball in Texas, which is about as big as it gets from a magnitude standpoint for a high school athlete. Coming from a big school in Texas—5A football, Friday Night Lights is very similar. It's not too far off the track. Then going to Alabama, and head coach Nick Saban is one of the most polarizing coaches in one of the biggest college programs. Then, on to New York City to play for the Jets in the biggest media market in the world.
I've experienced three pretty unbelievable environments and been very blessed, and that's one thing I'm really grateful for. But it is kind of crazy to me to think that I've experienced football at that pinnacle in each level, and I think that's really helped me understand the game and the appreciation for the game.
B/R: You said last month that Auburn is your favorite in the West, but what about the East?
GM: Still going through some film, but I think the East is wide open.
When Missouri QB Maty Mauk filled in last year when James Franklin went down, they have a lot of opportunities out there. They did lose some players on the defensive side in Kony Ealy and Michael Sam, but I think Gary Pinkel is a great football coach. He kind of changes how he coaches and treats every team differently. Most great coaches do that.
I do think, though, that the favorite in the East might be Georgia. Looking at how [quarterback] Hutson Mason played in the spring and how he looked in the spring game and the addition of [new defensive coordinator] Jeremy Pruitt and what he has coming back on that side of the ball, they're going to be good. I read a quote saying that there's not one job in that linebacker corps that's solidified, which I think is crazy. Georgia has some studs, including the first- and third-leading tacklers in the SEC (Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera, respectively). And on the outside, they have Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins. With the talent they have coming back and in that defense, they will be solid.
B/R: Is there a player who either played well this spring or is coming in this fall who you think could emerge as a superstar in 2014?
GM: LSU running back commit Leonard Fournette, based on what I've read about that kid and watching his high school film. That kid runs hard, man. He is very talented. Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill is an obvious choice based on the offense that he's playing in. Another guy who I don't think gets enough credit is Ole Miss wide receiver Laquon Treadwell. He's outstanding. He's probably going to be a first-team All-SEC wide receiver this year. Him and [Alabama wide receiver] Amari Cooper, I would guess. The biggest development you make is between your freshman and sophomore year, and based on what they have coming back, that Ole Miss team is scary. With the amount of freshmen they had contribute last year and a senior quarterback in Bo Wallace who has improved from year to year, the sky's the limit for that team.
B/R: Who's the one coach in the SEC who isn't really in that top tier but may elevate himself into that discussion his year?
GM: Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen, without question. He's done a great job establishing their identity. He won a crazy Egg Bowl over Ole Miss last year with the fumble at the 2-yard line. This is a big year for the Bulldogs with all that they have coming back. When I was playing, they were always one of the most physical teams. They always had a chip on their shoulder, and they were a blue-collar team. I think this could be the year for them. If quarterback Dak Prescott puts together some good games and limits their turnovers, there's no reason why they can't make a run or be contenders in the West.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand.