GREGG ELLIS: The best time of year is now

Officially, the college football season begins in 39 days when Mississippi State and South Carolina kick off in an ESPN Thursday night showdown.

Unofficially, college football kicks off around noon on Wednesday with the start of SEC media days in Birmingham. Or to be geographically correct, Hoover.

Trust me. I'm a big fan of the Christmas holidays. Love it. But this time of the year with the start of college football, well, it's pretty much my favorite. Can't get enough of it.

And nothing whets the appetite more than media days, which is expected to draw roughly 950 scribes and television personalities from across the country.

For three days, the 12 SEC coaches and two players from each team will break down the Xs and Os, do their best to ignore the tough questions and then attempt to get out of Dodge as quick as possible without divulging any great secrets.

We – the media, that is – will do our best to predict the order of finish, ask the tough questions and dig up those elusive secrets.

Good times, indeed.

And this year should be as intriguing as ever.

For starters, there will be no new head coach to break in. The last time that happened? Try 1988.

No pink slips were delivered at all last year. This year? Well, let's just say there will definitely be a handful of coaches on the hot seat staring at a well-sharpened ax.

The most likely of candidates to see his last year on a SEC sideline? Kentucky's Rich Brooks, followed closely by Arkansas's Houston Nutt. It's tempting to throw in Tommy Tuberville, because he always seems to be on that proverbial hot seat.

Maybe this year, though, he'll get a free pass. You now, like most of his players in the classroom. OK, that was a cheap shot.

As for other things to keep an eye on this week, there are plenty.

For starters, it's always entertaining when the visor-throwing Steve Spurrier takes the podium. He speaks his mind and is never concerned whose feelings he might hurt, including his own.

Then there's Ed Orgeron, who last year looked about as comfortable as the Auburn president giving a lecture on academic integrity (Oops! Another shot. Sorry). Maybe this year he'll be more comfortable.

As for Sylvester Croom, we all take bets as to how long it takes for someone to ask, “Sly, talk about being the first African-American head coach in the SEC.”

I'll say it will be the fifth question this time around.

And don't forget about the over/under on whether Phillip Fulmer will attend, free buffet or not.

From a player standpoint, the million-dollar questions seem to evolve around the quarterback situations at Georgia, Alabama and Ole Miss.

At Georgia, former Baldwyn standout and 2002 Daily Journal player of the year Blake Barnes has been given a shot to compete for the starting job, while it appears Bama's success hinges on whether there will be consistent play at quarterback.

As for the Rebels, who knows about Brent Schaeffer? Maybe we'll finally get some answers this week.

As for the Top 5 games that will be heavily discussed, here are my picks: Southern Cal at Arkansas on Sept. 2, Florida at Tennessee on Sept. 16, Alabama at Tennessee on Oct. 21, South Carolina at Florida on Nov. 11, Auburn at Alabama on Nov. 18.

And finally, the five most interesting players to be in attendance: Alabama running back Kenneth Darby, Florida quarterback Chris Leak, Auburn receiver Courtney Taylor, Arkansas receiver Marcus Monk and LSU safety LaRon Landry.

Football is here. Hope you're ready.

Gregg Ellis (gregg.ellis@djournal.com) covers Mississippi State for The Daily Journal.