ESPN to air 23 more SEC games during this season

abitter@ledger-enquirer.com dhale@ledger-enquirer.comJuly 23, 2009 

HOOVER, Ala. — A new twist to the kickoff of SEC Media Days this year involved a special presentation by ESPN’s John Wildhack, the network’s executive vice president for programming acquisition.

ESPN and the SEC agreed to a new 15-year deal this year that will dramatically increase coverage of the league’s sports, including football.

Wildhack said 23 more SEC games would be televised this season than last year, including a regional game of the week, which will air on a newly launched platform called The SEC Network. Wildhack also said he expects SEC games to be featured more prominently on ESPN’s regular Thursday night packages.

“Our goal is to serve the SEC football fan better than ever before,” Wildhack said. “Last year, 77 million people watched SEC football on ESPN or ESPN2. We expect that number to increase significantly this season.”

Each of Georgia’s first three games will be carried on one of the network’s platforms. The Bulldogs’ opener against Oklahoma State kicks off at 3:30 p.m. on ABC, with the SEC opener against South Carolina a week later airing on ESPN2 at 7 p.m.

Georgia’s road date with Arkansas in Week 3 will be carried by either ESPN or ESPN2 and is set to kick off at 7:45 p.m.

Meanwhile, Auburn announced Wednesday that its first two games of the season — against Louisiana Tech on Sept. 5 and Mississippi State on Sept. 12 — will start at 7 p.m. Both are at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Louisiana Tech game will be televised by ESPNU. The MSU game will air on FOXSN.

The Tigers’ third game of the year, a Sept. 19 tilt against West Virginia at Jordan-Hare, was previously announced as a 7:45 p.m. start. It will be televised by ESPN or ESPN2.

Slim and trim

Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett has always been described as having an NFL body. It’s just a little slimmer now.

Mallett, the strong-armed, 6-foot-7 quarterback who emerged from the spring as the Razorbacks’ projected starter, weighed 265 pounds when he transferred from Michigan last year. Since then, he’s slimmed down to 238 pounds, something head coach Bobby Petrino hopes will help him be more elusive in the pocket against the SEC’s quick defensive fronts.

“In him losing the weight, being more mobile, we’re not going to lose our movement game, our ability to run sprint outs, run the bootleg game, be able to move the pocket,” Petrino said. “In this league, with the defensive ends we face, the speed and athleticism of the defensive fronts, it’s important that you change the launch point, and you can set your quarterback at different spots, take some pressure off the offensive line and running backs at times.”

Looking for lone coach

Only three players were unanimous selections by the conference’s coaches to the All-SEC team and the conference’s most heralded player wasn’t one of them. So on Day 1 of SEC Media Days, several reporters set out to find the coach who didn’t vote for Florida quarterback Tim Tebow.

“I don’t know if you all are going to find the culprit,” Vanderbilt’s Bobby Johnson said, “but you can tell him it wasn’t me.”

Four SEC coaches took to the podium Wednesday and none confessed to leaving the former Heisman winner off their ballot. Tebow received 10 votes, and his coach, Urban Meyer, was not allowed to vote for anyone on his team.

The omission by the one anonymous coach seemed so odd that Arkansas’ Bobby Petrino assumed the offending coach wasn’t all together coherent.

“I voted for Tebow,” he said. “I’m not crazy.”

Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen, who was Tebow’s offensive coordinator a year ago, was asked the question, too, and not surprisingly he had the Florida quarterback on his ballot as well.

The fourth coach to meet with reporters, Kentucky’s Rich Brooks, said Tebow had burned the Wildcats so badly during the past two seasons that he had no choice but to vote for him, too.

So the mystery continues, whether or not anyone will actually admit to the snub.

UGA’s Atkins gets nod

A reporter asked Kentucky left tackle Zipp Duncan to name the toughest defensive linemen in the SEC to block. He didn’t need much time to come up with his answer: Georgia’s Geno Atkins.

“He’s just a dynamic athlete,” Duncan said. “He gets off the ball quick. He’s got the speed to beat you and the strength to beat you, so he presents a really tough matchup.”

Chaney helps

New Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen knows that selling his team on a new system is no easy task, which is why he sees having senior linebacker Jamar Chaney back in the fold has been such a blessing.

Chaney, who was originally a Georgia signee, figured to be the anchor of the Mississippi State defense a year ago, but a leg injury suffered in the first game cost him the entire season. He accepted a medical redshirt and decided to return to the Bulldogs for a second shot at his senior season — this time with a new head coach and a new role as salesman.

“From Day 1, he walked into my office and said, ‘Coach, I’m going to believe in everything you’re doing,’” Mullen said of Chaney. “Having a personality back like that, especially when you take over a new program, to help build that foundation of what we wanted the message we’re trying to get across to our team & it’s just fantastic.”

Petrino talks coaching

Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino thinks some changes need to be made in the way high school coaches are preparing quarterbacks for the next level.

With more programs employing spread offenses, Petrino said many young quarterbacks aren’t getting the necessary experience playing under center, and it’s making the job of recruiting pocket passers a tough one for college coaches.

Petrino pointed to one of his own quarterbacks, Tyler Wilson, as a prime example of the problems of playing too much out of the shotgun. Wilson took every snap of his high school career in a no-huddle shotgun formation, and he has struggled since arriving at Arkansas with things as simple as the quarterback-center exchange or handoff placement on running plays.

The solution, Petrino said, might be mandating how high school coaches use their quarterbacks.

“I’m really happy that high schools are throwing the ball,” Petrino said. “I just wish they would maybe put a rule in that they have to have at least 25, 40 percent from underneath center.”

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