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SEC media days review: Tennessee isn't quick to claim favorite status

HOOVER, Ala. -- A day after Nick Saban marched out of the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Alabama, temper a bit flared, his Crimson Tide team was picked as the overwhelming favorite to win the SEC West and the conference. Alabama collected 246 first-place votes in the West, and 223 points in the championship round.

For the coach who continuously tells the media it's wrong with its SEC picks, Thursday's obvious realization probably means zilch, considering the media has picked the correct SEC champion five times since 1992.

Tennessee fans probably like that, as their Volunteers took the East with 225 first-place votes over reigning East champ Florida (57) but just 29 champion points. Again, not a shocker, but frontrunner status has doomed a Tennessee team that hasn't won the East since 2007.

But things do feel different in Knoxville. Nearly 20 starters are back, and it seems like the Vols have the fewest Eastern questions. On paper, Tennessee is the sure bet, but players aren't rushing to crown themselves much of anything.

"I would say Tennessee is back [to being] relevant," Tennessee cornerback Cameron Sutton said.

Pretty humble.

"I'll let everyone else say if we're back or not, but we're still climbing," linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin said. "We're still trying to progress and we still have to get better. We haven't really won anything, yet. We haven't won a SEC championship, we haven't played in the playoff, we haven't played in a New Years six bowl. We still have a lot to do."

All true, but the target is still firmly on your Creamsicle backs.

Florida's Jarrad Davis, David Sharpe and Marcus Maye shook their heads at Tennessee being a media darling, but they get it. After an abysmal 0-3 finish that saw blowouts to Florida State, Alabama and Michigan, the Gators weren't boasting about much ... except that 11-game winning streak over Tennessee.

They took pride in winning the East, but didn't about the distant second-place finish. Florida could have had rings made for winning the East, but players voted not to because losing in Atlanta "was a participation award," Davis said.

"You don't want to be praised for showing up and losing," Davis added. "If you're second, you're the first loser. If you want a ring for being a loser, then that's cool."

No, Jarrad, that's not cool.

Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen once again on Tuesday defended defended Jeffery Simmons, amid a plethora of critical questions (that garnered questionable responses). The freshman was allowed to enroll after being caught on video repeatedly punching a woman who was on the ground. Commissioner Greg Sankey also clearly alluded to Simmons when asked why transfer students are restricted based on past behavior and incoming freshmen aren't.

"I'm always cautious: Be careful about judging one's character on 10 seconds of video," Sankey said.

That comment also drew plenty of criticism after Sankey said he wasn't exactly comfortable with the Simmons ruling in June.

There will be counseling and a one-game suspension (South Alabama) for Simmons, and Mullen and his players said Simmons is "doing all the right things" to stay on track to play this fall.

Bret Bielema livened the crowd (scroll to the middle section), Gus Malzahn didn't. Barry Odom said way more than we expected after his AD abruptly left for Baylor. You have to wonder just how bad things are on Mizzou's campus following the fall of racial unrest for Mack Rhoades to leave for Baylor, which egregiously handled sexual assault allegations.

Kirby Smart had to talk "bonehead" arrests and poor depth in the trenches, while Les Miles talked social unrest and the tragic shooting deaths that gripped the country last week.

Hugh Freeze continued to defend his program amid a lengthy NCAA investigation, but said he and his staff could have done more thorough monitoring. Say what you will about Freeze's crusade to clear Ole Miss' name without being able to comment directly on this investigation, but the guy handled himself well.

Vanderbilt and South Carolina -- who combined to win seven games last year -- each received two first-place votes in the East and one title pick. So ... yeah.

And there appears to be a match made in Aggie Heaven, with Trevor Knight and Kevin Sumlin. This is a critical year for Sumlin, following consecutive 8-5 seasons, and this is a rebirth for Knight, an Oklahoma transfer. Both need to win, and both need each other to do it.

"We fill the void for him to be able to play and be closer to his family, and he filled the void for us that was not just a graduate transfer quarterback but as a guy we actually want as a quarterback," Sumlin said. "It's a good fit for us."

In little over a month, we'll see just how well that fit is. We'll also likely forget a lot of what happened in Hoover, which is good because real football will be here.