NCF Nation: 2011 SEC Media Days

Not even those flashy, ego-boosting MTV cameras could save Alabama’s prized high school football program from Larry Smith five years ago.

[+] EnlargeLarry Smith
Don McPeak/US PresswireQuarterback Larry Smith is excited to work with Vanderbilt's new coaching staff.
Just a senior at Prattville (Ala.), Smith earned MVP honors after accounting for 174 yards of total offense as in a 35-21 win over Hoover (Ala.) in the 2006 Class 6A title.

Hoover had spent a year in the limelight as its popular reality show Two-A-Days ran on MTV, but Smith made sure it didn’t end the way it’s audience wanted.

Smith can’t go home without being viewed as a celebrity. Even with his family still residing in Prattville, Smith has a few members in the Birmingham-Hoover area and his 2006 triumph is still talk of the town.

Smith returned to Hoover for SEC media days with his Vanderbilt teammates last week, and though there wasn’t a Crimson Tide-like contingency to greet him, there were a few friends in town for him to see.

“We refer to Alabama as God’s country and it’s always good to come back home and relax a little,” Smith said.

Being home reminds the senior quarterback of his past glories, but it also reminds him that he has time to generate a little more acclaim before he calls his college career quits.

Smith has had an up-and-down career in Nashville. He was lauded for his first start in the 2008 Music City Bowl, where he completed 10-of-17 passes for 121 yards in the Commodores’ first postseason win in 53 years.

After that, his approval rating dipped considerably as Vandy has gone 4-20 in the past two seasons, including 1-15 in conference play. Smith completed 47 percent of his passes last season and has thrown 10 touchdown passes to12 interceptions the past two seasons.

Smith hears the criticism. He understands people have called for his starting job and he doesn’t really care. He learned at an early age that in order to succeed, he had to be thick-skinned. Smith found out the hard way after many rough one-on-one basketball games with his father growing up. The more he fell and cried, the more his dad pushed and the stronger Smith got.

And all that commentary he’s hearing now reminds him of the scraped knees from all those skids on the asphalt.
“I really don’t let those things get to me,” Smith said. “I build a wall around me and try go out there and do my best the next game.”

Things will be different, Smith assures. He’s surrounded by a new coaching staff and is under the tutelage of a quarterbacks coach that more than impressed Smith with his work with Josh Freeman at Kansas State.

Ricky Rahne has worked tirelessly with Smith on his technique and reading defenses. The most important lesson for Smith has been Rahne’s sessions on footwork. Smith said that in a more suitable pro-style offense, he’s learned to stand more comfortably and confidently in the pocket, greatly enhancing his delivery.

New head coach James Franklin gave Smith a fresh start, meaning his past was wiped clean, but he’d have to earn back his starting spot.

“Larry's got an opportunity,” Franklin said. “He did have a great spring, a very good summer from what all the players and strength coaches have told me. So I'm excited to get to camp and give him an opportunity to compete against a Jordan Rodgers, compete against the three freshmen we have coming in, then also some of the walk-ons as well.”

Like most at Vanderbilt, Smith is very excited about Franklin. He’s excited about the “360-degree” change in the confidence flourishing throughout the team. And he’s excited to pull a few surprises this fall.

Smith knows the expectations are low -- they always are -- but he and his teammates are embracing the disrespect and like being shunned by everyone.

“It’s exciting being under the radar,” he said. “People might take you lightly and you can sneak up on somebody and get them that week.”

Podcasts: Chatting with SEC coaches

July, 25, 2011
7/25/11
5:00
PM ET
Ivan Maisel talks to some SEC coaches including Steve Spurrier from South Carolina, Dan Mullen from Mississippi State and Houston Nutt from Ole Miss.

Florida coach Will Muschamp weighs in on how the SEC compares to the Big 12, John Brantley, becoming a head coach, the expectations for the Gators and more.

Also, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier covers Marcus Lattimore, Alshon Jeffery, the Gamecocks' QB situation, Jadeveon Clowney, his coaching future and more.
HOOVER, Ala. -- Superman lives.

Ole Miss senior defensive end Kentrell Lockett, or "Superman" to his fans, is back and ready to exact his revenge on skittish quarterbacks around the SEC.

[+] EnlargeMississippi's Kentrell Lockett
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesKentrell Lockett suffered a knee injury last season, but coach Houston Nutt expects "him to be full go the first game."
Lockett, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility after suffering an ACL injury early last season, says he's fully healthy and ready for his last romp through the SEC.

Lockett skipped spring practice to recover more, but insists that he hasn't lost any quickness or mobility.

"It's a knee. A knee heals. Nothing happened to anything else," he said. "I still can tackle, still can run, still can jump, so I'm going to play ball."

Getting Lockett, who was a first-team All-SEC selection by the media, not only improves Ole Miss' defense, especially in the pass rush, but adds a crucial element in the leadership category -- an area that suffered a major blow this spring with the season-ending injury to linebacker D.T. Shackelford. Lockett's outgoing and charismatic personality instantly lifts his teammates up and having him on the field this fall will be even more beneficial for the Rebels.

"Means so much to get it back," coach Houston Nutt said. "He is a tremendous leader for us. He does so much with his teammates. He's a winner. I think he's just about there. According to our doctors, he's just about 100 percent, so we expect him to be full go the first game."

Lockett said he felt game-ready late last season when he shed this crutches, and with the season just around the corner, Lockett said his knee is better than it was before he suffered his injury.

"I've made tremendous strides," he said.

"I feel like I'm myself again. I feel like I can do anything now."
HOOVER, Ala. -- He eats grass, says weird things and loves to roll the dice on fourth down.

He's LSU coach Les Miles, and his unpredictability has become must-see TV for everybody in college football, even his players.

"It's crazy. I mean, he's a character," LSU linebacker Ryan Baker said of what it was like to play for Miles on a day-to-day basis.

The Mad Hatter is clearly a hit with his players. They love how fearless he is, whether it's calling a fake field goal when nobody else expects it or going for it on fourth down when the defense is daring you to do so.

[+] EnlargeLes Miles
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesLes Miles keeps things interesting for the Tigers.
"Some of the guys, we sit around and talk about that," Baker said. "We never know what to expect from our coach. We love it. We go into every week not knowing what to expect, but we always know that he has our back no matter what the situation."

It's not just on the field, either.

Baker said during his freshman season that Miles showed up for a team meeting in preseason camp wearing a headband and tight shorts and doing his best "Soulja Boy" dance.

Apparently, Miles has an affinity for rap. He and Snoop Dogg are also boys.

Baker thinks Miles even listens to a little rap from time to time.

"I'll see him on the plane with his headphones, and he'll give it a head rock," Baker said.

Miles, whose Tigers are a consensus top 5 selection to begin the 2011 season, hasn't always been so popular with the LSU fans, who skewered him for well-chronicled clock management mistkaes in 2009 against Ole Miss and last season against Tennessee.

He's also been known to say things that make you wonder if even he knows what he's trying to say at times.

Baker said one of the players usually brings a dictionary to team meetings.

"Yeah, it's off the wall," said Baker, doing his best to keep a straight face.

One day in practice, Baker said Miles reeled off a word that stumped everybody.

"I don't even know what the word was," Baker recounted. "It was a long word, seven or eight syllables."

Finally, one of the LSU players looked up the word and explained to everyone what it meant.

Pressed again on what the word was, Baker shrugged and said, "I really don't remember. It happens a lot."

Baker said receiver Russell Shepard does the best impersonation of Miles.

"He's pretty good, too," Baker said.

Sometimes, the LSU assistants are as lost as the players when Miles gets rolling on his Miles-isms, according to Baker.

"You can sort of tell. They look around and wonder," Baker said.

And if he goes to defensive coordinator John Chavis for a translation, Baker said he usually gets the same response.

"He's like, 'Yeah, what coach said,'" Baker said chuckling.

"He keeps us upbeat. We love it. We love playing for somebody like that."

SEC media days: One good thing

July, 22, 2011
7/22/11
8:15
PM ET
Alabama: The Tide led the SEC with 16 players selected on the media's preseason All-SEC team. That's great for PR, and means that there should be some talent in Tuscaloosa this year, but neither the players nor head coach Nick Saban are paying attention to us and what we think.

Good, because the last thing Alabama needs is to get caught in the hype with the goal of winning multiple championships on the line.

"From a logical standpoint, I know there's a couple other teams in our division -- forget about the league -- that have just as many returners starting, and their quarterback," Saban said to the media when asked about being picked to win the SEC. "So even though I have a tremendous amount of respect for the intelligence level and your ability to prognosticate, which we really can't do, I'm not capable of doing it, I don't understand how you come to the decisions that you come to."

LSU: The Tigers' offense was downright offensive to watch at times last fall, and they know it. LSU was 11th in the SEC in total offense, averaging 341.3 yards per game.

Now, under the tutelage of new offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe, there is more optimism on the bayou when it comes to talking about an offense that the Tigers expect to be more pass-friendly.

"I love it," offensive lineman T-Bob Hebert said of the offense. "Coach Kragthorpe brought a new intensity to the offensive side of the ball and he's injected new life in us. We can't wait to get back there during camp, start practicing, get more refined and more like a well-oiled machine. That's how an offense should work -- like a machine."

Ole Miss: The loss of linebacker and emotional leader D.T. Shackelford this spring to a knee injury was absolutely devastating for the Rebels. The centerpiece of the defense is gone and Ole Miss didn't find a replacement this spring.

However, prized recruit C.J. Johnson appears to have what it takes and Houston Nutt isn't going to hesitate throwing him in the regular rotation early.

"C.J. Johnson doesn't look like a guy just coming out of high school," Nutt said. "Physically he looks the part. So I'm excited about him, getting him going. We'll give him every opportunity to get in the mix.

"Just by default because of D.T. Shackelford's injury, we lose a guy like that, he'll line up second team day one. He'll have every opportunity to play a lot of football."

Vanderbilt: The Alabama secondary is getting a ton of preseason love, and so is LSU's secondary. But Vanderbilt senior cornerback Casey Hayward says not to sleep on the Commodores' secondary when you start ranking the best defensive backfields in the league.

Hayward was a second-team All-SEC selection by the coaches and media. Senior safety Sean Richardson had 98 tackles a year ago, and his running mate at the other safety spot, Kenny Ladler, was one of the most talented freshman safeties in the league last season. Junior cornerback Trey Wilson also looks like he's coming. He was one of the Commodores' most impressive players this spring.

"We don't get a lot of credit because of our record," said Hayward, who was second in the SEC last season with six interceptions. "But production-wise, when you look at the things we did last year, not too many secondaries did that. I think we'll take it to another step this year."
HOOVER, Ala. -- We are transparent here at the SEC blog, so we aren't afraid to share our picks for the media preseason All-SEC team.

Chris showed you his picks earlier, so now it's my turn.

Here is how my first team looked:

OFFENSE
DEFENSE
  • DL -- Devin Taylor, South Carolina
  • DL -- Jaye Howard, Florida
  • DL -- Jake Bequette, Arkansas
  • DL -- Malik Jackson, Tennessee
  • LB -- Dont'a Hightower, Alabama
  • LB -- Courtney Upshaw, Alabama
  • LB -- Jerry Franklin, Arkansas
  • DB -- Mark Barron, Alabama
  • DB -- Stephon Gilmore, Alabama
  • DB -- Morris Claiborne, LSU
  • DB -- Tramain Thomas, Arkansas
SPECIALISTS
  • PK -- Blair Walsh, Georgia
  • P -- Drew Butler, Georgia
  • RS -- Brandon Boykin, Georgia
  • AP -- Joe Adams, Arkansas

Here is how my SEC rankings panned out:

EAST
1. South Carolina
2. Georgia
3. Florida
4. Tennessee
5. Vanderbilt
6. Kentucky

WEST
1. Alabama
2. LSU
3. Arkansas
4. Mississippi State
5. Ole Miss
6. Auburn

SEC champion
  • Alabama
HOOVER, Ala. -- For the fourth time since 1992, Alabama has been picked by the media to win the SEC championship.

That's the good news for Alabama fans.

The bad news is that the Crimson Tide failed to win the title each of the past three times they were picked to win it -- 2010 (fourth in the West), 2000 (tied for fifth in the West) and 1993 (lost in the SEC championship game).

Only four times since league expansion in 1992 has the SEC media days contingent correctly picked the SEC champion -- Florida in 2008, LSU in 2007, Florida in 1995 and Florida in 1994.

Also, with Auburn being picked fifth in the West, it raises an obvious question: When's the last time the defending national champion (or the SEC champion, for that matter) has been picked as low as fifth in its own division?

South Carolina, for the first time in school history, was picked to win the East. The Gamecocks made their first-ever trip to the SEC championship game a season ago.

On the media's All-SEC team, South Carolina receiver Alshon Jeffery received the most votes (152). It's the third highest vote total in SEC media days history behind Alabama’s Mark Ingram (165) and Dont’a Hightower (158), both from last year.

The other top vote-getters from this year were Alabama offensive guard Barrett Jones (148), Hightower (144), Alabama safety Mark Barron (140) and South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore (130).

Here's a look at my All-SEC ballot and the way I voted in the league race:

OFFENSE
  • QB -- Aaron Murray, Georgia
  • RB -- Trent Richardson, Alabama
  • RB -- Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina
  • WR -- Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina
  • WR -- Greg Childs, Arkansas
  • TE -- Orson Charles, Georgia
  • OL -- Barrett Jones, Alabama
  • OL -- Bradley Sowell, Ole Miss
  • OL -- Larry Warford, Kentucky
  • OL -- Cordy Glenn, Georgia
  • C -- William Vlachos, Alabama
DEFENSE
  • DL -- Devin Taylor, South Carolina
  • DL -- Jake Bequette, Arkansas
  • DL -- Malik Jackson, Tennessee
  • DL -- Kentrell Lockett, Ole Miss
  • LB -- Dont'a Hightower, Alabama
  • LB -- Courtney Upshaw, Alabama
  • LB -- Danny Trevathan, Kentucky
  • DB -- Mark Barron, Alabama
  • DB -- DeQuan Menzie, Alabama
  • DB -- Morris Claiborne, LSU
  • DB -- Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina
SPECIAL TEAMS
  • PK -- Blair Walsh, Georgia
  • P -- Drew Butler, Georgia
  • RS -- Brandon Boykin, Georgia
  • AP -- Joe Adams, Arkansas
EAST
  • 1. South Carolina
  • 2. Georgia
  • 3. Florida
  • 4. Tennessee
  • 5. Kentucky
  • 6. Vanderbilt
WEST
  • 1. Alabama
  • 2. LSU
  • 3. Arkansas
  • 4. Mississippi State
  • 5. Auburn
  • 6. Ole Miss
SEC champion
  • Alabama
HOOVER, Ala. -- Gone are the offensive weapons that provided the excitement in Kentucky’s 2010 offense.

Do-everything athlete Randall Cobb is gone. Quarterback Mike Hartline, who was second in the SEC in passing a year ago -- adios. And running back Derrick Locke and receiver Chris Matthews, who were both instrumental offensive cogs, have hit the road as well.

The cupboard isn’t bare, but it’s full of new, shiny objects that have yet to really get much grease on them.

Except when you look up front.

[+] EnlargeMorgan Newton
AP Photo/Butch DillMorgan Newton is looking forward to working behind a veteran offensive line.
Kentucky returns four veteran starters on the offensive line that has the makings of being one of the best in this league, accumulating more than 60 combined starts in their careers.

Senior guard Stuart Hines leads the group with 24 career starts and has enjoyed the praise he and his other fellow linemen have received this year and expects it to be the guiding force for the Wildcats’ offense this fall.

“There’s a lot of pride behind that. We’ve worked hard as a group to be where we are right now and we just want to continue to improve and continue to get better,” Hines said. “It’s a great starting spot to build your offense around.

“People [say] we lost a lot of guys, well we return a lot of guys on the offensive line.”

Hines might be the heart and keeps the focus in the trenches, but a lot of the hype has surrounded second-year starter Larry Warford.

After playing mostly as a reserve during his freshman year, Warford burst onto the scene last season, starting 13 games and leading Kentucky’s line with 43 knockdown blocks. He enters his junior year with some nice preseason accolades as well.

Hines admits that Warford was a bit lazy when he first arrived, thinking his ability alone could carry him, but now he sees a determined athlete with relentless drive on and off the field.

“He’s worked his butt off to get into shape and shed a few pounds and keep his weight down,” Hines said. “He’s done a great job of doing of that and getting the extra stuff with Coach ‘Rock’ [Oliver]. It’s great to see a guy that dedicated to doing what he has to do to be a good player.”

Kentucky also returns junior Matt Smith at center and senior Chandler Burden, who missed spring but will return in August, at left tackle. Senior Billy Joe Murphy left spring as the starter at right tackle.

By last count, that makes three of the five up front residing in Kentucky’s senior class, a welcomed realization for new quarterback Morgan Newton.

“Everyone knows the offensive line is a big key,” Newton said. “Those guys are as good as anybody. That group, we talk about guys that work and don’t really say a lot, that’s that group.

“That’s one of the best offensive lines in the country. Having a group like that is a great start for a special offense.”

And it will have to be a great start. Along with the baby-faced Newton, the Wildcats also have a new group of young running backs to utilize. Hines said it’s important for the line to make those players feel comfortable about running up the middle. They need to provide quality holes for the backs to limit the dancing around in the backfield.

Like any offensive line, this one is very close-knit. Hines said one major reason is the pride four of them take in being from the state of Kentucky. To Hines, there is something about being Kentucky bred that contributes to their on-field success.

“I guess we eat a lot of Kentucky country food or there’s something in the water,” he said. “I don’t know what it is. A bunch of cornbread or something.”

Alabama dominates media All-SEC

July, 22, 2011
7/22/11
11:25
AM ET
HOOVER, Ala. -- The 2011 SEC media days preseason All-SEC Team was announced Friday.

Alabama led the way with nine first-team selections and led all other SEC teams with 16 total selections. Arkansas was second with 14 total selections, but had just two first-team players -- Greg Childs and Jake Bequette.

Florida was the only team that didn't have a single offensive player on one of the three teams. Only four Gators were selected.

There were a couple of surprises, including Ole Miss getting two first-place votes in the West -- one more than a Mississippi State team that placed higher in 2010 -- and Kentucky received a first-place vote in the East.

Alabama was the overwhelming favorite in the West, registering 111 first-place votes, while the Gamecocks dominated the East with 114 first-place votes.

Alabama is predicted to win the SEC for the fourth time since 1992. The previous times (and the actual finishes) were: 1993 (lost in SEC Championship Game), 2000 (tied for fifth in West) and 2010 (fourth in West).

Alabama’s 16 players on the All-SEC Team are the most in any year. This is only the second time in media days history there have been three units on the All-SEC Team (2006).

Alabama’s nine first-team players are the most in any year. The previous high was eight set in 2010 by Alabama and 2009 by Florida.

There were 167 total votes cast.

Here are the results:

SEC Predicted Order of Finish
SEC CHAMPION: Alabama (98), LSU (29), Arkansas (18), South Carolina (14), Georgia (4), Florida (2), Ole Miss (2)

Eastern Division (First-Place Votes)
Team - (First-Place Votes) - Points
1. South Carolina (114) 931
2. Georgia (38) 794
3. Florida (12) 731
4. Tennessee (2) 496
5. Kentucky (1) 340
6. Vanderbilt 215

Western Division (First-Place Votes)
Team - (First-Place Votes) - Points
1. Alabama (111) 925
2. LSU (30) 790
3. Arkansas (23) 717
4. Mississippi State (1) 455
5. Auburn 406
6. Ole Miss (2) 214

SEC media days: Best of Day 2

July, 21, 2011
7/21/11
9:30
PM ET
Best story: At the conclusion of the Mark Richt Camp during Aaron Murray's senior year of high school, he was tossing the football around with a girl when offensive lineman Ben Jones, then a freshman at Georgia, informed Murray's father that Murray's girlfriend was "gorgeous." Murray's father then delivered a classic, stone-faced line.

"My dad turns to Ben and says, 'Son, that's my daughter right there,'" Murray said.

Best self-endorsement: Tennessee might not have to search too far to find its next athletic director. When asked who he thought might make the best choice for the hire, Vols coach Derek Dooley didn't hesitate with an answer: "The best athletic director I ever worked for was at Louisiana Tech." Of course, he meant himself.

Best analogy: Kentucky linebacker Danny Trevathan nominated Florida's Jeffery Demps as the toughest running back to bring down because of his blistering speed. He's faced Demps since high school and likened his size and speed to a rascally rodent.

"It's hard to chase a rat," he said.

Best hair: Tennessee offensive tackle Dallas Thomas has been growing his hair for six years and had it up and in huge, thick braids going down his back. It takes roughly an hour and a half to braid it up, but don't worry: He doesn't have issues putting his helmet on.

"I don't have any problems," he said. "I just braid it back or put a skullcap on and it just slides right on."

Best chance to make "Dancing With the Stars": Auburn tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen's Riverdance-type dance routine he showed off during last year's Alabama game is gaining more popularity. There is even a video on YouTube named "Teach Me How to Lutzie" that has more than 50,000 views.

"It's pretty much everywhere," Lutzenkirchen said. "I go somewhere and someone says something about it. It's funny that it's what I'll be remembered for, that touchdown more than any others, but it's all fun and games."

Best piece of advice: When asked what he thought Kentucky had to do to make a push to compete in the SEC East, quarterback Morgan Newton advised his teammates to stay off one of the most popular social media outlets: "Don't tweet as much. That Twitter will get you."

Best record: Dooley and his Volunteers might have been 6-7 in the win-loss column last season, but he has another way of looking at the season after games against LSU and North Carolina ended in clock controversy.

"I told everybody I was 8-7 in postgame handshakes last year," Dooley said. "It was a remarkable feat."
HOOVER, Ala. -- Derek Dooley doesn't mind saying it.

Somewhere along the way a year ago, his team lost sight of what the standard is at Tennessee.

"I thought it was very important that we turn the page after last season to redefine the standard of excellence that Tennessee has had for so long," said Dooley, whose Vols were 6-7 in his first season in Knoxville.

At the heart of that standard is winning an SEC championship, something Tennessee hasn't done in 13 years.

"The fans expect us to go out there and compete for the championship and get one of those banners, and we're going to work on that," Dooley said.

Notice, he didn't offer up a timetable.

Dooley said he got out of the prediction business a long time ago, but he does go into the 2011 season feeling like his Vols can contend for the Eastern Division championship.

Never mind that more than 70 percent of the roster will be comprised of freshmen and sophomores.

"We entered this spring saying we're not going to let our youth be an excuse for failure, and we're not," Dooley said. "So it's going to be everybody's responsibility not to act like freshmen and sophomores and not to play like them, and we'll see if they can do that."

Defensive tackle Malik Jackson is one of only 10 seniors on the team, and while he understands the Vols will be lacking in experience, he looks around at the rest of the East and says, "Why not us?"

And he means now as opposed to later.

"I know we have the talent, and we also have the leadership on this team," Jackson said. "The East is wide open this year. We just have to take care of everything right in front of us and not get caught up in what's on down the road."

Dooley has already made a pact with this team that he's not going to coach it like a young team.

It's something they all agreed on the very first meeting last spring.

"I told them we can do this one of two ways," Dooley recalled. "I said, 'I can coach you like a freshman and kind of coddle you along, and you're probably going to have to play and you'll go out and embarrass yourselves, but you might like me a little better.'"

Needless to say, his second option was a runaway winner -- coaching the team as though it's upperclassmen and holding some expectations that younger players often don't have.

"It's going to be hard on you," Dooley told his players. "But it might make you a little bit better and give you a better chance to succeed on the field."
HOOVER, Ala. -- Florida's Deonte Thompson looked back at his quarterback, John Brantley, more than once this spring following a Brantley rifle shot down the field and nodded his head approvingly.

"There were a couple of scrimmages where he ripped the whole defense apart," Thompson said. "He got his confidence back. It was the old Brantley out there."

[+] EnlargeJohn Brantley
Kim Klement/US PresswireFlorida quarterback John Brantley has forgotten about last season when he threw 10 interceptions to just nine touchdowns.
Or maybe the new Brantley.

Brantley gets a fresh start this season with a new offense, new offensive coordinator and new head coach.

The best part for Brantley is that the offense -- Charlie Weis' pro-style attack -- fits what he does best and has also helped to unify the team after a turbulent season a year ago in Gainesville with different players and different factions pulling in opposite directions.

"With a new coaching staff and a new offense, it's like you're starting all over again, a clean slate," said Brantley, who finished last season with nine touchdown passes and 10 interceptions. "Everyone has bought in, and everyone is closer together.

"I think every single one of us has forgot about last year. We're just looking forward to this year and moving on."

Thompson, who had his own struggles catching the ball last season, said Brantley's renewed confidence this spring and summer has rubbed off on the entire team.

That and the reality that the Gators lost five football games a year ago after losing only twice in the previous two seasons combined.

"The leaders have stepped up," Thompson said. "We're not used to losing, man. We've got to change something."

Brantley said one of the biggest changes fans will notice in the Gators' new offense is that they're not going to be in the shotgun nearly as much.

"It's going to be more ground and pound, but coach Weis isn't scared to take shots down the field," Brantley said. "That's his style of offense. I think the change is good, and I think our fans are going to love it."

Brantley said he's looked at a lot of tape from the Kansas City Chiefs last season when Weis was the offensive coordinator. He's also watched a lot of tape from Weis' Notre Dame days when Jimmy Clausen and Brady Quinn were running the Irish offense.

Thompson said Brantley absorbed too much of the blame last season for a Florida offense that went belly-up and finished 10th in the SEC in total offense.

"Last year, I wouldn't say it was all on Brantley," Thompson said. "There were times we should have gotten open quicker. It's more than just him. I know he's the quarterback and all the pressure's on him, but it's more than just him.

"It's on all of us, and we're in this together."
HOOVER, Ala. -- It is so easy for coaches and players to bring the redundant coach speak for media days.

Most don't want to ruffle feathers or provide bulletin board material.

But not Arkansas' crew.

[+] EnlargeKnile Davis
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesOne reason for Arkansas' high expectations is the return of running back Knile Davis, who rushed for 1,322 yards and 12 touchdowns last season.
The Razorbacks are embracing their high expectations. In fact, they're sprinting right toward them.

Entering his fourth year at Arkansas, Bobby Petrino has a team poised to make not only a run at the SEC title, but he sees a team ready to compete for the big one -- the national title.

"I'm not afraid of high expectations," Petrino said. "I'm excited with the fact that two years in a row now we have very high expectations. No. 1, our players have high expectations. Certainly our coaching staff does. Our fans in the state of Arkansas do. Our administration does.

"It's fun to approach the year that way, that, 'Hey, we're going to go out and be a contender, be a good football team, see what we can do to win ourselves a championship.' I think it motivates you throughout the offseason, througout spring ball, throughout the summertime."

What has Petrino and the rest of the Razorback faithful so confident? Well, for starters, the Hogs return a high-powered offense that features three senior receivers in Jarius Wright, Greg Childs and Joe Adams, and arguably one of the league's most complete running backs in Knile Davis.

Together, the foursome manufactured 3,582 yards of offense and 30 touchdowns in 2010.

Defensively, Arkansas figures to have its best group of players that it's had under Petrino, with veterans littering that side of the ball.

Ryan Mallett and his cannon of a throwing arm might have departed for the NFL, but both the players and coaches have full confidence that Tyler Wilson will fill Mallet's spot nicely and should create his own special path.

"He's not going to be a Ryan Mallett. He's going to be a Tyler Wilson," Davis said. "He has his own identity and he's going to do great things for us."

The Razorbacks can read. They appreciate the preseason respect, but they also see the praise for Alabama and LSU. More often than not, the Hogs are seeing their names penciled in below those traditional SEC giants.

They're cool with that, but their goals don't involve sitting behind those schools. The Razorbacks envision themselves sitting and posing with the league trophy in Atlanta.

"The team as a whole is very confident," Davis said. "Since coach Petrino got here, we've gotten a lot better every year and made improvements. We feel like setting big goals is the only way for us to get to the SEC championship. We have the players to do it. We just don't see why we can't."
HOOVER, Ala. -- The certainty around the football future of Florida running back Jeff Demps isn’t so clear anymore.

This spring, coach Will Muschamp was confident that his world-class speedster would be roaming the Gators’ backfield this fall, but after a successful track season and his current trip to Italy with the U.S. national team, Demps’ situation is becoming more and more uncertain.

“He got that opportunity in Italy. I granted him permission to do that,” Muschamp said. “He and I will meet next week to see when he will join our football team in August. I'll update you once he and I speak and talk about that. I expect him to be a part of our football team.”

[+] EnlargeJeff Demps
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallFlorida's Jeff Demps has a decision to make regarding his future. Will it be on the track or on the football field?
But it appears that the fastest man in college sports is no longer so confident that he’ll be throwing his pads on this fall. He broke his own school record in the 60-meter dash with a national champion time of 6.53 during the indoor season this spring and also had a wind-aided 9.96 in the 100-meter dash in outdoor competition.

With some slimming down and total dedication to running, Demps would undoubtedly have a bright future in track. He’s never had the offers like he’s had this year in the professional world of track, and it might seem silly for him to turn them down.

Muschamp still wants to sit down with Demps to discuss his options, but his teammates expect to see him on the football field for his senior season.

“I feel confident, very confident,” wide receiver Deonte Thompson said about Demps returning. “Every time I see him he says, ‘I’m coming back, bro.’ So, I think he’s coming back.”

Added quarterback John Brantley: “He loves Florida football. He would do anything for the program and I think he still has that mindset. He’ll make the best decision.”

But when you start discussing Demps’ financial opportunities and a chance at the 2012 Olympics (a goal of his), players understand the magnitude of his decision.

“I’d make the best decision for me and my family,” Thompson said. “If track is best for him at the moment, we’re going to support him regardless of if he doesn’t come back. He’s a part of the Gator Nation, and even if he doesn’t, we’re gonna all support him.”

While he’s showed that he’s nearly unstoppable to catch in open space on the football field, questions about his size (5-foot-8, 181 pounds) and durability could hinder him at the next level. Sure, he’ll get drafted, and at times he’ll be able to do special things with the ball, but his longevity in the league is an uncertainty.

And Demps is far from reaching his track potential with football weight holding him back. Florida track coach Mike Holloway has said in the past that he’d like to have the chance to work with Demps year-round and help mold him into a track star with goals beyond collegiate achievements.

Playing another year of football could seriously diminish his chances of reaching his goal of running in the 2012 Olympics because of the bulk and weight he’d have to shed, while getting his times down even more during the spring.

For Demps, his decision will come down to two things: Will he pursue an occupation in his dream field (football) or will he head the route where he’s most talented (track)?

Video: Florida's John Brantley

July, 21, 2011
7/21/11
9:00
AM ET


Florida quarterback John Brantley talks at SEC media days.

SPONSORED HEADLINES