PREPARING FOR A BOUNCE BACK: Everyone knows what happened last fall. The Gators are under three months from proving the four-win season was a fluke and getting back to the normal expectations surrounding the program. Before they can report for fall camp on August 3 and begin preparations for the 2014 season, they have to hear about last year’s failures again on Monday.
They grew sick of it in the spring, and it was understandable. But they also knew they needed to provide answers and try to provide explanations for the season’s struggles. They used it to motivate on the practice field during the spring, and if the usual SEC Media Days media shows up on Monday, the Gators should have plenty more negative questions to fuel them into fall camp.
The players know it has to be better. The coaches do, too. Will Muschamp said multiple times during last fall and this spring that he understands the expectations of the Florida program and fan base. Last year wasn’t close to it. The road to fixing it this fall begins in The Wynfrey Hotel on Monday afternoon.
RETURNING A QUARTERBACK: The Gators are one of the rarities this year since they return a starting quarterback. Jeff Driskel heads into fall camp as the team’s quarterback after playing just three games last season before his season ended because of a fractured bone in his leg. His experience is more than most that will be under center in the conference this fall.
The star power is gone from the position, too. James Franklin (Missouri), Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M), A.J. McCarron (Alabama), Zach Mettenberger (LSU), Aaron Murray (Georgia) and Connor Shaw (South Carolina) were all household names in the SEC and will be beginning their professional careers this fall. The best quarterback in the SEC is a spot still up for grabs heading into the fall with no clear answer.
NEW COACHES ARRIVE: There’s only one first-year head coach that will be in Hoover. Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason will make the trip on Monday and be a part of the same rotation as the Gators. It will likely be a culture shock of Mason. The media coverage at Stanford is nowhere near what covers most SEC schools. Even if Vanderbilt isn’t a national power, Mason will see well over 1,000 media members at The Wynfrey Hotel on Monday.
He has a large hole to fill, too. James Franklin was always one of the best speakers at SEC Media Days, using his platform on ESPNU and with the large number of writers attending to brag about the situation at Vanderbilt. There were multiple years when Franklin drug his opening statement to almost 10 minutes, boasting about the program and academics in Nashville.
BALANCE OF POWER IN ALABAMA: The Auburn fans haven’t frequented The Wynfrey Hotel as much in recent years. They came out in larger numbers than normal last season to welcome Gus Malzahn back to the program during his first year. After he led the Tigers to the national title game in his first season, expect the Auburn crowds to grow. Malzahn is the first coach to take the podium after SEC commissioner Mike Slive is done Monday morning, so the Auburn fans will be out early, waiting for their glimpse and maybe an autograph from the program’s head coach.
This isn’t meant to diminish the strength and sheer numbers of the Alabama fan base. They’ll be there, too, stalking Nick Saban’s every move. But the shift in success is interesting, especially in Auburn’s thrilling win over the Crimson Tide last season. The Tigers are rejuvenated and ready for another strong season with plenty of key pieces back.