Senior College Football Columnist

After offseason of discontent, SEC media days means football is back

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Zach Mattenberger will get his shot as LSU's starting quarterback this season. (US Presswire)  
Zach Mattenberger will get his shot as LSU's starting quarterback this season. (US Presswire)  

HOOVER, Ala. – Are you ready for some football ... finally?

Yes, you are. I have seen your tweets, read your texts in this summer of snark. Pyramids have been built in less time than it took the commissioner kings to assemble a playoff. Conference realignment boggles the mind. Barkley's back. UCLA still isn't.

The only Petrino left at Arkansas (Paul) thankfully runs only the offense. The last one ran his bike off the road. And Les Miles is always good for a backhanded compliment or three.

Talk show adrenaline continues to flow from these seven little words: Death penalty or no for Penn State?

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Pleasant thoughts, people, pleasant thoughts. Starting this week a sad, grinder of an offseason is over -- or at least is pulled over to the side of the road. (Gratuitous Georgia reference.)

Let media days begin. For the next two weeks or so the nation's second-most popular sport will remind us why it is No. 1 in our hearts. It's not because of the philanderers or cheaters or criminals. It's because this week we get our first whiff of Year 143 of college football. After that, camps begin and before you know it the SEC will be on its way to a seventh straight title.

Speaking of which, a national holiday of sorts in these parts kicks off on Tuesday. If the Rose Bowl is the Granddaddy Of Them All, then SEC media days are a totally different relative. A mother. And not the kind that takes you back-to-school shopping at the mall.

It is journalism as a contact sport. Fans as a flash mob. Common tool: Pens. We write. They beg -- for coaches and players to sign anything from footballs to, um, chests. They camp out in the Wynfrey Hotel's lobby in football's version of Occupy Dixie. There is no common cause here beyond sharing the same oxygen as Nick Saban.

Take note newcomers Texas A&M and Missouri. This is your future. Don't forget a security guard or two.

We journos were 1,000 strong here last year, which made for one heck of a buffet line. Coaches preen -- this is a must-attend event for recruiting purposes alone -- we ask the questions. It is the unique journalistic melting pot that allows the likes of JimMashek.com to share a ballroom with the New York Times.

And what a ballroom it is at the stylish Wynfrey, cooled to an altogether unbearable 55 degrees (I swear) in the dead of summer. The thermostat setting would be great if we were pork chops being thawed for dinner. Instead, it is usually cold enough to catch pneumonia once your freeze-dried skin hits the 95-degree Alabama humidity.

Typical media bitching, I know, but forgive me. It's been a bumpy offseason ride. For those of you who made it through, congratulations. For those of you who didn't, best of luck at Alabama State. (I really have to stop with the Georgia cheap shots.)

College football media days are the equivalent of an automaker's new model roll-out. They are the game's catwalk. (Doesn't Les look absolutely gorgeous?) Just remember not to get any Chick-fil-A or Dr. Pepper on the red carpet.

It will be delicious theater this week when quarterback Zach Mettenberger arrives to meet those 1,000 reporters despite never having started a game at LSU. Meanwhile, the nation's best defensive player (and most prolific tweeter) Tyrann Mathieu, isn't. Read into that anything you want because this week you'll definitely be reading about it somewhere. Guaranteed.

The season doesn't start until next month but, truly, it doesn't really start until the Strength Everywhere Conference says it does. You can't spell BCS championship game without SEC. For the last six years, and counting. January's LSU-Alabama title game was either the best that happened in this region since brisket, or the final straw that led us to a playoff.

The debate begins here Tuesday, and lasts through Thursday. After that it's similar gatherings for the ACC, Big 12, Pac-10, Big Ten and Big East. But it's the next three days that will be part circus, part freak show and part Piers Morgan fitted with a really strange accent. Wall to wall, ya'll.

The event will be flavored with the usual interest in Saban, Spurrier and -- who knows? -- perhaps more questions about a superstar's sex life. God, I miss Tim Tebow.

Why media days? Why not? In the 24-hour news cycle they have become events unto themselves. The less staged, the better. Last year, the Big 12 spent $1 million to rebrand its new 10-team league for us media slobs at its annual event in Dallas.

Dog and pony then met buzzkill. Only nine coaches took the stage during a special presentation signifying the new, unified Big 12. Turns out, Texas Tech's Tommy Tuberville was out somewhere playing golf with boosters.

It wasn't exactly Tom Cruise jumping on Oprah's couch, but that's the kind of spontaneity we can all get behind. We had our story. Talk about foreshadowing. A couple months later the league almost broke up for the second time in 15 months because everyone wasn't on the same tee, er, page.

Media days prove we just can't get enough of this beautiful, maddening, wonderful game. This year's particular gab fests are a welcome distraction from an offseason that gave us rogues and scalawags; Petrinos and Paternos. And more pat downs than a TSA agent. (Sorry, just can't get Georgia off my mind.)

A good-old fashioned pay-for-play cheatin' scandal would seem almost soothing at this point. It would mean we're this close to enjoying college football as we know it. Just let Jim Mashek ask the first question. Please. We pork chops are all in it together.


Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.
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