A Look At SEC Football

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about Auburn and other Southeastern Conference football programs.

Random thoughts and observations from three days of listening to coachspeak at the Southeastern Conference Media Days: Auburn's Tommy Tuberville joked about being the "hot seat coach of the year," but let's be realistic here. Regardless of what you might read in some magazine or hear on some radio talk show, Tuberville is in no danger.

Since last year's late-season collapse, talk has persisted that Tuberville's hold on his job is shaky. That's all it is--talk. Let's deal in facts. Tuberville inherited a program after the 1998 season that had gone into a steep nosedive. Morale was awful. The talent level had plunged. There were a lot of players with less than ideal attitudes. Check out the talent that will be on the practice field next week. In sheer terms of size, strength, speed and athleticism, the difference is striking. Players with bad attitudes don't last long.

Tuberville went to the SEC Championship Game in his second season. He also took his team to Bryant-Denny Stadium for the first time and won 9-0. Last season, he stunned Florida at home and beat Georgia on the road. Yes, his team faded in the last three games last season. Yes, his team played awful in a 31-7 loss at home to Alabama. But, as Tuberville said Wednesday, his program is headed north, not south. He knows that and the people that count at Auburn know t

Any SEC coach can find himself on the hot seat. All it takes is one disastrous season. Last season was disappointing for Auburn in the end. It can't be termed disastrous. One game was disastrous. Forget the hot seat talk. For Tuberville's future to even be open for debate, it would take a meltdown that simply isn't going to happen to a team as talented and focused as this one.

REASON FOR WORRY AT STATE

Mississippi State coach Jackie Sherrill did little Thursday to quell speculation that Mississippi State is headed for big trouble with the NCAA. "I'm not going to jump off a 50-foot cliff because somebody is coming in to talk to our players," Sherrill said. "I know what I've done and I know how we operate. I can't speak for anybody else. If there are any issues, we'll do some checks and balances and move on."

NCAA investigators have spent most of this week on the State campus talking to players. It sounded a bit ominous when Sherrill reeled off a list of schools on probation. "They will still play before packed stadiums," he said.| Mississippi State, of course, rarely plays before a packed stadium when things are great.

AN OPTIMISTIC GUY

Kentucky coach Guy Morriss came to town preaching optimism. So what if the Wildcats can't go to a bowl? So what if they lost 19 scholarships? "I think football at Kentucky is in the best shape it's been in in a long time," Morriss said. Wow. The Wildcats have won four of their last 22 games and one of their last 16 SEC games. If that's the best shape, I'd hate to see the worst.

ANOTHER VANDY COACH

One after another, they have tried and failed. Not since 1982 has a coach found the secret to leading Vanderbilt to a winning season. Bobby Johnson, who took Furman to the Division I-AA championship game last season, will try it now. He came to town talking optimistically, saying now is the time it can be done at Vanderbilt. Said Nashville Tennessean columnist Joe Biddle: "I think it's going to be a rude awakening when he goes into some SEC stadiums and sees his players and looks at the players they have." Truth be told, Johnson might have had better players at Furman.

Potpourri: Alabama was picked to finish second in the West by those attending Media Days, but it will automatically finish last in the official standings unless it gets postseason sanctions removed on appeal...The SEC might never have had three better quarterbacks at one time than Rex Grossman, Eli Manning and Casey Clausen...Auburn tight end Lorenzo Diamond on new offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino: "He might be little, but he's tough"...Kentucky's Jared Lorenzen is "down" to a little more than 280 pounds, surely making him the nation's biggest quarterback...Florida third in the East? If that happens, Ron Zook might get run out of Gainesville by a screaming mob of Gator fans...Tuberville says that Petrino will coach from the sideline, where he can talk to quarterbacks face-to-face, and defensive coordinator Gene Chizik will coach from the press box. Until next time...


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