If you went out to grab the paper on the front lawn this morning and thought you felt a cool breeze touch your cheek, or that you caught a cool current while taking a dip down at the beach this summer, it wasn’t a mirage. It was a sign.
Football is back.
At least talking about it is back — which, when you think about it, is what college football fans do six days a week during the regular season anyway. Southeastern Conference media days are straight ahead, cranking out the hot air starting Monday in Hoover, Alabama.
There will be plenty of coachspeak. There will maybe, just maybe, be an utterance or two of the phrase that grates on sports reporters’ nerves like fingernails on a blackboard: “We’re taking it one game at a time.”
Nah. That’ll never happen.
But at least they’re talking about the South’s deep-fried passion. With a touch under eight weeks to go until the real thing, at least it’s a start.
There will be one major difference, and it’s a lamentable one: Steve Spurrier won’t be on the podium after retiring last year at South Carolina. The Ol’ Ball Coach made things mighty entertaining, like when he was at Florida and would prod BCS founder and former SEC commish Roy Kramer (who would stand in the back of the room and grimace) about there not being a college football playoff. Then later, when there was one, Spurrier said he didn’t think South Carolina would have to worry about making it there.
We’ll have to console ourselves instead with Bret Bielema’s candor and Les Miles’ non sequiturs, which will probably do just fine.
There will be some popular themes running through media days this year, some sure to please the participating coaches and players and some sure to make them squirm. Here are a few things to pick from out of the words and images set to come gushing out of Hoover this week:
Q: Whose seat is the hottest?
The Stop Bama movement
With the GOP convention nearing, the Stop Trump movement hasn’t completely abated.
It seems an absurd longshot. Almost as long, it seems, as anyone toppling Alabama from atop its SEC perch.
The Crimson Tide won a fourth national title since 2009 last season, in the process (there’s that word again) becoming the only program to reach the semifinals in both of the College Football Playoff’s first two seasons.
Despite a significant amount of turnover, Bama likely will be picked to win the SEC again, and it likely will be No. 1 when the preseason polls come out. The question: Can anyone topple the king?
There’s Tennessee, the heavy favorite to win the SEC East. There’s Ole Miss, which has cracked the Bama code to unlock an upset the past two seasons.
And then there’s LSU.
The Tigers, with 18 returning starters, host Bama in November. LSU is the early pick in Vegas to win the game, but everyone from the oddsmakers to the ticket takers at Tiger Stadium know LSU has lost five straight to Bama.
Offensive lineman Ethan Pocic and defensive back Tre’Davious White passed on entering the NF…
The hot seats
Every coach in the SEC West makes at least $4 million per year. That means a highly paid coach will finish last. That means some school is not likely to put up with that again.
The hottest seats in the SEC belong to Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin, set to make $5 million this season (behind only Alabama’s Nick Saban) despite a tepid 17-15 mark in SEC play in four seasons, and Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, whose Tigers are 15-11 overall since nearly winning the last BCS title three Januarys ago.
Miles’ seat isn’t as hot as it was in November, but The Hat hasn’t tried to do anything to temper the hot expectations for his talented and experienced Tigers. If LSU doesn’t at least make a CFP bowl, Miles will have some explaining to do.
Will he try to turn down the boiling water beneath his program’s expectations when he takes the podium Thursday?
The hottest topic
Rare are the college football players who delve into politically charged topics. But the national stories that have become the shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in Minnesota, followed by the killing of five Dallas police officers, is no doubt going to thrust its way into media days.
More than half of college football players are black men. They no doubt have opinions about black-white and black-law enforcement relations based on their personal experiences. It will be most interesting to hear who says what and whether the players will censor themselves or come to Hoover pre-censored by their schools and coaches.
Two of the most publicized stories from earlier this year were the decision by a Monroe district attorney not to press charges against Alabama’s Cam Robinson and Hootie Jones, and Mississippi State’s decision to allow Jeffery Simmons to play for the Bulldogs after a video showed him punching a woman on the ground during a fight between the woman and one of his family members.
Neither player will be in Hoover — no surprise whatsoever — but Saban and State coach Dan Mullen will be. Mullen, in particular, should expect a grilling after basically skipping out of the SEC Spring Meeting in June when the Simmons decision came down, letting athletic director Scott Stricklin rotate on the spit in his absence.
Speaking of high-profile disciplinary issues, all will be eager to hear what Florida coach Jim McElwain has to say about star receiver Antonio Callaway, suspended since January for violating team rules.