HOOVER, Ala. — The Southeastern Conference refers to its annual gathering at the Wynfrey Hotel as the kickoff event to the upcoming season.
In my family, it’s remembered as something completely different. A farewell until December.
The laid-back summer — or what was left of it after following Arkansas baseball from Houston to Waco to Omaha through the NCAA Tournament — comes to an end this week when the SEC’s football fest begins today and runs through Thursday. It means there’s wall-to-wall college football coverage coming for the next several months.
It begins here in Hoover, where fourteen coaches and 42 players will stroll from interview room to interview room in the next three days, oozing with optimism about the 2012 season.
Arkansas, which harbors national title hopes in a division that includes the 2011 national title winner (Alabama) and runner-up (LSU), is one of six SEC programs scheduled to address the media Wednesday. Coach John L. Smith will be joined by quarterback Tyler Wilson, running back Knile Davis and linebacker Tenarius Wright as representatives.
What should we expect from their time in front of the media as well as the rest of the three-day football smorgasbord? Here are five guarantees:
1. Bobby Petrino won’t attend, but will be mentioned more this week than in his four previous trips to SEC Media Days as Arkansas’ coach. It comes with the territory when a coach takes an ill-fated motorcycle ride with a recently hired 25-year-old female employee with whom he was having an extramarital affair. Petrino’s epic gaff was, without question, the conference’s biggest offseason scandal. So it’s one that will lead to plenty of questions for the Arkansas contingent, which continues to pick up the pieces of the spring disaster while chasing a championship in 2012.
2. The new guys will be welcomed with open arms as they open the three-day extravaganza today.
The SEC has rolled out the red carpet for Texas A&M and Missouri since naming them its 13th and 14th schools. Two weeks after officially joining the conference both will get plenty of recognition as they participate in the SEC’s kickoff event.
But beware new guys. While there will be tons of love wafting around the Wynfrey Hotel this week, don’t expect it to last. It won’t take long to realize it’s a cut-throat conference on the field.
3. The offseason shenanigans of players will be a sore subject for a handful of teams — again.
Former Georgia running back Isaiah Crowell provided some strong ammunition after being booted by the Bulldogs following his arrest on felony weapons charges this month. But Georgia is far from the only program dealing with disciplinary issues. Arkansas has been, arguably, the most dysfunctional when it comes to offseason arrests with five players dealing with felony charges. The status of several — including wide receivers Marquel Wade and Maudrecus Humphrey (who graduated from Hoover (Ala.) High) — remain in limbo with preseason practice starting August 2.
4. Smith will be remembered as wildly entertaining or certifiably crazy after his appearance.
The Arkansas coach will address the media at SEC Media Days for the first time. It may be his last, too, as he continues working under his 10-month contract. It should be entertaining either way.
Remember Vanderbilt interim coach Robbie Caldwell, who became a star after his personality was on display at 2010 SEC Media Days? Smith is capable of providing the same sort of laughter, although the Razorbacks hope he fares much better on the field than Caldwell, who went 2-10 with the Commodores.
5. Playoffs? You can bet the conference will be talking playoffs this week after the four-team system was secured earlier this summer.
SEC commissioner Mike Slive was one of the driving forces in making it a reality, although there are plenty of details left to be ironed out before the system is in place for the 2014 season. One of the key questions: Who will be part of the selection committee that chooses the four playoff teams?
There should be plenty of opinions the next three days as the SEC kicks off the 2012 season.
Robbie Neiswanger is a Fayetteville-based sportswriter who leads Razorback coverage in all sports for the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. His e-mail is email@example.com