I think this year's edition of the SEC is the deepest the conference has ever been. Look at the first team all-SEC squad selected by the coaches. You will find two first team offensive players each from Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Ole Miss. There's only one true doormat left in the conference. That's why I know it's a big mistake for ESPN to show LSU at Mississippi State on Thursday August 30 as the first game of the season. It's the worst matchup the SEC could possibly offer. It's like beginning the Miss America contest by having the contestants show off any scars they have. The Bulldogs scored over 17 only twice in their eight conference games last year. It's going to be another long year in Starkville.
I think the biggest change at SEC media days is how much star power the conference has to offer. I was at the College Football Awards ceremonies in Orlando after the 2005 season and was stunned to see only Auburn OL Marcus McNeill had been nominated for any individual award or the All-America squad. Some fresh talent needed to emerge in 2006, and it did. This week, the media will see the leading returning Heisman Trophy vote getter Darren McFadden, a likely top ten draft pick in LSU's DT Glen Dorsey, Vandy's brilliant WR Earl Bennett, three year starting QBs Erik Ainge and Brandon Cox from Tennesse and Auburn, and two starters from the national champions in Andre Caldwell and Tony Joiner. Despite all that talent being in attendance, I know the most talked about player at SEC media days won't even be there. No question will be asked more than some variation of "Can Tim Tebow actually pass?"
I think Nick Saban is incredibly overrated as a coach. I acknowledge he will be better as head coach at Alabama than Mike Shula. What I can't find is evidence where Saban is truly special. In five years at Michigan State, he had one team win more than seven games. Saban accomplished more at LSU, but the pattern of strange losses where his team looks poorly prepared has been there the entire time. Even his 2003 national title team managed to lose at home by double digits to a UF squad led by a freshman quarterback and coached by Ron Zook. I know none of this matters to Tide fans this week as throngs of them line up to follow Saban everywhere he walks at the Wynfrey Hotel. It will in December when they realize $4 million bought them just two more wins and another loss to Auburn.
I think Houston Nutt should be grateful for his out of conference schedule. Arkansas is the only team in the SEC that won't play a BCS team in their four games outside the league. Instead of USC like the last two years, the Razorbacks will see Troy, North Texas, Tennessee-Chattanooga and FIU. The SEC has some excellent out of conference matchups this year besides typical rivalries like UF/FSU, UGA/GT and SC/Clemson. I know that despite games like Georgia/Oklahoma State, Tennessee/Cal and LSU/VT some people will still claim the SEC's toughness is overblown because they don't play anybody else. If you run into those people, remind them of the SEC's 7-1 in BCS games since 2001. If you are an elite team in the SEC, you are as good as it gets.
I think if the media at last year's SEC media days had been asked to name the only coach who would not be back for this year's edition, 95 percent would have selected Kentucky's Rich Brooks. With a strong year and a bowl win, Brooks is safe now. As surprising as it is that Mike Shula's the only coach fired in the last two years, it will be even more of a shocker if at least two jobs don't change hands this year. I know the least surprising news is 2002 Gator defensive coordinator John Thompson having changed jobs again. He's now DC at Ole Miss. It's the fifth SEC school he's been hired by since 1999 as a coordinator and his eighth job overall since 1999. He has yet to last more than two years with any of them. There's no reason to suspect that trend will change with the Rebels.
I think the chances Shula's Steak House sends out free food to those of us broadcasting on radio row at the Wynfrey the day Alabama's coach shows up this year are way down. I know I don't care – it's time to start talking SEC football again, and Wednesday can't get here soon enough.
Listen to Heath Cline on the Star 99.5 from 11-1 or Listen LIVE Online