I don’t know about you, but after two days of talking about athletics directors and football players behaving badly, I’m ready to discuss some FOOTBALL. Let’s start here:
The lineup is finally set for next week’s SEC Media Days in Birmingham (July 21-23). I’ll get into more specific story lines early next week but for now, here are a few general observations on what will transpire next week at the Wynfrey Hotel.
WEDNESDAY, JULY 21: Alabama, Florida, Mississippi State, Kentucky.
You gotta hand it to the SEC. They sure didn’t want to ease into this year’s media days as Alabama, the 2009 BCS national champion, and Florida, the 2008 BCS national champion, will both kick off the event next Wednesday.
Think these two teams have separated themselves from the rest of this league? They have met for the last two SEC championships and are a combined 52-4 in that span. Two of those losses are to each other while Florida lost to Ole Miss in 2008 and Alabama lost to Utah in the 2009 Sugar Bowl.
They meet again in Tuscaloosa on Oct. 2 and maybe again on Dec. 4 in Atlanta.
It’s a good thing that the schools are bringing three players this year instead of just two. If you’re Alabama, who do you leave at home?
Alabama will bring LB Dont’a Hightower, who will be the heartbeat of the Crimson Tide’s rebuilt defense despite coming off an injury. RB Mark Ingram is the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner. Quarterback Greg McElroy is 30-0 as a starting quarterback dating back to his senior season at Southlake (Texas) Carroll High School.
Florida will bring Mike Pouncey, who could be the best center in the country, DE Justin Trattou, and S Ahmad Black. And, of course, we will hear from coach Urban Meyer, who has had his own interesting journey since last December’s SEC championship game.
Mississippi State, looking to go to a bowl under second-year coach Dan Mullen, and Kentucky, with new coach Joker Phillips, will feel like the undercard of a huge heavyweight fight. Still, both are good story lines.
THURSDAY, JULY 22: Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina, Vanderbilt.
Georgia will be there with punter Drew Butler, fullback Shaun Chapas, and wide receiver A.J. Green.
Green will get a lot of attention because there is a reasonable chance that he won’t be back for this senior season. Is he the best wide receiver in the country? Is he better than Alabama’s Julio Jones? Will freshman Aaron Murray get him the ball? The debate will continue.
I wonder how long Mark Richt will be on the podium before he gets asked about Damon Evans or the Hot Seat?
After the way that coach Steve Spurrier dogged Stephen Garcia all spring, there was no way the South Carolina quarterback was coming to media days. The Gamecocks are bringing two defensive players (DE Cliff Matthews, LB Shaq Wilson) and a fullback (Patrick DiMarco).
But here is a stat you probably didn’t know about Garcia. He attempted more passes (432) than any quarterback in the SEC last season (Ryan Mallett of Arkansas attempted 403). Garcia’s 18.38 completions per game led the SEC. His decision-making ability, however, remains suspect.
Arkansas will bring Mallett who may or may not be hobbling when he walks in to meet the media. Mallett missed spring practice because of surgery to repair a broken bone in his foot. A new screw was put into the foot on June 9 and we are being told that he will be ready when practice starts in August. Mallett, who had 30 touchdown passes and only seven interceptions last season, will have a chance to jump into the Heisman Trophy race if he plays well in back-to-back games with Georgia (on Sept. 18) and Alabama (on Sept. 25).
Obviously, EVERYTHING has changed at Vanderbilt with the resignation of head coach Bobby Johnson on Wednesday. Who will be standing at the podium on Thursday?
FRIDAY, JULY 23: Auburn, Tennessee, LSU, Ole Miss
Derek Dooley, son of Vince and Barbara, makes his first appearance at SEC Media Days as the head coach at Tennessee. Had these meetings been held a week ago he could have talked about changing the culture of Tennessee football and the fact that the Volunteers simply do not have enough good players to manage a schedule that includes Oregon, Florida, at LSU, at Georgia, Alabama and at South Carolina in the space of eight weeks.
Now he’ll spend a lot of time dealing with the fallout of the bar fight that, based on the police reports, involved several Tennessee players. More details come out with each passing day and for Tennessee none of those details has been good. Where will the story be nine days from now?
Auburn’s Gene Chizik will come to his second SEC Media Days in a much stronger position than he did a year ago. The hire of the former Auburn defense coordinator was criticized roundly but in 2009 Tigers won eight games, almost beat Alabama (the eventual national champions), and won a New Year’s Day bowl game. What a difference a year makes. Auburn is expected to be even better on offense with the addition of QB Cameron Newton, but a defense that is still thin on talent will make it difficult to have a big season.
If there is an SEC coach on the hot seat it is LSU’s Les Miles, and he’ll be in Birmingham on the final day. LSU is 8-8 in the SEC since winning the national championship in 2007. Last season Miles was roundly criticized for LSU’s lack of an offensive identity and some clock management issues that had to be seen to be believed. Give credit to LSU for bringing quarterback Jordan Jefferson, who has talent but struggled at times last season. Jefferson has to step up and have a good year, starting with the opener against North Carolina on Sept. 4 in Atlanta, or this is not going to be a fun season in Baton Rouge.
If there is a better cornerback in the country that LSU’s Patrick Peterson, you’re going to have to point him out to me.
Capping off the day will be Houston Nutt of Ole Miss, who will go back to his style of football (running the ball and playing defense) now that the multi-talented Dexter McCluster is gone.
Here is everything you need to know about Ole Miss in 2010. The Rebels are bringing three linemen to Birmingham: DE Kentrell Lockett (a stud), DT Jerrell Powe (a bigger stud), and OT Bradley Sowell.
It should be fun. Can’t wait to get started.
A programming note: Our CSS ”Talkin’ Football” crew (Bob Neal, Brady Ackerman, Mark Schlabach and myself) will be at SEC Media Days for daily shows at 6 p.m., Eastern time.
Our summertime version of the show continues this Thursday at 6 p.m. with a replay at 10 p.m. Check us out!
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