SEC media days storylines: Manziel, new coaches, Heisman leaders


After our mandatory (by order of Mrs. CFB) time away, we are back and apparently not a moment too soon. That's because we are on the eve of that annual tribute to fun, shenanigans, and college football excess that is SEC media days.

You remember. This is the event where:

 Nick Saban's dog once got out of the hotel room and made it to the interview area.

 Where Tennessee's Phillip Fulmer was a no-show because he thought he would get subpoenaed (he did his media interviews via speakerphone).

 Where Fulmer showed up the next year and had a subpoena thrown in his van as he pulled up to the hotel.

 Where Tim Tebow was asked if he was still a virgin.

 Where Robbie Caldwell, in his first and only year as Vanderbilt head coach, told the assembled media that one of his early jobs was as a turkey inseminator (I am not making that up).

So what do we have to look forward to Tuesday when more than 1,000 members of the media descend on the Birmingham suburb of Hoover, Ala.?

Here are my five top storylines (plus a bonus) for this week's SEC media days:

1. Johnny Football: I actually made this my No. 1 storyline before Sunday, when various media reports claimed that Johnny Manziel, the Heisman Trophy winner from Texas A&M, was sent home from the Manning Passing Academy in Louisiana for having a little too much "fun" on Friday night.

Manziel did leave the academy in Thibodaux on Saturday, but an official release said that Manziel was ill and was not asked to leave. ESPN's Chris Mortensen quoted Peyton Manning as saying the same thing. I reached out to my sources at the camp and they insisted that it would not be fair to say that Manziel was asked to leave.

Regardless of what the truth is, it comes on top of the narrative that Manziel has had quite an active and "colorful" offseason. He is scheduled to appear before the media on Wednesday.

I always thought that Tim Tebow's final appearance at SEC media days was the biggest circus I've seen. Johnny Football will surely top that.

2. Four new coaches make their debuts: I don't care how long a guy has been in coaching and how many difficult positions he has been in. Standing at the podium at the Grand Ballroom of the Wynfrey Hotel for the first time in front of 400 writers is a bit unnerving. It creates a first impression -- good or bad -- that can stick with a coach a long time.

It will be interesting to see how Bret Bielema (Arkansas), Gus Malzahn (Auburn), Butch Jones (Tennessee) and Mark Stoops (Kentucky) handle a spotlight unlike anything they have ever seen.

A little advice, guys: Don't take yourselves so seriously. A little humor and self-deprecation go a long way in that room.

3. How many invited players will make it to NYC for the Heisman ceremonies? Of the 42 players invited to media days, at least four may have the credentials to reach the Heisman Trophy ceremony in December:

Manziel: Won it last year but will be hard-pressed to match his numbers from 2012 (3,706 passing, 1,410 rushing). If Texas A&M beats Alabama on Sept. 14, Manziel likely gets a return visit.

AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama: Two BCS championship rings and only eight career interceptions in 690 attempts. Only three interceptions and 30 TD passes last season. Win at Texas A&M and he's in the hunt.

Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia: Needs just 1,437 passing yards and 10 touchdown passes to become the SEC's all-time leader in both categories. Only QB in SEC history to post three straight seasons over 3,000 yards passing.

Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina: The best football player in the SEC. Likely the No. 1 overall NFL Draft choice next year.

4. Who will the media pick to win the East and West? Seeing as Alabama will be the preseason No. 1 in most polls, expect the media to pick the defending national champions to again win the SEC West. Texas A&M will be second, but will it be a close second?

Georgia has the best overall talent in the SEC East but after having a favorable schedule the past two seasons, the Bulldogs must face South Carolina and LSU in the first four games.

Florida, whose only SEC loss was to Georgia last season, has to go to LSU and South Carolina.

South Carolina has the best schedule of the three as LSU comes off and Mississippi State comes on. If South Carolina can win at Georgia on Sept. 7 (the Gamecocks have beaten the Bulldogs three straight times), they should cruise until Florida comes to Columbia on Nov. 16.

It is going to be a close vote.

5. Will Vanderbilt coach James Franklin be on offense or defense? Franklin has received universal praise for quickly building the Vanderbilt program. Last season the Commodores won nine games in a season for the first time since 1915 and went to back-to-back bowls for the first time in school history.

But things changed on June 28 when four players -- who have not been identified -- were kicked out of school and off the team. Local police confirmed the dismissals were related to a sex crimes investigation. The investigation continues and there have been no arrests.

The school has had no public comment except for a few releases on the university website. Franklin has said nothing as the university handles the issue.

But Franklin will come face to face with over 1,000 media members on Thursday in the last session of SEC media days. If he doesn't bring it up then the media will and Franklin will be put on the defensive. That will become the Vanderbilt story and not the fact that the Commodores are good enough to make some noise in the SEC East. It will be interesting to see how Franklin handles the first crisis of his time at Vanderbilt.

Bonus storyline

NCAA lays down law on head shots: This season officials have been told to emphasize excessive and flagrant shots to the head of a defenseless player. Players called for the penalty are subject to immediate ejection. A player ejected in the first half sits out the rest of that game. A player ejected in the second half must also sit out the first half of the next game.

Steve Shaw, the SEC supervisor of officials, will address the media on this subject Wednesday. It will be controversial and coaches will be asked about it. I doubt that many of them like the rule.

But controversy or not, the officials are going to call it. With a concussion lawsuit against the NFL winding its way through the courts, the commissioners want cheap head shots taken out of the game. It will be a lively discussion.

Tony Barnhart is in his fifth season as a contributor to He is a college football analyst for CBS Sports and The CBS Sports Network. Prior to joining CBS he was the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 24 years. He has written five books on college football.

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