July 19, 2014 1:58:07 PM
HOOVER, Ala. -- There were complaints about the lack of star power. There was never a controversial quote or any semblance of trash talk from one coach to another. In all, The 2014 version of the Southeastern Conference's Media Days could be classified as uneventful.
But one over-arching message was relayed by every coach that took to the podium this week, from the first speaker -- Auburn's Gus Malzahn to the last -- Kentucky's Mark Stoops.
"This event means it's football season," said Stoops. "And I think we can all be excited about that."
With a 30-minute speech and a question-and-answer session, Stoops brought SEC Media Days to a close on Thursday, as all 14 teams now turn their attention to the opening of fall football camp, which ranges from late July to early August across the league.
What we learned
Not much. The annual favorites are still pretty much the favorites, as the media selected Alabama and South Carolina, which has three straight 11-win seasons, as the frontrunners in the SEC's Western and Eastern Divisions.
And while teams like Ole Miss and Mississippi State created plenty of buzz as teams that could upset the balance of power in the West, Alabama, Auburn and LSU were still picked to finish as the top three.
In the East, meanwhile, the one piece of bulletin board material that could be construed as controversial came from Georgia coach Mark Richt, was was asked about Georgia being picked to finish second behind South Carolina.
"I'm not happy about about it, I'm not going to lead cheers about being picked to finish second," said Richt. "It's going to be an exciting season, and in the end, I think Georgia will come out on top."
Making an impression
Mississippi State junior quarterback Dak Prescott, coming off a sophomore season where he produced 25 touchdowns and nearly 3,000 yards in limited action, found himself among the individual stars among player representatives in Hoover.
Prescott, along with LB Benardrick McKinney and safety Jay Hughes, represented MSU, and media members came away impressed.
"I look at a guy like Dak Prescott, the way he carries himself and the way he plays the game," said ESPN College Football analyst Jesse Palmer. "I think Mississippi State is a team that has a chance to make a lot of noise in the SEC West, and he is a big reason why. I think he can be one of the very best quarterbacks in the league."
Prescott's 2013 performance earned preseason attention as well, as the Haughton, Louisiana native was chosen as the Second Team All-SEC quarterback behind Auburn's Nick Marshall.
Turning the tables
While Alabama was chosen as the media's preseason pick for SEC champ, not everybody was buying it.
Not even Alabama coach Nick Saban.
Pointing out that the media has been wrong in 18 of the last 22 seasons in its attempt to pick a league champ, Saban turned the tables on the assembled sportswriters in the main media room.
"I won't get into who you all picked this season," said Saban. "But going into last year, you were wrong 17 out of 21 years, now that's up to 18 out of 22. So pick carefully but just know that we are evaluating you."
Nearly every coach in the Western Division was asked about his team's chances to win the division this season. Several, like Saban and Auburn coach Nick Malzahn, were confident but cautious.
Others, Les Miles in particular, was not.
"I like us," said Miles, whose team must replace eight offensive starters including QB Zach Mettenberger. "And I like us in every game."
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze was optimistic, saying "I think we are ahead of schedule in building this program. My goal when I took this job was to make Ole Miss relevant in the SEC West again. And I think we've done that."
Mullen, who spoke on Tuesday, believes the West is as open as it has been during his tenure.
"I think there are seven coaches in our division that right now think they can win this division," said Mullen. "There are seven teams who believe they can reach Atlanta this year, and that's a unique deal."
For two seasons, quarterback Johnny Manziel led Texas A&M to 20 wins while earning the 2012 Heisman Trophy. But now, Manziel plays for the Cleveland Browns, a fact not lost on A&M coach Kevin Sumlin.
"That's a great question...for the Cleveland Browns," said Sumlin. "Seriously, I thought this was SEC Media Days? Why all these NFL questions?"
Tide QB race still open
Former Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron, who led the Tide to a pair of national championships, is also gone. In his place in Tuscaloosa will be either senior Blake Sims or incoming transfer Jacob Coker, who passed for 295 yards and a touchdown as Jameis Winston's backup at Florida State.
Saban wasted little time in dismissing the notion that the job is Coker's to lose.
"That's not the perception internally," said Saban. "Jake will have a chance to come in and compete for the job, but he'll have to compete with Blake Sims, a guy who has been in our program and did a good job for us in the spring."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brandon Walker on Twitter @BWonStateBeat
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