Welcome back to “Talkin’ Season,” everybody.
There usually isn’t much substantial news (if any) that comes out of SEC Media Days, but the league’s annual preseason gathering is an important mile-marker in the college football offseason as we inch closer to actual football.
On Monday, commissioner Greg Sankey opened things up with his annual address and was followed by three coaches: Arkansas’ Bret Bielema, LSU’s Ed Orgeron and Tennessee’s Butch Jones.
Here’s what they had to say.
Sankey on transfers, 14-week schedules and more
First, Sankey, entering his third football season as commissioner, provided the SEC’s stance on a number of topics in college football — and collegiate athletics as a whole. He brought up a recent meeting from the NCAA’s Division I Transfer Working Group where permission to contact rules with transfers were discussed.
Currently, student-athletes need permission from their school to receive financial aid at a potential transfer destination. Sankey, like the Group expressed last month, believes that should change.
“From their meeting two weeks ago, we saw a set of concepts, one of which was the idea that financial aid should not be tied to whether a school grants permission to contact,” Sankey said. “That’s one of those control points in transfers. I think it’s time for that to be, not only discussed, but I think that’s something that should move forward from my perspective.”
[More college football from Yahoo Sports: 20 impact transfers for 2017]
Another topic brought up by Sankey was the possibility of adding a 14th week to the regular season. Like the issue of transfers, this idea has also been discussed by the NCAA — last month by the D-I Oversight Committee — and would provide an additional bye week for teams. As it stands, the regular season is 13 weeks and most teams have just one bye week.
Sankey said the league doesn’t oppose the idea provided preseason camp does not begin earlier in the summer.
“There’s not opposition here to a 14-week season. There’s curiosity and interest,” Sankey said. “We don’t want to see practice begin even earlier in the summer. There is sensitivity to student athletes who are completing summer school and not adding further interruption to their process. We’re open to a 14-week season, but we want to be very careful about not moving the standard for football practice even earlier into the summer.”
The SEC was presented with an odd circumstance last year when the LSU-Florida game was postponed because of Hurricane Matthew. The game, originally scheduled to be played Oct. 8 in Gainesville, was moved to Baton Rouge and played on Nov. 19 after a lot of contentious behind-the-scenes conversations.
In the future, Sankey said there is a rule in place for the commissioner to make the final call on rescheduling.
“Obviously (there was) a lot of learning last year,” Sankey said. “We didn’t have a policy as a conference once you move past game day. That has been corrected. The membership voted, both our athletics directors and our presidents, unanimously to say the conference commissioner has the authority to place that game.”
Finally, Sankey once again shot down the idea of divisional realignment.
“(Realignment) has not been an agenda item in a meeting,” Sankey said. “It is a conversation in most large press conferences in which I appear, and that’s the extent of the conversation.
[More college football from Yahoo Sports: 20 non-conference games to look forward to in 2017]
Bielema holds court
New dad Bret Bielema, entering year five at Arkansas with just a 25-26 record, kicked things off for the coaches and relayed a story about accidentally butt-dialing Sankey as he left a Chipotle. More on that story here.
In terms of actual football, Bielema — who AD Jeff Long insisted in June is not on the hot seat — was quick to own his team’s disastrous finish to the 2016 season that included second half collapses at Missouri and in the Belk Bowl against Virginia Tech.
“Last year, our last two games were not highlights, especially the way they both ended,” Bielema said. “I knew we had to take a new look at things. We took an internal look at us coaching-wise. What we were asking them to do, how we were asking them to do it. Took an even stronger look at our personnel, which made us drive the decision to change to a 3-4 (defense).”
Bielema also made sure to tout his quarterback, senior Austin Allen, who has the chance to be one of the league’s best — but maybe doesn’t get the public praise he deserves.
“He’s a guy that got some decoration and some awards. But because you play at Arkansas, maybe because he didn’t have five stars coming in and maybe he’s not tremendously pushed by us,” Bielema said. “We at Arkansas try to prove what we are by numbers, by doing things we actually can put own down on paper and believe them. Not a lot of hype or a lot of hubba-hubba. It’s just what have you done.”
There was also this fun exchange with a reporter:
Reporter: “Coach, two years ago here you described a win over Texas as being borderline erotic. I was wondering, if you are able to beat A&M with the way things have gone in your series with them, how do you think you’d describe that?”
Bielema: “I know you guys are all looking for quotes. I don’t think I can go much further than that one. That was in a small-group session and that was before I had a child, so I’ll just leave it at there.”
Perhaps our pal Bret has matured.
[More college football from Yahoo Sports: Dr. Saturday’s top 20 games of 2016]
Coach O returns
Next up was Ed Orgeron, who had the interim tag lifted and is finally occupying his coveted LSU head-coaching role.
After telling a story about knowing he wanted to be an LSU Tiger since age 10, the Louisiana native gave reporters the rundown on each position on his depth chart — starters and backups. Orgeron is a fun guy to listen to, but this wasn’t exactly the most engaging material.
Perhaps sensing he had bored the room — and also not really caring one way or another — Orgeron let out a big smile before asking if there were any questions for him.
Ed Orgeron's smirk after going through his entire depth chart was excellent.
"Any questions?" pic.twitter.com/GNmgIinOJo
— Dr. Saturday (@YahooDrSaturday) July 10, 2017
Of course, there were questions for Orgeron, who made his return to SEC Media Days after his tenure as head coach at Ole Miss lasted just three seasons from 2005 to 2007. How has he changed since then? Well, he said, he’s willing to delegate to his coaches.
“Although I recruited well, the day I left Ole Miss, I looked at myself, and I called my mentor and said, hey, there’s some things I have to change. I need to find out why I was not successful,” Orgeron said. “Here’s two things I came up with. Number one, I was going to treat the team exactly how I treat my sons, no different. And I was going to treat every coach on the coach’s staff with respect and let him coach his position as he knew it. That’s the difference.”
For a second year in a row, Orgeron will have one of the country’s top running backs at his disposal. Last year, Derrius Guice flourished alongside Leonard Fournette and when Fournette was sidelined. Orgeron thinks Guice will continue to improve and “flourish” in the offense of new coordinator Matt Canada. That should be a scary thought for SEC defenses.
“Everything that we do is going to be based around our best player, Derrius Guice. We feel we have one of the best running backs and one of the best offensive players in the country,” Orgeron said. “He runs the ball like Warren Sapp played the defensive line for me at Miami. He runs with an attitude.”
How’s that for a compliment? Oh, and the running back was the best-dressed player of the day, too.
— LSU Football (@LSUfootball) July 10, 2017
If there’s one thing Orgeron says more than anything, it’s “Geaux Tigers.” Well, it turns out he signs autographs with the phrase as well — in lieu of his own name.
Coach O signing footballs with "Geaux Tigers" instead of his name. pic.twitter.com/jUeoa9vZRO
— Michael Casagrande (@ByCasagrande) July 10, 2017
What a guy.
Butch Jones: not disappointed
The day wrapped up when Tennessee coach Butch Jones graced the podium. Though many UT fans would say they weren’t exactly satisfied by last year’s finish, Jones was quick to mention that the Vols are one of three SEC teams to win at least nine games the last two seasons. He also said he doesn’t view 2016 as a “disappointment,” though he did concede the team “didn’t accomplish everything (it) set out to.”
“Our goal every year is to win a championship and compete to win a championship. So, was it a disappointment? No. Did we not accomplish some of the things we set out to do? Absolutely. We have to learn from the things that went wrong that we could have done better,” Jones said.
“This is a results-oriented business and we fell short of our goals. But I don’t like to use the term ‘disappointment,’ because when you still look at it, it’s hard to win in this conference. And only three teams have won nine games, and the University of Tennessee is one of those.”
Entering 2017, Jones has the task of replacing quarterback Josh Dobbs, a three-year starter. As of now, Quinten Dormady and Jarrett Guarantano continue to battle it out for the starting job.
“We will not name a starting quarterback until the time is right. I can’t tell you where that is. That will be decided obviously on the field when we start training camp,” Jones said.
The possibility of both guys playing is very real.
“I think playing time is earned, so if both players earn their right to play, we’ll play both quarterbacks,” Jones said. “I’ve been in systems where we’ve been able to do that, and really Quinten and Jarrett’s skill sets are very similar to each other. I think we have an offense that really can play to the skill sets of the quarterback and all of the players around.”
We’ll be back for more coverage tomorrow. Only three more days!
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