One position will help SEC reclaim title as best league

SEC Championship Atlanta
Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts races away from Florida defender Cece Jefferson during Alabama's 54-16 SEC Championship Game win in the Georgia Dome last December. [Gary Cosby Jr./Tuscaloosa News]

The chairs and tables are being set up in the big ballroom and the drink dispenser with the Diet Dr. Pepper and SEC-approved products will soon be set up in the main lobby.
Down on the ground floor, technicians are making sure the wiring and phone lines are set up for radio row and the bar is making sure it has enough light beer to get it through the week.
Ah, SEC Media Days is upon us, starting Monday and lasting through Thursday when we’ll all drive home and wonder what the fuss was all about.
Very little will be said that will shake things up unless Steve Spurrier makes a surprise appearance or Nick Saban and Paul Finebaum decide to mud wrestle. At least we won’t have 15 minutes of Les Miles telling is about his family so he won’t have to answer questions about his team.
What is going to make MD17 different from the last dozen or so is something I never thought I’d see — the SEC has an image problem.
Now, if Alabama had been able to hold on in the national championship game for one more second, we probably would have brushed that image issue away with the subtlety of a pulling guard.
Instead, the league would be working on another slogan to go along with “It Just Means More.” Maybe “You’re All Playing for Second.”
But that would be glossing over a real problem for the league coming out of last season.
There was no contender.
There was Alabama as king and no prince. Auburn snuck into the Sugar Bowl with four losses and little enthusiasm. Florida won the East and was shellacked in its final two regular season games. Preseason hype machine Tennessee folded down the stretch like an unfitted sheet.
The bowl performances were less than inspired and the ACC used Clemson’s win, some bowl victories and enough head-to-head triumphs over SEC teams to declare its conference king of the world.
The ACC had a better year than the SEC. The SEC still has better players as the NFL draft showed and bigger fan bases.
But for the league to reclaim the title of baddest in the land, there is one position that must step up.
The play at that position simply has not been very good.
It was an indication last June when the league’s teams only brought three quarterbacks to SEC Media Days and one of them — A&M’s Trevor Knight — had yet to play an SEC game.
There is a feeling that it will be different this year at the position because a majority of the league will bring back some experience at quarterback. Even though Florida, Tennessee, Texas A&M and possibly LSU are up in the air about who their quarterbacks will be, the other 10 teams feel pretty good about who will be taking the snaps.
In fact, six different teams have decided to bring their quarterbacks to Hoover, Ala., and expose then to the unwashed masses and bloggers with fight song ringtones on their phones.
The funny thing is that I will take the ones who aren’t coming as having a better chance of being named the All-SEC quarterback over the ones who are coming.
You give me Jalen Hurts (the SEC offensive player of the year in 2016 for Alabama), Nick Fitzgerald (Mississippi State), Jarrett Stidham (Auburn) and Jacob Eason (Georgia) and I’ll give you the field.
Almost all of the players heading to Hoover are upper classmen except two sophomore quarterbacks — South Carolina’s Jake Bentley and Ole Miss’ Shea Patterson.
(I don’t know if Will Muschamp is doing it on purpose but I find it interesting that he’s bringing only offensive players and one of them should be a freshman at SC and he won’t let freshman talk. Maybe I’m too paranoid?)
The bottom line to all of this is that the league was not great last year. It was a bunch of mediocrity and Alabama. A big reason for that was the youth — and in some cases talent — behind center.
On the surface, it looks like an area that will show improvement this year. How much may depend on how the quarterbacks at places such as Florida and Tennessee are able to deal with the pressures of being an SEC quarterback.
There are only 14 of those jobs.
For now.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at And follow at