July 13, 2017 10:18:58 AM
HOOVER, Ala. -- The last three football seasons have proven one thing about the Southeastern Conference: It has 13 teams chasing Alabama.
Alabama coach Nick Saban might not agree with the sentiment, but that didn't keep his colleagues from recognizing it Wednesday at SEC Media Days.
"I think there's a lot of parity in our league," Saban said. Alabama is 43-5 in conference play since 2011. "I think it's very challenging from a consistency standpoint. I think we have one of the youngest teams we've ever had, so it's going to be a real challenge for us to maintain the standard we've been able to maintain."
A coach with an intimate knowledge of how Alabama works -- former Alabama defensive coordinator and current Georgia coach Kirby Smart -- offered a thought about what teams will have to do to catch Alabama.
"I think the biggest thing is recruiting and development," he said. "A lot of people say it's one or the other, do you recruit great players or do you develop great players. When you do both, that's when you got something special, and I think every team in this conference is trying to play catch-up in regards to that. I think each one's getting closer, and we'd like to see that gap closed through recruiting."
LSU's Ed Orgeron thinks his program is close to catching Alabama.
"Last year was a tight game. It was 0-0 going into the third quarter," Orgeron said. "Their quarterback made two plays. We didn't. I don't know if it's that big of a gap. I think we need to play our football."
Moore sounds off on Missouri
The unrest at Missouri since the racial protests of the fall of 2015 still lingers on campus. A New York Times report earlier this week stated enrollment has fallen 35 percent since then.
Missouri wide receiver J'Mon Moore -- widely touted as one of the league's best at that position -- has nothing negative to say of his time in Columbia. He also hopes the stigma changes.
"I don't know why anybody would want to pass up on this place, based on my experience," Moore said. "It hurts me that people have this perception about the school that's really false. I hope we can turn that around and attract some more people. People are really missing out by not going to Mizzou."
Stoops shocked by brother's retirement
The list of people shocked by former Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops' decision to retire in June at the age of 56 includes his brother, Mark.
Mark Stoops, the head coach at Kentucky, shared the reaction he had after Bob called to tell him the news.
"It's one of those moments you won't forget because he called me and it came out of the blue. I had to walk out of my office and walk around the practice field," Mark Stoops said. "That's where I had a conversation with him away from everybody. Mixed emotions, I guess you would say from myself. Very proud of him, what's he done and very happy for him and Carol and his family to be able to step away when he wants, how he wants. That's Bob."
In private conversations with each other and in public discussions with media, it's clear Arkansas coach Bret Bielema and Missouri coach Barry Odom agree the yearly meeting between the schools should be a marquee rivalry.
"Geographically, it's in a great location for it to be a natural rivalry game," Odom said. The campuses are 300 miles away from one another.
Said Bielema, "Anything we can do to flame that fire is a good thing for anybody. It's hard to create a bunch of history overnight, but that's happening."
Odom also joked he brought linebacker Eric Biesel to Media Days for the purpose of intensifying the rivalry. Biesel slighted Arkansas in the lead up to last year's game by purposefully mispronouncing Arkansas.
On Wednesday, he referred to Arkansas as "that school down south."
Groza, Guy Award nominees
Mississippi State punter Logan Cooke was one of 29 named to the preseason watch list for the Ray Guy Award, which is given to college football's "Punter of the Year."
Cooke is one of six from the SEC named to the watch list. Last season, he averaged 40 yards per kick in 44 punts. The senior also showcased his precision, placing 22 punts inside the 20-yard line.
Cooke has served as the team's primary punter for three seasons after being thrust into action as a freshman in 2014. He has played in 32 career games. He has a career best punt of 68 yards and an average of 41.1 yards per punt.
Alabama senior punter JK Scott also was named to the Ray Guy Award Watch List. He was a finalist for the award as a freshman in 2014. The honor recognizes the nation's top collegiate punter.
Scott averaged 47.2 yards per punt to rank third in the nation and second in the SEC in 2016. He registered 25 punts of 50-plus yards, while 39 percent of his punts went beyond 50 yards during his junior campaign. He finished second nationally in 60-yard punts with seven.
The final list will be announced Oct. 31. Ten semifinalists will be selected Nov. 16. The three finalists will be announced Nov. 21. The winner will be announced Dec. 7 at the ESPN Home Depot College Football Awards Show.
After leading the NCAA with a sparkling 95.7 field goal percentage last season, Ole Miss senior kicker/punter Gary Wunderlich was named to the 30-man preseason watch list for the Lou Groza Collegiate Place-Kicker Award.
Southern Miss redshirt junior Parker Shaunfield also was named to the list for the Groza Award.
Wunderlich, a native of Memphis, Tennessee, is one of 12 returning semifinalists placed on the watch list. Last year, he set an SEC and Ole Miss record by connecting on 22 of 23 field goals. His only miss came from 55 yards. He ranked fifth nationally with 1.83 field goals per game and 26th with 8.9 points scored per outing.
While the watch list highlights 30 of the best returning kickers in the country, the Groza Committee will be watching all FBS kickers during the season, and releasing a weekly "Stars of the Week" feature on www.lougrozaaward.com. All FBS kickers remain eligible to be selected as semifinalists.
Twenty semifinalists will be announced Nov. 2. Three finalists will be selected Nov. 21. The winner will be announced Dec. 7 at the Home Depot College Football Awards Show.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson