HOOVER, Ala. | It was another eventful day at the Wynfrey Hotel, with coaches and players from Kentucky, Georgia, Auburn and Tennessee meeting the press. Let us take to the highlights, shall we?
• Coach Gene Chizik, who’s not the most colorful character (think Bobby Petrino, but with an understated dark side that you really probably don’t wanna ever become familiar with). He was asked some pointed questions today about the NCAA’s investigation of Cam Newton – more specifically, Chizik’s exchange in Destin, Fla., with Julie Roe Lach, the NCAA’s vice president for enforcement.
I blogged about it earlier, and you can also read about it in tomorrow’s Journal. Chizik’s expression and demeanor never changed as the questions piled up, and reading some of his quotes from other interviews he conducted today, he was very consistent in his answers.
• Defensive tackle Nosa Equae, on being the defending national champs: “We’re national champions, there’s definitely a target on your back. You’re at the top, so people are going to see you, and it doesn’t affect us, though.”
• UT coach Derek Dooley is kind of the anti-Chizik: Loose, thoughtful, always entertaining. Spencer Hall (a.k.a. @edsbs) pretty much nailed it with this description.
Dooley called Tennessee fans “the most unconditionally loyal group of fans I’ve ever been a part of.” On the idea of having a conference-wide discipline policy for misbehaving players, Dooley called it “absurd” and said discipline should be left up to individual programs.
“Otherwise what we need to do is get off the campuses and form us a little college league like the NFL if we’re going to go in that direction,” he said. “Then it’s one group, we represent the college football league, not the school, we’re all the same, we all wear the same sideline gear except the color of everything. It’s all uniform.”
• Coach Mark Richt‘s seat has been warm for a while, but a lot of folks like the Bulldogs this year. A good start would be beating Boise State in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game on Sept. 3 in Atlanta.
Richt said that when the game was scheduled, he thought it would bring a “surge of energy” into the struggling program.
“But there’s risk in playing a team that can whip your tail because they might whip your tail,” he said. “But in order for us to get back where we want to be, which is highly ranked and highly thought of, we need to play this game.”
At one point, Georgia center Ben Jones grabbed the mic and asked Richt, “Do you trust the offensive line this year?” Richt said he did, and added, “I think Ben Jones – I said it a minute ago, I’ll say it again – he is the best center in America.”
• A lot of UGA’s success will depend on the arm of sophomore quaarterback Aaron Murray, who passed for 3,049 yards and 24 TDs last season. A lot of people have him pegged as the best QB in the league.
But he won’t have guys like A.J. Green and Kris Durham to throw to any more, and the running back position has lost a couple of key players this offseason. Murray isn’t too worried about that.
“This is the University of Georgia – we’re going to get top guys every year,” he said. “I think every running back in the nation has Georgia as one of their top schools, and we’re going to get a top-10, top-five running back every year. The talent’s there, maybe just not the game experience.”
• Kentucky coach Joker Phillips was the first speaker of the day. He expounded on his team’s theme this year, which is summed up in the word “rise.” The Wildcats have reached five consecutive lower-tier bowl games, and the second-year coach is eager to get to another level.
He thinks having some elite players like Randall Cobb in recent years is what helps build the talent base necessary to make that step.
“We were able to go out and find five true wide receivers, which was a need of ours, by selling Randall Cobb,” Phillips said. “We were able to get Randall Cobb and those other receivers we got in his class three years ago, by selling Keenan Burton. By being able to sell the guys that we just talked about has given us a chance to get into some homes, because other players like other players. They like watching dynamic players.”
Taking over at QB this year is Morgan Newton, a well-spoken young man who, like Murray, isn’t too worried about the loss of key skill players like Cobb and Derrick Locke.
“I’m not all the way scared yet, just because they still come around in the summer. So I still get to see those guys. It’ll be different not having them out, because that’s what I know of Kentucky football is having those guys around and back there making plays. It’ll be different, but I think we’ve got a great group of guys that can come in and step up.”
Someone asked Newton if his coach was a joker (see what he did there?).
“He is a joker, now,” said Newton. “Some of his jokes are a little dry for my taste. He’s from Franklin, Kent., or something like that, I’m from Indianapolis, so some of those jokes I don’t always understand.”