Thursday marked the last morning of SEC media days, Cirque de Southeast, and with it came the annual preseason media selections.
A panel of 243 writers—tied for the most in SEC history—came together to vote on which team will win the conference, which team will win each division and which players deserve to be recognized as first-, second- and third-team performers.
The list, as is to be expected, included a few big hits and a few even bigger misses.
We're either on the backlash to Johnny Manziel or the backlash to the backlash on the backlash to Johnny Manziel—at this point, it's hard to keep track—but either way, his bon vivant offseason created a distinct possibility that voters had soured on him.
Fortunately that wasn't the case, and Johnny Football coasted to a spot on the first-team offense. He received about half of the 243 first-place votes (119), which was almost double that of second-team AJ McCarron (67) and more than double that of third-team Aaron Murray (52).
As good as that competition is, Manziel, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, is easily the right choice. It feels like epochs since he's last graced a football field, so it's easy to forget just how dominant he was as a freshman—but here's a quick refresher course:
3,706 passing yards on 68 percent completions; 1,410 rushing yards on 201 carries; 47 total touchdowns to lead the NCAA.
Having him anywhere but the first team would have been a travesty.
Florida, recipient of the SEC's annual "schedule from hell," has to play road games at LSU and South Carolina (not to mention Miami), which is ostensibly why the Gators got shafted by the media.
The Gators received just 19-of-243 votes to win the SEC East, finishing third in the projections behind South Carolina and Georgia.
And that's fair on face value. A tough schedule is hard to overcome, in this conference more so than others. But it seems the media quickly forgot what Florida did last year, winning road games at Texas A&M and Florida State—two teams that finished the year in the Top 10 and otherwise went 11-1 at home.
The Gators return just four defensive starters, but impact replacements like Dante Fowler, Jonathan Bullard and Vernon Hargreaves (along with the ever-steady mind of Will Muschamp) should be enough to keep that unit ticking.
Just three Florida players, however, made the first- or second-team defense, which seems to suggest an expectation for major regression. Only Jon Halapio made the first- or second-team on offense, too, giving Florida just four players listed among the top 44 non-specialist names.
There's a reason Football Outsiders (purchase necessary) projects Florida to win the division, and even if Georgia is a deserving favorite over the Gators, they should have at least gotten more respect than they did.
Tennessee's tackles got shut out of the first-team offense, but behind Texas A&M's Jake Matthews and Alabama's Cyrus Kouandjio, that's to be expected.
Even with Michigan's Taylor Lewan in the fold, there's a good chance Matthews and Kouandjio both make the All-America first team this year and could also be the first two tackles off the board in April's NFL draft.
Beyond that, though, Tennessee is represented in four of the 10 remaining offensive line slots. Tackles Antonio "Tiny" Richardson and Ja'Wuan James were both voted to the second team, while guard Zach Fulton and center James Stone both made the third team.
Despite a 5-7 season last year, Tennessee averaged 160 rush yards per game (4.7 yards per rush) and allowed just eight sacks—the latter of which was truly remarkable with stone-footed Tyler Bray lining up behind them.
The unit returns 123 career starts in 2013 (second in the NCAA) and was voted No. 2 nationally in Phil Steele's College Football Preview.
It's nice to know that SEC writers paid attention.
Nine of Alabama's defensive players appeared on the list, including three on the first team (C.J. Mosley, Deion Belue and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix), five on the second team (Xzavier Dickson, Ed Stinson, Jeoffrey Pagan, Adrian Hubbard and Vinnie Sunseri) and one on the third team (Trey DePriest).
It's easy to understand why this happened. Alabama is coming off a dominant defensive season, finishing first in the country by a wide margin in Football Outsiders' F/+ rankings. Under Nick Saban, they've also managed to suffer through much worse attrition than this (losing just four starters) and still play well the following year.
But to nominate this many scant-proven players suggests, somehow, that the pieces Alabama lost from 2012 are fungible, as if Saban's system is just a revolving door of greatness no matter who steps on the field. It almost insults the accomplishments of guys like Jesse Williams, Quinton Dial and Damion Square.
That Dickson, Pagan and Stinson all feature on the second-team defensive line (making up 75 percent of the unit) while proven run-stuffers, like Tennessee's Daniel McCullers, toil on the third team is a bit disheartening.
Head coach Bret Bielema implored voters to overlook his team on ballots, championing a doctrine of "the lower the better" in his Wednesday evening press conference.
It looks like he got his wish.
Arkansas finished last in the SEC West voting with 488 points, 28 behind Mississippi State and almost 100 behind bounce-back candidate Auburn. And though Bielema thinks the disrespect will help fuel his team to victory, in truth it's just a brutal bit of candor.
The slate he inherits at Arkansas is not yet tailored to the style he played at Wisconsin. Bielema loves to run, but his team finished last in the SEC in rushing, and Alvin Bailey, a three-year starter and his would-have-been best blocker, left early just to go undrafted in the NFL.
In turn, Arkansas only had one offensive player (first-team center Travis Swanson) and one defensive player (first-team end Chris Smith) appear on any of the three teams (specialists not included), an accurate representation of just how bare the cupboard in Fayetteville is.
Bielema is a good coach, so there was a chance the Razorbacks would get more respect than deserved in these polls. But they didn't, which is smart, because 2013 will be a rebuilding year in every sense of the word.
Since 2000, only Darren McFadden has been selected unanimously to the SEC media team, collecting all 80 available votes in 2007. Even with over three times as many people polled in 2013, this was the year that probably should have changed.
But alas, 20 voters decided to get cute with their ballot, spurning Jadeveon Clowney and relegating him ostensibly to the SEC second-team defense.
There isn't enough space on this slide to list all the reasons that's wrong. Just know that it is. Clowney is 6'6'', generates unheard of power and speed getting off the line and runs faster than NFL skill position players. Plus he's diligent and motivated and coming off a 13-sack campaign.
He was still the SEC's second-leading vote-getter with 223-of-243 first-team votes. But the fact that he wasn't unanimous means, most likely, that no one ever will be again.