ATLANTA — The last three SEC teams wrapped up Thursday at Media Days with all of the electricity of a soggy bag of burritos.
The coaches spoke in monotones all week, sometimes struggled to hear questions in the new venue and were almost unanimous in their decisions to wear brown shoes.
Was beige not available?
The players endured questions about their go-to dance moves and favorite candy. There was high praise all around for anyone and everyone so much it felt like a family reunion.
Where’s a Larry Fedora when you need him?
The breath of fresh air in humid Atlanta was your Florida Gators. Of the 14 teams who put on their Sunday best, the UF players and their head coach definitely had the most swagger and smiles during their time here.
In fact, I’ve never seen a Florida team enjoy it more. Cece Jefferson even referred to his appearance here as “a blast.”
The Gators talked about championships. Pretty heady stuff for a team coming off 4-7.
Jefferson, who hasn’t even been cleared to play yet, basically guaranteed a win over Georgia, the national runners-up.
Dan Mullen had the best quote of the four days when he said, “I’m the opposite of Trump. “I’m the opposite of Trump in that I’m here to fill ‘the Swamp,’ not drain it.”
And, of course, he was swagged out in his special sneakers and wore a perpetual smile while the other coaches seemed like they would have rather been watching recruiting film. Heck, Derek Mason was almost angry talking about how everyone is going to look past his team and nobody pays attention to Vanderbilt.
Mullen, on the other hand, looked like a confident coach and talked like a confident coach.
“We’re going to come back and have an exciting football team, create the energy, create the excitement that I know The Swamp to be as one of the most intimidating stadiums in all of America.” Mullen said Tuesday. “And I’m excited to get this program back on top.”
There is no doubt that there is a new energy in this program and to really understand it you had to see the contrast in the face Florida presented vs. the other 13 programs. It wasn’t like the other teams were lacking spunk and certainly brought players who gave thoughtful and intelligent answers, it’s just that Florida had a different bounce.
None of this means that Florida is going to win a bunch of games, be ranked at any point this season or be a dark horse candidate for the College Football Playoff.
You can even make the argument that these Gators may have been whistling past the graveyard, that a program that has been plagued by inconsistency this decade and an offense that has put blisters on the eyes of the Gator Nation cannot be fixed with some WD-40 and Flex Seal.
All we know for sure was that Florida was the star of SEC Media Days 2018. Whether the Gators will star during the 2018 season is anybody’s guess.
One reason for the positivity — these guys are a lot more comfortable with a head coach who isn’t circling the wagons, who is welcoming everyone wearing orange and blue under the big tent. It feels like the program has stopped leaking enthusiasm.
Which gets me to the second reason this has been a summer of love at UF.
“It is definitely contagious,” said junior linebacker David Reese. “It starts with our strength staff. Coach (Nick) Savage has been doing a great job of keeping the energy for our program and making sure we work as hard as we can, day in and day out. That has been the biggest difference since I have been here.”
Yep. That Savage guy is making a difference. For one, the players don’t want to deal with what they did last year and they are embracing the energy required to make sure it doesn’t. For another, they all have mirrors.
They’re seeing different bodies. That gets them jacked up.
Let’s get this much straight — every coach and all of the players who came through the car wash in Atlanta were optimistic.
One just had a little more pep in its step.
Whether that translates to the playing field is still the big question. But after SEC Media Days a year ago where there were questions about a naked guy on a shark and the slight of LSU by scheduling the Tigers for homecoming, this year was certainly a welcome change.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.