ATLANTA — The 2022 edition of SEC Media Days wrapped up Thursday as the last two head coaches among Missouri’s conference opponents took their time on the podium.
The Tigers’ SEC opener is scheduled for Sept. 24 against Auburn.
Here’s a look at what each of Missouri’s conference adversaries focused on this week:
Head coach Bryan Harsin’s main concern for part of the offseason was keeping his job. In February, Harsin was the subject of an Auburn inquiry, which ultimately took no action against him.
I have addressed the situation early on in his podium time on Thursday.
“It was uncomfortable,” Harsin said. “It was unfounded. It presented an opportunity for people to personally attack me, my family and also our program. And it didn’t work.”
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Missouri takes on Auburn in Week 4, which will be the fourth out of five straight home games at the start of the season for Harsin’s Tigers. He said he hopes the team can take advantage of the opportunity.
“Home or away, you want to get off to a fast start regardless,” Harsin said. “It’s great to be in Jordan-Hare Stadium. It’s so unique. People have asked me. I’ve never been apart of that. How it was all set up and done, I’m not asking questions. We got five home games.”
It took them plenty of time, but the Bulldogs finally snapped their national championship drought last season. Now, Kirby Smart’s bunch will have to avoid a championship hangover.
According to Smart, motivation has not been an issue.
“To be complacent, you have to have done something and achieved something,” Smart said Wednesday. “The men on this team for this season have not done that. They have not. We had 15 players that have now gone to NFL camps or draft picks. They’re gone. We have some returning players, but they’re hungry as ever.”
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Last season’s Georgia team broke another streak: Smart became Nick Saban’s first assistant to beat him. Now the question for the Bulldogs is whether they, like Alabama, will become one of the perennial national championship winners, constantly reloading with the best players in the country and terrorizing the rest of the conference.
“We didn’t build this program on hoping for one-year-wonders or hoping for one opportunity,” Smart said. “We built the program to be sustained. You sustain it by what you do every single day.”
The Bulldogs will visit Faurot Field on Oct. 1.
After last year’s loss to Missouri, the Gators made a change. Former head coach and noted Tiger antagonist Dan Mullen was let go and Billy Napier was hired in his place from him.
At his first media days in charge, Napier said he was excited to get started in Gainesville.
“This group has embraced the work,” Napier said. “I’m proud of our team. This team is not scared. They’re tough, they love to compete. When you put the ball down, they’re about it. I’m excited about training camp.”
Napier and the Gators will benefit from a solid quarterback in 2022, as Anthony Richardson is projected to be one of the top players in the nation at that position. The coach said he has been impressed by Richardson.
“He has tremendous ability,” Napier said. “He’s working hard to develop, improve as a person, as a leader. He’s working hard to increase his football IQ from him. His skill is developing. I think he’s prime to have a phenomenal year.”
The Tigers will travel to Gainesville on Oct. 8.
Clark Lea is entering year two as Vanderbilt’s head coach. Even after a season on the job, it remains tough sledding in Nashville.
The Commodores haven’t won an SEC game since 2019.
That said, Lea knew when he took the job that the rebuild would be slow and difficult, and he said the team has made improvements.
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“We know in time Vanderbilt football will be the best program in the country,” Lea said. “As I said a year ago, there are no cheat codes, shortcuts, no hacks that will allow this to happen overnight. This is still about going the long, hard way, independent of the trends and headlines generating the most attention right now in college football.”
Vanderbilt will play at MU on Oct. 22.
The Gamecocks exceeded expectations last season, finishing 7-6 and capping off the year with a win in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl. Now in his second season, head coach Shane Beamer was optimistic from the podium.
He also noted he’d like to see another jump in 2022.
“We made great strides last season going from two wins to seven wins,” Beamer said. “A challenge for us is making sure our guys understand that going from seven to the next step, the next level, is going to take even more work. Everything that I’ve seen from our guys since they came back shows me that they understand that.”
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South Carolina’s highest-profile addition this offseason was quarterback Spencer Rattler, who transferred in from Oklahoma. Beamer said Rattler, who was benched in favor of Caleb Williams after a shaky start to 2021, has handled pressure well throughout his career.
“We have to be great around Spencer, players and coaches, play well and help him,” Beamer said. “With Spencer, nobody is asking him to go out there and be Superman, just go be you.”
Missouri will go on the road to play South Carolina on Oct. 29.
Mark Stoops has Kentucky on one of his best runs ever over the past several seasons. Last year, the Wildcats finished 10-3, good for second in the SEC East.
However, the gulf between Georgia and the rest of the division remains.
“How do you gain on Georgia? I can’t answer that,” Stoops said with a laugh. “I just saw Kirby up there, I could maybe try to whack his knees out or something, knock him out for a minute.”
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Kentucky returns much of its talent from last year, including quarterback Will Levis, who is projected as an NFL Draft pick next year. Stoops heaped praises on Levis from the podium.
“Of course, Will Levis, his story,” Stoops said. “The transfer coming in from Penn State, but having such a big impact in our program. He led us to 10 victories a year ago. Came back. So excited about Will, not only a great player and super talented, but unbelievable leader.”
Kentucky travels to Columbia for the Nov. 5 game.
The Volunteers return for head coach Josh Heupel’s second season, picked by many to finish second in the division. Heupel’s high-flying offense helped Tennessee improve last season, finishing with a 7-6 record.
Heupel has a returning quarterback this year in Hendon Hooker, who is once again expected to electrify the Volunteer attack.
“You’ve taken great strides in offseason,” Heupel said. “A young man who had an opportunity to declare for the draft, came back to our program I believe because of the culture we have, the improvements he knew he could make in coming back and helping his career.”
Missouri visits Tennessee on Nov. 12.
Head coach Sam Pittman appears to have something working in Fayetteville entering his third year. The Razorbacks won nine games last year and brought back a solid quarterback in KJ Jefferson.
During his remarks, Pittman mentioned the annual matchup with Missouri.
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“We’re trying to make a rivalry,” Pittman said. “We hadn’t won the games enough times to make it a rivalry game. But we’re trying to do that.”
Pittman added later that he would like to see the Tigers become one of Arkansas’ three permanent opponents in a potential divisional realignment scenario. This year’s edition of the game will take place in Columbia on Nov. 25.