Every college football season has storylines and one of the great things about preseason is anticipating what those stories will be. A year ago Auburn was picked to win the SEC Western Division and face Florida in the conference championship game. Most would have told you that Tommy Tuberville had at least five good years left in him at Auburn. After the impressive win over Clemson in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl the year before, new Auburn offensive coordinator Tony Franklin was the toast of the SEC and much of the nation.
All of these people and events were storylines last year, but not in the way we anticipated. Using this as a backdrop, what are the big storylines in the SEC this upcoming season? Who will surprise us? Who will disappoint? What coach will be walking the sidelines for the last time in the SEC? Below are 10 burning questions that will be answered this season...
1.Can Ole Miss stand up to the pressure of high expectations? Not since the days of Archie Manning has so much been expected of the program that time seems to have passed by. Houston Nutt has fans believing again; but can they deliver? A weak non-conference schedule should help.
2.Can Gene Chizik and staff coach? That's the million dollar question. Chizik has made a lot of noise by hiring some of the top recruiters in the country; but can they coach? Expectations are lower than they've been since 1999 and that's a good thing for the first year Auburn coach. Navigating a seven win season with no proven quarterback and a brutal road schedule should earn Chizik coach of the year honors if he can get there.
3.Will Florida repeat as national champions? With most of its starters back from last year's championship team, the Gators are the unanimous choice to repeat in Pasadena. How big a favorite are they? Las Vegas released its early lines for the biggest games this season and they're giving Florida ten points against LSU in Baton Rouge. Talk about expectations.
4.Will this be Steve Spurrier's last season? The Ole Ball Coach has spent much of the off-season assuring Gamecock fans that he's going to be around. Something tells me this is a pivotal season in his tenure at Columbia.
5.Can Lane Kiffin back up the smack talking? Tennessee's newly minted mouth-of-the-South spent his first off-season in Knoxville ticking off everyone in the conference. Volunteer fans seem to love it. The litmus test will be when Tim Tebow hangs 50 points on them in September. That's when we'll know whether Tennessee fans really have a stomach for the boy wonder.
6.Can Bobby Petrino continue to make inroads in the SEC West? Since leaving Atlanta in the dead of night, one might think Petrino has been put in the witness protection program. You rarely hear his name. That's not necessarily a good thing if you face him this season. Perhaps the best offensive mind in the SEC, Petrino is quietly building a team that should be a contender for years to come.
7.Will Alabama build on last year's success? Despite going undefeated in the regular season, most Bama fans were left with a bad taste in their mouth after losing to Utah in the Sugar Bowl. It has gotten so bad that Nick Saban insinuated a few weeks back that the reason they lost was because of the fans. Alabama is loaded with talent, but will be breaking in a new quarterback - something that's not easy in the SEC.
8.Can Dan Mullen win at Miss State? One of the great graveyards in college football welcomes another coach. Can the Florida offense be successful without the Gators talent?
9.Can Les Miles rebound at LSU? What was expected to be a top 10 finish last year turned into a disaster - at least by Bayou Bengal standards. Miles has loaded his team with bluechip talent and should have the guns to make another run at Atlanta in December.
10.Can Mark Richt take the Georgia program to the next level? Last year's media darling struggled mightily in its three losses despite having arguably the best backfield in the nation. Don't bet against the Georgia coach. He'll be breaking in a new quarterback against a brutal schedule, but this is not Richt's first rodeo. Look for the classiest coach in the conference to surprise many and rebound.