HOOVER, Ala. — Some final thoughts from SEC Media Days as we now race toward the start of the college football season:
* To me, the most impressive of the league’s four new coaches was Kentucky’s Mark Stoops. He’s been waiting for a head coaching opportunity and he has a real plan to build a program that will make the Wildcats competitive again. I like that fact that Stoops, a defensive-minded coach, is going to go with an up-tempo offense. Not only will it entertain fans, it will give UK a chance to recruit some potential dynamic offensive players. He’s got a lot of work to do, but his defense will eventually be pretty solid. You can sense the excitement Stoops has already generated in the state of Kentucky.
* Watch out for LSU this season. Many are discounting the Tigers’ chances in the SEC because they’ve lost so many players, including their entire defensive line. But this is a very fast and talented team that will be capable of beating every team it plays. I have a feeling the Tigers like being in this position — being picked to finish third in the West. Les Miles’ team seems to be the most dangerous when it is overlooked.
* It was a little jarring at first to see that Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray is all the way down on the third team on the media’s preseason All-SEC team. But the more you think about it, the more sense it makes, I guess. Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy last season. AJ McCarron won the national championship. Murray threw for a bunch of yards and touchdowns but the Bulldogs had to settle for the Capital One Bowl. Murray could end up being the All-SEC quarterback this season if the ’Dogs turn out to be as good as many think.
* Steve Spurrier continues to be the most entertaining coach in the SEC. And it’s not even close. He entertained the media big-time this year with his call for players to be paid — and for Notre Dame to join a football conference if it wants to have any say in the college playoff. Spurrier has never seemed more comfortable at the podium, speaking exactly what’s on his mind.
* Bret Bielema and Gus Malzahn are not going to be friends. They’ve already got a heated rivalry going now due to their differing opinions on up-tempo offenses and whether it puts players at risk of injury. Arkansas and Auburn are in the same division, so this is going to be interesting.
* Johnny Football is going to continue having problems dealing with all the attention he’s getting. I’m sensing a little bit of a sophomore jinx for him this season. I have a feeling defenses are going to come up with a better plan for him now that they’ve seen him once. And the pressure is really on this kid.
* A lot of people think this South Carolina team is the best Spurrier has had. I just don’t see it. The Gamecocks must replace all their linebackers, don’t have a whole lot of proven talent at wide receiver and don’t have a dynamic tailback, at least not yet. I think Spurrier is so fired up about this team because he’s got not one, but two, quarterbacks that he likes.
* Heading into the season, there really aren’t any coaches on the hot seat. But I have two candidates who could end up there by November — Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen and Missouri’s Gary Pinkel.
* Here are my predictions: Alabama will win the West, Georgia will win the East. I just have a feeling the ’Dogs will take down the Tide in the SEC Championship Game. As for the Gators, I think they’re going to be strong on defense again and much better on offense. But it’s going to be tough to match last year’s 11-1 regular-season record with a tough schedule that includes road trips to Miami, LSU and South Carolina.