HOOVER, Ala. – Media days picked up today with Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky and Missouri at the podium. As if the Crimson Tide fan base’s presence wasn’t enough, devastating Missouri news broke just minutes before a new head coach took the floor.
Flair for the dramatic combined with big personalities made Wednesday the most watchable day of SEC Media Days so far. Here are the winners and losers from the event’s third day:
Winner: Defensive linemen
After a slow first couple of days, things really woke up today. Within hours of each other, Arkansas DL Deatrich Wise and Missouri DL Chris Harris both made lofty predictions for their 2016 seasons.
Wise came into media days with 13 career sacks in three years at the school. He claims that he will eclipse that mark next season alone. Harris wants more, pointing to Shane Ray’s Missouri record 14.5 sacks in 2014. The SEC is known for quality defensive line play and these players are two of the best in the conference.
Winner: Nick Saban
Media Days are more fun with some spice, and Alabama coach Nick Saban brought the fire. He was relatively lax during his media sessions, but got into an argument with Paul Finebaum during his appearance on the SEC Network.
Saban defended Cam Robinson and Hootie Jones tooth-and-nail. Even though both were arrested during the offseason, Saban pointed out that the district attorney declined to press charges. He also blasted the media for convicting his players in the court of public opinion despite their not getting in any legal trouble.
Loser: Paul Finebaum
For every Nick Saban tirade, there is a victim. This time, it was the loud-mouthed SEC Network host. Not only did Saban vocally shut him down on national TV, but Saban and Finebaum appeared to continue the argument after they went to commercial.
And, because the internet:
Nick Saban just put Paul Finebaum in time out. pic.twitter.com/Ja3IxFDDZU
— Zach Kirksey (@ZachKirksey11) July 13, 2016
Winner: Kentucky QB Drew Barker
The Wildcats might have lost former starting QB Patrick Towles to Boston College, but Kentucky coach Mark Stoops was unconcerned. Barker, a former 4-star recruit, has been handed the unquestioned keys to the offense headed into the 2016 season.
He takes over a Kentucky program at a turning point. Entering his fourth season, Stoops has yet to make a bowl game with the program. Barker showed promise in two starts as a freshman and will be the featured piece of the offense. If he can push Kentucky over the edge and take them to a bowl game, he will become a star.
Loser: University of Missouri
What was supposed to be the grand entrance of Missouri’s new coach was almost instantly marred. Moments before Barry Odom went on, news broke that Mizzou athletic director Mack Rhoades will leave his post and take the same job at Baylor. Between taking over for Gary Pinkel and the protests at Missouri last year, Odom barely got to talk about his vision.
It’s troubling to see Rhoades bail the program so soon. Rhoades previously held prominent positions at the University of Houston and UTEP, so going back to Texas could be appealing. However, it is certainly unexpected to see the AD of a prominent SEC school leave to go to the job at a school in turmoil.
Winner: Bret Bielema
SEC Media Days miss Steve Spurrier, but Bielema is doing his best to fill the gap. Bielema spoke candidly and humorously about the state of his program and expectations for the year. From saying his team is “not built very sexy” to teasing Georgia for not being able to break offensive coordinator Dan Enos’ non-compete clause, Bielema kept media days light.
Nothing can top Bielema’s story of what happened after Arkansas’ devastating overtime loss to Texas A&M last season, which was chronicled by ESPN’s Brett McMurphy: “After A&M’s wild win vs. Arkansas, Kevin Sumlin told Bielema: ‘I don’t know what to say.’ Bielema: ‘Don’t say anything, I might punch you.’”
Loser: Missouri football
Coaches and players love talking football, but media day made that almost impossible. Instead, players and Odom alike were almost exclusively treated to questions about off-the-field issues.
Missouri is in a precipitous place as an athletic program. A few years into the SEC, the Tigers are without an athletic director and university president. As if that was not enough, the football team is now better known for a protest than producing defensive linemen. The athletic director even left to go deal with one of the most criticized programs in the nation.
Odom was in good spirits and methodically dealt with the questions of the day. However, he has a Herculean task in front of him.
Winner: Jojo Kemp’s swag
In his senior season, Jojo Kemp wants to set the tone from the start. To show everyone the “new Kentucky,” Kemp came wearing a nice blue suit with a stylish blue bowtie to show his school spirit.
For Kemp, the past three seasons have not been good enough. Over the stretch, UK has gone a combined 12-24 and failed to make a bowl game in any of Mark Stoops’ three seasons as head coach. But with a renewed sense of confidence, could this be the year?