5 observations I took away from SEC Media Days 2013

The 2013 edition of SEC Media Days has come and gone. Here are a few observations that I took away from this year’s convening of players, coaches and media members.

1. The SEC and ESPN are a perfect match

This is my fourth attempt at covering SEC Media Days. The second level of the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Hoover is the area where the main media rooms are located and coaches and players deliver their addresses during the annual event. This year, there were bright lights coming from both ends of the wide hallway on that level. Those lights were part of ESPN’s and ESPNU’s television sets. In fact, the entire area was decorated to look like a television set.

That spoke volumes to me not only about the significance of the SEC Network to ESPN, but also about the quality of programming that will result on the coming network. As SEC Network general manager Justin Connolly made the media rounds, you could tell he possessed a sense of pride concerning the product that he is in charge of disseminating. Thursday, it was officially announced that the launch date for the SEC Network will be August 21, 2014.

2. Steve Spurrier always knows how to steal the show

Steve Spurrier’s quips from the podium at SEC Media Days seem to be a source of entertainment year after year. This time, he opened his speech by talking about several initiatives that the head football coaches in the league had voted on at the spring meetings in Destin, Fla.

“We were sitting there talking about the new four-team playoff with Mr. Hancock, who is on the committee, to try to tell us how it’s all going to work out. The committee is going to name the four teams, this, that and the other. He said they were sitting with the commissioners of our BCS conferences and the athletic director of Notre Dame. Somebody said, ‘why was he there?’ He’s equal with all the commissioners. We just started trying to figure out why the athletic director at Notre Dame is equal to all the conference commissioners. Nobody had a good answer…Okay [SEC head coaches] voted 14-0 that they ought to be in a conference.”

First, the fact that the SEC head coaches would symbolically vote that Notre Dame should join a conference is entertaining in itself. But the delivery by the South Carolina head coach was vintage Steve Spurrier. That is why he’s great for the SEC.

3. Johnny Manziel acquitted himself nicely

Reigning Heisman Trophy winning Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel has been the focus of the college football world for over a month. His trips to select vacation destinations, throwing out of the first pitch at Major League Baseball games, and other adventures have garnered tremendous national attention.

It was his latest escapade that drew most of the attention when he met with reporters at SEC Media Days. Last week, it was reported that he left the Manning Passing Academy earlier than scheduled. Over the course of the week, several poor attempts at explaining why he did surfaced in reports.

So Wednesday, when Manziel made it to Hoover, he was forced to face a barrage of questions concerning the incident. I didn’t find his specific explanation to be overwhelming. He said he overslept, he reminded the media over and over that he is merely a 20-year-old, and there is some question about whether he was even in his room.

On the whole, though, I thought Manziel took an important step toward rehabilitating his image, and yes, it does need a bit of repair. He is, after all, just 20. And while many of us would gladly trade places with him, that’s not reality. He desperately needed to answer the difficult questions and move his career forward. In my estimation, he did that this week.

4. Alabama is the favorite too easily

The media predicted Alabama to win the SEC. Some have called it the ‘Media Days curse’ because of the atrocious record the media have when it comes to picking the champion in recent years. Only four times since 1992 has the vote correctly projected which team would win. This year, 182 of the 243 first-place votes went to the Tide.

To me, that’s too easy of a margin. I think Alabama will have another formidable team this year, but the SEC is always unpredictable.

5. Butch Jones and Bret Bielema are impressive additions to the SEC’s head coaching ranks

The SEC welcomed four new head football coaches at this year’s SEC Media Days — Bret Bielema (Arkansas), Butch Jones (Tennessee), Gus Malzahn (Auburn), and Mark Stoops (Kentucky). I think all of them will improve their programs’ situations. They have all enjoyed success, but Jones and Bielema stood out to me.

Butch Jones brings a no-nonsense, competitive mentality to a program that has not been nationally competitive for some time. The proud Tennessee football program has been wallowing in mediocrity since the mid-2000s, when Phillip Fulmer’s teams were annually competing for the SEC East. What’s worse, the Vols have lost a combined 14 in a row to rivals Alabama and Florida. Jones seems to get that those two rivalries are very important to Volunteer fans; he also seems to have his eye on the bigger prize and understand that Tennessee should be a championship-caliber program.

New Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema is trying to pick up the pieces of a Razorback team that failed to make the postseason last year after being picked by some to be a national title contender. As a head coach, Bielema brings a 68-24 overall record (a 74% clip), three BCS (Rose) bowl appearances, and most importantly the right attitude to Fayetteville. His challenge will be converting the style of play from an up-tempo offense to a more conservative philosophy. But if anyone has the credentials to do it, it’s Bielema.

It was, as usual, an exhilarating three days in Hoover as representatives from each program put on their best show. With the seven-time reigning BCS champion conference going for an eighth this fall, it begins what promises to be an action-packed season.

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