The 2017 SEC Media Days have come and gone, and with their passing begins the countdown to fall camp.
This week in Hoover, Ala., saw Jim McElwain get flustered over sharks, Missouri linebacker Eric Beisel channel his inner pro wrestler and Bret Bielema talk about fatherhood and Chipotle. On Thursday, we were treated to more weirdness courtesy of an Auburn die-hard and filibusterin’ Hugh Freeze.
Who won and who lost on the final day of festivities at the Wynfrey Hotel? SEC Country breaks it down:
Winner: The Auburn dog
We’re usually treated to at least one or two “superfans” sporting gaudy getups, which net them a short-lived Media Days spotlight. Last year, it was an Alabama fan sporting a WWE-type championship belt and a giant ring hat. This year, an Auburn fan who painted orange and black tiger stripes on his small dog filled the void.
Please marvel at how silly this dog looks. It’s probably miserable. I’m generally against owners painting their pets, particularly when it’s done for the sole purpose of attention-seeking, but this was well-executed and done with “animal-friendly hair dye,” per the owner.
This Auburn fan painted his dog. pic.twitter.com/MwF1xWq5nk
— Barrett Sallee (@BarrettSallee) July 13, 2017
Loser: Hugh Freeze
We jump from lighthearted fun to … Ole Miss. Freeze, also a loser on Wednesday because of Houston Nutt’s interestingly-timed lawsuit, spent more than half of his appearance at the podium discussing everything but the NCAA scandal that has enveloped his program for many months.
As chronicled by just about every reporter in attendance, Freeze made his opening statement last a whopping 17 minutes. He addressed Nutt’s allegations by insisting he couldn’t comment upon them, and generally giving the same half-apologetic answers he’s given throughout the whole ordeal.
A couple of the Rebels coach’s answers were particularly laughable. Asked about how he prevents corruption in his football program, Freeze responded in part that he was “open to suggestions by our chancellor and our A.D. and our compliance people, our legal team always as to how we can do that.”
Then there was this gem: “Integrity is not always doing the right thing, but it is when something is done that is not right, you acknowledge it, you own it, and you move on from it,” said Freeze, who hasn’t exactly owned it, but who certainly would like to move on from it.
This is, as my colleague Alex Smith so aptly put it, a doomed PR campaign for Freeze, who can merely point to his upcoming date with the Committee on Infractions, cross his fingers and pray the NCAA doesn’t suspend him — which could very well happen.
Winner: Will Muschamp
Coach Boom is slowly becoming an SEC Media Days veteran, and it showed during an opening statement that featured jabs at reporters, Kirby Smart and even his own defensive players, none of whom made the trip to Hoover this year.
“Honestly, the last time we brought our defensive guys to Birmingham, it didn’t go real good,” said Muschamp, whose Gamecocks gave up 46 points in the bowl loss to South Florida. “We gave up a bunch of points and a bunch of yards.”
He navigated the ensuing questions pretty well, and certainly doesn’t seem to have lost his, uh, competitive fire in Year 2 at South Carolina.
Will Muschamp on SEC's new sideline rule: 'We've assigned two guys to hold me back and one is allowed to tackle.'
— Brad Crawford (@BCrawford247) July 13, 2017
Loser: Jalen Hurts
Alabama’s star quarterback, as SEC Country’s Christopher Walsh points out, went somewhat overlooked over the course of Media Days. In fact, backup Tua Tagovailoa probably netted more headlines after Nick Saban said he expects the true freshman to play this year.
Hurts will be the starter, of course. That Saban even needed to address that question, however, is startling. SEC Network’s Greg McElroy ranked Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald ahead of the all-time great freshman quarterback on Thursday, and some have begun wondering whether Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham might be better than Hurts, too.
None of this ultimately has any bearing on how Hurts will perform this fall. But the relative lack of attention is both interesting and perplexing.
Winner: Daniel Carlson
“Legatron,” as he is sometimes known, represented Auburn at SEC Media Days, and the senior kicker fielded some of the silliest questions of the day. Because, honestly, what are you going to ask the kicker?
To Carlson’s credit, he handled his time in the spotlight quite well, and his stated goal of kicking “10,000” field goals this season might be my favorite quote of the week.
"I would love to kick 10,000 field goals this season" -Daniel Carlson is my favorite player at media days so far
— Morgan Moriarty (@Morgan_Moriarty) July 13, 2017
Loser: Division realignment
For a couple of weeks this summer, the idea of Auburn moving to the SEC East and Missouri jumping to the West gained a little traction in the public sphere. Former Tigers coach Pat Dye, Malzahn and Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs all addressed it in some form or fashion, so you know folks on The Plains have discussed the idea.
However, Media Days made it quite clear that realignment ain’t happening.
“Has not been an agenda item in the meeting,” SEC commish Greg Sankey said. “It is a conversation in most large press conferences in which I appear, and that’s the extent of the conversation.”
On Thursday, Malzahn echoed his commissioner and downplayed the offseason hubbub.
“I like playing against (Alabama) every year. I think (the realignment talk) was blown out of proportion. I like the way it is.”
Nobody can actually win anything at SEC Media Days, of course. You already knew this.
The four-day event is simply a way for the conference to keep itself in the headlines, tout its dominance and feed the assembled throngs of reporters — all starving for quotes that’ll carry them through the mid-summer doldrums.
Loser: The SEC?
To that end, did the SEC accomplish its own goals in Hoover this year?
Ignoring the lack of compelling personalities (Bielema and Beisel excluded) and the absence of any real news, perhaps the biggest question to surface this week — and the one nobody can really answer until September — was whether the SEC is becoming a one-team league.
A “down” 2016 season highlighted just how wide a gap exists between Alabama and its conference competition. The 2017 Crimson Tide appear ready to return with vengeance, and few squads seem poised to legitimately challenge Saban’s dynasty.
While SEC Media Days ended, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher was touting the ACC as the “premier conference in college football.”
The SEC can certainly debunk Fisher’s case with a better collective showing this fall — especially if someone can dethrone Alabama. Until then, however, the conference’s chief nemeses won’t feel inclined to quiet their talk.