FAYETTEVILLE — What’s better than three days of football talk in mid-July?
The Southeastern Conference has an answer this summer: four days.
Two years after expanding from 12 to 14 teams, the conference elected to extend its annual kickoff event to four days. So college football’s most intriguing circus, better know as SEC Media Days, will be held Monday through Thursday in Hoover, Ala.
The annual football fest always produces its share of memorable moments as programs inch closer to the start of a new season and there should be no shortage of storylines once again — especially with an extra day of possibilities. To prepare, here are five topics sure to be discussed when the four-day event begins Monday:
1. Autonomy talk — SEC commissioner Mike Slive fired a stern warning at the conference’s spring meetings in May when he raised the possibility of an NCAA “Division IV” if the 65 power conference schools aren’t given legislative autonomy. Slive, who is in charge of a conference that generated $309.6 million in revenue in 2013-14, will have the podium – and the nation’s attention — once again when he leads off the four-day event with his state of the SEC speech Monday. It’s a safe bet the public push for autonomy will be a major part of the conversation, especially with the NCAA board of directors scheduled to meet on the matter in August.
2. Quarterback turnover — There were no shortage of star quarterbacks in the conference last year with nine — including Johnny Manziel, AJ McCarron, Connor Shaw, Aaron Murray, Bo Wallace, Zach Mettenberger and James Franklin — drawing crowds at SEC Media Days. Only six are scheduled to attend this year, which is a sign quarterback play around the league is more of an uncertainty. Wallace, Auburn’s Nick Marshall and Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott are regarded as the top returning starters in the conference and are expected to be in attendance this week. Will other quarterbacks — including Arkansas’ Brandon Allen — become stars later this year?
3. It’s network time — The conference is moving closer to the unveiling of the SEC Network, which is scheduled to make its debut Aug. 14. So expect plenty of details and discussion as preparation enters the final month. The first year of the network will include an ESPN GameDay style pregame show and 45 football games, including Arkansas’ first two against Auburn (Aug. 30) and Nicholls State (Sept. 6). DISH Network, Cox Communications, AT&T U-verse and Google Fiber have signed up to carry the network. The clock is ticking for others like Comcast and DirecTV.
4. Speed it up … Slow it down — Arkansas coach Bret Bielema and Auburn’s Gus Malzahn — whether intended or not — became central figures in the pace-of-play debate at SEC Media Days last year. Bielema certainly hasn’t been shy about fanning the flames, either, insisting his push to slow teams in between snaps is purely about player safety. Others disagree. Either way, the conference has no shortage of coaches on both side of the spectrum. Arkansas and Auburn will meet in the season opener, too. So the debate will surely continue at SEC Media Days.
5. Eyes on the prize — Something shocking happened last season. Someone outside the SEC won college football’s national title. Florida State’s win against Auburn ended the conference’s seven-year stranglehold on the Bowl Championship Series trophy, which was retired at the end of the season. While Slive isn’t expected to give conference members a stern lecture for letting the title streak end (we think), there is a new era beginning this fall with the four-team College Football Playoff. The SEC would love nothing more than squeezing two of its teams into the playoff and watching one of them walk away with the inaugural title prize.