- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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Today, we take one last look at the sights and sounds of SEC media days. There was so much information, yet so little time to really process it all. We at the SEC blog have come up with a few things that we learned from our time in Hoover, Ala., and what questions still remain in the nation's top college football conference.
What we learned:
1. Mike Slive pushes radical change: The SEC's commissioner has a résumé that few would question, but he raised some eyebrows and garnered mixed reviews in Hoover when he discussed his "agenda to stimulate a national discussion, an agenda for change." Slive talked about raising the academic entrance requirements for incoming freshmen and would like to offer cost-of-education scholarships and make scholarships four-year contracts, instead of the current one-year setup. Slive also wants coaches to be able to text recruits and contact them via social media, and he also promoted earlier official visits for recruits.
2. Spurrier got his swag back: Steve Spurrier has always been confident and witty, but the swagger that he had while at Florida appeared to be back this year. After guiding South Carolina to its first SEC title game, Spurrier believes he has the best team he’s had during his tenure at South Carolina. “We feel like we've probably assembled the best group of players we've had in the seven years now that I've been there,” he said. “But time will tell.” There is a lot of hype in Columbia, and Spurrier understands the Gamecocks are the team to beat in the East.
3. Gene Chizik isn’t budging on the NCAA investigation: No matter how many times (nine) the NCAA’s investigation was brought up with Chizik, he wasn’t budging. He discussed his testy interaction with NCAA enforcement director Julie Roe Lach at the SEC meetings in Destin, but when asked directly about Cam Newton and the NCAA’s continued investigation, he continued to say that no wrongdoing has been found with Auburn and that when his head hits his pillow each night, he still sleeps well.
4. Jordan Jefferson is a changed man: LSU’s senior quarterback has been one of the more criticized players during his time in the SEC. He was near the bottom of the league in passing numbers last season, but with the arrival of new offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe, Jefferson has more confidence and had his best spring at LSU. His teammates see tighter passes, better pocket presence and even better leadership from him. Jefferson was also reportedly very sharp at the Manning Passing Academy this summer.
5. Petrino embracing expectations more than ever: The Razorbacks return one of the country’s most high-powered offenses, but what could really make this team dangerous this fall is its defense. Petrino has made it very clear that he has the best defense he’s had during his time at Arkansas and he welcomes the lofty expectations that have come. Arkansas might have to replace Ryan Mallett at quarterback and have a young offensive line, but Petrino bled confidence in Hoover.
1. Will the SEC make it six titles in a row?: Yet again, the SEC is loaded with talent, but will that cost the SEC a shot at a sixth straight national championship trip and victory? Alabama, LSU and Arkansas all have what it takes to win multiple championships this fall, but the round-robin schedule could leave each team with multiple losses. However, a two-loss SEC team has made the title trip before. Then there's the East, where the faith is in South Carolina. The Gamecocks have a lot of talent on both sides of the ball, but can they keep up with one of those West teams in a return trip to Atlanta?
2. Will Auburn's drop-off be as steep as everyone thinks? The Tigers lost a slew of talent from its national championship team and there isn’t a lot of faith in Auburn this fall. Auburn returns just six starters. There is a lot of young talent at Auburn, but the inexperience has people severely overlooking the Tigers. “A lot of people in the media, they get misconstrued that being young is a lack of talent, and it’s not at Auburn,” defensive end Nosa Eguae said. “We have a lot of talent, and come Sept. 3, we’re looking to show off that talent on stage.”
3. Can Georgia's offensive line survive this season?: It hasn't been a great offseason for the Bulldogs’ offensive line, which is an injury away from being a major soft spot in Athens. Despite a devastating injury to Trinton Sturdivant and some attrition, coach Mark Richt said he isn't worried about the players he has now -- as long as they stay healthy. "I think it's fine if we don't get anybody hurt," Richt said. "We actually had a pretty good lineup." Expect a lot of cross-training up front.
4. Can South Carolina deal with the hype?: The Gamecocks will enter the season as the overwhelming favorite in the East, but can South Carolina live up to the expectations? Last season, after defeating No. 1 Alabama, the Gamecocks were upset by Kentucky. And they were blown out in their first SEC championship game. The confidence is running high in Columbia and players think this is a closer team in 2011. "We're more experienced and more confident," receiver Alshon Jeffery said. "Going into this season, we're more together and just one. This year, we are more prepared.”
5. How will the QBs fair? There are still a lot of questions surrounding quarterback battles around the league. Alabama might have the best team in the league, but youngsters A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims are still fighting for the No. 1 spot. Jefferson might have improved this spring, but will that translate to real games this fall? Can Stephen Garcia stay out of trouble this fall? Vanderbilt’s Larry Smith has instilled confidence in his head coach, but he’ll still have to battle a pair of freshmen quarterbacks during preseason camp. Ole Miss and Auburn have three competing at camp and John Brantley has a lot to prove after a rough junior season at Florida.