The 2019 SEC media days continued Wednesday, with coaches and players from Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi State and South Carolina taking questions from reporters about the upcoming season.
Alabama was the headline attraction, which is to be expected every year. The Crimson Tide are tied with the Clemson Tigers for the best odds (9-4) to win the 2020 College Football Playoff championship, per VegasInsider.com. Those two teams have won each of the last four national titles, including three head-to-head matchups in the championship game during that span.
None of the other three teams in the media spotlight with Alabama has better than 100-1 odds to win the title; Mississippi State is right at that mark. South Carolina is tied with teams like Arizona, UCF and Tennessee at 500-1. Arkansas is close to the bottom of the list at 2000-1.
Here are the key takeaways from each of the four teams during their media session.
Before looking ahead to 2019, head coach Nick Saban talked about what happened to his team in their 44-16 loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff Championship Game.
"I don't think that our preparation...was what it needed to be," Saban told reporters. "Whether or not people were worried about personal outcomes more than they were team outcomes, it's always hard to judge that, but it seemed like we had a lot of distractions at the end of the year."
In an appearance on the SEC Network with Paul Finebaum, Saban elaborated on his comments by saying he thought members of the coaching staff were focused on other things:
One big thing Saban addressed about the upcoming season was quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. He said last year's Heisman Trophy runner-up has to learn "when to say 'when'" regarding difficult throws into tight windows, via AL.com's Rainer Sabin.
Tagovailoa also addressed Alabama's loss to Clemson, seeming to take the high road with the benefit of hindsight.
"It sounds bad, but I'm glad I had the opportunity to lose," Tagovailoa told reporters. "What can you learn from a win?"
Tagovailoa added Alabama has adopted a new catch phrase for 2019 in an effort to avoid another disappointing finish:
The Crimson Tide will begin their quest to get back to the top of the college football world on Aug. 31 against Duke.
Heading into his second season as Bulldogs head coach, Joe Moorhead will look to build on a successful 8-5 campaign.
The big question for him on Wednesday was about his starting quarterback. Graduate transfer Tommy Stevens seems to be the most likely candidate to replace Nick Fitzgerald.
Moorhead and Stevens worked together at Penn State in 2016 and 2017. Despite that relationship, Moorhead didn't tip his hand about who the starter would be, per Tyler Horka of the Mississippi Clarion Ledger:
"I think he or any quarterback that we coach or bring into our system, we want the quarterback to be able to beat you with his brain, his arm and his legs.
"And I think Tommy is a kid with a lot of physical tools. Strong arm. He can really run. He's accustomed to the system so he's going to understand it for the most part coming in. And, you know, I think he brings a lot of talent to the position, and I think the competition is going to be an exciting one. It's going to make the position better, it's going to make our offense better, and it's going to make our team better."
Moorhead addressed the team's decision to bring Stevens onboard:
One thing Moorhead wants to see Mississippi State improve is its consistency on offense, particularly in SEC play:
In the Bulldogs' four conference losses last season, they scored a combined 16 points. The defense wasn't bad in those contests, allowing an average of 21 points.
If Moorhead finds a quarterback who can move the ball down the field on a regular basis, the Bulldogs could be a sleeper team behind Alabama in the SEC West.
Mississippi State will begin the season on the road against Louisiana-Lafayette on Aug. 31.
Things appeared to get a little tense between Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp and the media when the subject of Clemson came up.
Muschamp's defensive attitude is understandable because his program plays in the same conference as Alabama and the same state as Clemson. Anything short of competing for a national title every year can feel like a disappointment from the outside.
On the subject of Alabama, Muschamp had nothing but praise for the program and Saban:
As far as what Muschamp is doing to prepare South Carolina for the task of challenging Alabama and competing for an SEC title in 2019, the coach would like to see quarterback Jake Bentley and the offense do a better job of avoiding turnovers.
"All 14 interceptions weren't on Jake," he told reporters. "But we've got to do a better job on the red zone. We've got to do a better job overall. We also had over 20 drops. Some were momentum-changing drops that changed the complexion of the game with a struggling defense that needed a little confidence and a little cushion."
Bentley showed a lot of growth as a junior with 3,171 yards and 27 touchdowns. His 14 interceptions were tied for fourth-most in the nation last season.
South Carolina went from nine wins in 2017 to seven wins last season, despite the offense going from 24.1 points per game to 30.1 points per game. The biggest difference was a defense that ranked 25th in the nation in points allowed (20.7) falling to 69th (27.2).
Muschamp made his reputation as a defensive coach. He has to get the Gamecocks back on track in that regard if they want to be considered among the best teams in the SEC like they were two years ago.
South Carolina will open the regular season Aug. 31 against North Carolina.
After posting the worst single-season win percentage (.167) in school history last season, there is a lot of work to do for Arkansas and second-year head coach Chad Morris.
Defensive lineman McTelvin Agim is ready to see the Razorbacks emerge as he prepares for his senior season.
One thing Morris is particularly optimistic about in 2019 is the amount of depth his staff has been able to accrue on the defensive line.
"[Defensive coordinator John] Chavis and I talked a lot about this: We had to create depth. We had a good nucleus coming back, but we had to go sign seven guys," Morris told reporters. "Creating that depth there...that will help us."
Like Mississippi State, Arkansas is immersed in a quarterback competition for this season. Graduate transfer Nick Starkel has experience starting in the SEC, appearing in 10 games for Texas A&M over the past two seasons. He threw for 1,793 yards and 14 touchdowns in seven appearances in 2017.
Ben Hicks is another graduate transfer who has experience in Morris' system during their two years together at SMU in 2016 and '17.
Morris isn't ready to name a starter but did tell reporters that he would like to have one soon:
"The sooner the better because I want the team to rally around one guy. It's going to have to work itself out, and they've had a tremendous summer. Talking to our defensive guys, I ask them what it looks like on that side of the ball. Nick Starkel has played in this league and knows what it's about, so we've got a great battle going."
One thing that can help Arkansas' passing game is a strong rushing attack, something that running back Devwah Whaley believes the team possesses.
Whaley and Rakeem Boyd didn't get to show the full extent of their abilities in 2018 because the offense was often in passing situations and trying to play catchup. Whaley was also limited to seven games due to an ankle injury.
Arkansas will look to start this season off positively against Portland State on Aug. 31.