New York-I’m in the Big Apple today shooting a preseason college football show for CBS with Tim Brando, Spencer Tillman and Gary Danielson. The show will run at 1 p.m. on Saturday, just before coverage of the PGA Championship.
Danielson, the former Purdue and NFL quarterback, left ESPN in 2006 to become the analyst with play-by-play veteran Verne Lundquist on the SEC’s game of the week on CBS. It has been one of the best moves Danielson has made in a very successful broadcast career.
The SEC has won three straight BCS national championships (2006, Florida; 2007, LSU; 2008 , Florida) so Danielson has been busy. And with Florida a prohibitive preseason No. 1 and favored to repeat, and with four SEC teams (Florida, Alabama, LSU, Ole Miss) in the preseason Top 10, he is looking forward to another challenging season.
We took a few minutes at dinner last night and I asked him to give me his top five story lines/questions in the SEC as we head into the 2009 season:
Can Florida handle the hype? “The main storyline going into the season for me is the unbelievable expectations that Florida will face this year. They basically have the trophy cabinet already built and anything less than a national championship is going to be a disappointment. It’s a great team and they have everybody back. But are they better than the Miami team of 2002? I think they had 11 NFL players on that team. Are they better than USC in 2005? That team had Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush. Neither of those teams could repeat.
“And here is something that is really important. I think the competition that Florida is playing in this league (SEC) right now is superior to any competition that any team has ever faced trying to repeat.
“It is just so hard to win a national championship. Remember this. (Tim) Tebow had to go 7-for-7 in the fourth quarter against Alabama (in the SEC championship game) and 7-for-7 against Oklahoma in the fourth quarter (in the BCS championship game) for Florida to win the national title. It’s just hard to do.
“Can those expectations be met? To me that is the story of the year.”
“I think Georgia is going to be the surprise of the conference. I think their quarterback play will be good enough and Mark Richt will go back to doing some of the things he likes to do-solid quarterback play, running back by committee, a defense that runs to the ball. I don’t think they can play worse defense so it is given they’ll be better on defense. They got humbled last year but that’s the way it happens sometimes. But you have to understand that they have a tough schedule so they may not win as many games. They lost the No. 1 pick in the draft (quarterback Matthew Stafford) and one of the best running backs (Knowshon Moreno) that they’ve had in a long time. But they will have a quarterback (Joe Cox) who gets the job done. He’s not a star but he’s like David Greene was when they won the championship (in 2002). They will be a much tougher out this year because of those five offensive linemen (who return).”
Can Alabama repeat in the SEC West? “I thought they were ahead of schedule last season. I know Nick (Saban) thought that. Nick is really good at identifying what his teams need to do and then taking advantage of what they have. Last year he saw what he had and made the most of it. Some things broke well for them last year. It was a down year for quarterback play in the SEC which led him to have the advantage of defense. There just weren’t a lot of people in the league who were able to take advantage of his defense. So he just dominated games with strategy and strength. They controlled the offensive line of scrimmage with two great tight ends and tackles. It was like having four tackles out there. This season things won’t be as comfortable because they lost three starters on the offensive line. But defense gives them a chance every time they play.”
Are you on the Ole Miss bandwagon? I’m not sure there deserves to be an Ole Miss bandwagon until they show us it’s worth climbing aboard. They have a lot of potential but they are also one of the teams in this league that is not used to handing the fanfare. The Alabama kids are used to it. The Florida kids are used to it. The LSU kids are used to it. This will be a whole new deal for Ole Miss. It will be different and honestly Houston (head coach Houston Nutt) is not used to it either. He has always been more comfortable being the underdog. I do think Ole Miss will miss their two interior people more than Houston thinks. (Defensive tackle) Peria Jerry was a monster. (Offensive tackle) Michael Oher was solid on the left side. Those were two really good football players.
The SEC has won three straight BCS national championships and four out of the last six. The league has just signed two unprecedented television contracts worth $3 billion over the next 15 years. Is the SEC starting to separate itself from the rest of college football?
“I don’t think there is any doubt that it is separating itself because it will attract great players for the foreseeable future. But here is the danger and I started saying this three years ago. The future challenge for this league is that if the rules don’t change for playing for the national championship (only the top two in the BCS standings get in) it is going be more difficult for the SEC to keep winning national titles. These teams are going to be so good. Ole Miss is improving. Arkansas is improving. Auburn is going to come back. Tennessee is going to come back. Florida, Alabama, LSU, and Georgia are great programs. You’re going to have a bunch of teams with two losses and people are going to start thinking this is an average league. They would be wrong, but that will be the perception.
Right now the SEC has the benefit of everything going their way. They are going to win all tiebreakers. Their teams will be ranked higher at the beginning of the year and deservedly so. But does a one-loss SEC team jump ahead of an undefeated Big Ten team? As we move forward there is going to be tremendous pressure to put the undefeated teams in.
Things changed for the SEC when (No. 4) Florida jumped over (No. 3) Michigan in 2006 and played Ohio State for the national championship and won. Could they change again because the SEC gets so tough and really starts beating each other up? That’s the danger I see down the road.”
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