College football’s annual conference Media Days circuit began Monday in Hoover, Ala., where 1,000-plus reporters, broadcasters and assorted hangers-on will get to hear all 14 SEC coaches tell them how “excited I am to be here” and how “pleased I’ve been with this team’s attitude” and how “guys are really getting after it” this offseason.
All 10 FBS conferences will hold these events over the next four weeks. It’s a great way for the leagues and their teams to crash the sports news cycle during an otherwise slow time. But very rarely is there actual news to report. Nor is it possible to write a particularly original story when hundreds of others around you are doing the same thing.
Instead, this being 2015, we mostly just wait for mildly entertaining/controversial quotes to tweet — which, depending on how many sportswriters you follow, will then show up on your timeline 25 times. Like this dandy on Monday from Auburn’s Gus Malzahn.
But at least college football is back. In quote form, at least.
Here now are 10 take-it-to-the-bank predictions for this year’s Media Days circuit.
1) SEC writers will swoon over Steve Spurrier. Sportswriters aren’t supposed to play favorites, but they can’t help but get puppy eyes over anyone who actually provides a decent quote. And the Ball Coach never fails to deliver a few zingers (“Kevin Sumlin is a good coach. … He’s a good negotiator, too. He got a good [contract].”) and one-liners (“I thought I was going to coach in the NFL five or six years and retire to the beach and play golf a bunch … But that was a bad plan.”)
Unfortunately, some of my colleagues are prone to fall a little too far under his spell. On more than one occasion last year I heard or read someone say, “You can tell Spurrier knows he has a good team.” Apparently not. The 2014 Gamecocks finished 7-6.
2) Jim Harbaugh will rile up a rival coach. We all know Michigan’s savior-elect is not exactly a natural in media settings, but on July 31 he’ll be forced to spend multiple hours in front of microphones and recorders. There’s zero chance he’ll be able to stay boring the entire time.
Flashing back to his first Pac-10 Media Days in 2007, the then-Stanford coach declared of Pete Carroll’s USC Trojans that year: “They may be the best team in the history of college football.” To which Caroll later replied: “Gotta love Jim, don’t you?” But in fact these were among the first seeds of their famously antagonistic rivalry.
Eight years later, Harbaugh will light a fire in either Urban Meyer or Mark Dantonio — or both.
3) Big 12 coaches will be asked repeatedly about expansion and/or the league’s lack of a championship game. Most will toe the company line with some variation of A) “I don’t think we need to make any rash decisions based off one year;” B) “I’d argue our league is already tougher because we play everybody;” C) and of course, “I don’t worry about that. I only concern myself with the things I control.”
And then there’s Art Briles. The Baylor coach, who got testy with commissioner Bob Bowlsby while being presented the Big 12 championship trophy and blamed his team’s playoff exclusion last year on the selection committee’s lack of a true Southerner, is not afraid to speak his mind. He may well urge the conference to expand to 16 teams — and push to invite Abilene Christian.
4) Jimbo Fisher will talk too fast for anyone to transcribe him. Which is too bad, because he’s got a lot to address. Reporters will undoubtedly ask about the De’Andre Johnson and Dalvin Cook arrests for alleged violence against women, and he’ll tell us just how serious he is about curbing his players’ troubling behavior — but none of it will fit in 140 characters because Fisher talks at roughly 336 words per minute.
Also, don’t expect this to be a particularly thorough interrogation. This being a media day, reporters will inevitably ask about offensive line depth, cost of attendance and satellite camps.
5) No one will notice Pac-12 Media Days is occurring. Larry Scott’s Hollywood-minded conference insists on holding its festivities at a movie studio (this year it’s Warner Brothers), shows off effects-heavy promotional videos and relentlessly pushes its TV network. And no one east of the Rockies pays a lick of attention, which will be especially true this year with it falling on the same two days as the Big Ten’s.
The Pac-12’s problem is that ever since USC ran off Lane Kiffin, its roster of coaches is utterly uncontroversial. Oregon’s Mark Helfrich is too nice to say anything interesting. Stanford’s David Shaw will speak bluntly about issues, but most of us aren’t smart enough to understand him. This year’s biggest storyline will likely be UCLA’s Jim Mora fielding questions about a kettlebell incident.
6) Jim Delany will make everybody mad for about 24 hours. The Big Ten commissioner’s annual remarks are usually thoughtful, honest and wide-ranging. But because Delany is such a polarizing figure, he will inevitably say something that gets construed as pompous, condescending and tone-deaf. And odds are even higher than usual this year because Delany is expected to push his recent proposal to restore freshman ineligibility in the major sports. Which … has not been well received.
On the positive side, for the first time in eight years he likely won’t have to answer questions about the conference’s football struggles.
7) Bob Stoops will get surly when asked about last season. When your highly touted team stumbles to an 8-5 record and implodes in its bowl game, you’re going to get asked about it more than a few times. Like he has all offseason, expect OU’s all-time winningest coach to take responsibility, pledge to do better — and then remind the room that he’s OU’s all-time winningest coach (in the form of, “You know, we’ve won a lot of games around here.”)
It’s too bad Stoops can’t send touted new offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley in his place since he’s both an interesting story and the answer to virtually every question Stoops will field about why he feels this season will be different.
8) Some media member will vote for some guy you’ve never heard of for preseason ACC Player of the Year. Five players received votes at last season’s Media Days. Four — FSU’s Jameis Winston, Clemson’s Vic Beasley, Miami’s Duke Johnson and Duke’s Jamison Crowder — finished the season first team All-ACC. The fifth, Virginia Tech’s Brendan Motley, did not even win his team’s starting quarterback job and attempted three passes.
This was hardly the first example of peculiar voting at the ACC’s event, either, which can be attributed either to media members rushing through their ballot in order to make a tee time or because they were too busy covering basketball recruiting.
9) Media covering the American and Mountain West will have more fun than everybody else. SEC Media Days gets by far the most coverage, but while attendees there are scarfing down Chick-fil-A in a mall food court between interviews, guests at the former Big East’s event in Newport, R.I., will attend an oceanside clambake at sunset. The Mountain West’s, meanwhile, get a company-expense-paid trip to Vegas.
Those leagues win Media Days, even if their coaches and players won’t win much in September.
10) Les Miles will get asked about Wimbledon champ Novak Djokovic eating grass.
And it will be epic.
Stewart Mandel is a senior college sports columnist for FOXSports.com. He covered college football and basketball for 15 years at Sports Illustrated. You can follow him on Twitter @slmandel and Facebook. Send emails and Mailbag questions to [email protected].
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