Here are the hot topics from Thursday, the final day at SEC Media Days:
1. Saban’s shadow
Nick Saban was a topic of conversation even thought he left Atlanta after Alabama made its appearance the day before.
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn was asked about facing the “Nick Saban gauntlet” of teams with former Saban assistants as head coaches – Tennessee, Texas A&M and Georgia – as well as Alabama in the second half of the season. South Carolina coach Will Muschamp, who was also at SEC Media Days on Thursday, is another former Saban assistant coach. Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason was asked about last year’s 59-0 beatdown by the Crimson Tide.
2. Poor puppy
Auburn opened the final day of the league’s annual football media preseason gathering. And while there were far fewer Tigers fans in the lobby of the College Football Hall of Fame than there were Alabama supporters the day before, one got a lot of attention.
Tiger Jake, a toaster-sized, ab6-year-old Maltese rescue dog from Gardendale who was abused by a previous owner, arrived dyed in orange and blue with stripes.
Normally solid white, Tiger Jake was dyed in school colors at an animal clinic. The dog’s owner said the process has been checked out and approved by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
Tiger Jake will visit Tuscaloosa for the Iron Bowl in late November and will be at a reception at the Gorgas House. The pooch has an Instagram account (@tigerjake4152) and Facebook page (Jake Sanford).
3. Tough scheduling
The three schools on Thursday’s slate at SEC Media Days all have daunting schedules.
Auburn plays Washington in its opener as well as last year’s national title game participants, Georgia and Alabama – both on the road. South Carolina plays Georgia in division and closes with a road game at Clemson, a program that has been in the four-team College Football Playoff the last three seasons. Vanderbilt has a road game at Notre Dame as well as its SEC schedule.
“Once again, I feel like we have the toughest schedule in all of college football, just like we did last year.”
– Auburn coach Gus Malzahn
“We play in the SEC. I don’t worry about going to South Bend.”
– Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason on playing at Notre Dame in mid-September
“This will be my 21st year in the SEC as a payer or a coach. I’ve been part of five different institutions. I have a unique perspective of this league.”
– South Carolina coach Will Muschamp
Thursday’s worst questions
Not what, but how many
The trend on the final day of the annual conference preseason media event was multi-part questions, which led to this humorous exchange with South Carolina coach WIll Muschamp:
Q: Coach, I have a one-part question.
A: Thank you.
College football players don’t get to tailgate with fans, but one reporter questioned several on their ideal tailgating meal, including Auburn defensive lineman Dontavius Russell.
Q: Football and tailgating seem to go hand-in-hand. If you could have your ultimate tailgate – food, games, music – what would that look like?
A: Hot wings, nachos, pizza and milkshakes. Ultimate tailgate snack food. I don’t care about the music.
Muschamp got this question in his address to the media:
Q: You know, there’s four former Nick Saban assistants who are now head coach in the league. You’re playing the other three guys. There’s obviously been a lot of hires from his staff in the league. What do you think about his influence?
A couple of minutes later, he was asked this.
Q: There’s so many former Saban assistants now in the SEC. How do you think that’s going to affect play this year?
Muschamp made a quip in his opening comments about being scheduled on the final day of SEC Media Days for three straight years, leading to this question:
Q: Why do you think you always go last?
A: I don’t know. I wasn’t scheduled to a year ago but Kirby (Smart) wanted more vacation … so I switched with him. Just trying to be a good teammate.
– Compiled by Tommy Deas
Head coach: Gus Malzahn
2017 record: 10-4 (7-1 SEC)
Returning starters: 14 (6 offense, 7 defense, 1 special teams)
Hardest question Malzahn faced: “Looking back, you say you were very close last year, you felt that way. What were you able to take from how the season ended, including the bowl loss, to help you as guys go into this upcoming season?”
Malzahn’s response: “When I say we were close, I look at the big picture. As far as our goal, being in the SEC Championship last year, which it is again this year, and we did some very good things to get ourselves to that point. … But there’s such a fine line in this conference of winning the conference championship and coming close.”
You need to know: This is only Malzahn’s second time having a returning starting quarterback during his Auburn career.
Best player quote: “My expectation is to win it all. I’m not strapping up every day to do anything less. … We didn’t strap up every day to just be SEC West Champions.” Senior linebacker Deshaun Davis on the 2018 season
Head coach: Derek Mason
2017 record: 5-7 (1-7 SEC)
Returning starters: 12 (8 offense, 4 defense)
Hardest question Mason faced: “Not to drudge up a bad memory, but the week of the Alabama game and the aftermath last year, can you describe just kind of the emotional highs and lows of that week and how it took kind of the win out of the sails of your team for a while?”
Mason’s response: “You play against a good Alabama team that just beats the brakes off of you, and that’s okay. I mean, you learn a lot. … A loss is a loss. You can’t let one become two become three become four in this conference.”
You need to know: Derek Mason has nine players over 300 pounds playing the line for 2018.
Best player quote: “We know what we have, and we know what we’re capable of. We are not worried about what anyone else has to say.” Senior safety LaDarius Wiley on how “no one really thinks about Vanderbilt”
Head coach: Will Muschamp
2017 record: 9-4 (5-3 SEC)
Returning starters: 16 (8 offense, 6 defense, 2 special teams)
Hardest question Muschamp faced: “Steve Spurrier said last week the reason he stepped down at South Carolina is because he had a bad, broken program. When you step into a situation like that, how do you fix it?”
Muschamp’s response: “At the end of the day, it’s not about what you’ve inherited: it’s about getting better and improving. That’s my attitude in everything we try and do every single day.”
You need to know: South Carolina led the SEC in turnovers forced in 2017.
Best player quote: “I am very excited, that’s probably one of the best things I do.” Senior wide receiver Deebo Samuel on Muschamp having a “no fair catch policy” (Samuel was the first Gamecock to log three career kick return touchdowns and the third to return two kicks for touchdowns in a season.)
Compiled by Carlyle Rickenmann