published Monday, July 20th, 2009

Prepare for media blitz

Times Free Press sports writer David Paschall offers five storylines to watch at this week's SEC media days outside Birmingham.

Online

Sports Editor Jay Greeson answers three key questions about Lane Kiffin's seven months in Knoxville.

In days ahead

Starting Wednesday get all the news and notes from this year's SEC media days from staff writers David Paschall and Wes Rucker. Plus, get updates throughout the day and videos and audios at www.timesfree press.com.

1. KIFFIN AT THE MIKE

Lane Kiffin officially was introduced as Tennessee's new football coach on Dec. 1, 2008, but many Southeastern Conference fanatics view his introduction as Feb. 5, 2009.

That's when Kiffin, speaking to a jacked-up collection of Big Orange faithful in Knoxville, accused Florida's Urban Meyer of illegal recruiting and said Nick Saban's top class at Alabama largely was due to Tide-turned-Vols assistant Lance Thompson. The SEC reprimanded Kiffin for his attack on Meyer, and league commissioner Mike Slive demanded coaches end their verbal sparring.

Kiffin will be giving countless interviews during his two-hour whirlwind stint Friday, with every reporter dreaming of landing his next explosive sound bite.

"I "I think the message in Destin was received loud and clear by the coaches," said SEC associate commissioner Charles Bloom, who is coordinating media days for a 14th straight year. "I think you'll see positive back-and-forth discussions about each institution's programs and the league as a whole. I don't think you'll see a negative give-and-take, but you can never guess the tone or the way the questions may go."

2. GATOR REINFORCEMENT

Just in case there was somebody on the planet questioning whether Florida was well stocked for a repeat BCS championship run, the Gators are sending quarterback Tim Tebow and middle linebacker Brandon Spikes as their two representatives.

Tebow assisted the Gators to the 2006 national title, led them to it last season and won a Heisman Trophy in between. This season, he could earn a third title ring and become the first three-time Heisman Trophy finalist in the history of college football's most prestigious individual award.

Spikes headlines a defense that held Oklahoma to 14 points in the BCS title game after the strike-at-will Sooners had scored 60 or more points five straight times. The Gators return their top 22 defenders from a year ago.Poor Charleston Southern on Sept. 5.

3. GUYS, WE'RE STILL HERE

The admiration for Florida coupled with the curiosity surrounding Tennessee has shuffled Georgia down the intriguing list one year after the Bulldogs were the national preseason No. 1.

Former stars Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno never made it to media days because Mark Richt prefers to bring seniors. New starting quarterback Joe Cox is a fifth-year senior and will be there, and he assuredly will face questions concerning whether the Bulldogs can produce a seventh 10-win season in the last eight years.

This year's opening six-pack contains Oklahoma State, South Carolina, Arkansas, Arizona State, LSU and Tennessee, so Cox will have to sound convincing.

4. RESPECTING THE REBELS

Ole Miss closed last season by throttling LSU 31-13 in Baton Rouge, humiliating Mississippi State 45-0 in the Egg Bowl and racing past Texas Tech 47-34 in the Cotton Bowl.

The Rebels return Jevan Snead at quarterback and a defense comprised of senior and junior starters, but can coach Houston Nutt handle the high expectations? Nutt's lightly regarded teams at Arkansas overachieved, but he had years that went the other way, too.

In 2003, the Razorbacks had Matt Jones and Cedric Cobbs in their offensive backfield and Ahmad Carroll and Lawrence Richardson in their defensive backfield yet settled for the Independence Bowl.

5. HOT SEAT, ANYONE?

Four SEC teams have coaches who are brand new or basically new. The other eight have coaches who have earned significant clout. This could be a year in which no SEC coach gets fired. Meyer, Nutt, Richt, Saban and LSU's Les Miles have built top-15 programs, while Kentucky's Rich Brooks and Vanderbilt's Bobby Johnson went bowling last season. This year won't be enough to judge Kiffin, Auburn's Gene Chizik, Arkansas' Bobby Petrino and Mississippi State's Dan Mullen, which only leaves Steve Spurrier at South Carolina. Spurrier could be the most likely to leave on his own should the Gamecocks go 6-6 or worse, but the 68-year-old Brooks could retire as well.

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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