Slive Wants To Alter Landscape
HOOVER, Ala. -- SEC commissioner Mike Slive says college sports have problems "from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from the Gulf to the Great Lakes."
But it's hard to see Slive even getting much support from within his own conference for the radical changes he proposed on Wednesday for college sports.
Among Slive's suggested changes (which he presented as an "agenda to stimulate a national discussion, an agenda for change"):
• Raising the academic entrance requirements for incoming freshmen, from a minimum 2.0 GPA to 2.5. Slive also suggested prospective student-athletes would be required to complete a minimum number of core courses during each year of high school.
Slive proposed that recruits who didn't meet minimum academic requirements would be admitted as partial qualifiers and would be able to practice, but couldn't play in games during their freshman seasons.
• Slive also proposed offering cost-of-education scholarships, which would pay more than just standard room and board, tuition, books and other fees. Under that plan, NCAA schools also would pay for things like health insurance, clothing, travel and other education-related costs.
Slive also offered up making scholarships four-year contracts, instead of one-year deals that currently exist. Slive said student-athletes would still have to perform academically and stay out of trouble to keep their scholarships.
"It's not a free pass to act how you want to and it's not a free pass to not go to class," Slive said.
• Slive also wants to modernize NCAA recruiting rules and allow coaches to text players and contact them via social media like Facebook and Twitter. Under current rules, coaches have only limited contact with prospective student-athletes and can only talk to them in person, via e-mail or over the phone.
"It's time to push the reset button," Slive said.
• Slive said schools across the country must also be ready to support and cooperate with the NCAA's enforcement efforts. Slive hopes schools will produce a streamlined NCAA manual that "governs only enforceable issues, of core importance that goes to the heart of what we do."
Not every SEC coaches agrees with Slive's recommendations. In fact, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, who earlier this spring suggested paying his football players a $300 stipend for each game played, said he disagreed with most of Slive's proposals.
"I think most coaches feel like a one-year [scholarship] is more fair," Spurrier said. "That's a terrible idea, Commissioner. If you go bad, don't show up to work, your butt will be out on the street. Everybody has to earn your way in life. Go from there, that's the way I believe."
Spurrier also said the NCAA's minimum academic requirements for incoming freshmen were already difficult enough.
"We think they're tough enough," Spurrier said. "So I'm going to disagree with him on that one, too. I'm 0-for-2 with him."
Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said he wasn't opposed to making academic requirements more difficult, but felt like each school had to ensure their students were staying eligible.
"Let's make these guys all take the same classes their freshman year," Petrino said. "Let's take care of our business in college."
Just Like Starting Over
"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."
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."
A Changed Man
HOOVER, Ala. -- South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said Wednesday that senior quarterback Stephen Garcia will "in all likelihood" return to the team for preseason camp, but Spurrier said Garcia was welcomed back only after he made certain lifestyle changes.
"He's made some changes in his lifestyle and he's done some good things the last few months," Spurrier said. "The last few months, he's been a different person."
Garcia, who threw for 3,059 yards with 20 touchdowns while leading the Gamecocks to an SEC East title last season, was suspended from the team April 7. Garcia was suspended for the fifth time during his USC career after he was disruptive during a mandatory leadership seminar.
Spurrier wouldn't go into specifics about Garcia's lifestyle changes.
"I don't want to get into all of them," Spurrier said. "It's personal for him. But he's changing the way he does things."
Hogs Ready To Go Wild
HOOVER, Ala. -- It is so easy for coaches and players to bring the redundant coach speak for media days.
No one wants to ruffle feathers or provide bulletin board material.
But not Arkansas' crew.
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, thorougout 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.
And 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."
Vick Of Time For Bulldogs
HOOVER, Ala. -- Mississippi State is coming up in the world. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier teased Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen about the Beechcraft 400 seven-seat jet that Mullen used to fly the 135 miles to SEC Media Days from Starkville.
"I pulled up next to it in my little King Air," Spurrier said to a laughing Mullen.
Mississippi State has 16 starters returning from a team that went 9-4 and embarrassed Michigan in the Gator Bowl. The school is embarking on the construction of a new football building. But at its heart, this football team is senior tailback Vick Ballard.
Ballard, listed at 5-foot-11, 215 pounds, didn't get recruited out of Pascagoula (Miss.) High. Two years later, as he rushed for 1,728 yards and made first-team junior-college All-America at Gulf Coast Community College, he got an offer from Troy and a glance from Southern Mississippi.
"The only SEC school that showed interest in me was Mississippi State," Ballard said.
Mullen offered, Ballard committed, and he not only rushed for 968 yards but he broke the school record with 20 total touchdowns last season.
"When you turn on the film and you watch," Mullen said, "he's not the fastest player out there, he [doesn't have] the most dynamic moves, he's not a monster big back. He's just a great football player. I think Vick plays with a chip on his shoulder, that he wants to go out there and prove everybody wrong."
Ballard agreed. But when he arrived in Starkville, he also had to prove something to himself.
"That goes back to me not being recruited heavily," Ballard said. "Most of the guys in the SEC are recruited heavily. I just always knew I could play. I never got the exposure like everybody else. Like I said, I'm here now, so I really can't complain."
Slive Talks Change
Florida: John Brantley
One Good Thing
Arkansas: Bobby Petrino has been very vocal about his defense being the best it's been since his arrival, but what should guide this unit through the season is the defensive front.
With Jake Bequette and Tenarius Wright flying off the ends, the Razorbacks should have a ferocious pass rush and there is a wealth of depth in the middle.
"I'm excited for our defense this year because I really feel like it's the first time when we're physically where we need to be on the defensive front. Our inside guys will be big and physical and athletic. We've got speed on the edges, which matches what we see every week in the conference."
Florida: The one thing that stuck more than the ineptitude of Florida's offense last season was the lack of confidence quarterback John Brantley had. He was a former high school phenom and had a ton of hype thrown his way, but when it was his time to take hold of the Gators, he looked timid.
That old Brantley appears to be gone. He's taken more of a leadership role and with Charlie Weis' new pro-style offense Brantley is taking charge in the pocket.
"He's got his swag back," wide receiver Deonte Thompson said. "He's right.
"His confidence is the biggest thing. Just from summer workouts, seven-on-seven drills, he's come in and taken control of the huddle. A lot more verbal."
Mississippi State: There might not be a better defensive tackle tandem in the league than the one that resides in Starkville. Fletcher Cox and Josh Boyd combined for 53 tackles, 13 for loss and five sacks last season.
With the Bulldogs losing quality linebackers from a year ago, Mississippi State will need the defensive line to step up and Cox believes he and Boyd will definitely hold up their ends.
How do they get better? Both constantly look to outperform each other during drills and inside the weight room.
"We always compete against each other," Cox said. "We're never satisfied. We set a standard and meet our standard."
South Carolina: Steve Spurrier hasn't lost his sense of humor and he knows how to motivate his team. The Head Ball Coach yet again downplayed his team's success from the past year, saying that the Gamecocks still have a lot of work to do.
That hasn't upset his players at all. In fact, they embrace his barbs because they act as an extra motivator for them.
Check out these loving words from Spurrier on Wednesday: "You know we lost our last two games last year, so we're not sitting around patting each other on the back too much. We got clobbered in the SEC game by Auburn and didn't play when the game was on the line. Against FSU in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, we fought back, got back in the game, but when it was on the line, didn't do much."
Florida: Deonte Thompson
Best Of Day 1
Best quote: "He's a players' coach. He lets the players play. It's like he told me, 'It's your team.' That's what I like about him. He lets the players run the team. He makes the decisions, but he lets us run it." -- Florida receiver Deonte Thompson on first-year coach Will Muschamp.
Best support for a teammate: South Carolina receiver Alshon Jeffery said he's 100 percent behind embattled quarterback Stephen Garcia. Despite being suspended five times during his career, Garcia is on track to be fully reinstated to the team in August. "We believe in Stephen," Jeffery said. "No matter what he goes through, we all have his back."
Best running back: There was considerable chatter Wednesday among all of the players about who was the SEC's best running back. Arkansas' Knile Davis said it was a tough call, but that he would put himself on top. Jeffery went with his teammate, Marcus Lattimore, and said Alabama's Trent Richardson was a close second. "I'd have to say Marcus first and then Trent, and the rest of them fall into place," Jeffery said. "They're both great running backs. Trent is a little faster, but Marcus is a lot more powerful."
Best rewriting of history: Muschamp, who played his college football at Georgia, was asked how it felt to be a Georgia guy coaching at the University of Florida. Muschamp responded, "I'm a Florida guy."
Best threads: Florida's Thompson was sporting a black suit with pinstripes and a turquoise shirt. Even his tie had a splash of turquoise. He said his mother picked out his outfit.
Best candor: South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier made it clear that he wasn't a big fan of at least one of SEC commissioner Mike Slive's new proposals for the NCAA -- making scholarships a multi-year deal. "That's a terrible idea, Commissioner," Spurrier said. "Do you sports writers have a two-year contract ... three or four-year? Have you ever had a two-year deal?"
Best admission: Mississippi State senior quarterback Chris Relf admitted that he was playing almost exclusively on natural ability when last season began and doing very little reading of defenses. "A lot has changed since then, mostly what I'm seeing when I go to the line," Relf said.
Tracking SEC Media Days
Mississippi State: Chris Relf
Hurt's No Good
The Ivy League, which announced Wednesday that it will severely cut back on full-contact practices, got an endorsement from the coach of the defending SEC East champions. "It doesn't make any sense to get your own people hurt in practice," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. "It's not real football when you're practicing out there against your teammates." He reminded everyone that since the NCAA eliminated consecutive two-a-days some 20 years ago "the game is even better than it used to be."
Arkansas: Knile Davis