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June 19, 2012

HURT: Even in June, football rules sports talk

The summer solstice is obviously upon us, since the NBA playoffs are still going on, football recruiting is a hot topic and Southeastern Conference Football Media Days are less than a month away. For those so inclined, there is baseball, or trials (Roger Clemens, Jerry Sandusky, Harvey Updyke) and there are upcoming Olympic Games.

It is amazing, although it shouldn't be, how football talk pushes those other things aside, even in June. By September, the buzz will have grown to an 800-trumpet crescendo.

At least four fan bases in the Southeastern Conference - LSU, Arkansas, Georgia and Alabama - legitimately feel like they can win a BCS title this season, although Alabama's expectations may be based more on the fact it has won two of the last three than on replacing its heavy graduation losses.

Probably a half-dozen more SEC teams, from South Carolina to Mississippi State, are cautiously optimistic, at least, or more than that. Once that sort of positive feeling takes hold, with no possibility of actually losing a game for the next couple of months, it is hard to stop its momentum.

One has to wonder, though, about its flip side. There will be three new coaches in the SEC this year (that doesn't count Missouri's Gary Pinkel, new to the league but not to the school) at Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Arkansas (although that merits an asterisk, since Bobby Petrino's demise had nothing to do with wins and losses). Will it be three or more next year? Logic suggests it will, because in a 14-team league, there have to be 56 losses spread around somewhere.

It isn't easy to win big in the SEC - Alabama's 28-4 regular-season league record over the past four seasons doesn't get the attention it deserves in the wake of the two BCS titles - and some teams won't. Some coaches can survive that, at least for 2012, but some cannot.

Can Derek Dooley hang on for another year at Tennessee if he doesn't play .500 ball in the SEC? Can Joker Phillips survive at Kentucky? John L. Smith certainly wouldn't be back at Arkansas under such circumstances, but, as noted, his is a special case. It is almost impossible, given Georgia's schedule, to imagine the Bulldogs finishing any worse than 9-3, but could Mark Richt survive if they did? One would think that Gene Chizik at Auburn and Will Muschamp at Florida could hang on, but they would be squarely on the hot seat in 2013 if they post mediocre records this season.

Right now, in the minds of fans, everyone is a winner, but that only creates a greater potential for disappointment.

Why talk about this in June, just as summer is beginning? Because summer is where the difference will be made. Teams essentially are in uncoached training camps, in terms of strength and conditioning, right now.

Also, because this is SEC territory, where football is the topic on the first day of summer, the first day of winter - and every day in between.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or 205-722-0225.



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