College football media days continue this week, but four of the five Power 5 conferences have already finished their peak talking seasons.
Clemson and Alabama players engaged in an entertaining back-and-forth, Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh made headlines for his opinions on Urban Meyer and transfer waivers, and UNC’s Mack Brown shed some light on his return to the coaching ranks.
What did we learn from media day season? Here are the winners and losers … so far:
College football media day winners
Trevor Lawrence wasn’t at the ACC Kickoff, so guard John Simpson did his best impersonation with a blond wig. That’s a sign the defending national champions haven’t lost their fun-loving personality, but the back and forth with Alabama players and Lawrence’s now-deleted dig at Paul Finebaum on Twitter suggests the Tigers have a mental edge.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney also insisted repeatedly that the Tigers are starting over.
“Every team is a completely new challenge,” Swinney said. “It’s like having a new kid. I got three sons, they’re all different, all different challenges. You guys that are parents can understand that.
We also understand the Tigers have first-team Sporting News preseason All-Americans in Lawrence, running back Travis Etienne and linebacker Isaiah Simmons.
Brown is back, and the last five years in the booth made him even better on the podium. Brown, 67, is preparing for his second stint with the Tar Heels. For those who think it can’t be done, keep in mind Brown went 45-15 in his last five seasons the first time around with the Tar Heels.
North Carolina has a challenging schedule in 2019, but Brown was as loose as ever in the spotlight.
“I’m going to enjoy the players, I’m going to enjoy the game and I’m going to have a lot more fun this time than I did last time,” Brown said.
The first-year Ohio State coach stayed low profile while Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh made headlines at Big Ten Media Days (more on that in a bit). Day kept his answers short, sweet and maintained that, yes, that game against Michigan will be a top priority.
“We respect those guys to the utmost and the program they have,” Day said, via MLive.com. “We know this year it’s going to be hard. Last year was a little bit of an anomaly; it got sideways, and we know it’s not going to be that easy this year. We’re going to have our hands full up there.”
Given how Day has recruiting through the summer, that phase of the program hasn’t missed a beat. Now it’s time to do it on the field.
The Huskers were picked to win the Big Ten West in Scott Frost’s second season. Nebraska will play with high expectations around Heisman Trophy dark horse Adrian Martinez, and it gets Wisconsin, Iowa and Northwestern at home. The Sept. 28 home matchup against Ohio State has ESPN College GameDay written all over it.
The Cyclones are picked third in the Big 12, right behind heavyweights Oklahoma and Texas – a nod to the continued progress under Matt Campbell. Iowa State plays at Oklahoma before a home game with Texas on Nov. 16.
The Vanderbilt running back rocked a custom-made suit for Media Days and had the shoes to go with it. The Commodores running back is a name worth knowing heading into 2019. The conference’s top returning rusher enters his senior season after totaling 1,244 yards and 12 touchdowns on 7.9 yards per carry in 2018.
Beards and mullets
Who wore it better?
Illinois coach Lovie Smith’s beard …
… Or Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy’s mullet?
College football media day losers
The Kansas coach is usually a media day star, but his first address to media fell awkwardly flat when he talked about the one-game suspension of running back Pooka Williams, who faced a misdemeanor domestic battery charge this offseason.
No violence against a woman is OK,” Miles said. “I did not make this decision, but I stand by it and see it as a right one.”
The one-game suspension comes after William was charged with misdemeanor battery after a woman alleged that “she was punched in the stomach, as well as grabbed by the throat.”
“Violence will not be acceptable with women, period,” Miles said. “Action was taken immediately. We felt like a strong point was made, not only with Pooka but with the team. Pooka was going through a process for seven months. Pooka went through a legal investigation with the legal community and he also went through the proceeding with the conduct board with the university.”
Miles dropped Pooka three times in that graph. Perhaps at least a three-game suspension or more would have made that point a lot stronger.
Harbaugh said players should be able to get a one-time transfer and not have to sit out. He’s 100 percent right about that, and it’s a policy the NCAA should adopt sooner rather than later.
That message was distorted, however, considering he brought depression and mental health into the debate – and former Michigan player-turned-Cincinnati transfer James Hudson
Harbaugh clarified his remarks, but the point stands: Let the players transfer once for free. Make them sit out a year the second time and make those waivers more difficult to get at that point.
It really is that simple.
“Horns Down” debate
The Big 12 made clarifications on the “Horns Down” gesture, which, of course, is the inverse of Texas’ “Hook ‘Em” celebration. Opposing players can do the “Horns Down” celebration, but they cannot direct it at other players.
And you thought traffic school was boring. The most ridiculous part was the explanation former West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen was given when David Sills V was penalized for the gesture last season.
“I went to the refs and I said, ‘Who did he intimidate?” Holgorsen said, via ESPN.com. “They go, ‘He intimidated the crowd.’ He intimidated the crowd, is what they said.”
There are a couple Twitter acronyms that go well here.
South Carolina’s SEC title chances
The Gamecocks received one vote to win the SEC East from media who cover the conference. Considering the difficulty of their schedule, that seems … unlikely.
The Gamecocks’ conference schedule features crossover games with No. 1 Alabama (Sept. 14) and Texas A&M (Nov. 16), plus a visit to No. 3 Georgia on Oct. 12. That doesn’t even include a challenging SEC slate against Missouri, Kentucky, Florida and Tennessee – or the bookend games against nonconference opponents North Carolina (Aug. 31) or Clemson (Nov. 30).
Will Muschamp’s biggest sound clip came after being asked if South Carolina was Clemson’s little brother. “We’re not the little brother.” Time to go out and prove it.
Kelly Bryant’s Clemson breakup
The former Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant is starting over at Missouri and will be the starter for a different Tigers’ team this year.
Bryant, however, was a midseason transfer last season who brought up that he did not receive a national championship ring from Clemson. If the players are going to get more freedom to come and go, they cannot expect anything from the schools when they leave – let alone a national championship ring.
Bryant still might get one down the line, of course, and he was complimentary of his former teammates beating Alabama.
Other than that, it’s best to move on. Speaking of which. …
Win some, lose some
Nick Saban talked quite a bit about Clemson at SEC Media Days, and he brought up former coaches with a pointed comment:
“When we won the LSU game, it just seemed like people’s own agendas started to become more important,” Saban said.
Alabama lost 44-16 to Clemson in the College Football Playoff championship game last season, and linebacker Dylan Moses saying Georgia was a tougher opponent than the Tigers seems ridiculous.
Clemson handled the Media Day circus better than Alabama, but that doesn’t mean the Crimson Tide should be worried. Alabama boasted 12 selections to the 2019 preseason All-SEC first team, and 21 among the first, second and third teams. The SEC is still the Crimson Tide’s to lose, and they have all season to get their mind right if they want to take on Clemson again at season’s end.
Chances are we’re going to see this play out on the field at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Jan. 13.
Pac-12 Media Day is July 24 in Hollywood, and the conference will have the college football spotlight to itself this week. Too bad it also runs with the start of several NFL training camps, which will command a lot of attention from media.
Our advice for the Pac-12 to stand out? Sell a storyline that doesn’t involve USC coach Clay Helton being on the hot seat. Oregon and Washington are legit Playoff contenders in Pac-12 North, and this is a big year for a conference that has been fighting the perception battle through the CFP era.