SEC Media Days
notes from nashville - Part 2
By George Somerville
With Media days in the rear view mirror and the SEC juggernaut hurtling towards the start of the season, there was a lot to unpack from the week in Nashville.
In this series of articles, our SEC insider George Somerville recalls some of the key moments from SEC Media Days and talks to the big stories which will dominate and be debated right up until the first whistle of the 2023/24 SEC college football season.
SEC MEDIA DAYS, Nash-Vegas,TN
Let The Cake Bake
While Monday and Tuesday did not disappoint, there was something special in the air on Wednesday. When Alabama arrived at 8.05am (very specific and unsurprisingly bang on time), the atmosphere in the room changed immediately. The Goat had arrived.
While the rest of the room may have been sitting up a little straighter, the Crimson Tide head coach, Nick Saban was relaxed and pretty chilled out. He had, after all, just returned from vacation.
“I think you all know that we went on vacation to Italy, just to
clear that up, that was our 50th wedding anniversary gift to
Ms. Terry from some of our friends, which I successfully
got out of for two years”.
Saban told the assembled media.
” (I) Failed to be able to get out of it this year – didn’t really want to go…..”
With all these misgivings (I am picturing Coach Saban being dragged through Rome airport) I never thought that the Alabama head coach was about to become an ambassador for the Italian tourist office. But he did – he loved La Dolce Vita. Saban was smitten and continued,
“But it was a fabulous time. Fabulous. And I would
recommend anybody do it, lots of good culture, great
architecture, art, a lot of good things to see”.
Of course I have been trying to tell the Southeastern football world that there is a whole big world outside of the eleven states that the SEC plays football in. So, to me anyway, it was no surprise that Coach Saban was recognised when he was out and about during his Italian adventure. Although it seems to have come as a surprise to the Crimson Tide head coach,
“And I thought nobody would know us anywhere that we
went, and we got ‘Roll Tided’ everywhere we went.
Even in the Ferrari plant, we had a tour of the Ferrari plant
and these cats don’t even speak English and we’re getting
Roll Tide. I guess we must have a pretty decent brand, I’m
talking about the University of Alabama now, but it was an
enjoyable trip and I’d recommend it to anyone”.
Expectations are always high in the SEC and nowhere more than at Tuscaloosa, Alabama. While talk of the King losing his crown is rife no-one knows more than Nick Saban the need for the Crimson Tide to make its mark not just in the SEC but across college football this upcoming season.
However Saban is too long in the tooth to reach for the quick fix. He religiously follows “the process” and the process takes time. Saban used the analogy about him waiting impatiently for his Grandma’s cake to bake when he was young while talking about how and when he will land on his QB1. Saban said,
“So we have three guys that are competing for that position
right now. All of those players are getting better, and it’s
important for us that all those players get better. I don’t
think anybody has actually separated themselves yet and I don’t think it’s something that we are trying to rush”.
Saban said referencing the battle between Jalen Milroe, Ty Simpson and Tyler Buchner – the transfer from Notre Dame.
Saban made the point that everyone has to show some patience as the process unfolds.
“I used the analogy earlier, Grandma Saban used to bake
the best cakes in the world, and I used to stand by the
oven when I was a kid and say, “When is this cake going to
be done? When is this cake going to be done?”
She said, “If I don’t let it go through and take it out of the
oven too soon, it will turn to mush and it won’t be a really
I’m not sure any of us thought we would be listening to stories of Grandma Saban but here we were.
“So I think we have to sort of let this develop and make sure
we let the cake bake until somebody separates themselves
and all the players are working hard. They all have a good
attitude. They are all competing well”.
Which means Nick Saban expects us all to show some patience over the summer and into fall camp. Lo betide the first media member to ask about the QB1 battle at Fall camp.
I was reflecting recently on the number of football head coaches that I have had the opportunity to speak with. When the College Chaps spoke with Clemson head coach, Dabo Swinney we thought we had got as close to the top of College Football Everest that we were ever going to get.
But sitting in the Main room at SEC Media Days I got my first clear sighting of the top of the mountain. It was right in front of me and while many talk of the ‘Death Zone” when climbing the worlds tallest mountain, the prospect of college football’s greatest ever coach chewing me out, never crossed my mind. I was about to enter the Death Zone.
Of course that was never going to happen. Nick Saban is the consummate professional and Media Days was not the place for him to make his point. If he had a message for his fans and his players it wasn’t going to happen in a response to media questions, on this occasion anyway.
Saban’s opening of is trip to Italy was perfect for my question. Alabama have Finland’s Olaus Alinen already on the roster and are in the process of recruiting Germany’s #1 ranked talent in Justin Okoronkwo. What does this men for recruiting – does Alabama and the other SEC schools need to expand their search globally? In short the answer is yes. But I will let you hear the answer in full below.
It was the pinnacle of my week.
It seemed only right that Vanderbilt should appear on day one. While the hometown hosts wouldn’t open proceedings – the first school to speak was LSU – Clark Lea took to the podium not only to welcome the attendees to the home of Vanderbilt but also to his hometown. Lea is a Nashvillian. And yes that is the correct terminology. And yes we should all want to move to Nashville just because of that monicker. Who doesn’t want to be a Nashvillian?
Last year Lea took to the podium as a SEC rookie but also as rank outsider given that the team he inherited was winless. However, Coach Lea stole the show and caught our attention by stating that his mission was to make Vanderbilt the best team not just in the SEC but across all of college football. For a team without a conference win, this was a bold statement. But there was something in the steely gaze of Clark Lea that made people think he wasn’t as unhinged as that statement inferred.
While a 5-7 2022/23 season which included a 2-8 conference record wasn’t going to set the heather on fire it did represent a significant step in the right direction, especially given that the team started 2-0.
So the question this year is how much can Vandy improve from that position?
“We’re playing the long game at Vanderbilt, and
rather than have our program blowing in the wind, moved
by the latest trends in the broader landscape of college
football, we’ve chosen to set our foundation in deep and
solid ground, and we’re committed to seeing our mission through.
Our belief is simple: Devoted people, developmental
approach, dominant program.”
Clark Lea is a very impressive individual and is fascinating to listen to. It is clear that he is completely rebuilding the program from the bottom up and installing a culture in his hometown of Nashville – something he is proud about. He underlined the cultural aspect again at Media Days, albeit as part of his answer to the question of hazing at Northwestern.
“There’s no brotherhood that I know that starts with a level
of abuse in the locker room. We’ve got great leadership
within our players and those guys do a great job.
It’s a partnership, and this is co-creation and collaboration.
It’s not just about my message. It’s about how the staff
executes my message. It’s about how the team takes my
message and actualizes it in their habits and behaviors
We’re very intentional about that.
Now, what we will do is. we’ll continue to go deeper into this broader narrative around creating a culture where people are comfortable speaking up when things feel off”.
Honestly its hard not to root for Clark Lea. His integrity when he talks is there for all to see and add on the fact that he is back coaching in his home town, it feels very much like Vandy has the right man.
Good luck, Clark Lea!
Heisman Voters Do Your Job
I have never hidden my admiration for Georgia’s tight end, Brock Bowers. Sure the scheme that Todd Monken and now Mike Bobo run allows Bowers to shine, but the scheme is only dependent on the tight end (s) because Bowers is such an incredible athlete. What is all the more remarkable is that while it seems that Bowers has been around the program forever, this year he enters only his Junior year and is already a two time National Champion.
I thought in his Freshman year, Bowers could have and should have been a Heisman finalist. In his Sophomore year while expectations were higher than the year before, Bowers continued to deliver on his production but still no sign of a Heisman invite.
So what for his Junior year? Should the soft spoken, calm, cool Californian kid continue to haunt SEC offences it seems criminal that Bowers would continue to be ignored. Or would it? As Bowers says himself, the Heisman is not an award which favours the tight end position ever.
“I think it would take a lot”, said Bowers when asked if he has a chance to win the Heisman race this year.
“Tight end positional value isn’t super high usually….quarterbacks are usually the best player on the field, they’re kind of the field general and that’s why they usually win the award. It would take a lot this year for me to do that”.
For me the key word in that statement is “usually”. Truth be told over the last two years Bowers has “usually” been the best player on the Georgia team. So perhaps Heisman voters get off their asses and watch a player who isn’t a quarterback. It’s not hard really – Georgia won the National Championship twice and Bowers caught most of the passes. Simples.
2023 Preseason Media Days Final Standing Predictions
Towards the end of the week the Media in attendance are asked to predict the finish of the season and to vote for their All-SEC teams. Very proud to say I have a vote for this, and the outcome of the media poll is below for y’all to see and agree/disagree as you see fit.
No great surprise that the SEC media has Georgia as SEC Championship favourite. It is hard to bet against a two time back to back National Champion. It also wasn’t surprising that the Media declined to bet against Alabama. The last two seasons will have hurt those in Alabama and a hurt and angry Alabama is not to be meddled with. But LSU are strong so the West this year will be very tough to win.
I’m not convinced that Mississippi State and Vandy are the whipping boys of their respective divisions. The Bulldogs have who I think is the most underrated QB in all of college football, Will Rogers returning. Vandy are definitely on an upwards trajectory with Clark Lea albeit they have some key players to replace.
For what its worth I reckon its going to be a tough year for Florida, Mizzou and Texas A&M fans.
Let me know if you are outraged or delighted that your “guy” has or hasn’t made it onto the honours list…… hit me up on Twitter……. @geosomerville
SEC PRESEASON MEDIA POLL
First place votes in ()
South Carolina (3)
Texas A&M (1)
Mississippi State (1)
College football writer
A GLASWEGIAN LIVING IN LONDON, GEORGE has written about the SEC for over five years now. HE PROVIDES CFB CONTENT FOR THE TOUCHDOWN AND IS ONE THIRD OF THE COLLEGE CHAPS PODCAST.