With the arrival of nearly 1,000 credentialed journalists in Birmingham Wednesday, the unofficial kickoff for the 2009 football season arrived with SEC Media Days.
Conference commissioner Mike Slive took the stage first, welcoming those in attendance and deeming these years in the SEC as "the Golden Age."
"Just as this happened last year, you are once again part of the largest group ever to attend this kickoff event," said Slive. "There are nearly 1,000 of you in attendance, including media, Bowl representatives, corporate sponsors and representatives of CBS, ESPN, FOX and Comcast. In addition, there are 28 radio stations broadcasting live downstairs on radio row. There is no other Media Day like this one in all of college sports.
"We are witness to one of the conference's most successful competitive periods that someday may be called the SEC's Golden Age."
Arkansas, Vanderbilt, in-state rival Mississippi State and Kentucky were all scheduled during the first day, as each school is represented by its head coach and two players.
For the Razorbacks, HC Bobby Petrino preached competitiveness, believing his team will be able to contend in the rigorous SEC West despite the team's difficult schedule.
"I really believe that we'll be a much better football team this year than we were a year ago," he said. "I feel like our team chemistry is where it needs to be to have a chance to be a special football team. We are also going to be much bigger and stronger than we were a year ago.
"We have a tough schedule, there's no question about that. It's going to be very tough. We did play 16 true freshmen last year. But with the schedule, that will really challenge our experience that we have coming back."
While Vanderbilt head coach Bobby Johnson guided the Commodores to their first winning season (6-6) in 25 years in 2008, the team faces a grueling stretch of 12-straight games.
Johnson was obviously disappointed at the podium, but feels there was no way to avoid the scheduling outcome.
"I think it all came about because of some scheduling problems we have with the MAC Conference a couple years," said Johnson. "We were scrambling for some games. They had overbooked. Finally, Miami of Ohio worked with us real closely and did us some favors. That's how we ended up going to Miami of Ohio last year. It just worked out that way this year.
"I'm really not happy about it."
However, conflicts with scheduling have not dampened season expectations for Commodore cornerback Myron Lewis.
"(The Music City Bowl) brought excitement to the team," he said. "It put us on cloud nine. It was about being able to succeed and overcome obstacles. It had been 25 years since we had last made it to a bowl game. Being able to make it to a bowl game was a blessing and everybody is excited about it."
Making his first appearance at Media Days, Mississippi State HC Dan Mullen didn't seem fazed by the spectacle of it all.
Mullen believes the Bulldogs can be competitive this season and is excited about beginning his head coaching career in the Southeastern Conference.
"To finally be given this opportunity is a big thing," Mullen said. "To be given this opportunity in the Southeastern Conference is even greater. Football is obviously no more important than right here in this conference.
"The excitement for our program has been off the charts. Hopefully we'll win enough games so ya'll want to show up. I'm really excited to be here. One thing that makes this league great is the excitement. I couldn't be happier with this opportunity."
Mullen has already issued a challenge for the team's season opener, but it isn't what one might expect.
"We're excited to be involved in such an historical game," Mullen said of the Bulldogs' meeting with Jackson State. "I know I'll probably be a little bit nervous before kickoff. I hear Jackson State has a heck of a band. I've put the pressure on our band director already to get ready to compete against them at halftime."
Rich Brooks closed down the day, saying Kentucky needs to become more competitive against the conference's elite.
"The SEC East, to me, continues to be the toughest division in college football," he said. "We've changed some history at Kentucky, but we have to change more. That would be beating some of the teams in our league that we've struggled to beat over a number of years. And we're a lot more capable of having that happen now than we were three or four years ago."
Day two leads off with Alabama at 8:30 a.m. and will follow with Georgia, Ole Miss and Florida.
Present for the Rebels will be head coach Houston Nutt, quarterback Jevan Snead and free safety Kendrick Lewis.
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