SEC Media Days: Day One Notebook

HOOVER, Ala. -- Day one of SEC Media Days provided us with two teams that believe they can compete in the Eastern Division and one that's made a run for the West in each of the last three years. But the overwhelming storyline was how Arkansas was going to rebound from a difficult offseason after playing for the SEC Championship at the end of last year.

Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt was excited to be the first one standing at the podium on Wednesday afternoon. After a miserable offseason that included internet rumors ranging from extramarital affairs to his brother's recent resignation for health reasons, Nutt was finally back in his comfort zone with the opportunity to talk about his football team.

He did, however, start with an update of Danny Nutt who stepped down last week as the Razorbacks' running back coach because of complications related to open brain surgery he had in 1998.

"I think the No. 1 thing is when you have your health, you're rich," Nutt said. "A lot have asked about Danny. He's doing very well. Very good report. No fresh bleeding there."

Before leaving his post, Nutt's brother put together one of the most talented backfields in the nation, and what Nutt believes to be the best in Razorback history. The Arkansas offense begins with Darren McFadden.

"He's very, very special as you know," Nutt said. "He's very tough. He doesn't mind running over you. He has a tremendous stiff arm."

McFadden boldly predicted Arkansas to win the SEC on Wednesday, but the more realistic situation may be his chances to win the Heisman Trophy. The trophy was on display in Birmingham for everyone to see, including McFadden.

"It's something that motivates me," he said. "I know that I will have to come with my A-game when I'm out there and not slack around. I must come out for every game."

"He'll be at the top to start out," Nutt said. "But as you and I both know, it's about winning and his teammates. I think he'll be the first to tell you, ‘I need my teammates.'"

McFadden finished last season with 1,647 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. It was good for the best single season effort in Arkansas history and fifth best in SEC history. He finished second in the Heisman race, but he's not the only one who could break records in Fayetteville this season. Senior wide receiver Marcus Monk heads into the season just eight touchdown receptions shy of breaking Chris Doering's SEC record of 31 career touchdown catches. Nutt believes Monk will break the record this season.

But the majority of Nutt's press conference dealt with how his offseason issues would impact the season, and Nutt repeatedly said it's all in the past.

"We had to get through this summer," Nutt said. "We had to get through step one, step two. Step one, step two is recruiting. You had to get through recruiting, which was very, very positive. … We've never had 14 commitments sitting here in July."

Auburn Auburn may be returning a very capable quarterback in Brandon Cox, but their success this season will be based on their performance during a treacherous stretch that includes road games against Florida, LSU and Arkansas. It's business as usual though for Tigers' head coach Tommy Tubberville.

"All games are a challenge in our league whether you play at home or on the road," he said. "We challenge our players at the beginning of the season that no matter where you're playing or how you're playing, you got to play the same."

As for Cox, the senior quarterback failed to make the preseason Coaches' All-SEC Teams despite having the third best passer rating among returning quarterbacks.

"He has won 19, lost 5, and he did go through a year last year where we asked him to do some things that he wasn't used to doing," Tubberville said. "But the preseason picks are for people to read about and talk about. It's what happens at the end of the year."

Cox threw for more than 2,000 yards with 14 touchdown passes last year, but also threw nine interceptions.

Being in the State of Alabama, it didn't take long for Tubberville's time at the podium to turn away from his team and move towards his in-state rivals Alabama with new head coach Nick Saban.

"Nick and I have known each other for a long time," Tubberville said. "It's been good for us because we've been kind of under the radar."

But what really matters for Tubberville and Auburn is winning games against the Crimson Tide. And the Tigers have done that well under Tuberville, winning six of eight against ‘Bama.

"We've had a pretty good streak," Tubberville said. "Now they've changed coaches. I'm sure Nick was probably told about the same thing I was told when he came in. We've got to get back on the winning ways in that area."


The second biggest attraction on Wednesday (after McFadden) was Kentucky quarterback Andre' Woodson. The senior is a first team All-SEC selection after throwing for more than 3,500 yards last season with 31 touchdowns.

"It was fantastic," Woodson said. "We've come a long way since I first came here as a freshman. This season, there's a chance to make a big statement about where our program is headed for the future. We think we have a chance to be an SEC contender and for a BCS game."

High expectations for a team that only managed one win in each of head coach Rich Brooks' first two seasons in Lexington. But the Wildcats have improved in each season under his leadership and found themselves playing in a Bowl game last year for the first time since 1999.

"Without a doubt, this is the best football team that I've had going into a season at Kentucky," Brooks said. "Offensive production, defensive tackling, interceptions, fumble recoveries, however you want to calculate it, it almost all returns."

They may have a solid offense, but Kentucky is going to have to make up for a terrible defense from a year ago. The Wildcats allowed 100 more yards per game than the second worst defense in the SEC last season, Ole Miss.

"The good news is that 19 of the 22 on defense, first and second stringers, were freshmen and sophomores last year," Brooks said. "I expect us to be much improved."

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