HOOVER, Ala. — Arkansas’ Bobby Petrino might have a hard time duplicating the recent success of second-year coaches in the Southeastern Conference.
He still has a pretty good feeling about his team leading up to the season.
“We’ll be a better football team,” Petrino said Wednesday at SEC media days. “We’ll play better football. We’ll execute better in all three phases. How many wins that comes out to is yet to be seen.”
Reasons to expect improvement include the seasoning for a team that played 16 freshmen last season, the addition of former Michigan quarterback Ryan Mallett and the added comfort level the second go around.
At Florida, Urban Meyer won a national championship in his second year three seasons ago. Alabama’s Nick Saban won 12 games in Year 2 last season.
“The first year you’re going out there sometimes and there’s still question and doubt on what you’re doing, what the coach is asking you to do,” Petrino said. “And therefore you can’t play as fast, as aggressive, as you normally do or would like to do.
“The second year, you see a lot of improvement, because the players understand what you expect, they know what they need to do and they’re comfortable with what you’re doing.”
VANDY’S CHALLENGE: The Vanderbilt Commodores aren’t getting much of a break after recording their first bowl win in five decades.
The Commodores must play 12 straight weeks without a break, and coach Bobby Johnson said that coaches have to take that into consideration in not overworking players during preseason workouts.
“I’m really not happy about it, but I don’t think there was anything anybody could do to avoid it,” he said. “We tried to fix it up a little last year when we found out it would work out that way but we just couldn’t get it done.”
Another big challenge for the ‘Dores: Making a second straight bowl game for the first time. Vandy’s win over Boston College in the Music City Bowl was the program’s first postseason victory since 1955.
“I think it was the next stage we had to take our program, which was to go to a bowl,” Johnson said. “It was a bonus to win it. I think it’s helped the attitude of our players, our fans, our donors, our head coach, everybody. It was very enjoyable.
“I think hopefully our players know what it takes to get to that point.”
The first step will be choosing a starting quarterback. Larry Smith led the team to the bowl win in his first start while Mackenzi Adams alternated with Chris Nickson in the season’s second half. Jared Funk also could get into the mix but Johnson isn’t in much of a rush.
GOING LAST: Kentucky’s Rich Brooks figures it was appropriate that he was the last coach to speak in the opening media days session.
“I’ll be last. That’s where we get picked every year, so it’s kind of appropriate,” he joked.
That’s hardly a lock these days for a team that has won bowl games each of the past three seasons.
One reason for Brooks to be optimistic is that he expects quarterback Mike Hartline and the offense to be much improved. He cites the progress Andre’ Woodson made going into his junior season.
“I think Mike Hartline will see a lot of that same type of improvement,” Brooks said. “The people around Mike Hartline will be more experienced and better as well.”
He said winning three straight bowl games has helped the Wildcats recruit “better SEC-ready talent.” Making the postseason is not quite enough for him anymore.
“Our goal is obviously to be a factor and have a chance to win the SEC East,” Brooks said. “To do that, we have to climb over the teams that have ruled the roost and ruled it very well.
He got a boost when cornerback Trevard Lindley opted to come back despite being evaluated by the NFL as a likely second-round pick.
“Simply put, I don’t think there’s a better corner in the nation returning than Trevard Lindley,” he said.
FACING TEBOW: Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen is actually looking forward to facing Florida quarterback Tim Tebow. Then again, he’s not a defensive coordinator.
Mullen was Tebow’s offensive coordinator and position coach the past three seasons with the Gators, when he’d “spend more time with Tim Tebow than you do your own wife.”
“You know what, I’m a pretty competitive person,” Mullen said. “If you’ve never met Tim, he’s a pretty competitive person, if you haven’t heard. I think it will be a neat day for us to compete against each other. We’ll have a lot of fun doing it next October.”
The reunion is set for Oct. 24 in Starkville, Miss.
“Tim Tebow. I don’t know if y’all can find that culprit who didn’t vote (for him). You can tell him it wasn’t me.”
Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson, asked who he voted as preseason first-team All-SEC quarterback. Tebow was the pick by all but one league coach. Coaches couldn’t vote for their own players.
John Zenor/The Associated Press