SEC Media Days start Wednesday in Birmingham so we’re going spend our next three visits looking at some of the questions that are bound to come up during three days at the Wynfrey Hotel. We’ll do five questions today, Tuesday and Wednesday. Feel free to chime in with your own. If you could ask any question to any player or coach at SEC Media Days, what would it be?
Here are my five today:
1. Is South Carolina’s Weslye Saunders in trouble? Word broke last Thursday night that the NCAA is looking into whether or not North Carolina football players Marvin Austin and Greg Little had had improper contact with agents. On Sunday we learned that NCAA investigators had also visited Columbia, S.C. Joe Person of The State newspaper reported that NCAA investigators had interviewed tight end Weslye Saunders last week. Saunders is from Durham, N.C. and Person reports that he has several friends on the North Carolina team, including Austin. Coach Steve Spurrier made it clear to Joe that he doesn’t know if Saunders broke any rules or not. But he also said that South Carolina’s players are well educated on what those rules are when it comes to agents. If they took something that breaks the rules, they will not be playing for the Gamecocks this Fall. It’s as simple as that.
How serious this is remains to be seen but this much is clear: The NCAA, to the extent where it is possible, is clearly cracking down on improper contact with agents. And here is some advice to Weslye and any college athlete who will be interviewed by the NCAA on this subject: Don’t lie. The NCAA made an example of Dez Bryant at Oklahoma State, who simply lied about coming into contact with Deion Sanders. Bryant was bounced for the entire season. They will do the same for you.
2. Do you think Mal Moore deserves a raise? Well, let’s see. Moore took over as athletics director at Alabama in 1999. He steered the athletic department through one of the toughest periods in its history when the football program got hammered by the NCAA in 2002. He convinced the powers that be that Alabama needed to spend money–a lot of money–so that the school’s so-so athletic facilities could become world-class. He would lead a $125 million campaign and now Alabama’s facilities are among the best in the country.
When the football program stumbled under Mike Shula in 2006 Moore came under intense criticism when Rich Rodriguez took the job and then changed his mind. There were a lot of people who wanted Moore out of his job. But Moore eventually got the coach he had to have in Nick Saban. Now the football program has posted two consecutive 12-0 regular seasons and is coming off a national championship.
Oh yeah, I forgot. Alabama just completed a $65 million stadium expansion pushing Bryant-Denny to over 101,000. All of the new seats were sold long ago. Mal is 70 but why should he retire now? This is the fun part.
By the way, Moore got a bump to $425,000 in salary after he landed Saban in 2008. Florida’s Jeremy Foley is in the $1 million range. Do the math. Moore deserves a new contract and a pretty hefty raise.
3. Will the Vanderbilt coaches have to wear the “interim” tag all season? No question Vanderbilt is in a tough spot. Bobby Johnson’s sudden retirement last week all but guaranteed that his staff would be in place for the 2010 season and that Robbie Caldwell would be elevated to head coach.
But do you let this staff carry around the “interim” title for an entire year? How difficult would that be and what kind of impact does it have on recruiting, which is year-round? This staff has been virtually intact for eight years. They have shown loyalty. Should that loyalty be rewarded or does Vanderbilt football go through a state of limbo for a season? I’ve looked at the schedule. There are 10 teams on it that went to bowls last season. The non-conference schedule, where Vandy should get its wins, includes Northwestern, Connecticut, and Wake Forest. It is going to be another tough year at Vanderbilt.
Just thinking: Because the Vanderbilt staff had been so stable, it was something of a surprise when linebackers coach Warren Belin left Nashville to join Mark Richt at Georgia. I wonder what Coach Belin was thinking last week when Johnson made his announcement?
4. Will we have any ballot issues? Last year in Birmingham South Carolina’s Steve Spurrer had to fess up that he was the lone coach who had not voted Tim Tebow as the All-SEC quarterback. Spurrier’s ballot, which he said was filled out by football ops guy Jamie Speronis, had Jevan Snead listed as the All-SEC quarterback.
Last week my buddy Pat Dooley of the Gainesville Sun called Spurrier to let him know about Bobby Johnson. Out of the blue Spurrier said to Dooley: “Gonna try to get Jevan Snead back on the ballot.”
That’s why you still have to like The Head Ball Coach. Who else in this league is going to say that?
Snead, by the way, left Ole Miss with a year of eligibility remaining after a bad 2009 season.
The closest thing we have to do that this year is Alabama running back Mark Ingram, the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner. Ingram led the SEC in yards rushing with 1,658 yards last season. The next highest returning rusher is Kentucky’s Derrick Locke at 907 yards. Ingram will be an unanimous pick by the coaches. If not, we’ve got another story.
5. Is Arkansas this year’s Ole Miss? Last season a lot of people had Ole Miss in the Top Ten based on the return of quarterback Jevan Snead and all-purpose star Dexter McCluster. Ole Miss finished the regular season 8-4 (4-4 SEC) and needed some clock management issues by LSU to pull out a 25-23 win in Oxford. The Rebels then got pounded pretty good by Mississippi State, 41-27. It was a good season that was tinged with disappointment because many Ole Miss fans thought it was going to be special.
This year the trendy pick in the SEC is Arkansas because of the return of quarterback Ryan Mallett. Will we in the media be guilty of building expectations for Arkansas only to see the Hogs fall short?
Perhaps, but Mallett (30 touchdowns, 7 picks last season) is a significantly better quarterback than Jevan Snead. Arkansas doesn’t have a Dexter McCluster but the Razorbacks have a lot of guys who can catch the ball and a stable of really good running backs.
Ask me again on the night of Sept. 25. The Hogs open with a pair of winnable games against Tennessee Tech and Louisiana-Monroe. Then it’s a road game at Georgia on Sept. 18 and a home game with Alabama on Sept. 25. Lose them both and 8-4 is a real possibility, especially with road games remaining at Auburn, South Carolina, and Mississippi State.
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Programming note: Our “Talkin’ Football” crew on CSS will be doing shows daily from the SEC Media Days starting Wednesday at 6 p.m. Check it out.