As my annual swing through preseason media days continues I’ll be updating you on the current state of the conferences I’m covering …
1. Alabama and Florida are pulling away from the pack. One or the other has won three out of the last four national championships. The schools have combined to win two of the last three Heismans. Bama has a 14-game winning streak. The dirty little secret is that aside from the Gators and Tide, the SEC is down this year. “Obviously Florida and Alabama have done a great job the last couple of years,” Georgia’s Mark Richt said. “But historically no one stays on top forever.”
2. OK, so who’s third? The next legitimate question after the Alabama-Florida discussion. Try to pick the No. 3 team in the SEC. There are few candidates: Auburn, with a veteran quarterback (Cam Newton) to run Gus Malzahn’s offense? Georgia on the rebound with Richt’s job on the line? Arkansas? South Carolina? Finishing second in one of the divisions is going to be like winning another conference.
3. Three new coaches. It would be hard to pick any of the conference’s new leaders out of a lineup. A sweaty guy in a Vanderbilt polo got off the elevator Thursday at the SEC media days. Who knew this was Robbie Caldwell, the new Vanderbilt coach. To be fair, Caldwell had just been working out. He cleaned up pretty good before entertaining the media during his time on the podium. Caldwell took over last week when Bobby Johnson abruptly retired. Joker Phillips was the offensive coordinator at Kentucky before Rich Brooks retired. Derek Dooley was the – what was it? – fourth or fifth choice at Tennessee after Lane Kiffin took off in Tennessee. Don’t expect much out of any of the three newbies this season. Best chance for long-term success? Probably Phillips who has a good offensive mind and will be knighted in Lexington if he puts together back-to-back 7-5 seasons.
4. The sad, long decline of Steve Spurrier. It’s come to this for the once brash, bold Spur Dog. He was bragging about his team’s graduation rate Thursday at the SEC media days. Coming off his second consecutive seven-win season at South Carolina, Spurrier looked and sounded like a beaten man. He hasn’t been able to recruit a quarterback of substance while his defenses have carried the team. Maybe it’s just a South Carolina thing. The program has won little of anything in its history despite having two of the most successful coaches of this generation (Spurrier and Lou Holtz). For now, Spurrier is looking like Willie Mays when he went out with the Mets. That’s sad. “We haven’t proven much of anything,” Spurrier said Thursday, “pretty much in the five years I’ve been here.”
5. Repeats. There are two significant ones pending in the SEC – Alabama and Mark Ingram. The team is much more likely to repeat as national championship as the tailback is to win another Heisman. Bama is loaded despite having to replace nine defensive starters. Ingram is actually going to run the ball less with the emergence of sophomore Trent Richardson. Book it. The SEC wins its fifth consecutive national championship and Bama repeats. Ingram doesn’t but I don’t think he would care.