SEC football anticipation will grow with Media Days

SEC football anticipation will grow with Media Days

July 12th, 2015 by David Paschall in Sports - College

University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban will speak Wednesday morning at Southeastern Conference Media Days in Hoover, Ala. Since taking over in Tuscaloosa in 2007, Saban has led the Crimson Tide to four division championships, three conference crowns and a trio of national titles. Alabama went 12-2 last season and lost to eventual national champion Ohio State in the College Football Playoff semifinals.

Photo by Gerald Herbert

More than 50 days remain until the start of the 2015 Southeastern Conference football season, but the anticipation is about to heighten sharply.

The annual SEC Media Days are Monday through Thursday in Hoover, Ala., a Birmingham suburb, and there will be no shortage of optimism after the league produced 12 bowl teams last season for the first time in its history.

New commissioner Greg Sankey will open the four-day extravaganza, and then the 14 coaches (as well as three players from each school) will take turns addressing the media.

Here are five topics sure to be discussed:

1. The preseason favorite

This has been more of a curse than a blessing.

Only five times in the past 23 years have media members correctly picked the SEC champion, though one of those occasions was last July, when Alabama was tabbed. The Crimson Tide will get strong consideration this year, too, but so will Auburn and Georgia.

Pointing out the media's futility has become a subject of great amusement for Tide coach Nick Saban.

"I know you all pick a winner in the conference every year and that you've been wrong 18 out of 22 times," Saban said before last year's ballot had been revealed. "Every year that we've been fortunate enough to win the championship, you picked somebody else to win it."

Alabama, Auburn and Georgia must replace quarterbacks who provided senior leadership last season, which could leave the door open for many more challengers. A subplot in this week's predictions will be where Tennessee gets pegged, because the second spot in the Eastern Division likely will be the improving Volunteers or two-time East champ Missouri.

2. Trending Tennessee

Third-year Tennessee coach Butch Jones has been one to develop slogans and stick with them.

Whether he is preaching "brick by brick" or "the power of one" to what is now "Team 119," Jones has taken a program that was reeling in 2012 and turned it into one that has appeared in numerous preseason top 25 polls. He has handled questions regarding enhanced expectations since early January, when the Vols capped his second season with a 45-28 trampling of Iowa in the TaxSlayer Bowl, and he can expect to field more in Hoover.

The contingent of Josh Dobbs, Curt Maggitt and Cam Sutton gives Tennessee its most impressive player representatives in recent years, and Jones doesn't have to repeat this statement from last year's meetings: "We're the only school in the country that has to replace both starting interior lines offensively and defensively."

3. The 70-something

When South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier takes the podium Tuesday, he will be extending his record of SEC Media Days appearances to 23.

Georgia's Mark Richt will be making his 15th visit when he appears Thursday, which will tie former Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer for the second-most visits. Fulmer would have made 16 trips but sat out in 2004 after learning that lawyers who were suing the NCAA planned to subpoena him.

Spurrier, who turned 70 in April, coached Florida to six SEC titles from 1990 to 2001 and soon will be embarking on his 11th season at South Carolina. He has guided the Gamecocks to an 84-45 record, including three consecutive 11-2 seasons from 2011 to '13.

"Obviously you never know what your path in life is going to lead to," Spurrier said at last year's event. "When I left Florida after 12 years, I thought I was going to coach in the NFL five or six years and retire to the beach and play golf a bunch.

"That was a bad plan, but that's the way I was thinking back then."

4. Final time around

Last year marked the fourth and final Media Days appearance for Florida coach Will Muschamp, who was let go after a 6-5 regular season and is now college football's highest-paid assistant as Auburn's defensive coordinator.

New Florida coach Jim McElwain will be the only rookie at this event, but recent history dictates there will be at least one change next year. Two potential candidates would be Spurrier, should he decide to spend the rest of his 70s in retirement, and Vanderbilt's Derek Mason, who must show improvement following a disappointing 3-9 debut.

"I knew this was a tough conference from top to bottom," Mason said this spring, "but the most compelling thing for me was that in building this thing, I worked as a CEO and needed to be more of a bricklayer. I've learned a lot about what you have to do in terms of putting your stamp on your team and being resolute in what you believe, and our football team is a better football team right now.

"I feel really good about the changes that have been made."

5. Off-the-field fracas

One of the bigger frenzies in SEC Media Days history occurred two years ago, when former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel drew monster crowds wherever he stepped. Manziel arrived in Hoover several days after his early dismissal from the Manning Passing Academy.

The introduction of the four-team college football playoff resulted in significant conversation this year, but what will spark this year's meetings? There is the fact that some coach in the West making at least $4 million in 2015 will have to finish last, and Ole Miss will arrive Thursday with some uncertainty surrounding touted junior tackle Laremy Tunsil.

Tunsil and his stepfather, Lindsey Miller, attended a hearing this past Friday following a recent altercation that resulted in each pressing domestic violence and assault charges. Tunsil claims he was protecting his mother, but Miller alleges the cause was due to Tunsil "riding around with agents."

Rebels coach Hugh Freeze has released a statement recognizing that Tunsil has met with agents, adding that is within his NCAA rights as a student-athlete. Arraignment for the domestic violence charges is Aug. 3.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.


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