HOOVER, Ala. – SEC Media Days concluded on Thursday with some of the event’s main attractions.
LSU coach Les Miles was every bit as entertaining as anyone could have hoped, while Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze sweated at the podium with nonstop questions about NCAA infractions.
South Carolina coach Will Muschamp also made his way back to SEC Media Days after a year hiatus. He seemed poised and ready to move on from the debacle at Florida. Here are the winners and losers of Thursday’s press conferences:
Even on one of their off days, the Crimson Tide managed to lead the SEC world. In the annual preseason media poll, the Alabama Crimson Tide were picked to win their third consecutive SEC championship in 2016.
The Crimson Tide lose plenty of talent from their national championship team, but the infrastructure is there to continue being the class of college football. Tennessee was picked to win the SEC East, which would be a coup in Butch Jones’ fourth season in Knoxville, Tenn. LSU has the second-best odds to win the SEC and West Division, according to the media.
Loser: Preseason SEC voters
While Alabama deserves plenty of credit for being picked to win the SEC, some media members like to remind us that preseason voting is a meaningless venture. Somehow, both Vanderbilt and South Carolina received votes to win the SEC.
Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason impressed with his statements on Monday, but the Commodores have gone a combined 7-17 in his two seasons at the helm. South Carolina also has some talent, but Will Muschamp is in his first season as head coach. Of course, should Vanderbilt or South Carolina win the conference, whoever picked them deserves a Leicester City-sized payout.
Winner: Ole Miss players
While coach Hugh Freeze had a difficult time dealing with questions in the main room, Ole Miss players showed supreme poise and confidence. QB Chad Kelly said poignantly that his only idea of a successful season is to win a national championship, while defensive lineman D.J Jones said that’s the feeling on campus.
The Rebels have made strides every season under Freeze and are coming off a 10-win campaign and Sugar Bowl victory. While Ole Miss lost several top players to the NFL, the expectation is to keep improving.
Loser: Hugh Freeze
Freeze spoke at SEC Media Days for the first time after all the mayhem at the NFL draft. Instead of getting to focus on bringing back a senior quarterback, Freeze was grilled about whether Ole Miss paid Laremy Tunsil and the status of an investigation.
Many people were skeptical of Ole Miss’ 2013 recruiting class, which featured three 5-star prospects. The Rebels had never recruited at that high of a level. At this point, it remains unclear whether the issues will continue to affect the program going forward.
Winner: Will Muschamp
Many people questioned Muschamp’s hiring at South Carolina after the disaster that was his Florida tenure. Despite one quality season, Muschamp nearly drove the program into a ditch, especially on the offensive end. But armed with the experience and knowledge, he seemed committed to not replicating the same mistakes at South Carolina.
Muschamp’s offenses at Florida were some of the worst in recent memory. While he may be a defensive guy, the team was pitiful moving the ball. He spoke candidly about these struggles to the media and says he is focused on righting them. While it’s difficult for coaches to change, the tribulations at Florida could set him up for future success.
Loser: Will Muschamp’s finger
It’s no secret, Muschamp is an ultra-passionate coach. In fact, while coordinating the Auburn defense last season, Muschamp apparently broke one of his fingers at halftime.
“I’m all right, it’s just a finger,” Muschamp said.
Perhaps even crazier, he doesn’t remember the incident. Muschamp told media in the main room that sometimes he just blacks out and doesn’t remember things that happens during games. That’ll be something to keep an eye on next season.
Winner: Leonard Fournette
Fournette was already the story coming into media days, but he managed to let his personality shine through and send his desired message. The LSU running back was willing to speak candidly about the racial issues between the police department in Baton Rouge, La., where a black man was shot by police in the last few weeks.
It’s rare to see athletes be able to speak about major social issues without feeling uncomfortable or self-conscious, but Fournette had no issues. He showed as much confidence and poise in discussing complicated issues of race as talking about running through the tackles.
Winner: Anyone watching Les Miles
With Steve Spurrier gone, everyone expected Les Miles to take the forefront of SEC Media Days. Generally speaking, he delivered. Miles had a tremendously long introduction, where he mentioned the NBA Finals, Alton Sterling and Cuba.
When he went into the other interview room, Miles also opened up on his upcoming acting debut. Miles was photographed in a cop uniform for a movie, and was proud about the role. He told everyone to go see the movie, while chuckling to himself about how cool he felt saying that.
Miles’ crazy personality will be missed whenever he eventually leaves the SEC.