published Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

Greeson: SEC media days' expected crowd serves as indicator of league's No. 1 status

What to expect from SEC media days outside Birmingham this week?

Sure, there will be talk about returning starters and preseason predictions. Questions will cover all things from expectations to ex-quarterbacks and will range from the important to the incidental.

There will be enough discussion on whether Lane Kiffin and Urban Meyer can get along and debating whether Nick and Timmy T can really walk on water. (If you're curious, the answer is no on both.)

The talk of all the things football is highly anticipated. Even the weather cooperated last weekend with fall-like conditions. Most of the league's coaches will talk about new starting quarterbacks. A couple will talk about how they wouldn't trade their quarterbacks for anyone. No one will he say he wishes he had Jonathan Crompton behind center.

Each team across the league faces issue-based dilemmas.

Can Tennessee start better? The Volunteers lost the first quarter 67-17 combined during their 12 games last season. And with the obvious uncertainties at quarterback, playing from behind was not -- and will not be -- the Vols' strength.

Can anyone compete with Alabama on the ground? Looking for a quick answer why the Crimson Tide was unbeaten last year, try this: 184-74. Those are the average rushing totals for Alabama and its foes last year.

Can Georgia behave on the field? The Bulldogs commited an obscene number of penalties last year -- 112 for 938 yards. Without the same talent level at quarterback and running back, anything resembling similar numbers will be disastrous this year.

The current numbers for the league as a whole, however, are nothing short of glorious.

The anticipation for this week's annual media event has never been higher. TFP sports writer David Paschall tells us that a record number of nearly 900 credentials has been granted, and a google search of the term "SEC football media days" turned up more than 1.4 million entries in 0.14 seconds.

And the numbers do not stop there. The league has won the last three Bowl Championship Series national titles. Its record-setting multibillion-dollar television deal is with two high-powered networks, CBS and ESPN.

Surely the SEC has positioned itself as the No. 1 football conference in the country, and the gap is not as close as the Big 12 would want you to believe. In fact, the SEC's impressive rise leaves arguably the one biggest question this week for the man who will step to the podium first -- SEC commissioner Mike Slive.

Slive, who has been behind the SEC wheel since 2002 and agreed in March to an extension through 2012, must address how the league can stay this strong.

The Ivy-league educated Slive has consistently played his cards close and guarded his words even closer. His answers may not reveal all the league has on the horizon, but some of the things are obviously in the works.

Expect the league to monitor closely the inner workings and the working relationships among its coaches. Slive told the coaches at the May meetings in Destin, Fla., to cool it, and all indications suggest the message was clear and received.

The banter between fan bases and rivals fuels the passion. The jabs and jawing among coaches fuels Slive's anger, and the guess here is this week's expected fireworks may not materialize.

Expect the league to "encourage" the rest of the league to follow Alabama's lead with neutral-site games against schools that you've heard of. Alabama opened with Clemson last year at the Georgia Dome and will face Virginia Tech in the same venue this year. Other schools including Tennessee, which will play North Carolina State in the Georgia Dome in a few years, have already signed on to this, too.

Plus, with the big-dollar television deals in place well into the 2020s, high-profile games such as the home-and-home deal between Georgia and Oklahoma State will become more and more commonplace.

And why not? If the league truly is college football's best, it should welcome all challengers.

about Jay Greeson...

Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...

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