SEC Media Days: Day Three Notebook

The college football media has bid farewell to Birmingham for another year as SEC Media Days concluded Friday. So what did we learn on the final day of the festivities besides the fact it's much easier to walk around on a day Nick Saban isn't being stalked by 'Bama fans looking for him to sign their arm so they can rush to a tattoo parlor?

One thing we learned is that Philip Fulmer is very aware of frustration among Vol fans who haven't seen their team claim an SEC Championship since 1998's national title winning season. Fulmer was asked several different questions regarding the program's recent failures or the fans' feelings about them, and rattled off a variety of stats to make his case things are better in Knoxville than some may perceive. When the number of home losses in the last five years came up, Fulmer insisted on noting his home record for his entire career was a positive one.

The most interesting effort to downplay frustration by the Tennessee coach was when he mentioned his contract extension. He could have talked to Mike Shula about how much those mean if boosters want a change, had he been able to get the new Jacksonville Jaguars QB coach on the phone.

One year after the Volunteers entered the year with major quarterback questions, Fulmer was very positive about quarterback Erik Ainge. He says the senior has lived up to his responsibilities as a leader and could have been a first or second round draft choice last season. Can he succeed without a group of wide receivers who actually WERE first and second rounders after last season? That will likely tell the tale for Tennessee's chances this year.

Les Miles continues to be less understood on a personal level than any coach in the conference. After his recent public jabs at the Pac-10, hopes were high that Miles might be more interesting at this year's gathering than his previous two years of being bland and unwilling to do any non-required interviews. Any hopes of that went out the window when Miles was asked "Who wins in a boxing match, you or Nick Saban?" That's a hanging curveball of a question for Miles. He could be humorous in his response. He might possibly get angry, or say he'd never pick against himself in a fight even if it was with Mike Tyson. Miles ignored the question completely and said he "is not derogatory toward Alabama".

The rest of his comments had that same level of passion and news value, as Miles is also not derogatory toward USC, the Pac-10, former offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher, recently departed running back Alley Broussard, or suspended quarterback Ryan Perilloux.

Miles might be unhappy the Tigers were predicted to win the SEC by the assembled media in a decisive fashion. With 54 first place votes (UF was second with seven) and a league leading seven preseason all-SEC players, the bullseye of high expectations is clearly planted on Baton Rouge. Considering the media hasn't been right in picking the SEC champ since Florida in 1995, this is probably not good news for Miles. Maybe that's why he and the two Tiger athletes were less available than any other school's at the event.

Mark Richt's situation is the direct opposite of Miles. The Bulldogs head man has only two all-SEC team members, and Georgia was the only school without a player on the first team. Being below the radar as a third place choice in the SEC East seems fine with Richt, however. He's pleased with his decision to turn over play-calling responsibilities to quarterbacks coach Mike Bobo full time after experimenting with it during a three game win streak that closed out Georgia's season. How well Matthew Stafford performs under center for the Bulldogs is going to be critical, and Richt expressed happiness with the way he's prepapred for his sophomore season.

Like almost all of the coaches at the event, Richt expressed a mixture of concern and excitement about the new kickoff rules. He anticipates the new rule will cause approximately three times as many returns this season and result in a difference of 10-15 yards difference in the average starting point for each possession. Many coaches went into thorough detail about the ways they'll deal with the anticipated increase in return action.

And then there was Ole Miss head coach Ed Orgeron, who intends to challenge his kickoff team to run faster and make the tackle. Most of Orgeron's answers were similarly concise - he acknowledged making an error in naming Brent Schaeffer starting quarterback prior to 2006 when he had yet to even arrive on campus. This year the Rebels will have a three way battle for the starting job, one Orgeron says he's looking forward to. He won't have to wait long - virtually all the SEC schools will begin practice next weekend.

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