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July 18, 2013

Rewind: Thursday at SEC football media days

Four teams received more votes from members of the media to win the Southeastern Conference championship than LSU.

In fact, the Tigers had just one media member covering the league's football media days at the Hyatt Regency Birmingham in Hoover, Ala. select them to win the SEC title. Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M and South Carolina all received more first-place votes than LSU.

Tigers coach Les Miles made a point during his talk Thursday morning that his team can still be a factor in the conference title chase.

"A year ago we lost three games by 13 points," Miles said. "We lost one game to a Western Division opponent in the last 90 seconds. The want to play for a championship and graduate players is very much alive. We have made our mark over time. I like the position of our program."

Miles stressed that the addition of Cam Cameron as coordinator and the return of quarterback Zach Mettenberger should boost the offense's production.

"We are playing more confidently on offense," Miles said. "We are throwing the ball downfield really well. We always want to be a balanced team. Cam allows us to do that. We expect our quarterback play to be much better just with the experience and the want he has."

Miles briefly address Jeremy Hill's status with the team. Hill has been indefinitely suspended since his arrest for an April incident.

"Jeremy Hill has a legal entanglement and remains indefinitely suspended," Miles said. "Jeremy has been separated from his teammates during the summer. I have a track record for disciplining my team. I am going through the same process. I gather information as we go."

Miles stressed that the Tigers are well-stocked at the running back position with Alfred Blue, Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee. According to Miles, Blue played all spring, but "we just didn't let anybody tackle him."

Miles mentioned nine true freshmen who could contribute this season - wide receiver John Diarse, center Ethan Pocic, tight end DeSean Smith, defensive tackle Christian LaCouture, defensive ends Tashawn Bower and Lewis Neal and defensive backs Tre'Davious White, Rickey Jefferson and Jeryl Brazil.

According to Miles, there will be a competition between Pocic and Elliott Porter for the starting center job. He added that Jerald Hawkins will see a lot of playing time at offensive tackle.

At the end of spring practice, end Jordan Allen and middle linebacker D.J. Welter were running with the No. 1 defense. Miles did not mention either player's name Thursday.

Miles said that Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco are the starting defensive ends. Miles brought up four linebackers - Lamin Barrow, Tahj Jones, Kwon Alexander and Lamar Louis.

Miles took the opportunity to once again give his opinion on the SEC football schedule. A media member pointed out to Miles that LSU's SEC East opponents - Florida and Georgia - were 14-2 in the conference last season, while Alabama's SEC West opponents - Kentucky and Tennessee - were 1-15.

"You hope an equal path to the championship is provided for everyone," Miles said. "There is a scheduling disadvantage for some teams because of traditional matchups. You would just want there to be a scheduling format which repeats and repeats."

LSU is certainly under the radar this season as opposed to the past two years. Miles is not worried about the preseason predictions for his team.

"I never put much stock in the predictions," Miles said. "When we were picked No. 1, I said that we had to earn it and you wouldn't earn it until the back end of the season. When you are not No. 1, the responsibility for us is to control the outcome. What the perimeter says doesn't affect us.

"The excitement is derived not by where you are ranked, but by the youth of this team and what you have to do at practice. We have a talented football team, but youthful. We look forward to lining up with the best in the East and the best in the West. We will try to play to our greatest expectations."

ALABAMA

Nick Saban had not followed up national championship seasons in the best way in his first two opportunities. Saban's 2003 LSU team won the national title, but the Tigers lost three games the next season.

Alabama's 2009 team won the national championship. In 2010, Saban watched the Tide again lose three games. Last year, Saban backed up a national title with another one. Now, Saban will attempt to win a third straight national crown.

"It is a challenge each year to reinvent your team," Saban said. "New opportunities are created for players who may not have experience. Then, there are new roles for players who have been on the team. The way these guys accept the new roles has a lot to do with how this team will develop."

Alabama will be favored to win another SEC and national championship. But, this Crimson Tide squad will be a little different. The offense may be better than the defense. The passing game may be stronger than the running game.

AJ McCarron passed for more than 2,900 yards and 30 touchdowns with just three interceptions last season. Amari Cooper gained 1,000 yards and scored 11 touchdowns on his 59 pass receptions a year ago. TJ Yeldon rushed for more than 1,100 yards as the No. 2 back behind Eddie Lacy.

"This year, we will have better skilled position players on offense," Saban said. "We have a very good quarterback. There is a question about the development of our offensive line. But, that usually goes well for us."

There are seven returning starters on defense, led by three seniors - end Ed Stinson, linebacker CJ Moseley and cornerback Deion Blue. Saban appears to have some concern about the leadership on the defensive side of the football.

"We have to continue to progress on defense," Saban said. "At times, we didn't play well against good offenses last year. The guys who have played must provide guidance to people who don't have the same experience. It will be interesting to see how our defense comes together from a leadership standpoint."

GEORGIA

The SEC has won nine football national championships since the BCS was established in 1998. Those titles have been won by five schools - Alabama, Auburn, Florida, LSU and Tennessee. Conspicuous by its absence is Georgia.

Mark Richt has been the the Bulldogs' coach for the past 12 years during which time his teams have posted a 118-40 record. However, Georgia has yet to win a national title under Richt. A year ago, the Bullodgs were inside Alabama's 5 when the SEC title game ended with the Tide winning 32-28.

"Once a game is over, I watch the tape," Richt said. "Then, I get ready for the next thing which was our bowl game. After signing day, I watch all of our games. The SEC title game was a great game. It was gut-wrenching to see how it ended."

The Bulldogs are picked to reach the SEC title game for the third consecutive season. Georgia has dropped the championship game to LSU in 2011 and Alabama in 2012. Richt returns nine offensive starters, including quarterback Aaron Murray and tailback Todd Gurley.

"Aaron Murray is a great player who has all the experience in the world in big games," Richt said. "Aaron is a 365-day a year quarterback. He plans to get better every day.

"Our backs are going to touch the ball half the time. Both Gurley and Keith Marshall want to be considered lead backs. They came here as good friends wanting to share the role. Neither is interested in carrying the ball 25 to 30 times a game."

The Bulldogs will play a challenging schedule in September. Three of its first four opponents are Clemson, South Carolina and LSU - teams who will be ranked in the top 15 in the country in preseason polls.

"I told the team we are in a race to be in midseason form by week one," Richt said. "The work started in January. A lot of things have to get done for that gauntlet of a schedule. We know it's coming. We'll be ready."

VANDERBILT

For the first time since 1915, Vanderbilt won nine games in a season a year ago. The Commodores were ranked in the final poll (no. 23) for the first time since 1948. Vanderbilt made a bowl appearance for a second straight year for the first time in school history.

James Franklin has been the Commodores coach the past two seasons. He has guided Vanderbilt to unprecedented success in football. In addition, Franklin landed a top-25 recruiting class in 2013. Franklin is quite proud of one accomplishment.

"We are a member of the 20-20-20 club," Franklin said. "Vanderbilt and Notre Dame were the only two schools to be in the top 20 on the football field, have a top 20 recruiting class and a top 20 academic institution.

"We were able to do some things we are proud of. Now, our biggest challenge is handling success. Adversity is easier to handle than success. We have to play with a chip on our shoulders. We are proud of what we have done, but that is in the past. We have to focus on where we are going."

Franklin will have 14 returning starters at his disposal this season. Vanderbilt must replace Jordan Rodgers, who has been the quarterback during the last two years. Austyn Carta-Samuels, who threw just 25 passes as Rodgers' backup, will be the quarterback.

"Austyn Carta-Samuels distanced himself from the pack in spring," Franklin said. "He'll be a first-time starter in the SEC, but he has started at a previous institution (Wyoming) and he has been with us for three years. A Jordan Matthews and a Chris Boyd on the outside will help whoever the quarterback is."

SEC football observers are quite surprised at what Franklin has done. They may be more surprised that Franklin is still the coach at Vanderbilt. Franklin has a one-word answer for why he still is in Nashville.

"It is known to people that we have had other opportunities," Franklin said. "We believe in what we're doing. The university is making a commitment. There is not just a commitment from the coaches and the players, but a commitment from the administration - more than ever before at Vanderbilt."

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