HOOVER, Ala. — Whether or not SEC Media Days is truly a waste of everyone’s time, as Alabama coach Nick Saban implied on Wednesday, there were heaps of questions volleyed in every direction during last week’s quote-a-palooza at The Wynfrey Hotel.
Some inquiries were more intelligent than others, and the answers were likewise of varying quality. So with all of that in mind, SEC Country’s Sunday exercise involves dissecting all of the back-and-forth to identify the lingering unknowns heading into the final days before fall camp.
Here are some of the biggest questions still sitting on our minds:
That’s my quarterback
Come on, you really thought anyone would take the bait on this?
A number of SEC teams will take quarterback competitions into the fall this year. Coaches gain little to nothing by tipping their hands now, and even if they did, there are probably a couple who honestly still aren’t sure who will start (see: Muschamp, Will).
- Florida — Coach Jim McElwain might as well have made PB&J sandwiches for reporters in lieu of the non-answer he gave on Monday:
“All four guys we have in that quarterback room I’m really excited about,” McElwain said.
- Auburn — It’s either an athletic junior college transfer, or one of the two quarterbacks who didn’t work out last year. I wonder who Auburn fans would prefer?
“The positive is we have three guys that we feel like can execute our offense,” Tigers coach Gus Malzahn said.
- Georgia — How early should Kirby Smart name 5-star freshman Jacob Eason the starter? (‘Yesterday!’ shouts the Bulldogs fan in the corner.)
“We’re going to play the best player that gives us the best opportunity to win football games,” Smart said. “And I don’t know who that is. If I knew, I promise you, I would tell you. I would give you the information.”
That sounded pretty un-Saban-like, Kirby.
- South Carolina — Likewise for fellow frosh Brandon McIlwain, even if Perry Orth has a leg up in the grocery-bagging game.
“I don’t like the word patient at the end of the day,” Muschamp said when asked if fans would need to be patient. “That’s not something we’re gunning for. We’re not worried about a two, three, four-year plan. We’re worried about winning now.”
- Alabama — Unless Blake Barnett’s offseason workouts with QB guru George Whitfield turned him into AJ McCarron 2.0, Cooper Bateman seems like the guy with the best shot.
“Somebody’s got to win that job. Somebody’s got to win the team. You know, that has not necessarily happened yet,” Saban said.
- Mississippi State — Umm… Who are any of these guys?
“I will be a happy guy to name a starting quarterback and find somebody that has separated themselves from the other three, throughout the summer,” coach Dan Mullen said.
Given the way Tuesday unfolded for Mullen, he probably wishes he’d talked more about his quarterbacks and less about his sneakers… or that whole Jeffery Simmons thing.
“I don’t know that my family would be in that situation”
Speaking of, Mullen deflected pretty hard when asked about the decision to admit Simmons, a 5-star defensive end signee, and only suspend him for one game after he was caught on video repeatedly striking a woman in the face.
“I wasn’t involved as much. It was a university decision, but I was just thrilled that we’re having Jeffery as part of our family coming in,” Mullen said.
Can we really believe that the head football coach has barely any say in whether the school admits a star player?
What I’d like to know: How much involvement did Mullen actually have in deciding the punishment, and what in the hell was he thinking when the team chose to have Simmons wear the No. 36 jersey?
That number was last worn full-time by Nick Bell, a former player who died of cancer in 2010. Giving his number to a documented woman-beater seems like a strange way to honor his memory.
How hot is too hot?
A handful of coaches were asked kindly-worded questions that in blunter terms would have read, “Will you still have a job in December?”
We can reasonably infer that Kentucky’s Mark Stoops, Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason, LSU’s Les Miles, Auburn’s Gus Malzahn and Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin are all facing some sort of concerns this year. But asking these men about their own jobs is basically an exercise in futility, because ultimately they do not make the final call.
If the SEC made all 14 athletic directors available in Hoover, maybe we’d gain more insight here. More likely, however, they’d all give the same dreaded “vote of confidence” answers. We’ll simply have to let the season play out before really getting our answers on their job statuses.
Florida could offer no update on the playing status of star receiver Antonio Callaway, who broke the program’s freshman receiving record last season. He and Treon Harris are on campus and able to use academic/athletic facilities, but at this point their status for the season opener remains unsolidified.
“Nothing has been resolved yet. And there really isn’t — there isn’t a time table on it,” McElwain said.
“Is there anything you would have done differently earlier in your career, knowing what you know now?”
I posed this question to Sumlin during a breakout session with local reporters. Before he could utter two sentences, Tennessee coach Butch Jones interjected to recount his “air-conditioned bus-stealing” anecdote, the same one he shared in all of his other Media Days appearances. (You’re killin’ me, Butch!)
Given everything that’s happened at the quarterback position at A&M — Johnny Manziel’s downward spiral, Tate Martell’s de-commitment and the transfers in between — Sumlin has probably learned some hard lessons about being an SEC coach. I’m still curious to hear what he’d have to say.
The cloud over Oxford
I’ll give Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze this much: He addressed the NCAA’s investigation into his program right out of the gate by discussing it during his opening statement.
Before I get into football, I would love to address our NCAA case right now, and as I’ve said, with the limited amount that I can discuss, I remain very confident in who we are and our core values and how we do things. We fully have cooperated with the NCAA throughout the entire process, which has been a long process. We discovered most of the facts that led to self-reports and that’s how a good compliance office works. You know, with them already being on our campus, we had to report many things that are a part of the Notice of Allegations that maybe typically just get reported and handled with self-imposed penalties. We believe our response to the Notice of Allegations stands on its own. As a head coach, I understand that I’m held accountable for the things that happened within our building and even outside the walls of our building. Our compliance team is working extremely hard to seek a resolution to this case and into the — and also into the events from NFL draft night and we look forward to the conclusion of this entire process. No one looks forward to that more than I do.
Of course, there isn’t much of real substance in what he said. Part of that is by design, and part of it is not wanting to draw further ire from the NCAA. But everyone with even a cursory interest in college football is dying to know whether the sport’s governing body is truly satisfied with the Rebels’ self-imposed sanctions. Odds are the answer is ‘no.’
Any question for SEC commissioner Greg Sankey
Sankey’s second Media Days appearance as the conference’s leader was, uh, a little less cheery than the first. The honeymoon phase is clearly over, and the SEC is dealing with what some might call bad publicity.
The commish fielded exactly six questions in the main room at The Wynfrey, and none of his answers were particularly great. His response to the following question was particularly disappointing:
Can you kind of explain to me the difference between, and why it’s different, for a player not to be able to transfer in with something on his record in terms of domestic violence, but the schools themselves can accept freshman to come in if they have an issue like that?
“Well, I think, first, I’m always cautious to people to be careful of judging one’s character on ten seconds of video. Our working group spent a lot of time teal dealing with that. A couple of concerns that were consistently identified, which is what can you know? What can you learn if there’s something particularly in one’s juvenile past, and can you access information in a consistent way.
“When someone enrolls in college, they are generally an adult. You expect that you’ll have access to more consistent information on which to base decisions. And so we as a group said let’s go further on the transfer issue. They have been adults on the university campus, and that misbehavior is viewed as rising to a higher level of attention.”
More than a couple of SEC coaches and players spoke on thoughtfully and considerately on the issue of sexual assault at college campuses. But Sankey gave the issue little more than a minute of his time.
Will Paul Finebaum be invited for Sunday dinner at the Saban household?
Actually, we got a pretty clear answer to this one — regardless of whether you feel the drama between these two parties was organic or a little manufactured.
Have we left any questions off this list? Sound off with your own in the comments or on social media.