2019 SEC Media Days notebook: Alabama front and center, Mississippi State's defense, Arkansas QB battle

HOOVER, Ala. -- The third day of SEC Media Days has concluded, and it was the Super Bowl of "Talkin' Season." Why? Well, it was Alabama day, of course. Crimson-clad fans littered the lobby of the Hyatt Regency Wynfrey Hotel on Wednesday chanting, singing and pining for that one glimpse of coach Nick Saban and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

So what did we learn as Alabama, Arkansas, South Carolina and Mississippi State made the rounds on Wednesday?

Hogs QB battle should be wild: Former SMU quarterback Ben Hicks and former Texas A&M quarterback Nick Starkel transferred to Arkansas this offseason to vie for the starting job under coach Chad Morris. You might think that Hicks has the inside track since he was Morris' quarterback at SMU prior to Morris taking the Arkansas job. Think again. "I've known Nick since he was in high school," Morris said. "I recruited him. To watch the way the ball jumps out of his hand and how electric and how hot that ball comes out, and his decision making, how he can progress and see the field, and his accuracy is what impressed me as I watched him."

High praise for Bryan Edwards: South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley made his third appearance at SEC Media Days, but the senior made sure to shine the spotlight on another Gamecock making the rounds: wide receiver Bryan Edwards. "He's the most underrated receiver in the country," Bentley said in the CBS Sports HQ room. The numbers might not back it up, but he also hasn't been in the spotlight by himself since he was a sophomore. He reeled in 55 catches for 846 yards and seven touchdowns playing alongside superstar Deebo Samuel last year, and is ready for a bigger role in 2019. Bentley's trust in Edwards makes the duo one of the most dangerous combos in the country. "It makes me feel great that he has that kind of confidence in me, and I have that kind of confidence in him," Edwards said with a grin.

Mississippi State's defense could still be strong: First-round picks Montez Sweat and Jeffery Simmons left the top-ranked defense in the country to play on Sundays, but there is still plenty to be excited about in Starkville. Veteran linebacker Erroll Thompson made the rounds, and isn't too concerned about the new-look defensive front. "It's hard to lose that kind of first-round talent, but we still have plenty of stars like Chauncey Rivers and Kobe Jones."

Motivation in Tuscaloosa: Saban always comes to Hoover with mantra, platform or challenge. This year, it was all about putting the 44-16 loss to Clemson in the national title game last season behind him. Two years ago, he used the famous phrase, "don't waste the failure." Wide receiver Jerry Jeudy told us in the CBS Sports HQ room that this year's version is "so what, now what?" It worked two years ago when the Crimson Tide responded with a title. We'll see what happens this year.

Don't expect College Football Playoff changes: CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock was present on Wednesday. Like clockwork, the format of the four-team playoff came up. Cliffs Notes: don't expect a change anytime soon. "I want you to know, I want to emphasize that the conference commissioners and university presidents, who are my bosses, are pleased with the CFP," he said. "It works, and it works well. I think there will always be talk about the format. That's just human nature. And the discussion will continue. It's just good and responsible management to talk about how you can make yourselves better. Don't read too much into that." 

Bright lights, big city: Mississippi State OL Darryl Williams hails from Bessemer, Alabama, just 10 minutes down the road from Hoover. He got to see his mother in the lobby, and was beaming at the chance to showcase his personality on the biggest offseason stage of the year. 

Difficult working environment? Saban was asked if he's difficult to work with after suffering massive staff changes virtually every offseason. His response? Well, it's just like being a dad. "No different than raising your children," he said. "I go through this with Terry when we're raising our kids. She wanted to make them happy, and I wanted to make them do right. So I don't know. I like for them to do right and be happy doing right. That's what I'd like for them to do. And that's the same thing I like for our coaches."

Chad Morris understands the territory: The second-year head coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks is no stranger to recruiting after working under Clemson coach Dabo Swinney and leading the SMU program prior to the 2018 season. Now that he's in the SEC, he understands how teams in this conference consistently have success on the national level. His analogy on the importance of recruiting in the rough-and-tumble SEC West is tremendous. "You don't do it every day, you look like a bum."

Saban lukewarm on the transfer portal: The NCAA's new database that features players who are interested in transferring has been a hot topic this offseason. Saban is a fan of the plan, but not necessarily the execution as it pertains to waivers being granted. "We've gotten very liberal in giving people waivers," he said. "When we do that, it becomes free agency. I don't think that's good for college football."

Sneak peek: Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason won't make the rounds until Thursday, but that didn't stop him from starring in a preview. He made the rounds on radio row in gym clothes and Nike OBJ's, and has something more in store for Thursday. "I got something good," he said, when asked about his kicks.

Bling, bling: For those who haven't experienced the Alabama day circus, it's beautiful chaos. 

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CBS Sports / Barrett Sallee
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CBS Sports / Barrett Sallee
College Football Writer

Barrett Sallee has been a member of the sports media in various aspects since 2001. He is currently a college football writer for CBS Sports, analyst for CBS Sports HQ and host for the SiriusXM college... Full Bio

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