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SEC Media Days: Conference Q & A

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Another summer wanes and another SEC Media Days is upon us.

Rarely does anything of note come from this event. Yet, SEC football fans gather any and all information they can as the unofficial kickoff to the 2010 season takes place in Birmingham, Alabama.

So, the guys from the SEC Breakdown pose some their biggest questions and answers for the football conference.

What should the SEC do about agents and such?

J. Newcastle
I think Nick Saban is right – kick them out of the process. That will send a message across college football that the only real change is going to come from this side of the ball. The NFL always has and always will do whatever it wants. So, build the fence, dig a moat, and set out the dragon at the gates.

Alan Rouse
Agents should be held liable for things of this manner. There really should be criminal laws in place to prevent that. I also think if an agent does something to make a kid ineligible, the NFLPA take away their privileges to be sports agents.

Eddie McCoy
What can the SEC do? Not much. The fact is that players are going to make bad decisions and to blame the agents for those bad decisions solely is completely ignorant to the fact that the players made bad decisions. I agree that the NFL should ban the agents doing so for at least a year, but I also believe that the players deserve to lose some significant playing time. Players today are more pampered than ever, and if you don’t believe it, look at the success of recruiting services such as Rivals and Scout.

These kids are big time stars with websites way before they ever announce what school they are going to play for. The culture leads these players to believe that there is a sense of entitlement, when really there is not. I say punish the players severely, and go after the agents as well. SEC should stay out of it and report it when events take place and suspend players per the NCAA guidelines.

Josh Hathaway
The first thing the SEC needs to do is exhale. Let us not hyperventilate: agents paying players didn’t just start this summer on South Beach. This has been going on for decades. Let’s not even kid ourselves into thinking it’s suddenly gotten worse or more brazen. Reggie Bush and his family were living in a palace in LA four or five years ago and even that doesn’t count as a marked upsurge in unscrupulous behavior of agents and players or a willful blindness to such by universities. It’s a problem on multiple fronts and can’t be fought by one school or one conference, nor is there a single policy change that can be instituted that will eradicate the problem. There may well be a series of steps that can be taken to tighten it and those should be explored. But even some of the ideas making headlines today won’t do the job entirely.

If Alabama head coach Nick Saban had his way, they’d reduce the access agents and NFL teams had to players on campus. Would that have stopped Marcel Dareus from allegedly attending a party in South Beach allegedly hosted by agents? I can think of a dozen ways a kid ends up at that party without an agent stepping on to a college campus. The SEC coaches and ADs should certainly have some frank conversations and there’s no time like the present, but hasty new policy shifts will only result in bad rules that will create new problems or new loopholes. Let’s worry more about getting it right than getting it fast. Remember: if you want it that bad, you’ll get it that bad.

Why does the SEC West seem more competitive than the East?

J. Newcastle
If you look at the middle and bottom of each conference, the teams generally there in the West have better facilities, tradition, and winning records than the East counterparts. I would also argue that the best coaches are currently in the West – including the coordinators and position coaches. However, like most things, this could all change with the tides. I, for one, think the conference needs a realignment to balance it a bit, but that’s another story.

Alan Rouse
In my opinion, the West has more defensive minded teams that like to run more ball control offenses. That leads to closer games and in closer games strange things happen.

Eddie McCoy
The illusion that the West seems to be more competitive than the East at this time is due to the coaches in the West. You have four big name coaches and two bright young ones, or at least that is the perception, whereas in the East you have two big name coaches, two unknowns, one completely off the radar and one washed up head coach. I’ll let you tag the coaches’ names with the tags. The “perception” is that the SEC West is better coached than its Eastern counterpart, but this is a conference that seems to run in cycles. When you take a closer look at the West, you have what should be a very good teams in Alabama and LSU and the rest of the West looks like a team that can beat any other SEC team on a given Saturday.

When you look at the East, you struggle to see a team that is clearly better than the rest. Most are going with Florida because it’s logical given the past two years. Then you have Georgia and South Carolina – and nobody is sure if either of these teams are capable of stepping up – followed by Kentucky and a Vanderbilt team whose coach just quit on them a week ago. The West seems to be more competitive than the East because there are more knowns. I think the East race will be one of the best in years and they will not be a pushover to Western teams.

Josh Hathaway
Some of that is a mirage because it can be cyclical but it is probably because the football history at Vanderbilt, South Carolina, and Kentucky is collectively worse than the history at Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and whoever the perceived third weakest team in the west is. When Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee were all three going right not too long ago, the West looked like a muddled mess waiting to be hammered by the power that emerged from the East. We now have an East being dominated by Florida and a West that looks to be headed by Alabama and LSU with Auburn and Arkansas more than capable of rising up to be a challenger.

Can LSU be consistent for the whole year?

J. Newcastle
I’m going to be the last person to jump off the LSU train in spite of all of the evidence to do so (especially a couple of those botched two-minute drills). However, for all his peccadilloes, Les Miles can coach talent and I happen to believe he’s going to put it together this year and get this team moving in the right direction once again.

Alan Rouse
I think due to poor coaching and lack of discipline it will happen at some point this year. LSU probably can’t stop that without a coaching change or a major shift in the discipline of the program.

Eddie McCoy
J. NFL coaches are lining up to argue that with you. Yes…LSU can be consistently average. Larry Coker…I mean Les Miles has brought LSU from the peaks of national championships to valley of mediocrity quicker than the first flight of the Wright brothers. His game management has been poor his entire stint at LSU and I suggest it must have something to do with the lack of blood flow to his head on game day. NFL scouts are now questioning whether the players that are coming into the league are properly prepared, and there have been several major busts, none bigger than JaMarcus Russell.

LSU is no longer the big dog in the West. They are now second and sliding fast to being third or fourth and back to the DiNardo days. Miles is counting on Chavis to make the defense stand, and they are looking for the quarterback to be there all 12 games and not just sporadically. I think LSU is a team that will win a game it shouldn’t and lose a couple of games it shouldn’t as well. I think the slide continues, and that’s consistent, right?

Josh Hathaway
Sure they can. Inconsistency occurs for any number of reasons, but the three primary reasons are coaching, quarterback play, and injuries. The Tigers can get a lot closer to consistency if they can keep their lines healthy, something they didn’t do last year. Jordan Jefferson took steps forward in his first full season as a starter. I don’t expect him to be an elite college quarterback, but his progression last year before injury gives LSU fans reason to think he could continue to grow into the position and get to a more consistent level of play.

Coaching is the wild card here. Les Miles is under fire, as is offensive coordinator Gary Crowder. And John Chavis enters his second season in Baton Rouge on the defensive side needing to get his unit to improve. LSU has talent everywhere on the field. I’m not impressed by this trio of coaches, but Chavis’s unit alone could also go a long way towards making them more consistent.

Can Arkansas avoid the Ole Miss 2009 curse?

J. Newcastle

I think they will be better than some expect but they are still not going to win the SEC West because the lack of defense is enough to hurt them in games when the offense is either taken out by a good defense or neutralized by a ball control team.

Alan Rouse
Arkansas isn’t cursed; they just can’t play defense. The SEC West is a smash mouth division. Offense wins games, but defense wins titles.

Eddie McCoy
Yes. Ryan Mallett is a much better QB than the pretend-to-be QB Jevan Snead was last season. Mallett has all the physical gifts that all great QB’s possess and he is coached by one of the best QB coaches in America in Bobby Petrino. The offense will not be a problem for Arkansas, as it was for Ole Miss last season, but the defense is the area of major concern. Arkansas is going to rely on scoring points in bunches to win because I’m not sure if the defense will be able to stop anyone with any consistency. The difference here is that Arkansas is not predicted to win the SEC nor be in the Top 5 in the country. The pressure they feel will be from themselves, whereas Ole Miss was getting patted on the back by everybody and just caved from there.

Josh Hathaway
Nope. They’re the same team: flashy skill position players on offense and only Jerry Franklin on defense. Mallett still has to show me more mental toughness, and their receivers are going to have to consistently get separation. If Mallett matures, Petrino has some weapons and they can put up points…until they run into tough SEC opponents that play in all three phases of the game. If Arkansas plays even mediocre defense, they have a chance to avoid the curse of the hype. But we have seen nothing in Petrino’s two years in Fayetteville to think better defense is just around the corner. They made no substantive changes on the staff and no sub-unit on the defense emerged as a strength to play to on that side of the ball.

Is there too much parity in the SEC for a repeat champion?

J. Newcastle
I’d like to say no, but the evidence is to the contrary. There hasn’t been a repeat champion since Tennessee did it in 1997 and 1998. Right now, the SEC is ripe with a lot of teams in the middle, all of which are able to knock off the top teams and muck up a repeat run.

Alan Rouse
I don’t think it’s too much parity, just that the odds are against a team repeating because everyone wants to beat the defending conference champion. It’s hard to win it again with the target on your back – just ask Tim Tebow and Florida – because every team brings their best game when facing the defending champion.

Eddie McCoy
The SEC has not had repeat champions since the 97-98 Volunteers did so, and you had Florida winning from 93-96 before that. That was back when the SEC was regarded basically as a top-heavy league dominated by Florida. You knew going into those seasons that the winner of the UT/UF game was going to the SEC Championship Game, and it was usually the first SEC game for both schools. The league has changed dramatically since the 90s and parity is at an all-time high (along with SEC coaches salaries).

If a team is lucky enough to repeat, there will have to be a lot of luck along the way. Florida last season was a sure lock to the national title game and a repeat in the SEC, but it came up short. Bama is in the same shoes as UF last season, but unlike UF, it has lost a majority of the defensive starters. I think this a league, and particularly this season, any team can win with the exception of Vandy. This looks to be the most competitive conference from top to bottom in the country, and with that said, I find it hard to believe that we will have a repeat SEC champion nor a SEC national champion.

Josh Hathaway
Parity? How are we defining that? The SEC has won four consecutive national championships, with one team winning twice. The idea that, as tough as the SEC is, a team cannot emerge from this conference, play a championship game, and win a title has been put to rest. The SEC title game has featured the same two teams for two straight years. The last four years have seen three teams win the title game. Only three teams from the SEC East have represented that division in the championship game since its inception. There is balance from top to bottom in the SEC and great football players at every school. There is some degree of balance, but I’m not sure how much parity there really is.

Is this Steve Spurrier’s last stand at South Carolina?

J. Newcastle
Probably not, though maybe it should be. Here’s the thing: there are NO EXPECTATIONS in Columbia except to not to embarrass the program. Apparently losing doesn’t do that, so he’s there as long as he wants to be. However, I wonder how much longer he wants to deal with his own expectations not being met.

Alan Rouse
Well, I think that regardless, the ol’ ball coach is done, win or lose. It just seems about the right time for him to step away and play golf. I think it will be difficult for them to be great this year and I don’t think SC would fire him. But he might get a nod that it’s time to go and honorably leave.

Eddie McCoy
I think this is Spurrier’s last legitimate chance to win the SEC. UF is replacing a lot of players, UGA and UT are down and SC seems to be better than Kentucky and Vandy. If there was ever a time to win it at SC, it is now. If Spurrier isn’t competitive in terms of being in the race at the end of the season, I think he’s done. I think he is a coach that knows when to step away, and there will be no greater sign than finish below second this season in the East.

Josh Hathaway
Steve Spurrier could walk away at any time, although I think he’ll have more class than to do it a week before SEC Media Days – that was a punk move, Bobby Johnson. The ol’ ball coach is in his 60s and it has to be getting clearer to him he’s never going to assemble the depth of talent it will take to make SC a real contender in the SEC East. Spurrier has more money than he’s ever going to need and has made no secret that he doesn’t want to spend 20 hours a day doing this. He can see a life for himself that doesn’t include a visor and a headset – he probably wears a visor on the golf course. Is this the year? Maybe. It’s coming.

Should the SEC seek opportunities for expansion?

J. Newcastle
Should it? No. Will it? You better believe it. However, the SEC played this last fiasco the right way – by waiting. The SEC will only do this if two conditions are met with expansion: 1) expanding into new television markets – don’t kid yourself, it matters a lot; 2) the “new” teams bring some national marquee value to the league.

Alan Rouse
No expansion. Maybe some swapping but I think the SEC will pretty much stay as is. There is no reason for them to expand as the SEC is already the most dynamic conference.

Eddie McCoy
No, Hell No and Absolutely Not is my resounding answers to this question regarding what the SEC “should” do. The SEC is the big dog and has the best set of schools, with the exception of Vanderbilt in any football driven conference. The expansion talk will come up again when one of two things happen. 1) Notre Dame picks a conference which will be the Big Ten. 2) The Big 12 (minus two) dissolves, which it will. The SEC will only look to expand if it feels a financial obligation to the schools to do so and to not let other conferences completely out-do the SEC in the revenue sharing pot. The Big Ten is the biggest concern for the SEC from a financial perspective. They are already paying out slightly more than the SEC is, but if they were to add a Notre Dame to the lineup, that payout would go up significantly and would force the SEC’s hand to expand.

The SEC will only expand into markets where it is not currently in, which really only leaves one real direction, West. If the SEC were forced to expand, it should go get Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma & Oklahoma State. Texas is the diva school of the West, and it has burned its bridge on the expansion move to the West Coast and will be left begging to be picked up by the SEC, which I’m sure the SEC would be happy to oblige. By adding schools to the conference, it sets up an automatic renegotiation clause in the current TV package deal, and the SEC will not play second fiddle to anyone, especially the Big Ten.

Josh Hathaway
No. One million times no. I’m not going to take sides on whether the college or NFL product is better; both offer something the other doesn’t. Rivalries are great in college sports. They are particularly great in college football and the SEC has more of the great rivalries than any other conference. The other schools are not conference opponents, they are the enemy and they need to be crushed, destroyed, killed, and then punished. There are rivalries in other conferences that rival the SEC rivalries but there are grudge matches littered throughout the season in the SEC. Expansion dilutes a big part of what makes the SEC special.

The SEC Breakdown will premier August 4, 2010 on Blogtalkradio.com.

Image courtesy of The Associated Press and AL.com.

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