HOOVER, ALA. - The unofficial end of college football's offseason will come Monday when SEC commissioner Mike Slive stands in front of the media masses in Hoover, Ala., and offers his annual state-of-the-conference address at SEC Media Days.
Slive's remarks will kick off four days of wild, crazy, madness. There really is no suitable comparison for what SEC Media Days have become. Perhaps the most fitting description: when LeBron James made his decision to rejoin the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday, the joke was that Slive somehow influenced the timeline so his conference wouldn't have to share the spotlight.
Indeed, the eyes of the nation will be on Hoover, a football-mad suburb of Birmingham. ESPN will provide round-the-clock coverage. The Post and Courier will have live updates throughout the week. With no shortage of storylines and entertainment, there will be plenty of material to share.
Here are five things to watch, both from South Carolina and the conference abroad, during the upcoming week.
1. Spurrier's standup comedy
Reporters regularly covering South Carolina get to hear the Head Ball Coach's witticisms every day. Only once annually does Spurrier get to show off his charm to the entire conference, and he takes full advantage of his opportunity.
Each year, Spurrier's appearance in the second-floor ballroom of the Wynfrey Hotel is one of the week's highlights. You never know what he's going to say. Last year, unusual topics included Notre Dame's need to join the ACC full time, his 50th high school reunion, and the pope. In 2012, Spurrier jabbed reporters on the not-so-stable landscape of the media business.
It's all in good fun. Always, Spurrier exits the ballroom amid laughter.
2. Bama and Beatles
To get a real feel for just how much college football means to the state of Alabama, attend the final day of SEC Media Days.
That's when Alabama comes rolling through the Wynfrey. To get to the second floor, Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban has to pass through a throng of fans. The hotel's front foyer turns into a tailgate lot, with fans wearing their Bama gear and cheering loudly. Some seek autographs. Others just want to catch a glimpse of Saban.
The scene is reminiscent of when the Beatles came to America. It is standing room only, and mass hysteria. And it happens every year.
3. The battle of pace
In hindsight, it wasn't the wisest idea to have Arkansas coach Bret Bielema speak with reporters immediately after Auburn coach Gus Malzahn last season.
The two league newcomers don't get along very well. They would never admit an outright dislike for each other - at least not publicly - but they've never been shy about their polar opposite football philosophies.
Malzahn is the face of pace offenses, running a hurry-up, no-huddle attack that resembles a fast break on turf. Bielema prefers more ground-and-pound, with big offensive linemen and huddles. "Normal, American football," he called it last year.
Their dispute boiled to the surface last summer. Malzahn said he thought it was "a joke" when he heard Bielema call uptempo offenses dangerous for players. Bielema took offense, passionately defending his stance. The argument is far from over, but there may not be any fireworks this week. The conference has Auburn's availability Monday, while Arkansas will meet with the media Wednesday.
4. SEC Network
Expect there to be a lot of talk about the SEC Network.
It's one month from the Aug. 14 launch date, and some major cable companies still haven't added the channel to their package. This is the last chance for the conference to pitch the channel to a national audience, and it will likely take advantage of the platform.
At this point, there isn't much more to know about the SEC Network. Its live events and original programming have been discussed for more than a year. Still, a healthy reiteration will likely be in order. With ESPN senior vice president Justin Connolly meeting with the media Wednesday, there will be plenty of SEC Network talk.
5. Thompson's spotlight
Last year, Connor Shaw helped represent South Carolina in Hoover while Thompson stayed home. No longer the backup, Thompson has been thrust into the spotlight. That will be made clear this week, when he wears a suit, smiles for the cameras and goes through the annual media gauntlet.
It's a new reality for Thompson, who has never been a full-time starter. At this level, his role in USC's program comes with plenty of responsibilities off the field. For the next year, Thompson has to be an ambassador for Gamecocks football. He's a team leader, a media spokesman.
Everything Thompson does will be analyzed, starting this week. Here's guessing the fifth-year senior will handle the pressure with grace and ease.
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