This Monday was supposed to have been the start of SEC Media Days, a time where The Plainsman brings you content to get you ready for Auburn’s upcoming season. This year is different with the annual media event currently postponed. The Plainsman wanted to continue providing our readers content similar to Media Days; to prepare our readers if there is a football season, we interviewed other SEC sports editors and their staff.
As the week progresses, be on the lookout for similar interviews from around the SEC. Don't worry if you miss one; the bottom of each story will be updated with links to previous "State of the SEC's."
James Minzesheimer is the assistant sports editor at The Daily Mississippian at the University of Mississippi. With a new coach and a quarterback battle that started last year and is still ongoing, here's a preview on Auburn's first SEC opponent in 2020, Ole Miss.
Christian: Who do you think will be a breakout player for Ole Miss on offense this season?
James: "When it comes to offense, there are some big questions. Obviously, we have some great returning players, but with the coronavirus outbreak, it has only amplified what was already going to be a bit of a war. Redshirt sophomore Matt Corral was set to make a big jump this spring in terms of winning the QB1 job as he is the better passer of the two, as the other QB who started 8 out of 12 games in 2019 John Rhys Plumlee, was playing baseball."
"It was expected because of Plumlee's absence at spring practice that Corral would be able to jump leaps and bounds over Plumlee, but with coronavirus, the battle has been neutralized. It will be interesting to see what happens as Plumlee is a poor passer, only completing 57.2% of his passes last year. Basically, whichever QB is picked could determine how Kiffin runs his offense while Corral is not immobile Plumlee is a more significant ground threat."
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Christian: Who do you think will be a breakout player for Ole Miss on defense this season?
James: "Well, the big name is Demon (pronounced Damon) Clowney, a four-star defensive end who is also the cousin of NFL star Jadeveon Clowney, but I would have to go with MoMo Sagano who broke his ankle early last season. Now with all the time he has had to recover, I would project him to be a beast at linebacker for the Rebels."
Christian: What are your expectations for Ole Miss this season?
James: "Kiffin came in at a weird time in the cycle of college football as he had to worry about getting his staff in order and did not have a chance to do much of his recruiting, resulting in a disappointing signing day. It can be hard to say what's gonna happen with the season and schedule if they were to play a full 12 game schedule, which already seems like it is not going to happen."
"So I do not want to make a comment on a record, but Ole Miss went 0-5 on the road last year, so improving on that would be huge. Another priority will be to have a great year recruiting. And lastly, a lot of the Rebel fanbase will consider Kiffin as successful if he can beat Mississippi State in Oxford on November 26th."
Christian: What's one big storyline for Ole Miss this season?
James: "The big storyline will be how will the black athletes on the team respond to the issues going on in the world, especially those following the death of George Floyd. The University and state have made some efforts, such as finally getting the confederate monument off the Ole Miss campus. And on the state level changing the state flag to exclude the confederate symbolism."
"However many would argue that most of this is too late, and there are still calls for the school to drop the Rebels nickname, and even stop going by Ole Miss, as some view it as a reference to slavery."
Mattison: Who is a breakout player for Tennessee on offense this year?
Ryan: “I think, Eric Gray. He was a freshman last year, played a little bit earlier in the season, and then kind of disappeared in the SEC. He ran for 300 yards against Vanderbilt and was the Gator Bowl MVP, so I think he’s a good guy that a lot of people think could make a big jump in a year or two.”
“He could get a little stronger, and he had a lot of breakaway speed last year. I think he’s a guy people are excited about. Maybe a second one is Jalin Hyatt, freshman receiver. There’s not a lot of depth in that position, so a lot of people think a freshman is going to have to come in and play. He’s a player that people seem to be pretty high on.”
Mattison: Who is a breakout player for Tennessee on defense this year?
Ryan: “That’s a good question because Tennesee returns about nine, eight, starters on defense. The three they lost were really big, so you need a couple of guys to step up. I think Kivon Bennett may be a guy. Darrell Taylor really led the team in sacks. I think he was second in the SEC in sacks last year. The outside linebacker he’s gone so there’s not really a whole lot of depth there.”
“I think Kivon Bennett is a guy who had a solid season last year in his sophomore season. He has five sacks or so. Another guy could be Quavaris Crouch. He played outside linebacker last year. People think he’s going to be playing inside and take Daniel Bituli’s role. He’s another guy I think people are pretty high on.”
Mattison: What are your expectations for the Volunteers this year?
Ryan: “So Tennesee plays four teams I think most people would say they’d be worse than going into the season; Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Oklahoma. There are eight teams Tennesee is better than, and I think the fanbase wants to see Tennessee win those eight games against the teams they’re better than. Then try to get one more win over Oklahoma, Florida, Georgia or Alabama.”
“That’s kind of what I think the fanbase wants to see and is a good sign of growth. They’re probably still going to finish third in the East, but probably get a bigger bowl game like the Capital One Bowl, Outback Bowl, something like that.”
Mattison: What’s one big storyline for Tennessee this season?
Ryan: “I think there will be a lot of pressure on the quarterback situation. You have a fifth-year senior who came back who’s been pretty down the line during his career. He’s had some low moments, but put things together and came back. I think most people thought he’d probably be the starter, and when he had spring practice canceled Harrison Bailey, who’s a true freshman, most people think he’ll be the backup or maybe the starter.”
“Spring practice would have made it positive who’s the starter, but if he struggles early, I think it’ll be a pretty hard press not to make him move. Pruitt showed last year he pretty loose handling the quarterback situation playing different guys. I think that could be something to watch if things don’t go well week two in Oklahoma or week four against Florida.”
Jake: Who is a breakout player for Mississippi State on offense this season?
Lydia: “I think our running back, Kylin Hill, has already shown his skills, and I think he will surely step out even further this season as it is his senior season. Last season he had a season-high of 234 rushing yards in a game, and I believe he will show out even more this upcoming season.”
Jake: Who is a breakout player for Mississippi State on defense this season?
Lydia: “For the defensive side of things, I would say Marcus Murphy would be one to watch. He had strong games in 2018 and didn’t snag any new career highs last season but was clearly putting in work.”
Jake: What are your expectations for the Bulldogs this season?
Lydia: “Since there is so much up in the air right now, nothing can be said for certain on whether or not the Bulldogs or any SEC team will have their season just yet.”
“However, if the Bulldogs get to have a season, I think it will certainly be one to watch under the new leadership of Mike Leach and some good recruits.”
Jake: What is one big storyline for Mississippi State this season?
Lydia: “I think that with the new leadership of Mike Leach, just watching how this season plays out as the players adapt to a new coach and just seeing what comes out of these changes will be something to watch.”
Catch up on the other State of the SEC's here:
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