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Keith Taylor: SEC Media Days ushers in talking season ahead of fall camp

Benny Snell will be among Kentucky’s three players who will attend Southeastern Conference Media Days in Atlanta on Monday. (Kentucky Today/Keith Taylor)

Former University of Florida and South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier always had something to say during Southeastern Conference Media Days. For Spurrier, it was always talking season and one step closer to the season opener.

Spurrier won’t be in Atlanta when the event kicks off Monday, but there will be plenty of talking points when the league’s 14 head coaches meet the media before the start of fall training camp. Mark Stoops enters his sixth season at Kentucky and the fan base is eager for more victories after the Wildcats finished 7-6 during the past two seasons. During that time frame, Kentucky has reached the postseason but have lost to Georgia Tech (TaxSlayer Bowl) and Northwestern (Music City Bowl), respectively.

Kentucky’s top returnees include running back Benny Snell, along with tight end C.J. Conrad and linebacker Josh Allen. All three players will accompany Stoops to Atlanta for the annual preseason gathering that begins Monday. The biggest question mark is whether or not Snell, a junior, will play beyond this season as he will become eligible for the NFL Draft following his junior campaign.

Stoops is one of the veteran coaches remaining in the league. Overall, Florida (Dan Mullen), Tennessee (Jeremy Pruitt), Mississippi State (Joe Moorhead), Texas A&M (Jimbo Fisher) and Arkansas (Chad Morris) will have new coaches in the sideline. A decade ago, Mullen was Tim Tebow’s offensive coordinator at Florida and will be counted on to resurrect the glory days when he worked under Urban Meyer in Gainesville.

Several teams changed coordinators and some of the most intriguing moves include former Tennessee coach Derek Dooley’s return to the league. Dooley is the new offensive coordinator at Missouri and John Chavis, a longtime defensive coordinator at Tennessee, LSU and most recently Texas A&M is now at Arkansas.

Alabama remains the cream of the crop in the league and is projected to contend for not only a conference title but also a national championship. Veteran coach Nick Saban replaced his offensive and defensive coordinators in the off-season, but the revolving door shouldn’t be a factor considering Saban’s knack for putting together a successful coaching staff. Saban has won his six previous championships with six different coordinators, proving his ability to keep the beat going in the midst of adversity.

One of Saban’s top offensive weapons will be senior running back Damion Harris, a graduate of Madison Southern High School in Berea. Harris has rushed for at least 1,000 yards during each of the past two seasons and will anchor the Crimson Tide backfield.

Auburn figures to be Alabama’s toughest competitor in the West and Gus Malzahn won’t be an easy pushover. Jarrett Stidham, who has ties to Kentucky, returns for a second season as the Tigers’ starting quarterback.

Georgia, which just missed out on winning a national title in Kirby Smart’s second season in Athens, shouldn’t have a problem defending its Eastern Division crown this season. Smart’s toughest task will be replacing the veteran backfield combo of Nick Chubb and Sony Michael.

Plenty of questions loom before the season opener, but it doesn’t hurt to start talking about football in the middle of July. That means football is just around the corner.

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.

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