A year ago, Georgia was the top team in the country to start the season, but the media in Hoover, Ala. for SEC Media Days still picked Florida to win the East. It probably shouldn’t come as a big surprise then that the Gators were the runaway pick to repeat in 2009.
Florida was a unanimous selection by media to win the SEC East in the preseason balloting released Friday. Only one of the 64 voters selected anyone other than the Gators to win the conference. The lone dissenting vote went to Mississippi.
With the exception of receiver Percy Harvin, Florida returns nearly every key contributor from last year’s national championship team, and the Gators’ selection as the odds-on favorite to repeat as conference champs came as no surprise to the rest of the SEC.
“They win the big games, and you can’t take anything from them,” Georgia senior Jeff Owens said of the Gators. “They’re a great football team, and we know that if you’re going to be successful in this league, you’ve got to beat Florida. If you want to win a national championship or an SEC championship, you’ve got to beat Florida. That’s the No. 1 thing.”
Georgia was the consensus pick to finish second in the East, and the Bulldogs also landed five players on the All-SEC teams, as selected by the media. Receiver A.J. Green was the team’s lone first-team representative, while linemen Clint Boling and Trinton Sturdivant, defensive tackle Geno Atkins and linebacker Rennie Curran were both named to the second team.
In the coach’s poll, Curran was a first-team selection, but South Carolina’s Eric Norwood said the demotion by the media was a reflection of the immense talent at linebacker in the conference.
“Our conference, you’ve got to have good linebackers,” Norwood said. “It’s not an option. It’s not like you’re in the Pac-10. This is a tough, physical conference, and you’ve got to be able to hit.”
Alabama was selected by the media to win the SEC West, but the balloting was much closer. The Crimson Tide received 33 first-place votes, followed by Mississippi with 16 and LSU with 15.
Florida led all teams with 12 representatives on the All-SEC teams, including eight first teamers. Alabama had eight selections, while LSU and Ole Miss tied Georgia with five.
MY BAD, GUYS
The long national nightmare is over. The culprit has been found. The mystery has been solved.
The coach who left Florida quarterback Tim Tebow’s name off his preseason All-SEC ballot was South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier, but he promised the slight was unintentional.
Spurrier said an assistant filled out the ballot, leaving Tebow’s name off and instead voting for South Carolina’s Jevan Snead. Spurrier signed off on the ballot and admitted it was a mistake.
“I’ve called (SEC media relations director) Charles Bloom and said, ‘Can I change our selection and put Tim Tebow in?’” Spurrier said. “I was able to put Tim Tebow in today, so now it’s unanimous.”
But even after Steve Spurrier took full responsibility for leaving Tebow’s name off his ballot and corrected the mistake, large contingent of reporters refused to let the story die. Nine more questions were posed to Spurrier involving Tebow, Florida or his voting habits, and a horde of reporters followed the former Gators coach off the stage and into the lobby to pose additional inquiries.
“I know some of you may not think that’s right,” Spurrier said of the voting error, hoping to end the discussion. “We made a mistake. Tim Tebow is not only the best quarterback in this league, I think he’s the best in the country. … I admire and respect him. I apologize to him. He should have been on that ballot. I messed up, and I take full blame for it.”
DELIGATION OF AUTHORITY
Spurrier’s admission of the voting snafu put an end to the week’s biggest story, but it created a second wave of inquiries from the reporters in attendance.
After admitting that an assistant filled out his ballot, Spurrier added a bit of fuel to the fire surrounding the decision this spring to keep coaches’ ballots anonymous in the top-25 poll, beginning in 2010.
The coaches’ poll represents one-third of the formula for determining the final BCS standings, which in turn determine which teams play for the national championship. Many coaches, like Spurrier, don’t fill out their own ballots, instead delegating the job to assistants, and the South Carolina coach understands why that creates a problem.
“I’ve been doing the preseason ballots for 17 years, and I’ve never filled one out,” Spurrier said. “I don’t know why we vote. I guess it’s because college football is still without a playoff system. I really believe most coaches do not know a whole lot about other teams, but we do vote. That’s what they ask us to do, and I think we all try to do the best we can.”
The sentiment isn’t one LSU’s Les Miles disagrees with, but he thinks delegating the voting to assistants at least makes the system work a bit better, as head coaches focus primarily on teams in their own conference.
In the end, Miles agreed the system was far from perfect, but argued that he hadn’t heard a better alternative.
“I am for the playoffs, I just don’t see how it works effectively,” Miles said. “Everyone in the room can come up with a playoff system … but until it gets done, I’m not going to complain.”
With just 10 days before Georgia begins fall practice, head coach Mark Richt is still waiting on one more recruit to arrive.
Lineman Kwame Geathers still hasn’t qualified officially, and while Richt remains confident that he will, nothing is set in stone yet.
“The only guy who hasn’t been in is Geathers, and we still expect him to be here,” Richt said. “There’s a couple more hoops that he had to jump through that hopefully he’s jumping through right now.”
Norwood figures to be South Carolina’s defensive leader when the Gamecocks arrive in Athens on Sept. 12, but if he knew in high school what he knows now, he might have been in the opposite locker room.
Georgia recruited Norwood heavily, he said, but issues with his grades – he had a 1.6 GPA at the end of his senior season – forced the Bulldogs to give up their pursuit.
“I had a grade problem,” Norwood said. “Clearinghouse was like a 2.3, but by then it was too late. Teams have to recruit.”
Auburn and Oklahoma State joined South Carolina in offering a scholarship to Norwood, but the majority of the other teams that had shown interest dropped out after learning of his grades. Once he chose South Carolina, it took three tries before he could be admitted. The process was a lesson learned for the All-SEC linebacker.
Since joining the Gamecocks, Norwood has turned his academic life around. He has made the Dean’s list five times, he said, and he is scheduled to graduate in December.
The key, Norwood said, was simple. He just had to commit to his studies and believe he could do it.
“Applying myself, that’s the main thing,” Norwood said. “In high school, I used just walk around the halls and stuff like that. Now, we have a great academic support staff, and they let me believe that if I didn’t have football, I could still succeed academically in college.”
GIVING UP ALREADY?
Tebow was the dominant topic of conversation throughout media days, and Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin knows why. His fan base may hope the Volunteers will be national championship contenders this year, but Kiffin is already handing the title over to the Gators and their star quarterback.
“I think there will be a million articles written after Tim has another great year,” Kiffin said. “With all the great players, they’ll win another national championship. He’ll win a Heisman. I’m serious about that. I really believe that.”