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2017 SEC Media Days Recap: Malzahn & Muschamp swagger, Hugh Freeze filibusters.

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Someone definitely lawyered up.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Tournament-Kentucky vs Arkansas Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports
NCAA Football: SEC Media Days
ARGLE BARGLE WARGLE
Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

Will Muschamp: South Carolina

It’s no secret that we’re pretty high on South Carolina this year. The team really found its identity when it decided on Jake Bentley under center and a go-for-broke aggressive passing game. The defense will always be good as will recruiting on that side of the ball. The only thing left is putting it all together and improving.

  • Coach Boom was pretty feisty yesterday, poking fun at media members and Georgia’s Kirby Smart. The latter makes sense since these two know one another very well and the South Carolina-Georgia series is not only an early barometer of the season, but is also one of the wildest SEC East rivalries on the field. This is a game that is far more important to South Carolina than to Georgia, and most of the time it shows
  • For a Gamecocks defense badly in need of playmakers, the return of LB Skai Moore is huge. He was USC’s leading tackler for three years before a neck injury kept him out last season. However, he did observe that there are a lot of unknowns on a defense that in no-way resembled a Muschamp unit last season. In doing so, he singled out some particular players in need of taking the next step along the defensive line and at inside linebacker.
  • As unsettled as the defense is, there are “lots of knowns” for an offense that lit it up down the stretch. Jake Bentley, who was so good in the second half of the season, was actually slated to be redshirted. But, when he got his chance, USC moved the ball and developed an identity. Goes to show you have to always be ready when your name is called, ‘eh?
  • Chiefly receiving praise on offense was the very solid (and IMHO underrated) receiving corps, especially WR Deebo Samuel and TE Hayden Hurst. Samuel needs to stay healthy for the team to have success.
  • The loss of RB David Williams to Arkansas was a blow, but Muschamp unqualifiedly recommended him to Coach Bielema. He said his philosophy on transfers is to not eliminate opportunities for players (wonder if he’d be so sanguine if Williams went to Clemson or Tennessee?)
  • Downplayed the loss of All-SEC PK Elliot Fry by saying that Nick Woznick can be that guy to replace him. We’ll see -- Fry was an excellent college kicker.
  • Has an interesting drop-dead date for improvement: USC has scripted its first 11 practices, and, after those practices, then it’s D-Day for the younger players/underperformers on the depth chart. That’s how he’s deciding the two-deep. Players want transparency, so I guess that’s one way to do it: publicly tell them to show out for two weeks or hit the bench.
  • Begins as he ends, with a statement I actually agree with, “we’re on the verge of doing some really good things.” This team may not win the East, but they’re going to hurt people’s feelings along the way, methinks.
NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Clemson vs Alabama
what happened to his lip?!
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Gus Malzahn: Auburn

Well, in the tall-talk game Malzahn is taking a backseat to no one. To say Auburn’s head man is confident is an understatement. He is all-in on this Tigers’ team, selling this as a “no excuses” year. We’ll see if he holds himself to that standard should Auburn goes 8-4 again.

  • Says that the biggest difference on offense this year is the quality of depth at quarterback. (Ouch: There are still three other guys on the roster he recruited at QB; that can’t have been a fun thing to hear.) Stidham is showing good leadership and work ethic, and it’s no forgone conclusion he will start. There will be a vigorous competition with Sean White, who has earned the team’s trust and leadership. He’s comfortable with either guy, but does not plan on letting the QB competition leech into and linger throughout the season as it did last year.(I’d personally be stunned if the limited White, coming off a serious forearm injury, gets any meaningful snaps outside of injuries or body bag games.)
  • Unlike year’s past, the OC will make the determination as to the starter. That likely has more to do with Chip Lindsey having more experience than Rhett Lashlee than a departure from micromanagement, to be honest.
  • He favorably compared this team to the 2013 squad, not only in terms of “hunger, intensity” and the like, but also in returning depth. This is the most returning starters Auburn has had in Gus Malzahn’s tenure (Apparently, it’s the most returning starters Auburn has had in the last 12 years. But, ima’ need to fact-check that statement from him, y’all.) Says that there is quality depth at every unit and better leadership than years’ past.
  • There’s a question at punter, but Daniel Carson is back to make basically every kick he’s called upon to make. Alabama stupidly did not offer a scholarship to the legacy, who always wanted to play for the Tide, and he wound up at the Barn. Saban doesn’t make many mistakes in living rooms; this may be the biggest he’s had on the recruiting trail.
  • Malzahn said that last year’s team was playing as well as anyone in the country before a string of injuries hit the Tigers. He also thinks that having Alabama at home is a huge benefit to their championship chances. He did not give us any indication as to how many “traffic jams,” non-functional headsets, non-operational game clocks, elevators that only break at halftime, and soggy fields in the middle of a drought the Tide will see. I’m sure you can take a guess, however. #BarnCheatin’
NCAA Football: SEC Media Days
I’ve seen my hound run down deer who didn’t look this panicked
Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

Well, that was...interesting. On the eve of Media Days, Ole Miss was hit with a lawsuit from former head coach Houston Nutt alleging inter alia that the Rebels were throwing him under the bus and defaming his character to protect Hugh Freeze. Hugh remarked that the timing was rather fishy (but it’s not the first time we’ve seen legal shenanigans -- remember when Phil Fulmer was served with a subpoena at Media Days in 2008?)

In any event, someone lawyered-up. Hugh’s address ran about 16 minutes , by far the longest of his career and of anyone at Media Days. It was a classic filibuster: He read a detailed two-deep off of a stack of papers to kill time. The reason? The longer he talks, the less questions he can take and/or accidentally implicate himself. It was truly surreal, but didn’t matter much in the end, as “no comment” on radio row was his new favorite phrase in the English language.

That said, I actually enjoyed Coach Freeze more than just about anyone. Alongside Saban, Muschamp, Odom, he actually came to talk specifics not mere platitudes. When he was focused on just football, it was very good red meat. The problem is, it can never just be about fooball with Hugh Freeze: it’s always something else weird popping up.

  • He began with a public mea culpa for Ole Miss’ naughtiness, but then made the case that Ole Miss’ self-imposed sanctions, and the additional hit from recruiting, have been enough to rectify any alleged misconduct. Wants the Committee on Infractions hearing to come to make his case.
  • When making his initial recap of last year, rather than fault the implosion on a dreadful defense, he said that losing double-digit leads to Alabama and FSU had merely rattled their confidence, which was weird. Even weirder was his offseason activity that saw Ole Miss bring in Navy SEALs to help hammer home this year’s theme, “accountability through adversity.”

Look, I’m not one to fault a man’s sloganeering, but that’s just ass-backwards. If Ole Miss truly accepts responsibility, then the adversity arises because of the consequences of accepting accountability. This linguistically screams of the same ol’ self-martyring commentary he’s made in the past -- comparing his plight to that of Jesus, for instance.

  • But, he is right to some extent -- “mental toughness is the secret sauce.” Freeze did eventually come around to the defense, emphasizing that the Rebels couldn’t get anyone off the field in 2016,. The new staff he brought in to run the defense, including Wesley McGriff, has Freeze particularly excited. To his credit, this is a really good hire too. McGriff did a great job with Auburn’s secondary, he has SEC experience and worked in the NFL. Sadly, Freddie Roach has joined this staff too. #BenedictFreddie They’re all very able recruiters.
  • Thinks the OL has really solidified and can be one of the better ones in the country. Likewise, the receiving two-deep is solid and talented.
  • He obviously raved about Shea Patterson and his growth and development, but that he still has a higher ceiling. In response to a question, Freeze said he would love to see him be the face of the program.
  • One of the bigger questions is how to replace the terror that was Evan Engram. Freeze pointed to Dawson Knox as a guy he hopes can fill the role. But, the TE corps also goes 4-deep and they’re all different players.
  • Jordan Wilkins is the starter at TB, but he hopes Eric Swinney, who was injured as a freshman at Florida State, will be able to go.
  • Feels good about corners, esp. since Ken Webster is returning (he was the Rebels’ lockdown guy who blew his knee out early last season.) The safeties don’t seem to be as strong.
  • Singled out linebackers as an area that needs a lot more improvement, particularly how poorly they played last year. But, it doesn’t sound like any depth chart has been firmed up here -- I’d wager a lot of guys get looks.
  • The strength of the defense is unquestionably on the defensive line, including Breeland Speaks and Marquise Haynes returning.
  • Special Teams again will be very good in the kicking game, with Gary Wunderlich returning at PK. There is a competition for LS and the Rebels will rely on a RS Fr. for punting duties. D.D. Bowie is going to be the explosive return man he hopes, though three others are in the mix.

Well, that wraps up our week-long coverage of 2K17 Media Days. Players report in just over two weeks. Alabama’s fan day is that weekend. Then, Fall camp starts. Next thing you know, Alabama and Florida State will be teeing it up.

Sorry this last one was a bit delayed, but I had to travel back, and I was beat -- it had been a week of 19-hour days getting this hot #content up for y’all.

Roll Tide