Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll. Murphy was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
SEC Media Days to feature new faces
A helmet sits on the podium as the NCAA college football Southeastern Conference Media Days begins, Monday, July 15, 2019, in Hoover, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
HOOVER, Ala. — What does it say about the SEC that half of the coaches at SEC Media Days this week will be making their debuts at the sessions?
It says everyone’s feverishly chasing Alabama, the defending College Football Playoff national champion, and only a few league programs have inched close enough to challenge Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide the last 14 years — briefly — before falling back in the pack.
It also says a one-year hiatus in SEC Media Days due to the coronavirus pandemic last year resulted in a turnover of several conference head coaches in a two-year span.
SEC Media Days
Where Hyatt Regency, Hoover, Ala.
Format Morning and afternoon sessions with SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey, SEC coordinator of officials John McDaid, all 14 head coaches, two players per team and other invited guests.
TODAY Commissioner Greg Sankey 11:30 a.m.; Florida Coach Dan Mullen 12:15; LSU Coach Ed Orgeron 1:40; South Carolina Coach Shane Beamer 3 p.m.
TUESDAY Georgia Coach Kirby Smart 9:05 a.m.; Tennessee Coach Josh Heupel 10:30 a.m.; Coordinator of officials John McDaid 12:45 p.m.; Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops 1:30 p.m.; Ole Miss Coach Lane Kiffin 2:55 p.m.
WEDNESDAY Alabama Coach Nick Saban 9:05 a.m.; Vanderbilt Coach Clark Lea 10:30 a.m.; Miss. State Coach Mike Leach 1:30 p.m.; Texas A&M Coach Jimbo Fisher 2:55 p.m.
THURSDAY Missouri Coach Eli Drinkwitz 9:05 a.m.; Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman 10:30 a.m.; Auburn Coach Bryan Harsin noon
Covid-19 is still casting a shadow on the proceedings, as restrictions on capacity, a reduction to two players per team and “encouraged” mask wearing will be in evidence at the Hyatt Regency in this suburb of Birmingham, home of the SEC offices.
The coronavirus has not disappeared and neither has the coaching churn that is a staple in the nation’s most rigorous conference.
University of Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman is starting his second season at the helm, as is Missouri’s Eli Drinkwitz, the Arkansas Tech graduate from Alma. So are Ole Miss’ Lane Kiffin and Mississippi State’s Mike Leach. Only Kiffin has spoken at media days before, and that was in 2009 during his lone season at Tennessee.
The rookie roster of coaches is comprised of Auburn’s Bryan Harsin, the former Arkansas State University coach; South Carolina’s Shane Beamer; Tennessee’s Josh Heupel; and Vanderbilt’s Clark Lea.
Pittman will address the throngs Thursday, along with Drinkwitz and Harsin and their players. He will be joined by a pair of seniors in linebacker Grant Morgan and offensive lineman Myron Cunningham.
The event, to be shown on the SEC Network, kicks off today at 11:30 a.m. Central with Commissioner Greg Sankey’s state of the league address, followed by Florida Coach Dan Mullen, LSU Coach Ed Orgeron and South Carolina’s Beamer.
Sankey’s talk likely will feature a bevy of topics. Among them: the introduction of name, image and likeness initiatives across the country; the recent upsurge in covid-19 and its variants in various states; an update on the SEC’s plans to rotate SEC Media Days among several venues; and the league’s domination during the 2020-21 academic year.
Alabama’s 52-24 CFP championship game rout of Ohio State in January at Miami Gardens, Fla., was the SEC’s 11th national title in the last 15 years, and the sixth by Saban’s Crimson Tide.
Sankey could also share a few words about the conference’s role in helping college football take place at all in 2020 after many in the country seemed to think the pandemic would cancel college athletics for the school term.
Only three quarterbacks are scheduled to be in attendance. Ole Miss’ Matt Corral, making his second appearance in Hoover, will probably get plenty of votes for first-team preseason All-SEC. The other quarterbacks are Georgia’s JT Daniels and Auburn’s Bo Nix.
There will be an NWA flair at media days also, as Missouri defensive tackle Akial Byers, a Fayetteville High product, will be there along with offensive lineman Case Cook.
The predicted orders of finish, projected SEC champion and preseason All-SEC teams will be announced on Friday, the day after the event concludes.
Alabama has been the pick of SEC media to claim the conference championship in nine of the last 11 years, and the Crimson Tide came through in that spot in the last four even-numbered years (2014, 2016, 2018 and 2020). The only years in those 11 that Saban’s Tide were not picked to win came in 2012, when SEC media choice LSU tied for second in the SEC West (behind Alabama), and in 2015, when Auburn was the pick and finished last in the West for Coach Gus Malzahn while Alabama was winning the league title.
Media have correctly picked the SEC champion eight times in the 29 years since voting has been conducted, but it has trended better since nailing LSU as the predicted champion in 2007, with six correct champions in the past 14 years.
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