Georgia (10 a.m. ET): The expectations are high for this team, but if you ask Mark Richt who he has left in the secondary, it might take him a minute to respond. Josh Harvey-Clemons and Tray Matthews were both dismissed from the team, and Shaquille Wiggins transferred away from the program. That leaves the Bulldogs extremely thin on the back end, but star linebacker Ramik Wilson, who will be on hand Thursday, is back for another season. Wilson led the SEC last season with 133 tackles. On offense, it's all about Todd Gurley. If he's healthy, he's one of the best running backs in college football. However, Aaron Murray is no longer there, which means it's now up to Hutson Mason to take the reigns at quarterback. Between questions about the dismissals and questions about Mason, Richt will be plenty busy Thursday.
Ole Miss (10:30 a.m.): Are the Rebels ready to take that next step? Hugh Freeze surprised everybody, including himself, when he led his team to a bowl game in his first season, and he was able to duplicate that success last year. But with veteran quarterback Bo Wallace returning and 10 starters back on defense, a bowl game might not be good enough this season. They have the talent and experience to compete in a stacked SEC West. The other major talking point for Thursday will be the sensational freshman class from a year ago. The likes of Tony Conner, Evan Engram, Robert Nkemdiche, Laquon Treadwell and Laremy Tunsil are all a year older, which is good news for Ole Miss fans but bad news for opponents. Treadwell, in particular, could be in line for a huge season with Donte Moncrief now in the NFL.
Alabama (12:10 p.m.): This edition of SEC media days will have a different feel for Alabama if for no other reason than the Crimson Tide aren't defending national champs for the first time in a while. How will the team respond to losing back-to-back games to end last season? And, maybe more important, how will it deal with the manner it lost to Auburn, falling to its bitter rival in the most dramatic way possible? Alabama coach Nick Saban will no doubt have an eye toward the future and the redemption it holds. But first he'll have to answer questions about a rebuilt secondary, two new starters on the offensive line, and the biggest question mark of all -- quarterback. It's safe to assume the starting job is Jacob Coker's. Just don't be surprised when Saban scoffs at the assumption.
Kentucky (1:40 p.m.): Recruiting, recruiting, recruiting. If you're looking for a main storyline to follow with the Wildcats on Thursday, it's how well Mark Stoops and his staff have done on the recruiting trail and how that's beginning to pay dividends on the football field. The top-to-bottom talent isn't quite there to compete with the upper echelon of the SEC yet, but it's on the right path. And maybe with a few surprise players and a break here or there, Kentucky might play the role of spoiler in 2014. Za'Darius Smith and Alvin Dupree are two of the more underrated defensive players in the league, and Jojo Kemp and Javess Blue are two similarly under-the-radar playmakers on offense. Nebraska transfer Braylon Heard could provide some much needed depth at tailback, and Drew Barker has the skill set to play immediately at quarterback as a true freshman. But how will Stoops put all those pieces together? His program is improving with each recruiting class, but it needs time to mature.
Today's watch list is for the Davey O'Brien Award, which goes to the nation's top college quarterback.
The SEC accounted for two of the three finalists for the award last season -- Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Alabama's AJ McCarron, with Florida State's Jameis Winston winning -- but both SEC finalists are earning NFL paychecks these days. Their departures are part of the widespread quarterback turnover that has taken place in the conference this season.
Nonetheless, the SEC still boasts five of the 39 quarterbacks on the O'Brien watch list, and Georgia's Hutson Mason is the only member of the group who is among the conference's many first-year starters.
Here's the list:
Jeff Driskel, Florida
Nick Marshall, Auburn
Hutson Mason, Georgia
Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
Bo Wallace, Ole Miss
HOOVER, Ala. -- In a move to further protect players from dangerous hits, the SEC has defined a "strike zone" from below the neck to above the knees in which an unabated defender may attempt to tackle an "offensive player in a passing posture."
"This is a player safety issue," said Steve Shaw, the SEC's coordinator of officials.
Shaw, who spoke at SEC media days Wednesday, said the rule to protect quarterbacks from being hit below the knees will be enforced regardless of whether the hit occurs inside or outside the pocket. A penalty will not be called, however, if a defender is blocked into the quarterback.
"When a player is under his own power, he's directing his hit and he chooses to go low, that is going to be a foul," Shaw said.
"This rule change, I think, will create the player behavior change."
Shaw also touched on last season's controversial targeting penalty in his address, calling it "the biggest change of my officiating career."
Last season, the NCAA changed the penalty for targeting defenseless players with hits to the head by adding an ejection to the 15-yard penalty.
"What were the results of that?" he said. "Well, first of all, let me say we simply had to change player behavior for the good of the game. I believe we started to see this type of player behavior change that we were looking for."
Shaw said "the trend is good," citing fewer targeting penalties in the second half of last season. Shaw said 14 targeting calls were made in the first eight weeks last season and only five after that.
One change to the rule is that both the ejection and 15-yard penalty can be overturned if officials decide upon review that the foul was incorrectly called.
Shaw did point out, though, that the 15-yard penalty will stand if another foul occurs on the same play.
Thirteen of the 123 watch list honorees for the Lombardi Award, which is given annually to the top lineman or linebacker, are from the conference. Likewise, nine of the 51 nominees for the Butkus Award, which goes to the top linebacker, are SEC players.
Here are the full lists of SEC nominees:
G A.J. Cann, South Carolina
OT La'el Collins, LSU
C Reese Dismukes, Auburn
DE Trey Flowers, Arkansas
LB Leonard Floyd, Georgia
LB A.J. Johnson, Tennessee
DT Chris Jones, Mississippi State
OG Arie Kouandjio, Alabama
LB Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State
DT Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss
OT Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M
DE A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama
LB Ramik Wilson, Georgia
Trey DePriest, Alabama
Leonard Floyd, Georgia
Jordan Jenkins, Georgia
A.J. Johnson, Tennessee
Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State
Braylon Mitchell, Arkansas
Reggie Ragland, Alabama
Ramik Wilson, Georgia
So far we've been to some of the usual spots (Athens, Auburn, College Station, Tuscaloosa), and a few outside of the SEC footprint footprint in locals such as Houston and Oklahoma.
We've knocked out 11 weeks of trips in all, which means we've got only three more to go. The conference title game in Atlanta is right around the corner.
So without further pause, let's take a look at the best options for Week 12:
Mississippi State at Alabama
LSU at Arkansas
Auburn at Georgia
South Carolina at Florida
Kentucky at Tennessee
Missouri at Texas A&M
Alex Scarborough's pick: Auburn at Georgia
This pick shouldn't require much in the way of explanation. If you saw the so-called “Prayer at Jordan-Hare” last year, then you know why the sequel should be appointment viewing for any SEC fan.
Georgia, minus its two biggest transgressors on the Hail Mary (defensive backs Tray Matthews and Josh Harvey-Clemons), will be out to prove the loss at Auburn was a fluke. Meanwhile, Auburn must go to Athens and show it's more than a one-hit wonder.
And then there's the small matter of Nick Marshall returning to his old stomping grounds. Something tells me Bulldog fans won't warmly embrace their former DB turned quarterback.
As far as the product on the field, it should be a good one. Marshall and the Auburn offense are poised to be even better this season, with the addition of wideout D'haquille Williams and a stable of running backs eager to step out of Tre Mason's shadow. Georgia, on the other hand, has a solid quarterback in Hutson Mason and arguably the best ball-carrier in the country in Todd Gurley.
I wouldn't expect much in the way of defense -- not with the way last season went for both teams, and the attrition that followed -- but the game should nonetheless be entertaining.
Greg Ostendorf's pick: South Carolina at Florida
The East will likely be decided in Week 12, and while Georgia's outcome should certainly play a role, I'm headed down to Gainesville for South Carolina-Florida, the final conference game for both teams. Steve Spurrier might very well have his most talented South Carolina team to date, and I expect the Gators to be much improved this year.
No, last year's game didn't produce an ending quite like the “Prayer at Jordan-Hare,” but there was still drama. After Florida jumped out to a 14-6 halftime lead behind freshman running back Kelvin Taylor, South Carolina had to rally, and kicked a pair of fourth-quarter field goals to win 19-14. Taylor finished with a season-high 96 yards and two touchdowns in the loss.
I expect even more drama in this year's game, and there will be no lack of stars with Taylor, Mike Davis, Vernon Hargreaves III, Dante Fowler Jr. and others.
I also don't want to miss an opportunity to take in the Swamp this time of year. The weather should be ideal and given that last year doesn't repeat itself, the atmosphere will be second to none with Spurrier back in town. The Old Ball Coach has won three of the last four meetings against his old team, but he's won just once in Gainesville.
It didn't seem as if we'd ever get here, but in a couple of hours, the inside of the Wynfrey Hotel will be transformed into a circus. The arrival of SEC media days brings us ever closer to the start of the 2014 season. Remember, this is the first season in which we'll be seeing an actual playoff end the season. That right there might be too much to digest.
But before we dive into the nitty-gritty of the season, we're turning our attention to SEC media days. It's where you can have 1,000 media members all together -- along with a lobby jam-packed with ravenous fans (usually Alabama ones) -- crowding around kids and coaches.
It really is a beautiful thing, and here are 10 things to keep an eye on this week in Hoover:
1. Life without Marshall: Monday was supposed to be a chance for Auburn to truly introduce quarterback Nick Marshall to the world. Sure, we've all seen what he can do with a football in his hand, but this was where we were supposed to hear Auburn's quarterback talk about all he does with a football. After all, Marshall could be a Heisman Trophy candidate this fall. But after Marshall was cited for possession of a small amount of marijuana Friday, he's out for media days. Tight end C.J. Uzomah will take his place. Marshall should be here to own up to his mistake. He should be here to take responsibility, but he isn't. Now his coach and teammates have to do that.
3. Mason's debut: Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason is headed to the big leagues, but his first official stop as the man in charge of the Commodores is in Hoover. This ain't Stanford, and it definitely isn't the Pac-12. He'll meet a throng of media members inside a gigantic ballroom. He'll be bombarded with questions about replacing James Franklin, and we'll all wonder if he has what it takes to keep Vandy relevant. Will he wow us during his introductory news conference? Or will he take the businesslike approach and just try to get through such a long day?
4. Muschamp's hot seat: After a 4-8 season that saw an anemic offense and a loss to FCS foe Georgia Southern, Florida coach Will Muschamp is feeling the heat under his seat. While he has been very collected about the pressure he should be feeling, he knows that this is the most important season of his tenure. To be fair, Florida dealt with an unfair amount of important injuries, but that means nothing now. Muschamp has yet to take Florida back to the SEC title and is 0-3 against archrival Georgia. Muschamp knows he has to win, and he and his players will be grilled about it all day today.
5. Sumlin dealing with distractions: Johnny Manziel might be gone, but Texas A&M is still dealing with distractions away from the football. Before Kevin Sumlin could even get to media days, he had to dismiss two of his best defensive players in linebacker Darian Claiborne and defensive tackle Isaiah Golden, who were arrested on charges of aggravated robbery earlier this year. One of his quarterbacks -- Kenny Hill -- also was arrested in March on a public intoxication charge. Once again, Sumlin will have to talk about more than just football this week.
7. Mauk's composure: Speaking of Missouri's quarterback, he's an incredibly interesting character to watch. He went 3-1 as a starter in place of the injured James Franklin last season, and has the right attitude and moxie that you want in a quarterback. Is he ready to be the guy full time? Is he ready to lead without a stud like Dorial Green-Beckham to throw to or Franklin to help him? A lot of veteran leadership is gone, so all eyes are on Mauk. He's also a very confident person who isn't afraid to speak his mind. Let's hope he's on his game.
8. Players and the playoff: This is the first season of the College Football Playoff, and we've received just about everyone's opinion on the matter. Well, almost. We haven't heard much from the people who might be playing in it. What do players think about it? Are there too many games now? Not enough? Do they care about the bowl experience? Do they even care about the playoff?
9. What do players think about getting paid? With the Power Five a real thing and autonomy becoming more of a reality, what do the players think about it all? What are their thoughts on the prospect of getting some sort of compensation from their schools? Are they getting enough now? How much is enough?
10. What will Spurrier say? Need I say more? We all want to know what Steve Spurrier will say. Will he take shots at Georgia or Saban? Will Dabo Swinney come up? Will another coach be a target? Who knows, and who cares? We just want him to deliver some patented Spurrier gold!
But those counselors from the college ranks might get even more out of the experience than the kids. The opportunity to interact with and learn from such successful NFL quarterbacks -- and fellow college players such as Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Baylor’s Bryce Petty -- lured 42 college quarterbacks from across the country to Thibodaux, a small town in south Louisiana.
“It might be even better to be a counselor,” said Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley, who attended the camp prior to his junior and senior seasons of high school. “I’ve enjoyed it day in and day out. Just being around these guys and talking to them … it’s a very select, elite group. We speak a different language sometimes.”
“I’m an observer, so I just observe the way [Peyton] does things,” Winston said. “He’s so detail-oriented and how he carries himself – I’m really trying to see how he carries himself because I want to be the guy 10, 15 years from now that’s viewed like a Peyton Manning or an Eli or an Archie.”
Entering his first season as Georgia’s starting quarterback, Hutson Mason -- one of seven SEC quarterbacks in attendance -- said he immediately started learning new things from the pro and college players upon arrival at the camp on Thursday.
For one thing, he said Peyton and Eli emphasized that a quarterback’s pregame routine should include more than just warming up with a few deep balls and skeleton-style throws with no defender. They told the college players to focus on quarterback-specific drills where they practice moving inside the pocket and keeping their eyes focused downfield.
“I think that’s what I was looking forward to is not only asking these guys how they do things at their school and maybe taking a little bit from them, but also the Mannings have drills that I’ve never really done. Yesterday I went and wrote them down so I wouldn’t forget them,” Mason said. “We kind of get repetitive with the drills we do, so it’s good to go into like a new library, use new resources, so to speak. You can’t get anything better than these guys.”
A welcome reprieve: The campers and counselors aren’t the only ones who continue to learn lessons about how to handle their high-profile position.
Archie was impressed with the way Peyton shook off the humiliation of his Denver Broncos’ 43-8 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl and found a way to move on with life. The week after the big game, the five-time NFL MVP decided to become a late entrant into the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
“You’d better not get over it immediately, but he handled it,” Archie said. “I think Peyton gets wiser every year. He turned around the week [after] that game and went and played in the AT&T golf tournament -- smartest thing he ever did. He played well and the PGA so much appreciated him coming, and it was good for him, too. You can’t sit around and mope when you lose a football game, so Peyton, he handled it.”
Alma mater connections: Among the several dozen college quarterbacks in attendance are seven from the SEC: Mason, Worley, Ole Miss’ Bo Wallace, Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott, Florida’s Jeff Driskel, Missouri’s Maty Mauk and South Carolina’s Dylan Thompson.
It’s no coincidence that two of those players, Worley and Wallace, are the presumptive starters at the alma maters of Peyton (Tennessee) and Archie and Eli (Ole Miss).
Both college players say they’ve developed bonds with the Mannings since arriving at their respective schools.
“Usually when I see Eli, it’s just, ‘How are you doing?’ I’ve never really gotten pointers or anything like that,” Wallace said. “I’ve gotten texts from Archie before games before, but it’s never been pointers or anything like that. It’s usually just friendly talk.”
Worley said in addition to his time working with the family at the camp, Peyton has worked a bit with the Voluntseer quarterbacks in Knoxville.
“We’ve got a very good relationship,” Worley said. “He came back a couple weeks and we threw for a couple days and had a meeting with him.”
- The Alabama-Tennessee rivalry appears to be alive and well in the mind of at least one recruit. ESPN 300 defensive end Andrew Butcher, who is committed to Tennessee, tweeted that he "can't wait" to beat Alabama with his fellow 2015 recruits. The tweet has since been deleted.
- This season, a new era begins. The College Football Playoff will make its debut. On Friday, the website for the playoff officially launched.
- And if you're wondering what the championship trophy will look like, we'll find out on Monday, July 14 (just in time for SEC media days). Here's a teaser video about the trophy.
- Here is a Q&A with new Missouri strength and conditioning coach Matt Herring.
- A look at the possible effect Missouri's new offensive line coach, A.J. Ricker, could have on the Tigers.
- Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott is one of many heading to the Manning Passing Academy. Here's a Q&A with him.
- If you've seen Georgia receiver Chris Conley's cool Star Wars fan film, here are one writer's "top 10 moments" from the film. If you haven't seen it, be warned, there are spoilers.
- Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley appeared on "The Paul Finebaum Show" recently and voiced his support for head coach Will Muschamp.
- Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin recently toured Kyle Field, which is in the middle of a $450 million upgrade and said, "We're building the finest football facility in America."
The 2014 Bronko Nagurski Trophy watch list debuted Thursday, along with the 2014 Outland Trophy watch list.
The SEC made its presence known again by ranking second out of all the major conferences with 16 players on the Nagurski watch list. The Nagurski Trophy is given out annually to college football's top defensive player.
The SEC led the nation with 19 players on the watch list for the Outland Trophy, which is given annually to the nation's top interior lineman. Eighty-one players make up the watch list for the Nagurski Trophy, and 64 are on the Outland Trophy's watch list.
The SEC players who made each list:
- Landon Collins, Alabama, S
- Trey DePriest, Alabama, LB
- Alvin "Bud" Dupree, Kentucky, DE
- Trey Flowers, Arkansas, DE
- Leonard Floyd, Georgia, LB
- Dante Fowler Jr., Florida, DE/LB
- Markus Golden, Missouri, DE
- Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida, S
- Jordan Jenkins, Georgia, LB
- A.J. Johnson, Tennessee, LB
- Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State, LB
- Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss, DT
- Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss, S
- A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama, DE
- Ramik Wilson, Georgia, LB
- Gabe Wright, Auburn, DT
- Vadal Alexander, LSU, G
- David Andrews, Georgia, C
- Evan Boehm, Missouri, C
- A.J. Cann, South Carolina, G
- La'el Collins, LSU, OT
- Reese Dismukes, Auburn, C
- D.J. Humphries, Florida, OT
- Germain Ifedi, Texas A&M, OT
- Ryan Kelly, Alabama, C
- Arie Kouandjio, Alabama, G
- Alex Kozan, Auburn, G
- Mike Matthews, Texas A&M, C
- Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss, DT
- Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M, OT
- A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama, DT
- Corey Robinson, South Carolina, OT
- Brandon Shell, South Carolina, OT
- Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss, OT
- Gabe Wright, Auburn, DT
Georgia’s senior receiver might make his name on the football field, but he grew up in a geek culture. His chiseled 6-foot-3, 206-pound frame is SEC, but his passions scream Comic-Con.
Months before Saturday’s highly anticipated debut of Conley’s no-so-amateur “Star Wars” short “Retribution,” Conley fidgeted in a rolling chair under the fuzzy lighting of a conference room inside Georgia’s football facility as he discussed the process of his project.
There was anxiety and excitement on his breath when he spoke about his film and how he dove headfirst into the project with football very much the center of his college life.
“I just kind of blindly picked up the phone and started recruiting people to be part of this team,” Conley said.
He and his brother both made comics that stretched from three to seven pages long, but Conley insists that Charles was the more artistic one.
And to tackle “Star Wars” seemed ideal. He was introduced to the series through the original three and he grew up with the most recent trilogy, causing him to embrace all six movies.
“To a kid, who doesn’t know any better, those [recent three movies] were amazing,” Conley said with a smile. “Everybody in my generation doesn’t understand what purists complain about because we’re like, ‘We love the whole thing.’”
Equipped with state-of-the-art computer graphics, slick choreography and a heart-pounding soundtrack, Conley brought to life an action-packed, 26-minute ride inside Georgia’s campus through a George Lucas-like lens.
“I like to be an avid learner, so it’s been a real learning process to learn how to do film and how to do it the right way, being someone who’s never gone to film school,” Conley said.
He started gathering his team in December. Writing, casting and choreography bled into February, when filming officially started. Conley, meanwhile, was entering spring practice as one of Georgia’s top returning receivers, doing morning mat drills with teammates.
“This was a unique experience,” Conley said. “I’ve worked on some small projects, but nothing ever this big. This is the first time that I’ve had about 60 people who are all looking at me for the answers, like when to be where and how we were going to go about things.”
Conley was learning the directing ropes. He was learning terminology, ordering shots, learning how to conduct himself on set, learning how to properly schedule shoots, figuring out framing, finding the right lighting, structuring blocking and studying how people react to what he said on set.
Interacting with people came naturally, but learning how to actually direct them was challenging, Conley said.
He also successfully juggled the sport he loved, academics and his ever-growing passion through discipline and cutting into one of his favorite activities.
“Planning a production takes a ridiculous amount of time,” Conley said. “The question when I told my coaches was where are you going to have time to do that, and I said, 'I don’t know.' So that time really came out of my sleep. I spent a ridiculous amount of hours up and planning this stuff because I couldn’t take anything out of my football obligations.”
The first weekend of shooting took 23 hours. The following Monday, Conley was up at daybreak for mat drills. He never let the movie become a distraction, which helped raise the respect his teammates had for him, Mason said.
“He’s a senior who’s been around a lot and he’s made plays, so guys kind of shut up and listen when he talks,” quarterback Hutson Mason said. “Guys know that he’s different. He’s not saying one thing and doing the other. Guys know that he’s genuine.
“Conley is the guy that you want modeling the name of Georgia and the name on the back of your jersey.”
Now we’ll find out how difficult it is to be a famed director and star SEC receiver. After catching 45 passes for 651 yards and four touchdowns last fall, Conley will be asked to do even more in 2014. With Malcolm Mitchell recovering from an ACL injury, Conley assumed the role as No. 1 receiver and dominated the spring.
Conley had time to direct and write a movie while playing a diabolical Sith lord. Returning to the gridiron shouldn’t be an issue.
“He represents his name and Georgia well, to a ‘T,’” Mason said. “Then, you take a guy who is a big, tall receiver, who just as far as the football field is another great weapon for us.
“He’s a guy that we feel if you leave one-on-one, it’s a mismatch. Conley’s just one of those guys that we feel if it’s in the red zone or in the middle of the field, we have to find ways to get him the ball.”
- Speaking of SEC media days, the Columbia Daily Tribune compiled a list of how many Twitter followers each of the attendees have. No. 1 on the list is the group of Georgia players, led by Todd Gurley.
- Want an inside look at how frenetic recruiting travel can be? AL.com reveals the flight records of Alabama's 24-year-old N1UA private plane to show the path required to achieve the nation's top recruiting class.
- Georgia offensive lineman Jake Edwards appears to have torn his ACL.
- The family of the late Philip Lutzenkirchen, the former Auburn tight end, is setting up a foundation to honor his memory.
- New Florida offensive line coach Mike Summers is getting positive reviews from his former players.
- Kentucky safety Mike Edwards, a member of the 2014 recruiting class, will have surgery and not enroll this semester at UK, but says he remains committed to the Wildcats.
- TheState.com takes a look at South Carolina's five most important players for the Gamecocks this season, starting with No. 5, Shaq Roland.
- The NFL Network's countdown of top 100 players in the NFL -- according to other NFL players -- has Tennessee alumnus Peyton Manning as No. 1 overall.
#CFBRank: Todd Gurley
6:00 PM ET Texas A&M South Carolina 8:00 PM ET Boise State Ole Miss 9:15 PM ET Temple Vanderbilt
12:00 PM ET Tennessee-Martin Kentucky 3:30 PM ET West Virginia Alabama 3:30 PM ET South Dakota State Missouri 4:00 PM ET Arkansas Auburn 5:30 PM ET Clemson Georgia 7:00 PM ET Idaho Florida 7:30 PM ET Southern Miss Mississippi State 9:00 PM ET Wisconsin LSU