published Friday, July 18th, 2014

Greeson: Saban reminds media of wrong choices

SEC predicted order of finish

EAST

1. South Carolina

2. Georgia

3. Florida

4. Missouri

5. Tennessee

6. Vanderbilt

7. Kentucky

WEST

1. Alabama

2. Auburn

3. LSU

4. Ole Miss

5. Mississippi State

6. Texas A&M

7. Arkansas

SEC CHAMPION

Alabama (154 votes)

Auburn (75)

South Carolina (32)

Georgia (19)

LSU (9)

Ole Miss (2)

Arkansas (1)

Mississippi State (1)

Note: There were 293 votes cast.

Nick Saban had the biggest crowd at SEC media days. In the news conference. In the lobby. Heck, likely if Saban went to the restroom, there'd be a mob waiting.

So it goes for the biggest rock star in the biggest media-staged rock concert in college football.

So when he had the mic before the roughly 1,200 media folks horned into the venue at the Wynfrey Hotel, he just could not exit without a parting shot.

"Every year that we've been fortunate enough to win the championship, you picked someone else," Saban told the members of the media. "So just to let you know that we're evaluating you."

In the last 22 years, the preseason media vote has picked the SEC football champion correctly four times. Heck, Derek Dooley did more right in his time in the SEC than that.

"Now you've been wrong 18 out of 22," Saban said, "but you've also not picked the right team the last five years in a row."

Sorry, Nick, it looks like your loaded Crimson Tide -- a collection with as many preseason SEC first-teamers as any team in the modern era -- is doomed before the word go.

Alabama was selected as the overwhelming favorite, getting more than half the votes as the league champion and having nine of the 26 first-team picks from across the league.

In fact, the Tide's nine first-team selections matched their total in 2011 for the most for one team since 1992. Florida in 2009 and Alabama in 2010 each had eight first-team players.

Talent does not always translate to titles. Each of those teams that had eight or more preseason first-team picks failed to win the SEC title in those respective years. But July football talk is seldom precise. It's the time that everyone is "excited to get going" and "ready to get started" and any of the buzz phrases that coaches and players embrace in the preseason.

There were frequent references to last year's magical SEC title run by Auburn -- a team that was winless in the SEC in 2012 -- by everyone who stepped to a microphone, be they heavyweights or underdogs.

Heck, the Auburn run last fall was so unexpected that the fact that Arkansas got a preseason vote as the SEC champion seems only mildly ridiculous.

For each program, though, success is measured by different metrics by the various SEC schools. Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze gauged the Rebels' rise entering his third year by the view of one of the league's best coaches.

"I'm just glad in year three, Coach [Steve] Spurrier's not talking about wanting to play Ole Miss very year," Freeze said.

The presence of a returning quarterback -- something that less than half the teams in the league can embrace -- gave Freeze a reason to smile before he offered a word of caution for every SEC predictor, whether they were in Hoover on Thursday or not.

"Who knew about Nick Marshall last year or Johnny Manziel the year before," Freeze said about first-year starting quarterbacks at Auburn and Texas A&M that took the SEC by storm.

The emerging stars we have not heard of yet are out there. We know they are there, and they could be guys who waited their turn such as Georgia's Hutson Mason or Auburn's Corey Grant or guys who were in high school this time last year, such as LSU's Brandon Harris or Tennessee's Josh Malone.

But Georgia coach Mark Richt believes the lack of known quantities does not mean there is a dearth of quality players and that depth around the league means the SEC could be anyone's for the taking.

"There were a lot of stars in the league last year. I think it's wide open every year because there are so many good teams," said Richt, who looked like a guy who likes his team rather than a coach required to talk about his team. "[Being picked second] that's good; I don't care where we're picked. In 2005 we were picked fourth or fifth in the East."

So the only thing we may know in July is that, like Saban joyfully reminded everyone, we know very little for sure.

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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