SEC: Steve Spurrier

Fall camp is upon us with Mississippi State kicking things off Thursday and Auburn and Alabama getting underway Friday.

That means, of course, that the offseason is officially over. It’s been fun and depressing and mesmerizing all at once.

Let's take a look back:

Arrests galore

[+] EnlargeKevin Sumlin
Patrick Green/Icon SMITexas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin has had to deal with offseason incidents involving five players.
Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin tried to make the argument that one bad apple doesn’t spoil the whole bunch. This week he told reporters, “Everything gets lumped into one big bucket. That’s tough.” The problem, of course, is that it’s not one bad apple -- or two or three or four. Five Aggies were arrested, including Darian Claiborne and Isaiah Golden. Alabama, on the other hand, had four players get in hot water, including Dillon Lee and Jarran Reed, who were arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence. And at Georgia, the hits keep coming. It was bad enough when Josh Harvey-Clemons and Tray Matthews were dismissed, then Jonathan Taylor was booted after being charged with aggravated assault.

Nick Marshall smokes pot -- but he’ll be a better passer

Auburn’s talented quarterback nearly went the length of the offseason without trouble. With another few weeks and another expectedly solid season, he might have been able to put to rest the talk of his dismissal from Georgia. He might have simply been Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall -- no asterisk, no footnote about his off-the-field trouble. Instead of talking about his improvements as a passer, becoming more accurate and comfortable in the offense and more technically sound, the discussion has turned to his mental makeup, whether he’ll be suspended and what this all means for Auburn’s hopes of repeating as SEC champs after being cited by police for possessing a small amount of marijuana.

Head Ball Coach wins ‘talking season’

Really, we could just link to a story about what Steve Spurrier said at SEC media days and be done with this. Or we could link to what he said later about Clemson coach Dabo Swinney being from Pluto. Or we could simply call up Spurrier, ask for his thoughts on, say, LeBron James’ return to Cleveland, press record and play the tape back for you. Spurrier is the annual grand champion of the offseason, or what he likes to call “talking season.” Among a field of college coaches who are often stuffy and close to the vest, the Head Ball Coach speaks his mind, shows off his wit and seems to generally enjoy the spotlight.

Derrick Henry, Leonard Fournette for Heisman

Boy, do expectations run rampant from February to July. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think T.J. Yeldon and Terrence Magee didn’t exist. If you listened to the Internet, you’d think Alabama's Henry ran for 10,000 yards last season, literally crashing through brick walls and requiring an entire SWAT team to tackle him, instead of looking at the stat sheet that reads no career starts and no games with double-digit carries. But that’s what a Sugar Bowl with 161 all-purpose yards will do for you. If that kind of hype bothers you, hold on because the Leonard Fournette show has arrived in full force at LSU. The former No. 1 overall recruit has been compared with Michael Jordan and Adrian Peterson. He’s a Heisman Trophy contender, if you ask the right people. Oh, and he’s also a college freshman who only recently arrived at on campus.

Tempo debate won’t go away

[+] EnlargeBret Bielema
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesArkansas coach Bret Bielema won't give up the up-tempo debate.
You remember the back-and-forth between Gus Malzahn and Bret Bielema last year, when Bielema alleged that up-tempo offenses were a health concern. Malzahn asked if that was a joke and Bielema fired back, saying he wasn’t a comedian. That seemed serious at the time. Well, maybe the joke’s on us because this debate just won’t go away. The tabled 10-second proposal has further stoked the flames. Bielema further dug a hole for himself when he brought the death of a Cal football player into the debate, then argued to Sports Illustrated that players with sickle-cell traits are the most at risk. So, as you might have guessed, there was more back-and-forth and at one point during SEC media days. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel called the safety issue straight-up “fiction.” Oh, joy. A healthy debate is one thing, but to go on and on about an issue that isn’t even able to go to a vote seems ludicrous.

The force is with Chris Conley

On the bright side, hopefully Georgia wideout Chris Conley’s “Star Wars” films keep on coming. His first trailer for “Retribution” was a huge hit, and apparently he has a second film already in the works. At a time where athletes’ rights and off-the-field behavior dominate our headlines, it’s refreshing to see a football player do something totally original and totally unrelated to the game he plays, all while doing well in school. In a game that’s become much more big business than unadulterated fun, it's great to see an athlete do something he loves and be celebrated for it.

It’s still the SEC vs. the world

You’d think that the year the SEC finally failed to win the national championship would be the year the league would stop absorbing so many shots from the rest of its Power 5 conference brethren. But you’d be wrong. The SEC is still the target of almost every major talking point in college football, from scheduling to the playoff to recruiting tactics. Every conference media days involved some jab at the SEC. Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops gloated about the SEC falling back to earth, in his mind solidifying his comments about the bottom half of the league being overrated. But oddly, in the same breath he boasted about Oklahoma's strength of schedule, propping up a Tennessee program that hasn’t finished a season above .500 since 2009. How does that work? But Stoops wasn’t alone. Everyone took a shot and everyone did it for the same reason: lobbying for the playoff. With four spots and five major conferences, everyone is looking to throw someone under the bus.
It may be the first time in seven years that the SEC does not boast the defending champion of college football, but the league still maintains the most teams in the Amway Coaches Poll with seven of the Top 25. The next closest conference was the Pac-12 with six.

Alabama, coming off back-to-back losses for the first time since 2008, was ranked No. 2 behind defending champ Florida State. Auburn, fresh off an SEC championship, came in at No. 5.

Neither the Crimson Tide nor the Tigers received a first-place vote from the coaches surveyed, which included Bret Bielema, Les Miles, Mark Richt, Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier, and Kevin Sumlin of the SEC. The Seminoles, on the other hand, garnered 56 of the 62 total first-place votes.

South Carolina (9), Georgia (12), LSU (13), Ole Miss (19) and Texas A&M (20) also made the Top 25 from the SEC, which saw its total selections in the preseason Top 25 poll rise from six to seven this year. However, the SEC saw its numbers in the top 10 drop from five to three.

Missouri led all teams not in the Top 25 in votes received with 126. Mississippi State (74) and Arkansas (1) were also listed as having received votes in the preseason poll.
BLYTHEWOOD, S.C. -- South Carolina running back Mike Davis enjoyed quite the breakout season in 2013, but bigger things could be in store for one of the SEC's best offensive weapons.

Built like a miniature tank, Davis could build on his 1,183-yard, 11-touchdown performance in 2013 with a run at the Heisman or at least a spot on the All-SEC first team. But the junior also has a chance to propel himself into the mix of players vying for the coveted spot of being the first running back taken in next year's NFL draft.

And if Davis has another good year, his head coach would have no problem wishing him a fond farewell.

[+] EnlargeMike Davis
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsWith a strong season, Mike Davis is likely headed to the NFL in 2015.
"Mike Davis, if he has a big year, he's going to go pro," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said after his annual media golf event Thursday. "And we're going to tell him to go pro, because he should. The lifespan of a running back is only a certain amount of years. If a young man after three years can go, we're going to shake his hand and let him go. That's why you keep recruiting more running backs."

Davis was a highly touted prospect coming out of the 2012 recruiting class, and even before he arrived in Columbia, most thought he might have a three-year lifespan with the Gamecocks. And after reshaping his body after his freshman year, Davis tried his best last season to reserve a spot in the NFL draft's green room in 2015.

Overshadowed by conference mates Todd Gurley and T.J. Yeldon, Davis averaged 5.8 yards per carry, registered seven 100-yard rushing outings and averaged 103.8 rushing yards in conference play last fall.

So yes, if Davis even comes close to duplicating last season's production, he should pack his bags and head straight for a life in the NFL. With the NFL not-so-subtly devaluing running backs more and more, Davis would be crazy not to make the leap and get a jump on pro life early.

"The thing as a running back is your life expectancy isn't long in the NFL," South Carolina running backs coach Everette Sands said Thursday. "Here in the SEC, it's probably the closest thing to the NFL."

Sands doesn't want to restrict his prized running back, but he also understands that more wear and tear to Davis' body could hurt him in the long run when it comes to a future in the NFL. The good news for Sands is that he has a solid stable of backs to work with. Brandon Wilds, who has 707 career rushing yards, is back and Shon Carson, who suffered a shoulder injury during the Gamecocks' spring game, has bulked up and should be 100 percent healthy entering fall camp next week. Also, redshirt freshman David Williams has the talent to be the back of the future for South Carolina.

Help is there for Davis, and Sands doesn't think he'll have any trouble taking it this fall.

"Something that he understands, now more than ever, is that, 'Hey, I can't be the only guy. If I'm the only guy, then by the end of the season I'll be beat up,'" Sands said. "I have to make sure that I'm not putting him in there on every third-and-1."

The only other thing Davis has to worry about is overconfidence, but Sands doesn't seem too worried about that either. He sees a more mature Davis who knows his own potential, but also understands that there's more to be done before he can set foot in the NFL.

"There's no doubt in Mike's mind that he can make it in the league," Sands said. "The big thing that Mike has to understand is that it's not done yet. ... I think he understands that as well. There's the other side of it of, 'Yes, I know I'm going to the league, but I just have to make sure I handle my business right now. If he does that, he'll be fine."
Steve Spurrier, Dabo SwinneyJoshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY SportsSteve Spurrier and Dabo Swinney are keeping the South Carolina-Clemson rivalry interesting.

Is there any way to get a television show featuring Steve Spurrier and Dabo Swinney dropping one-liners on each other one after another?

Because right now, they have got the best two-man show going in all of college football. Want to stir the pot a little? Ask Spurrier what he thinks of Clemson. Ask Swinney what he thinks about Spurrier.

Ready ... set ... talk trash!

Who knew Spurrier and Swinney would become such a perfect match?

In an era when most coaches are too buttoned up and PC to speak in anything other than clichés, Spurrier and Swinney have honed their barb-jabbing skills, taking them to new heights every time they deliver a sound bite.

Spurrier, of course, has had years and years of experience dishing out one-liners. But he never had anybody to dish them right back. Phillip Fulmer? He fumed. Bobby Bowden? He shrugged.

Swinney? Completely unafraid to dish right back, putting an entirely different spin on the Clemson-South Carolina rivalry. Spurrier wants to talk championships, so he does. “Hey, these two Capital One Bowls in a row are pretty nice, but that state championship ain’t bad either,” he said after the Capital One Bowl win in January.

Swinney responded in kind after beating Ohio State in the Discover Orange Bowl, "We’re the first team from South Carolina to ever win a BCS bowl."

The "real" Death Valley? Spurrier knows where it is. Baton Rouge, right? "Most of our guys have never been to Death Valley," Spurrier said in 2012. “That is the Death Valley, isn’t it? Or is there another one around?"

Swinney responded in kind, "I can see where he might have a little confusion. Our guys have never been to USC. California's a long way from here. ... Got two Death Valleys and two USCs, but there's only one real one."

Swinney wants to talk philosophically, as in Dabo is from Mars, Steve is from Pluto? Well, wouldn’t you know it -- Spurrier knows a thing or two about planets. Leave it to these two to make college football fans Google “Is Pluto still a planet?”

The repartee works because Swinney and Spurrier know how to make it work. Both are incredibly gifted speakers with the ability to think on their feet rather quickly. Both know how to take a joke. Both coaches have a certain type of gumption, too. After all, Swinney has lost five straight games to Spurrier. But that does not stop him from plugging away. How many other coaches would keep on delivering the blows despite mounting losses to their bitter rival?

One in particular comes to mind. A man who went 5-8-1 against another rival in another era, with zero road wins.

You might find him on Pluto somewhere.

Video: Spurrier talks upcoming season

July, 22, 2014
Jul 22
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South Carolina Gamecocks football coach Steve Spurrier gives his take on his team for the 2014 season and the comments made by Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby.
SEC legends Steve Spurrier, Bo Jackson, Charles Barkley, Frank Thomas and Chucky Mullins are among the subjects of upcoming “SEC Storied” documentaries that will air on the SEC Network.

Four new documentaries will debut in a three-week period between the new network's launch on Aug. 14 and Sept. 4. The films and schedule were revealed this week at SEC media days.

Here's a quick rundown. Click the movie titles to view the trailers:

“The Stars Are Aligned”
Directed by Andy Billman
Thursday, Aug. 14, 9 p.m. ET
On the first day of the new network, a group of 14 famous figures each representing a different SEC college -- including actress Ashley Judd, musician Darius Rucker, political consultant James Carville and Governor Rick Perry -- explain how they live and die with their respective SEC schools. Some other celebrities included in the documentary are Shepard Smith, Emmitt Smith, Jonathan Papelbon, Melissa Joan Hart, Charlie Daniels, Amy Robach and Ralphie May.

“Bo, Barkley and The Big Hurt”
Directed by Larry Weitzman
Thursday, Aug. 21, 8 p.m. ET
Told through their reunion at the 2013 Iron Bowl, this documentary recounts how future Hall of Famers Charles Barkley, Bo Jackson and Frank Thomas arrived at Auburn in the 1980s and brought their teams to national relevance. It started with oversized, wisecracking basketball player Barkley's arrival on the Plains, followed by multi-sport star Jackson picking the Tigers over Alabama and continued with Thomas, who will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on July 27, initially coming to Auburn to play football when no MLB club drafted him.

“The Believer”
Co-directed by Kenny Chesney and Shaun Silva
Wednesday, Aug. 27, 8 p.m. ET
Country music star Kenny Chesney co-directed this story about South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier's long history within the conference -- growing up as a Tennessee fan, winning a Heisman Trophy at Florida and later leading the Gators to a national championship, and now as the coach who has built the Gamecocks into a national power. It will air on Aug. 27, the day before the Gamecocks host Texas A&M in the first football game on the SEC Network.

“It's Time”
Directed by Fritz Mitchell
Thursday, Sept. 4, 8 p.m. ET
Inspired by an unlikely friendship born out of tragedy, “It's Time” explains what happened after a 1989 play when Ole Miss defensive back Chucky Mullins suffered a broken neck while hitting Vanderbilt running back Brad Gaines -- a play that did not injure Gaines but left Mullins as a quadriplegic. The two became close friends over the next two years until Mullins died of a blood clot in a Memphis hospital room, with Gaines by his side.
HOOVER, Ala. -- It's like SEC media days just started.

Well, not really. Four days of a nonstop influx of SEC information could knock Todd Gurley off his feet. It was a fun week, but now it's over, and it's time to shift our attention to fall practice. It's just a couple of weeks away!

As we inch closer to the regular season, let's take one last look at the week that was with five takeaways from what went down in Hoover:

1. Alabama has something to prove: Buried in some Texas-sized talk you'll find something else that gets under Nick Saban's skin: The way his team finished last season. After being picked by just about everyone to win the BCS title, the Alabama Crimson Tide lost its last two games of the season, including getting run out of New Orleans in a Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma. So while Alabama was picked to win the West, this team is still hurting after how last season ended. "We have to reestablish our identity as a team at Alabama," Saban said. "It's going to take every player to have a tremendous amount of buy-in for us to be able to do that." The team has to do that for an entire season. It has to listen, and it sounds like that's happening so far. A Saban-coached team filled with five-star talents is hungry and upset? That bodes well for the rest of the league ...

2. Will Muschamp doesn't feel the heat: Months after coaching one of the worst seasons in Florida Gators history, Muschamp is ignoring the toxicity surrounding his program. When you go 4-8 at a school like Florida, your seat will be engulfed in flames, but Muschamp is keeping his cool and focusing on his team during a critical season for the program. "I think you combat the hot-seat talk with having a good team and winning games," Muschamp said. "Control the controllable is always what I've said. ... That's coaching our football team, developing our football team. There was never any time in my mind that I didn't think I would be retained." Muschamp, whose team is breaking in a new spread offense and getting healthier, added that he expects his team to have "an outstanding year."

3. Vandy and Kentucky don't lack confidence: The Vanderbilt Commodores are breaking in a new coach and the Kentucky Wildcats are looking to build for the long term in Year 2 with Mark Stoops. Both teams have a ton of questions entering the year, but representatives from both programs oozed confidence and even some bravado. "Our team is a team of probably no-name young men who have a chance to do something great," first-year Vandy coach Derek Mason said. "It's talented across the board. I think our opportunity to compete for an SEC East title is now." James Franklin who?

For Stoops, he isn't dwelling on the past because he's pretty amped about the present, and possibly the future. "I'm excited about this team," Stoops said. "This team has worked extremely hard. They've done everything we've asked them to do. ... Our players have put in the time. Our training staff has done a great job getting them prepared. We're physically better. Hopefully that will translate to more wins." Stoops isn't ready to say he has a bowl team, but he promises it doesn't lack any heart or fight.

4. Richt and Spurrier like their teams: While Saban scolded the media about its decision to pick his team to win the SEC, Georgia Bulldogs coach Mark Richt wasn't thrilled about being ranked second in the SEC East. "Obviously, what's important is what happens at the end of the year. Earlier I got asked that question. I said, 'I'm not happy to be named No. 2. I'm not going to start cheering that 'We're No. 2.' I think in the end it's going to be Georgia."

And he wasn't kidding. He really likes returning an offense that averaged nearly 500 yards and 36.7 points per game that could only get better with some healthier components returning, and he thinks his defense will play smarter. The addition of new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has Richt excited. And when Steve Spurrier comes out and praises his team within the first minute of his introductory news conference, that means he likes the guys he's coaching. South Carolina's offense is loaded, but the defense has questions in the secondary. Spurrier doesn't seem too concerned, though.

5. The future is now in Baton Rouge: One of the most talked-about players of the week wasn't even in the building. Heck, he hasn't even played a snap of college ball. But LSU freshman running back Leonard Fournette was compared to Michael Jordan and was said to have the talent to be the best player to ever play at LSU. Those are quite the compliments to pay a freshman, but Tigers coach Les Miles and Fournette's teammates believe he can live up to the hype. "He has been compared to Adrian Peterson," LSU running back Terrence Magee said. "To be honest, I think it's the only guy that's playing the running back position right now that you can compare [Fournette] to." He wasn't the No. 1 recruit in the 2014 class for nothing, and Fournette should make an immediate impact in an offense looking for a bellcow back to replace Jeremy Hill.
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HOOVER, Ala. -- Every year, we wait for Steve Spurrier to say something at SEC media days.

Whether the South Carolina coach is leaving a star quarterback off his All-SEC first team or ripping other teams in his league, he is never one to disappoint.

The Head Ball Coach was tamer this year but still delivered some gems. Here's the best of what he had to say Tuesday:

On his team:
“We got a pretty good team, we think. Most of the magazines got us about nine, 10, 11 in the country, something like that. Hopefully we can live up to [those] predictions.”

On seeing his old quarterback, Stephen Garcia, at SEC media days:
“One of our media guys asked about Stephen. I saw him on TV last night. He was interviewed by our local TV celebrity in Columbia there. He got his long hair back. I said it looked like he had joined 'Duck Dynasty' instead of the media. They assured me he’s with the media now (working for website Saturday Down South).

“Stephen is a good guy. We had no problems with Stephen when he was with the team, practicing, the games. All of the issues when he got off the field, around campus, whatever, he had some issues there. Unfortunate, but ...

“That game against Alabama, he completed 17 out of 20, a 35-21 game when they came in No. 1 in the country, was still a game they still talk about there in Columbia. He had the game of his life.”

[+] EnlargeSteve Spurrier
AP Photo/Butch DillSouth Carolina coach Steve Spurrier always has something to say at SEC media days. This year was no different.
On the Texas-Texas A&M rivalry:
“I think it’s a shame that Texas and Texas A&M don’t play each other, though. I don’t mind saying that. Two schools that have been playing for over a hundred years, just because one of them joins another conference, get mad at each other. ‘We’re not playing you anymore, we’re not playing you anymore.’ So I don’t know. I think it is sad.

“Florida plays Florida State. We play Clemson. Georgia plays Georgia Tech. We’re in different conferences, but they are in-state rivals. The fans want to see that, to me. They want to see you beat the guys next door, the neighbors. I think it is sad. I know they’re not going to play each other. That’s just my opinion anyway.”

On winning an SEC title compared to beating Clemson:
“What I’ve also learned at South Carolina, our fans realize there’s more to life than winning the SEC championship. They really do. We’re in a state with Clemson. Clemson used to pretty much own South Carolina in football, no question about it. We have a state championship trophy. If you ask our fans at South Carolina, I can assure you a majority would say, ‘We would rather beat Clemson than win the SEC.' That is how big it is to them, that one game.

“Personally, I’d rather win the SEC. I don’t mind saying that. Personally, that’s the bigger trophy.”

On Dylan Thompson sticking with South Carolina and not transferring:
"Well, he wasn't a highly recruited guy, so he didn't get into all that bullcrap that most of them get. He came to our summer camp one day and I saw him running around and throwing and I asked him: 'If I offered you a scholarship, would you commit now or go tell everybody you got an offer and try to go somewhere else?' And he said, 'Coach, if you're offering me a scholarship, I'm committing right now.' I said, 'Well, you got an offer.' "

On what he thought life would be like after leaving Florida:
“When I left Florida after 12 years, I thought I was going to coach [in the] NFL five or six years and retire to the beach and play golf a bunch and travel around, this, that and the other. But that was a bad plan. It was. Later you found out that was not a real good idea, but that’s the way I was thinking back then.”

On how he got to South Carolina:
“Some people ask, ‘How did you end up there?’ I said, ‘I was available and they were the only ones who offered me a job the end of 2004.' "

On the pending trophy (a bronze sculpture of James Bonham, a South Carolina soldier who died defending the Alamo) awarded to the winner of the South Carolina-Texas A&M game:
“I heard about it. Read about it. Didn’t know it was official yet. I’m actually from Tennessee. I always was taught the hero of the Alamo was Davy Crockett, so this was a new one on me.

“It’s a good story, I’m sure Bonham did some good things. I always thought Davy Crockett was the hero of the Alamo, he and those 33 Tennessee guys that came in there and got killed, so forth. So the trophy was a little surprising to me. I’m sure this guy Bonham was a hero and did a lot of good, after I read the story.”
HOOVER, Ala. -- So what will Day 2 in Hoover hold? Let’s take a look and see, in order of appearance.

South Carolina (10 a.m. ET): This is Steve Spurrier’s element, so sit back and enjoy. Expect the Head Ball Coach to hold court in his 13th SEC media days appearance. And he won’t even have to discuss Jadeveon Clowney this go around. So what shall we talk about? At the risk of answering a rhetorical question: plenty. How is Dylan Thompson settling in at quarterback now that Connor Shaw is gone? Is Mike Davis a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender? Where does the defense go without Clowney, Kelcy Quarles and Chaz Sutton up front? And how do you navigate a schedule that starts with Texas A&M and rounds out with Auburn, Florida and Clemson? You better believe Spurrier will have something to say about scheduling and more, so make sure you’re tuned in.

Mississippi State (11:30 a.m. ET): Welcome to the Era of Expectations, Bulldogs fans. This isn’t your father’s Mississippi State. After five seasons building the program in his image, Dan Mullen is on the clock. He’s got a potential star at quarterback, a burgeoning group of playmakers at receiver and running back, and a defense that’s as talented and deep as any in the SEC. All of that must translate into wins. But how? That’s the overarching question for a program that has only recently become accustomed to going to bowl games. How will Dak Prescott respond to being the man at quarterback? How will Benardrick McKinney wrap his head around no longer being an underdog? What about the ever-present threat of Ole Miss? Mississippi State has plenty of reasons to hope for a great 2014. Now it’s time to really start talking about it.

Texas A&M (1 p.m. ET): We hope Kevin Sumlin is ready to hear about two dozen variations of the question "What’s life without Johnny Manziel going to be like?" because that’s probably what’s on the minds of most. Sumlin is likely to reply poignantly, citing something about how he has worked with successful quarterbacks his entire career. And who is the quarterback going to be anyway -- Kyle Allen or Kenny Hill? (Don't hold your breath for a clear answer to that one.) Aside from that, questions abound about the defense, which was mostly awful last season, and what about the off-the-field incidents? The Aggies had nine arrests this offseason and dismissed three players. How will the rash of off-the-field incidents impact the Aggies this fall?

Tennessee (2:30 p.m. ET): How quickly can the Volunteers turn their recent recruiting success into on-field results? Butch Jones brought in the nation’s fifth-ranked recruiting class in the 2014 cycle, impressive for a team that hasn't been as successful on the field as it has historically been accustomed to. Are the Vols ready to take the next step, and perhaps go bowling? Also, questions about who the starting quarterback will be will certainly be directed at Jones. One other topic of discussion is likely to center on the status of leading receiver Pig Howard, who took a leave of absence from the team during spring practice for personal reasons and who Jones said in May would be part of summer strength and conditioning but has "certain stipulations and requirements that must be met for him."
HOOVER, Ala. -- Welcome to SEC media days!

It didn't seem as if we'd ever get here, but in a couple of hours, the inside of the Wynfrey Hotel will be transformed into a circus. The arrival of SEC media days brings us ever closer to the start of the 2014 season. Remember, this is the first season in which we'll be seeing an actual playoff end the season. That right there might be too much to digest.

But before we dive into the nitty-gritty of the season, we're turning our attention to SEC media days. It's where you can have 1,000 media members all together -- along with a lobby jam-packed with ravenous fans (usually Alabama ones) -- crowding around kids and coaches.

It really is a beautiful thing, and here are 10 things to keep an eye on this week in Hoover:

1. Life without Marshall: Monday was supposed to be a chance for Auburn to truly introduce quarterback Nick Marshall to the world. Sure, we've all seen what he can do with a football in his hand, but this was where we were supposed to hear Auburn's quarterback talk about all he does with a football. After all, Marshall could be a Heisman Trophy candidate this fall. But after Marshall was cited for possession of a small amount of marijuana Friday, he's out for media days. Tight end C.J. Uzomah will take his place. Marshall should be here to own up to his mistake. He should be here to take responsibility, but he isn't. Now his coach and teammates have to do that.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesNick Saban and Alabama may be picked for the fourth time in five years to win the SEC.
2. Bama talk: For the first time since the 2011 SEC media days, Alabama did not arrive as the defending national champs. The Crimson Tide didn't even make it to the SEC title game. But that won't matter. Alabama still will steal the show. Everyone is here to see coach Nick Saban and ask questions about why Alabama couldn't get it done last season. We'll hear questions about the present and future for Alabama. And with so much talent returning, Alabama will likely be picked to win the SEC for the fourth time in five years.

3. Mason's debut: Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason is headed to the big leagues, but his first official stop as the man in charge of the Commodores is in Hoover. This ain't Stanford, and it definitely isn't the Pac-12. He'll meet a throng of media members inside a gigantic ballroom. He'll be bombarded with questions about replacing James Franklin, and we'll all wonder if he has what it takes to keep Vandy relevant. Will he wow us during his introductory news conference? Or will he take the businesslike approach and just try to get through such a long day?

4. Muschamp's hot seat: After a 4-8 season that saw an anemic offense and a loss to FCS foe Georgia Southern, Florida coach Will Muschamp is feeling the heat under his seat. While he has been very collected about the pressure he should be feeling, he knows that this is the most important season of his tenure. To be fair, Florida dealt with an unfair amount of important injuries, but that means nothing now. Muschamp has yet to take Florida back to the SEC title and is 0-3 against archrival Georgia. Muschamp knows he has to win, and he and his players will be grilled about it all day today.

5. Sumlin dealing with distractions: Johnny Manziel might be gone, but Texas A&M is still dealing with distractions away from the football. Before Kevin Sumlin could even get to media days, he had to dismiss two of his best defensive players in linebacker Darian Claiborne and defensive tackle Isaiah Golden, who were arrested on charges of aggravated robbery earlier this year. One of his quarterbacks -- Kenny Hill -- also was arrested in March on a public intoxication charge. Once again, Sumlin will have to talk about more than just football this week.

[+] EnlargeMaty Mauk
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonMissouri's Maty Mauk threw for 1,071 yards with 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions in place of the injured James Franklin.
6. Quarterback composure: A lot of talented quarterbacks left this league after last season, but we'll get our fill this week. Marshall might be absent, but we'll hear from Jeff Driskel, Dak Prescott, Dylan Thompson, Bo Wallace and Maty Mauk. All these guys could have big seasons and will be crucial to their respective teams' success. Can Florida's Driskel rebound after his early, season-ending injury? Is Thompson ready to replace Connor Shaw at South Carolina? Can Wallace of Ole Miss finally find some consistency? And can Prescott (Mississippi State) and Mauk (Missouri) prove their 2013 success wasn't just a flash in the pan?

7. Mauk's composure: Speaking of Missouri's quarterback, he's an incredibly interesting character to watch. He went 3-1 as a starter in place of the injured James Franklin last season, and has the right attitude and moxie that you want in a quarterback. Is he ready to be the guy full time? Is he ready to lead without a stud like Dorial Green-Beckham to throw to or Franklin to help him? A lot of veteran leadership is gone, so all eyes are on Mauk. He's also a very confident person who isn't afraid to speak his mind. Let's hope he's on his game.

8. Players and the playoff: This is the first season of the College Football Playoff, and we've received just about everyone's opinion on the matter. Well, almost. We haven't heard much from the people who might be playing in it. What do players think about it? Are there too many games now? Not enough? Do they care about the bowl experience? Do they even care about the playoff?

9. What do players think about getting paid? With the Power Five a real thing and autonomy becoming more of a reality, what do the players think about it all? What are their thoughts on the prospect of getting some sort of compensation from their schools? Are they getting enough now? How much is enough?

10. What will Spurrier say? Need I say more? We all want to know what Steve Spurrier will say. Will he take shots at Georgia or Saban? Will Dabo Swinney come up? Will another coach be a target? Who knows, and who cares? We just want him to deliver some patented Spurrier gold!

Most important game: South Carolina

June, 26, 2014
Jun 26
3:30
PM ET
We continue our "Most important game" series, which looks at the most important game for each SEC team in 2014. These are the games that will have the biggest impact on the league race or hold special meaning for one of the teams involved. We take a look at South Carolina on Thursday.

Most important game: Nov. 15 at Florida

Key players: Now that titanium-constructed Connor Shaw is gone, Dylan Thompson takes over as the Gamecocks' signal-caller. Thompson has the chops and has been through this before, thanks to Shaw's past injuries. Thompson will have to deal with the SEC's best corner in Vernon Hargreaves III and one of the league's best pass rushers in Dante Fowler Jr. Florida's defense has some new working parts, but people in Gainesville are very excited about the talent that will be flying around out there. The good news for Thompson is that he has receivers in Damiere Byrd, Nick Jones and Shaq Roland who combined to catch 85 passes for 1,311 yards and 14 touchdowns a year ago. Byrd is one of the SEC's fastest receivers, while Roland has a chance to be a breakout player this fall. They'll all have to step up against Florida's athletic secondary. One guy who could take a lot of pressure off Thompson is running back Mike Davis, who rushed for 1,183 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. He's the ultimate bruiser through the middle of the field, but once he gets open on the edge, he's gone. Florida contained him last year, but expect the Gamecocks to go to him more this fall. One way to keep Fowler under wraps will be for left tackle Corey Robinson to play lights out. He's already projected as a first-round pick in next year's NFL draft, and the battle between those two should be excellent. The defense could have its hands full if quarterback Jeff Driskel can get the Gators' offense moving this fall, so play up front from defensive linemen J.T. Surratt, Gerald Dixon and Gerald Dixon Jr. will be important. Getting to the edge to counter the zone read that has made Driskel successful in the past will be key. Spur Sharrod Golightly and linebacker Skai Moore will be key to containing the run and spying on Driskel.

Why it matters: South Carolina has made tremendous strides under Steve Spurrier, but the Gamecocks have yet to win an SEC title under the Head Ball Coach. Last year's team was tremendously talented and had everything it needed (well, except the necessary amount of wins) to play in Atlanta. Does this team? Not sure. Time will tell, but if the Gamecocks are going to have any shot of getting back to Atlanta, they have to win at Florida. The SEC Eastern Division is so wide open, with every team having a laundry list of questions. Chances are the winner from the East won't have less than two losses heading into the last couple of weeks of the season. There are just too many issues and too much competition. The Gamecocks can take an early blow, but you never want to get to the end and have to worry about winning a tiebreaker (hello, U.S. soccer team!). If the Gamecocks can get to Gainesville with just one SEC loss, a win should send them to Atlanta. Two losses coming in, and beating Florida is a must.
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It's Tuesday, which means it's as good a time as any for a Take Two.

In scouring the hot-button topics of the SEC this week, we landed on an interesting article from Josh Kendall of The State newspaper in South Carolina. In the piece, Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier spoke of his work ethic and compared it to that of Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban's, going so far as to question Saban's results at Alabama.

So was the Head Ball Coach right? Let's have two of the SEC Blog's writers debate.

Take 1: Alex Scarborough

Spurrier is half right. He doesn't need to work incredibly long hours to have success. He just has the -- dare I say -- courage to be honest about it, rather than play martyr to the profession.

It made me think of his reaction last month to being asked if he was ready to turn his attention to Texas A&M. Whereas other coaches might claim their eagerness to lock themselves in a film room, Spurrier said, "No, I'm ready to turn my focus to golf tomorrow."

That's Spurrier in a nutshell. But it's not everyone.

Spurrier said he told Saban once, "Nick, you don't have to stay here until midnight and your teams would be just as good." His response, according to Spurrier, was, "If I could do it the way you do it, I would, but I don't feel comfortable unless I cover every base."

This should surprise no one. Spurrier appears to be right-brain oriented. He trusts his instincts and doesn't overthink situations. Saban, on the other hand, appears to work primarily with the left side of his brain. He's analytical. He gathers information and analyzes -- over and over and over.

Both coaches work smart because they know what they need to achieve success

Where Spurrier loses me, however, is when he argues that Saban hasn't "maxed out potentially as well as he could." Give me a break. Three national championships in five seasons is maximum potential in today's age of parity. To argue that because he recruits so well he should have won even more is a hollow argument to me. Why? Because it discounts his coaching ability.

When Saban won his first title at Alabama in 2009, he had a three-star quarterback under center in Greg McElroy. His Heisman Trophy-winning running back, Mark Ingram, was talented, but he wasn't a top 10 player at his position coming out of high school. Marcell Dareus wasn't born a first-round NFL draft pick. He was a no-name, No. 39-ranked defensive tackle in the Class of 2008 when he got to Tuscaloosa.

Saban and his staff molded them as they have others. They grinded to get the team where it is today.

If in the next five years Alabama doesn't turn a bevy of blue-chip prospects into another national title, then Spurrier might have an argument. But for now, it seems flawed.

Take 2: Edward Aschoff

No one is going to sit here and question Saban's resume, but Spurrier brings up an interesting point.

Last year, Alabama was the overwhelming favorite to win the final BCS national title. It was supposed to be three straight titles for the Crimson Tide. No one else had a chance. But when we got to the end of the season, Alabama was huffing and buffing down on Bourbon Street in a loss to Oklahoma in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. A month earlier, Auburn essentially dethroned Alabama thanks to a last-second miracle play that really never should have happened.

It was basically like "Game of Thrones" because we thought we knew exactly what was going to happen, only to be sitting in shock.

To our standards -- and Saban's -- Alabama underachieved last year. Quarterback AJ McCarron made it clear after the season that there was complacency and some players -- young ones in particular -- didn't buy in. If you go back and dissect the season, there were clues that this team wasn't the same as the ones that won back-to-back titles. The toughness and sense of urgency that made them so good lacked as the 2014 season wore down.

How does the coach who analyzes everything not keep complacency out of the locker room? How does he let guys slip? Clearly, it isn't all on Saban, but as the head coach you own responsibility, and for that I think Spurrier's right when he says that full potential isn't always there.

Look at the 2010 team or the 2008 team. Florida pushed that almost invincible -- and unbeaten -- Alabama team around in its fourth-quarter comeback win in the SEC championship. A month later, Utah embarrassed a less-than-enthused Bama team. With key pieces returning from the 2009 national title team, the 2010 group still managed to lose three games, as complacency poisoned it.

Saban has done a fantastic job, but I think even he'd agree that he could have gotten more out of a couple of teams -- especially last year's.
Thanks to some extraordinary typing chops by Jack Nicholson and a little direction from Stanley Kubrick and Stephen King, an up-and-coming typewriter delivered one of the eeriest, yet memorable movie lines of all time.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

[+] EnlargeSpurrier
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsIn addition to football, golf continues to be a big part of Steve Spurrier's life.
If you haven't seen "The Shining," then you're really missing out. And if you don't live by that slogan, then get outside and smell the roses, friends. There's a whole big world out there ready for us to see. There's more to life than bills and the office, and one SEC coach knows that all too well.

Steve Spurrier loves his job. He loves wincing under his visor, and he loves being drenched in the occasional Gatorade bath. He loves teaching, and he loves coaching. He's one of those coaches who can charm just about everyone he meets and works with.

But he also loves golf. Like, he really, really, really loves golf.

The chance to play more at some pretty nice courses was something that peaked his interest when he returned to the college ranks and decided to coach at South Carolina. It's something that's as much a part of him as football. It's a release and a passion, and it's also a way to step away from the game and recharge with a birdie or two.

Even while spending most of his coaching career in college football's toughest conference, he's always made room for golf, his therapy, in the offseason. He might not be playing as much as he used to, but Spurrier is still making time for some course work before he gets back to grinding away in his football life.

Here's a little of what he said after a round last week in North Carolina:
“I have read stories that people who last a long time have outside interests. I can’t grind on football 11 months a year maybe the way some of these coaches do. They can grind now. I mean, they will go 6:30 a.m. to 7:30, 8:00 at night in the offseason. Did you know that? I don’t know what they do. They say they are working.”

Spurrier doesn't need to do that. He's entering his 10th season with the Gamecocks holding a 77-39 record. In the past four seasons, South Carolina is tied for ninth nationally with 42 wins, including winning 11 games in three straight seasons. No one else in the SEC East can say that, and 42 is just four behind Alabama (46), which ranks second. Spurrier was also the first coach to lead the Gamecocks to back-to-back, double-digit-win seasons.

Maybe, he should be playing more golf.

Would he hit the 12-win mark or have an SEC title at South Carolina with less time away from the film room during the offseason? Would he have a national championship with the Gamecocks with more time going over the playbook during the summer?

Who knows, but that's not how Spurrier wants to operate. When it's time for his focus to be on the pigskin, his brain will be nothing but football. When it's time to catch some rays, get out of a bunker and swing a few clubs, he'll do that without any hint of guilt.

It's a great trait for a coach who isn't as young as he used to be. He knows how to perfectly balance his life with his work life.

We've seen coaches burn out. We've seen passion for the game slip away. We've seen stress devour guys. That isn't happening to Spurrier.

Fun in moderation, and this is Spurrier's moderation. This job doesn't have to be 24/7, 365 in order for you to be successful, and Spurrier has more than proved that.
If you’re just now jumping on board our little road trip, we at the SEC Blog have been getting you ready for the coming season by plotting out our top destinations for each week of the season. So far we’ve been to spots like Athens, Auburn, College Station, Tuscaloosa, Houston and Norman, Oklahoma.

We’ve knocked out eight weeks of trips in all, which means we’ve got only six more to go. The clock is ticking. You know as soon as Halloween arrives, we’ve hit the home stretch.

So without further ado, let’s take a look at the best options for Week 9:

Oct. 25

Alabama at Tennessee
UAB at Arkansas
South Carolina at Auburn
Mississippi State at Kentucky
Ole Miss at LSU
Vanderbilt at Missouri

Alex Scarborough’s pick: South Carolina at Auburn

We’re eight weeks into our hypothetical season, so anything could have happened by now. But there’s a pretty good chance that this game will be a top-25 matchup with significant postseason implications.

Plus, it’s as good an East-West crossover game as you’ll find on the schedule. These two teams have met just five times since 2000, and three such contests were decided by 8 points or less.

It’s got a pretty good storyline to build around, too. Think about it: Steve Spurrier, the 69-year-old author of the Fun ‘N’ Gun, up against Gus Malzahn, the 48-year-old hurry-up no-huddle perfectionist. It’s the visor against the sweater vest. Well, they both wear visors, but still. In fact, there’s another storyline for you!

Outside of the head coaches and their fashion choices, the game on the field could be a good one as well.

The Auburn offense should be even better in 2014, with Nick Marshall progressing under center and D'haquille Williams added on the outside at receiver. The defense, meanwhile, has nowhere to go but up, and should have some momentum after a relatively strong showing in the BCS National Championship Game.

South Carolina, despite losing Connor Shaw and Jadeveon Clowney, should match up well. Dylan Thompson has experience at quarterback, and he’s got plenty of weapons to work with. The receiving corps has some burners in Damiere Byrd and Pharoh Cooper, and the running backs are led by an All-American candidate in Mike Davis. The secondary might be a major question mark on defense, but the linebackers are solid and the defensive line has some depth.

Edward Aschoff’s pick: Ole Miss at LSU

This might not be Alabama-Auburn or even Ole Miss-Mississippi State, but this is a very important and heated rivalry. Just ask Ole Miss fans what they think of LSU when it comes to singing the National Anthem. It's a rivalry that stretches as far back as 1894, with LSU holding a commanding 58-40-4 record.

But all-time records will mean absolutely nothing when these two meet. It's actually been one of the more fun SEC rivalries of late, as four of the last five games in this series have been decided by seven points or less. A year after losing a heartbreaker in Baton Rouge, the Rebels bounced back to shock LSU with a 27-24 win at home last season, so you know the Tigers will be looking for revenge inside of Death Valley.

This game has some exciting storylines, and we haven't even gotten to Week 1 of the regular season. Ole Miss is a dark horse to take the SEC West, while LSU is a relative unknown with so many questions on both sides of the ball. Who's going to be LSU's quarterback? Who's going to step up at wide receiver? What we do know is that Ole Miss should have a potent offense with veteran quarterback Bo Wallace back and some quality athletes at receiver and running back to take some pressure off of star receiver Laquon Treadwell. But can LSU's defense stop it?

The Tigers have some budding stars, especially in the secondary and at linebacker, but defensive line could be an issue. Ends Jermauria Rasco and Danielle Hunter have experience, but who's going to step up at tackle? Ole Miss is not a team that you don't want to struggle in rushing the passer against, and the Rebels plan to use their running backs even more in the passing game.

If Ole Miss is going to take the next step in its quest to becoming an elite SEC team, it needs to get wins like this one in hostile environments. If LSU wants to prove that it's still a contender in 2014, it needs to beat an up-and-coming, dangerous team like this. Drama, excitement and the possibility of a lot of points await in Tiger Stadium.

The West could be on the line for both teams when they meet, but so will the ultimate SEC tailgating challenge. Baton Rouge and Oxford own arguably the SEC's -- and nation's -- best tailgating spots, which means you're going to be in absolute heaven dining on gumbo under a tent with a chandelier.

Even if your team doesn't win, you'll eat well, and you'll see a pretty exciting game. Sign me up.
In 2013, the freshmen of the SEC were truly fabulous.

Hunter Henry and Alex Collins were impact players at Arkansas. Laquon Treadwell and Robert Nkemdiche were spectacular for Ole Miss. And who can forget the play of Vernon Hargreaves III, Chris Jones and A'Shawn Robinson?

But standout rookies aren’t easy to come by. More often it takes some time to transition from high school to college, and in Year 2 we generally see the biggest jump in production from players.

With that in mind, we’re taking a team-by-team look at the players who didn’t quite break through as freshmen but could see their stock skyrocket with as sophomores.

[+] EnlargePharoh Cooper
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesUnheralded Pharoh Cooper was a revelation as an all-purpose weapon as a freshman, and he'll figure even more into the plan in 2014.
Next up: South Carolina

Class recap: The Gamecocks and coach Steve Spurrier hauled in yet another top 25 class in 2013, finishing 18th according to ESPN. Connor Mitch, the No. 18-ranked pocket passer in the country, was the jewel of the class. But more importantly, it was a balanced group as six of its 11 four-star signees were linemen.

Second-year star: WR Pharoh Cooper (5-foot-11, 200 pounds)

Recruiting stock: Cooper wasn’t anywhere near the headliner of his class. A three-star athlete from North Carolina, he had plans on playing cornerback for South Carolina. Spurrier and Co., of course, had other ideas.

2013 in review: His versatility is what made him special as a true freshman. Appearing in 11 of 13 games, he was able to make the SEC All-Freshman team as both an all-purpose back and return specialist. All told, he accumulated 655 yards: 202 rushing, 54 receiving and 399 in the return game.

2014 potential: Spurrier called Cooper a “natural talent” earlier this spring, noting how he will once again serve multiple roles as receiver, return man and Wildcat quarterback. Think of him as the new Bruce Ellington. And like Ellington, the goal is to get him the ball in space by any means necessary. It went well last year as he averaged a first down every time he touched the ball on offense (10.1 yards per carry, 18 yards per reception). With Shaq Roland and Damiere Byrd demanding the attention of the secondary on the outside, Cooper could get some favorable one-on-one matchups in the slot this season.

Also watch out for: David Williams is “ready to go” after redshirting last season, according to Spurrier, who mentioned him among the group of running backs who will relieve Mike Davis throughout the season. The former four-star prospect was described as “electrifying” and someone who can “makes things happen” by Davis. On the other side of the ball, pay close attention to fellow redshirt freshman David Johnson, who came up with a sack in the spring game. His ability to rush the passer could be useful this season as the Gamecocks look to replace the presence of Jadeveon Clowney at defensive end.

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