HOOVER, Ala. — After listening to all 14 coaches, interviewing dozens of players and spending the last three days in the frigid main media room at the Wynfrey Hotel, I offer these final observations from SEC Media Days:
* Steve Spurrier had his needle out and was entertaining as usual, drawing lots of laughs from the media. But interim Arkansas coach John L. Smith was the funniest man at the podium this week. And the most open and revealing. I have a feeling the Hogs are going to play at a very high level with this guy leading them.
* Tennessee and Florida are going to be better than many are predicting. Will Muschamp sounded confident when he talked about how his program was heading in the right direction. Derek Dooley seemed very confident, almost cocky, when he predicted Thursday that the SEC wasn’t going to have the Vols to kick around anymore. His offense could be second only to Arkansas’ in the SEC this season. That UF-UT game in the third week of the season is going to be huge for both teams.
* Nick Saban really has his Alabama team focused. The Tide fell victim to complacency after winning the national title in 2010. I don’t see that happening coming on the heels of another national title. That Alabama-LSU game in Baton Rouge is going to be epic.
* LSU is really, really loaded. There’s talent everywhere. Defensive line. Secondary, Running back. Linebacker. Wide receiver. Offensive line. Special teams. If new starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger turns out to be as good as Les Miles thinks he’s going to be, this is going to be the best team in the nation — by a lot. The Tigers’ toughest test might not be Alabama. It could be Arkansas on the road in the final game.
* Spurrier was loose and relaxed and smiling a lot. That means one thing: he feels really good about this South Carolina team, which probably is his best and most complete. The ‘Dogs better watch out for the Gamecocks in the East.
* Texas A&M and Missouri are excellent additions to the conference. Both schools are strong academically, both have great traditions, and both are going to be pretty good this season. The Gators are going to have a tough time winning at Texas A&M in week two in College Station. Georgia will be facing a similar situation when it travels to Mizzou on the same day.
* Dan Mullen feels like Mississippi State is improved and will offer a tougher challenge to the elite teams in the West this season. That may be, but I still see the Bulldogs finishing fifth or sixth in the division. The Bulldogs have been stuck in that general area every year Mullen’s been in Starkville.
* Kentucky and Ole Miss are in for long, losing seasons. Neither school has enough talent to successfully compete in the SEC, although UK is a little better off than Ole Miss, where the cupboard is pretty bare.
* Gene Chizik and the Auburn players seem to think new offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler is going to make a huge difference this season. I just don’t see it. I wasn’t all that impressed with what he did when he was at Florida. Of course, he was stuck with the spread offense at the time.