As expected, the assembled print, internet and broadcast jockeys who assembled in Hoover, Alabama for SEC Media Days voted Alabama most likely to win the SEC championship with Bama taking the West title and Tennessee the East. That’s pretty much in keeping with what pundits from every corner of the country believe. It was somewhat surprising who the media voted #2 in the SEC East. It wasn’t Georgia, which is a bit of a shock considering Kirby Smart has been declared the greatest HBC at Georgia since Vince Dooley even before he has coached his first game.
Instead, it was the Florida Gators, who got enough votes to finish second in the media voting. Whereas Jim McElwain probably would have preferred the media to vote the Gators third or lower just so he can use the disrespect card to goose the team, it’s a sign of respect for the job he’s doing that UF earned a second place vote.
When it came to voting for SEC champion, Alabama dominated with LSU second and Tennessee third. Florida finished fifth, just a couple of votes behind Georgia.
The Media Votes (First place votes in parenthesis)
1. Tennessee (225)
2. FLORIDA (57)
3. Georgia (45)
5. Vanderbilt (2)
7. South Carolina (2)
1. Alabama (246)
2. LSU (76)
3. Ole Miss (5)
4. Texas A&M (3)
5. Arkansas (1)
7. Mississippi State
SEC CHAMPION (points in parenthesis)
1. Alabama (223)
2. LSU (59)
3. Tennessee (29)
4. Georgia (7)
5. Florida (5)
6. Ole Miss (4)
7. (tie) Texas A&M, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Arkansas (1)
My vote: I wasn’t at SEC Media Days but if I had been, this is how I would have voted.
7. South Carolina
3. Ole Miss
5. Mississippi State
7. Texas A&M
Will Muschamp needed only one year to land another head coaching gig. Canned by Florida after the 2014 season, Muschamp coordinated the defense at Auburn last year, but when candidates to replace Steve Spurrier kept getting picked off by other schools in search of a new HBC, Muschamp stood ready and available to take over in Columbia. To paraphrase the Kingston Trio, Muschamp is probably humming to himself, “Where has all the talent gone? Long time passing.”
Confidence: Will Muschamp says, “We lost five games last year by 7 points or less. Let’s go find a way to make a difference in those games. Whether it’s in the meeting room, on the practice field or the offseason program, whatever you’re doing let’s go find a way to get it done.”
Reality: When Steve Spurrier left the University of Florida after the 2001 season, he left 25 players who would eventually spend at least one year in the National Football League. When Spurrier left South Carolina last year, he left maybe 5-6 guys who will eventually play in the NFL. There is an old saying that you can’t make chicken salad out of chicken poop. South Carolina’s personnel top to bottom may not be chicken poop, but it’s close. AD Ray Tanner and the South Carolina alumni and fans need to embrace patience because until Muschamp can recruit a roster that is top to bottom filled with SEC caliber players, the Gamecocks are going to struggle to keep their heads above the water.
Prediction: South Carolina will not lack for effort or for determination this year, but from a personnel standpoint, they are in deepest and darkest. The schedule says two wins, maybe three. If Muschamp creates enough smoke and mirrors to get to the 5-win mark this year, he should be a unanimous selection as SEC Coach of the Year. If by some miracle he could get to the 6-win mark, then he should be national Coach of the Year. Muschamp will improve the Gamecocks, but they won’t win enough games for him to be Coach of the Year.
Offensive tackle Mason Zandi: “We have to give the quarterback time and make holes for the running back. At the end of the day, that’s it. I can’t go out and read reads for the quarterback or anything else, but I can certainly block for them.”
Before the final regular season game with Texas A&M, smart money had Les Miles coaching his final game at LSU. A funny thing happened on the way to a firing. The LSU athletic director checked the bank accounts and discovered that it would only take $13 million to buy out Miles and at least that much to buy out the contract of FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher and the assistants he wanted to bring. By the time the game was over and LSU had a 19-7 win over the Aggies, Plan B was in place and Les had dodged a bullet. It’s kind of funny when you think about it. All he did last year was win 9 games. All he’s done since he’s been at LSU is go 112-32 and his worst season was good for 8 wins. Barring a losing season (ain’t gonna happen) or some scandal (nope), Les is going to be coaching LSU for awhile and AD Joe Alleva is just going to have to live with it. For his part, Les did bring in a new DC in Dave Aranda, who might just set the SEC on its ear in his first year on the job. An amoeba would be an improvement over Kevin Steele, who turned LSU’s fierce defense into a bunch of matadors (Ole’!) last year. Meanwhile, Les says the offense is going to do just fine now that OC Cam Cameron’s cancer treatments are behind. If Cameron can take the pressure off Leonard Fournette, only the best running back in the country, the Tigers are going to contend not just for the SEC but the national title.
Confidence: Miles says, “… Dave Aranda really fits the bill, just what we need. He transitioned from a 4-dwon to a 3-down personnel group. He has also the opportunity to play 4-down. So we’ll mix up personnel, but we’ll be playing Dave Aranda football and that’s historically been damn good.”
Reality: The defense will be markedly better than it was with Steele. All the questions are on the offensive side of the ball and if Cam Cameron can find open up the passing game, LSU will be as difficult to defend as any team in the country. Against anything less than 8-in-the-box, Fournette is practically unstoppable. The key is the passing game. There is nothing wrong with the arm of Brandon Harris and Purdue transfer Danny Etling has NFL size and arm strength, which means it all comes down to two things: (1) Les letting go of the offense and (b) Cameron trying something novel, like throwing on second and 2.
Prediction: The LSU defense has NFL talent at nearly every position. Now it has an NFL defensive mind directing the show in Aranda. Tiger fans should enjoy him because he’s a short timer in BR. He’s going to be somebody’s head coach sooner and not later. A lot of folks are of the opinion that last year’s close encounter with the axe has rejuvenated Les and the result will be an NFL offense that actually sees the ball in the air on something other than third and an overnight hike. The defense alone will get the Tigers to the 10-win plateau in the regular season. If the offense comes through, 11 or 12 regular season wins are entirely possible.
Cornerback Tre’Davious White: “My decision to come back was one of the best decisions in my life. Actually, this is going to be the last year in my life that I will do a lot of things for free – eat for free, sleep for free and just live for free. Being a college kid for one last year, I mean was the ultimate decision and being one of the first in my family to graduate from college was a big one, too.”
Whether Ole Miss is a contender or a pretender could have plenty to do with the NCAA Committee on Infractions. Should the men in blue suits elect to do a Sherman march to the sea on Ole Miss, the Rebels will be pretenders who stay home at bowl time. If, however, the NCAA elects to accept the self-imposed sanctions by Ole Miss, Hugh Freeze will skate like Katarina Witt and that means at least nine regular season wins are on the agenda. Ole Miss has no shortage of talent and it’s got something nobody else in the SEC has – a proven NFL-armed QB who has actually beaten Alabama and LSU.
Confidence: Hugh Freeze says, “The records that we’ve shattered since we’ve been at Ole Miss are pretty remarkable. A lot of that is due to the offensive stuff that we’ve had. Our defense led the nation one year also in scoring and last year, offensively, we led the SEC in most every category.”
Reality: The Rebels open the season with Florida State in Orlando and play Alabama in Oxford two weeks later. That’s followed by Georgia and of course, there is the rest of the SEC West to play. On paper it looks like Ole Miss is in a heap of trouble but reality is they’ve knocked off Alabama two straight years (once in Oxford and once in Tuscaloosa). Nobody else in the country can say that. Debate all you want to about how Hugh Freeze is bringing in the talent it takes to compete at the highest level. However he does it, he’s winning and Ole Miss is relevant.
Prediction: It would be absolutely foolish to predict anyone but Alabama to win the SEC West and just as foolish to predict anyone but a Leonard Fournette-led LSU team to finish second. Yet, Ole Miss has the one thing neither Bama nor LSU have and that’s an experienced quarterback who knows how to light up the defenses at both Alabama and LSU. Chad Kelly is the real deal and if he lights up Bama and LSU this year he could find himself on the Heisman podium and Ole Miss could find itself in Atlanta to play in the SEC Championship Game for the first time in school history.
Tight end Evan Engram: “With our schedule this year, it’s really tough at the beginning – pretty much a big punch up front. We have Florida State and two weeks later we play Alabama. It goes on from there but I think that’s competing in the SEC and that’s why it’s so successful: the competition and the way teams push each other … We want to be the team to take the cake this year, so we accept the challenge week in and week out.”
Phil Mickelson was a silly millimeter away from a 62 in round one of the British Open. His 63 was three shots better than Martin Kaymer and Patrick Reed, six shots better than Rory McIlroy, eight better than US Open champ Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth and 10 better than Jason Day.
Do you ever wonder what might have been with David Duval? He rarely plays competitively anymore. He was good for an 82 Thursday at Royal Troon.
What does it say about Missouri’s athletic program that Mack Rhoades left after one year to take over the AD job at Baylor? Per CBSSports.com, one SEC official called it a “gut punch.” Mizzou needs to move very quickly to hire Florida associate AD Mike Hill, who would bring instant stability.
Arkansas football coach Bret Bielema brought his wife with him to Hoover. SEC Media Days is held at the Hyatt Hotel that is attached to the Galleria Mall in Hoover, which prompted Bielema to infer the reason Jenn attends is, “Maybe because there’s a mall attached here but that’s a totally different conversation.”
QUESTION OF THE DAY
How would you vote the SEC East and West top to bottom in the preseason?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
One of my favorite music discoveries of the last four years has been the Honey Island Swamp Band, a bunch of New Orleans musicians who got together as a band in San Francisco, of all places, while they were waiting for New Orleans to rebuild after Katrina. This band does a great live show. They will be doing a Live from Daryl’s House segment later in the summer. Today’s music is a 2012 live performance from the Bamboo Room in Lake Worth.
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