Another SEC Football Media Days is in the books. We’ve heard from coaches and players, the SEC commissioner and even the head of officials on rule changes and the like.
Even so, there are some stories we didn’t fit into our coverage the past few days, so we’ve dumped our notebooks to bring you a few more tidbits.
Alabama picked to win SEC, lands record 12 player positions to First Team
The media at SEC Media Days this year voted the Alabama Crimson Tide as a heavy favorite to win the conference championship this year.
The media predicted this year’s SEC Championship Game will be a rematch between Alabama and the Georgia Bulldogs.
Alabama received 203 votes to be crowned SEC Champion on Dec. 7 in Atlanta at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, while Georgia was second with 49 votes.
Teams that received first-place votes in their divisions included Alabama (253), Georgia (233), Florida (21), LSU (5) and Missouri (3), with South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Auburn and Mississippi State each receiving one vote.
It’s worth noting that only seven times since 1992 has the predicted champion at SEC Media Days proceeded to win the SEC Championship Game.
Alabama set a new record with 12 positions selected to the All-SEC First Team. The previous record was 10 by Alabama in 2017.
2019 Preseason Media Days All-SEC Team
QB Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
RB D’Andre Swift, Georgia
RB Najee Harris, Alabama
WR Jerry Jeudy, Alabama
WR Henry Ruggs III, Alabama
TE Albert Okwuegbunam, Missouri
OL Andrew Thomas, Georgia
OL Alex Leatherwood, Alabama
OL Prince Tega Wanogho, Auburn
OL Jedrick Wills Jr., Alabama
C Lloyd Cushenberry, LSU
QB Jake Fromm, Georgia
RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Vanderbilt
RB Lamical Perine, Florida
WR Kalija Lipscomb, Vanderbilt
WR Jaylen Waddle, Alabama
TE Jared Pinkney, Vanderbilt
OL Solomon Kindley, Georgia
OL Damien Lewis, LSU
OL Tre’Vour Wallace-Simms, Missouri
OL Isaiah Wilson, Georgia
C Darryl Williams, Mississippi State
QB Joe Burrow, LSU
RB Larry Rountree, Missouri
RB JaTarvious Whitlow, Auburn
WR Justin Jefferson, LSU
WR Bryan Edwards, South Carolina
TE *Miller Forristall, Alabama
TE *Charlie Woerner, Georgia
OL Deonte Brown, Alabama
OL Ben Cleveland, Georgia
OL Logan Stenberg, Kentucky
OL Matt Womack, Alabama
C Drake Jackson, Kentucky
DL Raekwon Davis, Alabama
DL Derrick Brown, Auburn
DL Rashard Lawrence, LSU
DL Jabari Zuniga, Florida
LB Dylan Moses, Alabama
LB Anfernee Jennings, Alabama
LB Erroll Thompson, Mississippi State
DB Grant Delpit, LSU
DB J.R. Reed, Georgia
DB Trevon Diggs, Alabama
DB C.J. Henderson, Florida
DL Nick Coe, Auburn
DL Justin Madubuike, Texas A&M
DL Marlon Davidson, Auburn
DL Javon Kinlaw, South Carolina
LB Cale Garrett, Missouri
LB De’Jon Harris, Arkansas
LB David Reese II, Florida
DB Patrick Surtain II, Alabama
DB Xavier McKinney, Alabama
DB Kristian Fulton, LSU
DB Cameron Dantzler, Mississippi State
DL LaBryan Ray, Alabama
DL McTelvin Agim, Arkansas
DL Chauncey Rivers, Mississippi State
DL Tyler Clark, Georgia
LB Terrell Lewis, Alabama
LB Jacob Phillips, LSU
LB Kash Daniel, Kentucky
DB DeMarkus Acy, Missouri
DB Shyheim Carter, Alabama
DB Richard LeCounte, Georgia
DB Daniel Thomas, Auburn
P Braden Mann, Texas A&M
PK Rodrigo Blankenship, Georgia
RS Jaylen Waddle, Alabama
AP Jaylen Waddle, Alabama
P Tommy Townsend, Florida
PK Anders Carlson, Auburn
RS Marquez Callaway, Tennessee
AP Kadarius Toney, Florida
P Arryn Siposs, Auburn
PK Evan McPherson, Florida
RS Jashaun Corbin, Texas A&M
AP Lynn Bowden, Kentucky
* – Indicates a tie
Gus Malzahn wants to see the Tigers do better in third-down conversions
The Auburn Tigers converted just over one-third of its third downs last year. Coach Gus Malzahn believes that number needs to move up for his team to win more games.
“Third down, especially in our league, is vital to keep drives alive,” he said. “So the years we’ve won championships, I think we’ve been in the 40s. That’s definitely a goal of ours.”
One factor that can help with third-down conversions is a quarterback who is a running threat. Malzahn said both players fighting to win that position are capable of pulling the ball down and taking off.
“Our quarterbacks will be a run threat,” Malzahn said. “And when you have a run threat at quarterback, it really does change things from a defensive standpoint. And from a play caller standpoint, it gives you a lot more flexibility, too.”
Malzahn mocks those who once complained about playing fast
Auburn coach Malzahn took a jab at those who once complained that hurry-up-no-huddle offenses were unsafe for players. As someone who pioneered the style of play, Malzahn noted how many imitators have followed.
“We’re getting back to really playing fast,” Malzahn said. “You look back, I guess 2009, my first year at Auburn, we were playing fast. I don’t know. I think we were one of the few, if the only team, playing fast. Other teams were griping and all this. And now everybody is playing fast. Even the ones that had health issues and all that, they’re all playing fast.”
While he didn’t call out anyone by name, among the coaches who once questioned whether fast play was dangerous for player safety were Alabama coach Nick Saban and former Arkansas coach Bret Bielema.
Because more are playing fast, Malzahn said it is not as effective today.
“Now it’s not the same advantage it once was,” he said. “You’ve got to stay on that cutting edge, and you’ve got to evolve and everything that goes with that.”
Saban talks about what makes a good defensive play caller
Saban has always focused on the defensive side of the ball. With a lot of talk about rival Auburn’s coach Gus Malzahn taking back over offensive play calling (his strong suit), Saban was asked about what makes a good play caller on defense.
“Well, I think knowledge and experience is always really, really important in whatever part of the game that you call. And I think good preparation can contribute to that,” Saban said. “I think having a philosophy of how you apply things in situations in games can be beneficial to being a good signal caller.”
Much of it is situational.
“I think if you play that way and you’re aggressive attacking the ball, and you play fairly well on third down, and in the red zone, and you don’t give up explosive plays, you know, you kind of become hard to score on,” Saban said. “It’s much more challenging nowadays, and I think statistics bear this out. I think like 2010 or something, ’11 team, I don’t know when, gave up eight, seven points a game per year. And I think now if you give up 15, twice as many as that, you’d be one of the national leaders.”
The addition of run-pass options to the game along with spread offenses and hurry-up-no-huddle all stress defenses.
“It’s been more challenging with the advent of RPOs, some of the rules we have in college football, certainly favor the offense, blocking down field on passes behind the line of scrimmage,” Saban said. “I’m not complaining about the rules. I’m just saying it makes it harder to play good defense when you have some of the rules that we have, and we try to take advantage of those on offense, to be honest.”
Saban has the itch to get back to football
SEC Media Days is a sign it’s almost time for football. Saban says he can sense it.
“We certainly always enjoy our summer. It’s great family time. It’s the one time, from a coaching perspective, that you get a little downtime, and you have an opportunity to have family reunions, develop relationships with people that you’ve been close to, and continue to spend time with granddaughters and children and nieces and nephews, and we certainly enjoy that,” Saban said. “But I think this is always about the time, you know, this week, when I’m like, start shaking my leg again, start – you know, my knee starts popping, that I’ve had just about enough of sitting around, relaxing, jumping in the lake, playing golf in the morning, and really get excited about, you know, the season.”
Eli Gold wins prestigious award
The National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame announced Alabama broadcaster Eli Gold is this year’s recipient of the 2019 NFF Chris Schenkel Award.
The award recognizes individuals who have had long, distinguished careers broadcasting college football with direct ties to a specific university. The award is named in honor of its inaugural recipient, Chris Schenkel, the longtime ABC Sports broadcaster.
“Eli Gold has been the iconic ‘voice of the Crimson Tide’ for more than 30 years, broadcasting some of the most memorable games for one of the most successful football programs in college football history,” said NFF President and CEO Steve Hatchell. “His calls of ‘Touchdown Alabama!’ are a familiar and beloved sound to the Crimson Tide faithful each fall. We are pleased to honor him with the 2019 NFF Chris Schenkel Award in recognition of his distinguished career.”
Gold will enter his 31st season as the “voice of the Crimson Tide,” having started calling Alabama football games in 1989. He also hosts “Hey Coach & The Nick Saban Show” on the Crimson Tide Sports Network every Thursday during the football season. With Gold on the call, the Crimson Tide have claimed six national titles in eight championship game appearances, nine SEC championships and bowl games in all but four of his 30 seasons.
Gold will officially be honored during the 62nd NFF Annual Awards Dinner on Dec. 10 in New York.
Grill master Muschamp
In introducing South Carolina coach Will Muschamp, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey noted that the Gamecocks coach “fashions himself as a bit of an expert on all things related to The Big Green Egg.”
Muschamp didn’t run from the accolades.
“You’re exactly right on the Green Egg, there’s nobody better in our league, I can assure you of that,” Muschamp said.
When a reporter asked what he specializes in, Muschamp didn’t miss a beat.
“It’s anything you want, … I can do it,” he said. “I take all comers. Commissioner Sankey made a mistake, and one of the very few he’s made, he talked about (Missouri coach) Barry Odom being the best griller in Columbia. And I’m assuming he’s talking about Columbia, Missouri, not Columbia, South Carolina.”
Vandy Whistler won’t be silenced
Vanderbilt baseball and football fans (and opponents) know of the “Vandy Whistler,” a fan (actually a couple of fans) who provide ear-splitting sound in support of the Commodores teams.
Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason was asked if the Vandy Whistler will be at home games this year.
“The Vandy Whistler is everywhere,” Mason said. “Sometimes I think I hear him outside my window. I mean, that’s – that’s one thing about the Vandy Whistler, you can count on him being consistent. So expect to see him at bowl games, expect to hear him. I know he’s annoying to y’all, but to us, in Vanderbilt there on West End, he’s the man.”
Saban’s former assistants can’t avoid being asked about him
Saban is 16-0 when coaching against his former assistants who are now head coaches elsewhere. Three of them coach in the SEC and couldn’t avoid being asked about their former boss and when they might best him in a game.
“As far as beating Alabama, you got to go beat Alabama. They are not going to beat themselves,” Muschamp said. “They are very well coached. They have really good players. They’re going to attack you in all three phases. That’s how you got to approach that game as far as beating that football team.”
Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher has a similar view.
“As far as Nick goes, what’s it going to take is it’s going to take 60 minutes of football,” he said. “We all know, Alabama established itself as a great program. Nick is a great coach. What’s it going to take? 60 minutes of great football. You have to line up and play. And more importantly, you have to expect to win the game. Don’t hope to win it. You got to expect to win. You got to go in the game prepared knowing that you can win it and play it, perform and execute. Don’t worry about winning the game. Before you win it, you have to play it. I think that’s the key. Don’t worry about winning it. Worry about playing well in the game, performing, making the plays when you have to, and then you’ll get the results you want. They established themselves, and they deserve it. But we’ll see in time.”
Georgia coach Kirby Smart has seen Saban and Alabama win in thrilling fashion to hand his team defeats in both the SEC Championship Game and the College Football Playoff National Championship Game in the past two years. When told Saban is undefeated against his former assistants, Kirby responded, “I’m well aware.”
“We know Alabama has been very powerful in this conference for a long time,” Smart said. “We respect the job they do. I got a lot of respect for Coach Saban and his program. I probably wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for him. I also understand we have a really good program, too.”
Will a former coach ever best him?
“It depends how long he coaches,” Smart said. “It depends on how many opportunities they get. Inevitably, with enough opportunities, anything can happen.
Muschamp and Smart heaped praise on Saban.
“Nick’s doing a fantastic job,” Muschamp said. “He’s the best football coach in college football history. The consistency that he has maintained at Alabama is pretty phenomenal. In this league, it’s very difficult. But you got to go beat Alabama. You can’t hope and wish something’s going to happen. You got to go beat them.”
“The success he’s gotten has been earned. Make no mistake about that. He’s earned it. There’s not one thing he asked assistant coaches to do that he doesn’t do himself,” Smart said. “As far as on the recruiting trail, he’s like he is on the field. He’s very relentless. He’s active as a recruiter.”
Alabama finally gets South Carolina rematch
The only SEC team with an active winning streak against Alabama is South Carolina. That’s because the two teams haven’t met since the Steve Spurrier-coached Gamecocks defeated the Saban-led Tide in 2010.
Muschamp was asked if he’s familiar with that game.
“I’ve seen it on the SEC Network several times, but obviously South Carolina played extremely well that day,” Muschamp said. “You know, Alabama had a really good football team, and it was a big win for South Carolina. Other than that, I don’t know a lot about it.”
Pruitt knows UAB staff well
Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt is the former assistant coach at Hoover High School and has either coached with or against a number of coaches on the UAB football staff, including head coach Bill Clark.
“When you start talking about UAB, I know all of those guys on that staff,” Pruitt said. “Several of them I’ve coached with and coached against. I have a tremendous amount of respect for what Bill has done over the years. He was a fantastic coach.”
UAB is on Tennessee’s schedule this year.
“A lot of the people don’t know this. Bill was the first defensive coordinator at Hoover High School, but he never coached a game because a job came open at Prattville in the summertime,” Pruitt said. “So, they’ve built that program up. I’ve not had a chance to really look that far down in the schedule. We play them later on in the year, and we have a couple of open dates. So I know last year’s team, they had a lot of seniors. I know their offensive staff. They do a fantastic job with Bryant Vincent. So, you know, I think the last time UAB went to Knoxville, I think it went in overtime.”
Will it return?
SEC Media Days has been held at the Wynfrey Hotel nearly every year for several years. The event was held in Atlanta a year ago, the first time in decades it was outside of the Birmingham metro area, which is home to the SEC headquarters.
Sankey announced SEC Media Days will be moving around for at least the next couple of years.
“Next year after the success of Atlanta last year, we will return to Atlanta for football media days. We will use the Chick-fil-A College Football Hall of Fame once again as our base,” Sankey said. “Media Days will stay on the move in 2021. And we will go to the Music City and enjoy the new Grand Hyatt Nashville for Media Days. We appreciate the hospitality here in Hoover and at the Wynfrey this week, and we look forward to new opportunities in the future.”