HOOVER, Ala. -- Defending national champion Auburn likely will take a big fall with a schedule full of SEC challenges and a Sept. 17 game at Clemson. But Tigers head coach Gene Chizik had to address more questions at SEC Media Days about an NCAA investigation into the recruiting of 2010 Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton than about on-field challenges.
"I feel great about where we are as a football program," Chizik said Thursday. "I sleep really good at night when my head hits the pillow. That's what I can control."
The New York Times beat Alabama news outlets last week in reporting that Chizik in June had a testy exchange at SEC meetings in Destin, Fla., with NCAA vice president for enforcement Julie Roe Lach, pressing her for an Auburn investigation timetable.
Chizik claimed Thursday he was "just trying to get clarification" and said the exchange was more cordial than reported.
Tyler Bray, 4-1
Tennessee went 6-7 in Derek Dooley's first season as head coach, but Tyler Bray was 4-1 as a freshman starting quarterback.
The wins came against a so-so slate of Memphis, Mississippi, Vanderbilt and Kentucky. The loss was to North Carolina in double-overtime at the Music City Bowl.
The 6-6 Bray had a poor spring game but Dooley said, "We feel very comfortable with the progress he is making."
Key winning traits, Dooley said: Bray "never flinched" under pressure and made a lot of "explosive plays" downfield.
"He's made a tremendous investment in getting better," Dooley said, "and it's only going to come with experience."
The Clemson game
Rallying for a 27-24 overtime home victory over Clemson after trailing 17-0 was the key to Auburn's undefeated season in 2010, Chizik said of the Week 3 victory.
Auburn rallied again the next week, downing South Carolina, 35-27, at Jordan-Hare Stadium. In all, seven of Auburn's wins were by eight points or less.
"That was a pretty incredible comeback," Chizik said of the Clemson game. "That was the first sign that the team was special."
Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips had excellent advice for players when it comes to managing Facebook and Twitter posts that college and NFL officials increasingly monitor.
Phillips said Thursday he tells Kentucky players they might as well start each post with "Dear General Manager."
Not bad advice for any college student considering future employment.
Muschamp on Oliver
New Florida head coach Will Muschamp has worked with or under Nick Saban, Mack Brown, Jimbo Fisher, Derek Dooley, Tommy Bowden and Terry Bowden. But Muschamp has unique respect for Bill Oliver, a former Clemson defensive coordinator with family in Mount Pleasant whom Muschamp worked under at Auburn.
"You look back at some of the combination coverages we're playing now, we were doing back then with him," Muschamp said. "Some of the zone principles that Dom Capers was doing (with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Carolina Panthers), Bill Oliver was doing on the college level."
South Carolina wide receiver Alshon Jeffery said he is "100 percent" behind suspended quarterback Stephen Garcia, who is expected to be back for August practices.
But when asked about backup Connor Shaw, Jeffery said, "My level of confidence with Connor is 100 percent."
Reach Gene Sapakoff at 937-5593.