John Clay

John Clay: A question for every team as SEC camps open

Never mind Enes Kanter's eligibility and basketball ticket price increases. It's August. The thermometer is pushing triple digits. It's football season.

Kentucky starts serious sweating Friday. Many of its Southeastern Conference brethren are already on the practice field. They hope to answer the usual multitude of questions. Here, we keep it simple. We break it down to one question per team.

Alabama: Is the Tide still hungry? Nick Saban abhors the phrase "defending champ." Only last year's Tide could defend the title. This is this year's Tide. Plenty of last year's Tide is back for this year, including Heisman winner Mark Ingram, but that's beside Saban's point. Having already won a title, Alabama might be self-satisfied. Saban hates that, too.

Auburn: Can the Tigers challenge Alabama? Gene Chizik broke from the gate nicely. His team won seven games last season. His staff has recruited well. One problem. Auburn plays in the same division, same conference and (worse) same state as Alabama. At some point, Chizik must top the Tide. And Saban. Good luck.

Arkansas: How good is Ryan Mallett? The 6-foot-6 quarterback is first-team All-SEC. His arm is strong. His coach, Bobby Petrino, knows how to tutor quarterbacks. But Mallett completed just 55.8 percent of his passes last fall. For the Razorbacks to improve, that must improve.

Florida: Can John Brantley replace Tim Tebow? Brantley is already replacing Tebow. He will be Florida's quarterback. Word is the sophomore has great potential. But Tebow is a certified legend. The rule for following a legend? Be the one who follows the person who followed the legend.

Georgia: Will the Bulldogs' defense improve? A redshirt freshman, Aaron Murray, is Georgia's quarterback. But his offensive line is among the nation's best. The Bulldogs will score points. Last year's problem, Dogs opponents scored a lot of points. (Kentucky scored 34.) Todd Grantham is Mark Richt's new defensive coordinator. He's high-energy. His defense needs to be low-scoring.

LSU: How hot is that seat, Les Miles? The Tigers' head coach, otherwise known as "The Hat," claims to not be on the hot seat. Or he says he is not worried about being on the hot seat. Wait until Nov. 6 when Nick Saban and Alabama visit Baton Rouge. Tiger Stadium will be an outdoor oven that day, and Miles the one over the fire.

Mississippi: Is Jeremiah Masoli worth the risk? These days, Houston Nutt is more controversial than the Tea Party. The Rebels' coach took ex-Oregon bad boy Masoli. Nutt needed a quarterback. Masoli plays quarterback. How well Masoli does his job, and stays out of trouble, may determine the future of Nutt's job.

Mississippi State: Can Dan Mullen keep up the momentum? The Bulldogs just missed bowl eligibility last season. It trounced Ole Miss, the school Mullen calls the "one up north." The second-year coach is smart. He's charismatic. Now, he just has to avoid the dreaded sophomore jinx.

South Carolina: Can the two Steves get along? Steve Spurrier begins his sixth year in Columbia. Stephen Garcia begins his second season as starting quarterback. Spurrier spent most of the off-season knocking Garcia. If the Gamecocks are going to leapfrog wobblers Georgia and Tennessee, Garcia must shine. Spurrier must help.

Tennessee: Will the Vols' fans still like Derek Dooley in November? Dooley is the anti-Lane Kiffin. The Big Orange Nation love that about its new coach. But can Dooley win? This may be the least talented Tennessee team since Bill Battle was coach. Never heard of Bill Battle? Bingo.

Vanderbilt: Can the Commodores overcome the shock of losing Bobby Johnson? New coach Robbie Caldwell is a great comedian. As a head coach, it's anyone's guess. Given the circumstances, Johnson might have coaxed more out of his talent than any SEC coach. This job is difficult enough as it is.

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