SEC Media Days 2014: Biggest Quotes and Reactions from Day 1
HOOVER, Ala. — After Day 1 of SEC media days, the focal point was undoubtedly the defending SEC champion Auburn Tigers.
Most notably, the absence of star quarterback Nick Marshall.
The senior was cited for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana Friday and was pulled from Auburn's media days lineup late Sunday night in favor of tight end C.J. Uzomah.
Florida highlighted the second session of the afternoon, with head coach Will Muschamp and the Gators contingent addressing a critical 2014 season that will make or break his career in Gainesville.
What were some of the biggest quotes and storylines of Day 1? Our picks are in this slideshow.
SEC Commissioner Mike Slive
The subject of autonomy was brought up in commissioner Mike Slive's "state of the SEC" speech that kicked off the event. Like a true salesman, Slive played on the heartstrings of the public, using player welfare to further the push for more governance flexibility among the power five conferences.
"The ongoing review of the NCAA governing structure is intended to provide for the production of new strategies and new ideas. With the new structure in place, amongst other goals, we seek to support the educational needs of our student-athletes through the provisions of scholarships linked to cost of attendance rather than the historic model of tuition, room and board, and books."
To put it more simply, Slive wants players to get paid and wants it to happen sooner rather than later.
If autonomy is granted to the power five conferences, Slive says his first order of business would be to pass legislation that grants athletes that $2,000-$4,000 per-year stipend that bridges the gap between what a scholarship covers and the actual amount needed to live in college.
It also included a thinly veiled threat to the NCAA that, if the SEC doesn't get its way, it may bolt to form a new governance structure.
"If we do not achieve a positive outcome under the existing big tent of Division I, we will need to consider the establishment of a venue with similar conferences and institutions where we can enact the desired changes in the best interests of our student-athletes."
Translation: If Slive doesn't get what he wants, "Division IV" is around the corner.
Auburn Head Coach Gus Malzahn
With no Nick Marshall on the docket, it was up to Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn to answer questions surrounding his quarterback's absence.
The second-year head coach said that his absence in Hoover is part of his punishment.
"It's a privilege and a reward to come to this event and represent Auburn University," head coach Gus Malzahn said. "Last Friday, he lost that privilege."
While his absence does headline the biggest offseason event of the college football calendar, Malzahn was non-committal on any additional punishment Marshall may incur.
"He's going to have some consequences to pay," Malzahn said. "I haven't decided on what they are. Up to this point, he's been a model student, model teammate and a model citizen. But there's going to be a price to pay, and he's going to do that."
This is a tough position for Auburn to be in. According to its substance-abuse policy, a first positive test or arrest for marijuana doesn't warrant a suspension, with the second bringing a six-game ban. If it's Marshall's first—and that certainly appears to be the case—his punishment may be some extra conditioning or stadium steps.
But he's held to a higher standard, whether he likes it or not.
Auburn hosts Arkansas in the season-opener, and Marshall's status for that game is very much up in the air at this point.
Florida QB Jeff Driskel
If Florida head coach Will Muschamp is going to stay employed at Florida beyond the 2014 season, quarterback Jeff Driskel will have a big say in it.
The redshirt junior for the Gators is no longer a square peg in a round hole under new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper. Roper, who made the move from Duke to Florida this offseason, employs a hurry-up, no-huddle offense that fits Driskel's dual-threat ability.
"I looked back at 2012 and realized that yards per play and explosives were better for Jeff out of the shotgun," Muschamp said. "That's what led me to Kurt [Roper]."
Driskel agreed and seemed much more comfortable with where he and the offense in general is headed.
"I think I have a chance to have a good season and be one of the better SEC quarterbacks" he said.
In order to do so, he's going to have to make sure those red-zone opportunities count, which would be a departure from the norm.
"I think my turnovers have been talked about a lot," he said. "It's just knowing when to take chances and when not to. My turnovers have really been highlighted because they've been in the red zone. I just have to know when to take the points, know when to live another day, and I think I've been educated on that."
For the sake of Muschamp's own employment, Driskel better be right.
FoxSports.com's Joel Klatt thinks Florida could be the surprise team in the SEC East.
With the defense it will boast, all that offense needs to be is adequate for that prediction to pay off.
Playoffs? We're Talking About Playoffs!
Before media days began, the College Football Playoff folks broke news of their own, unveiling the new College Football Playoff championship trophy—which looks similar to the logo that was voted on by the fans last year. It can be seen here.
What do the players think about that?
It's news to Florida defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., who was unaware that the playoff even existed right up until he was told about it at SEC media days, per AL.com's Mike Herndon.
Well, maybe not. College football players are more concerned about their team and the day-to-day grind in the hopes of getting better individually to help the school win.
Slive commented on the evolution of the college football postseason to where it is now, and perhaps where it's going in the future, per College Football News' Russ Mitchell: "4 spots are better than 2 spots. Things are evolutionary...growth of the postseason is evolutionary."
Sounds like he's considering an expansion to more than four down the road, but he better not run that by Florida head coach Will Muschamp, because he's happy with where it is.
"I don't want to get past four and have an eight-team or 16-team," Muschamp said. "That's not good for college football. I'm for keeping the integrity of the bowl system."
Expect this conversation go on for a while, even if the four-team structure somehow gets etched in stone.
Vanderbilt Head Coach Derek Mason
Do you need motivation? New Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason can provide it.
The former Stanford defensive coordinator was very impressive in his first trek through the ballrooms of thy Hyatt Regency Wynfrey, showing off some of the same motivational skills that his predecessor, James Franklin, used to put Vandy on the map.
"Here's the deal," Mason said with a linebacker's intensity, "these players don't come to Vanderbilt to be good. They come here to be great. If you dream small, you accomplish small things. If you dream big, you can wrap your mind around big ideas. We don't talk about being limited, we talk about being limitless."
If Mason doesn't get you thinking about running through a brick wall, no other coach in the SEC will.
Why brick? Because Mason used up a lot of the metal creating his gold-plated business cards, which he distributed to select members of the media, which can be seen here.
At Vandy, it's all about selling the program. Mason has that aspect of the job down pat.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
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