HOOVER, Ala. -- The NCAA denied Auburn running back and Florida transfer Mike Blakely’s appeal for immediate eligibility Wednesday, requiring him to sit out of games in 2011.
Blakely tweeted his reaction in the morning: “Appeal was denied! No football for me this upcoming fall!!!!!”
The 5-foot-9, 198-pound back from Bradenton, Fla., signed with Florida in February but soon wanted to change schools.
New Gators coach Will Muschamp gave Blakely his unconditional release in May.
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Although Blakely enrolled early and received financial aid at Florida, he did not participate in spring drills because of a shoulder injury, giving Auburn a sliver of hope in its appeal for immediate eligibility. Instead, he will have to sit out of games until 2012. He will be able to practice, however.
Blakely was the No. 6 running back nationally last year according to Rivals.
On track to come back
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said suspended quarterback Stephen Garcia in on track to return in August.
“He’s done everything we’ve asked,” Spurrier said. “He’s certainly behaved very well, gone to all the workouts from what I understand. So, right now, he in all likelihood will be set to return.”
Garcia, a fifth-year senior, was suspended in the winter for a history of behavioral problems, but Spurrier doesn’t want to make the move permanent.
“I guess we don’t want to kick him out for stupidity,” he said. “And there’s some reasons that he’s probably done some things. Basically, we do believe he’s a good kid, good person.”
Spurrier said Garcia has made lifestyle changes that have him on the path to return, but he wouldn’t concede to him the starting quarterback position if he comes back, saying he will have to battle sophomore Connor Shaw for the job.
“We feel whoever our quarterback is, he needs to go out and earn it in preseason practice,” Spurrier said.
“So we’ll have some competition for the quarterback job.”
Raising the bar
It has been 13 years since Mississippi State made its only appearance in an SEC championship game, something Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen would like to change.
“That’s what the goal of our program every single year is going to be,” Mullen said. “It will be no different for us this year as we get ready for this season, is to find a way to win the SEC West. That is something we can control.”
It won’t be easy. The West has produced three of the past four national champions -- Auburn, Alabama and LSU -- with Arkansas, a Sugar Bowl participant last season, popping into the conversation as a contender to win the division this year.
The Bulldogs have shown steady improvement under Mullen, however, going from five wins in 2009 to nine last year. They return 14 starters too.
“I think we have the talent to do it,” Mullen said. “The question is, are we that team that this year is going to come together, that is going to jell, work a little bit harder, believe in themselves, believe in each other a little bit more than everybody else out there and reach our potential to be the best that we can be? That’s our job as coaches is to try to develop that so we are that team this year.”
Petrino not shy
Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino is not one to shy away from high expectations.
The Razorbacks are coming off a 10-win season, and are one of the early favorites to win the SEC Western Division this year.
“I’m not afraid of high expectations,” Petrino said. “I’m excited with the fact that two years in a row now we have very high expectations.
“No. 1, our players have high expectations. Certainly, our coaching staff does. It’s fun to approach the year that way, that, ‘Hey we’re going to go out and be a contender.’ I think it motivates you throughout the offseason, throughout spring ball, throughout the summertime.”
TV set for pair of games
Fox Sports Net (FOXSN) announced Wednesday that it will televise the North Texas at Alabama game on Sept. 17 with a kickoff of 7:30 p.m.
Meanwhile, Georgia announced that its home game against Coastal Carolina on Sept. 17 will be available only on pay-per-view. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.
The game will be offered to all cable and satellite companies in Georgia and South Carolina at an individual subscription price of $34.95.
In the doghouse?
Ryan Mallett is gone, but he still is able to make Petrino a little miffed.
The former Arkansas quarterback appeared on Jon Gruden’s quarterbacks show on ESPN and let the world know what a few of the Razorbacks’ hand signals mean.
His former head coach wasn’t thrilled.
“Yeah, they’re changed,” Petrino said. “We already changed them. I wasn’t real happy with him, by the way, when I was informed that he did that. He called me up and apologized. He gave us a few ideas for some new hand signals, so that always helps.”
A happy man
John Brantley has been known as a calm competitor, so he wasn’t going to go too crazy when discussing Florida’s new offense.
But make no mistake, the senior quarterback is pretty happy with the changes under offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, who brings in a more pro-style offense.
“It definitely helps me out, because I’m not a runner, I don’t like to run,” Brantley said. “I like to hand the ball off to the fast guy. I’m all for that. I try not to take too many hits.
“I like handing it off, I don’t like pitching it off.”
Florida defensive end William Green was surprised that Muschamp tabbed him to be among the Gators’ three players to be program spokesmen this week.
“I’m surprised he did it,” Green said. “I don’t like to talk. And he knows that. I’m surprised he did it.”
South Carolina defensive tackle Travian Robertson tried to dance around the apparent limitless patience Steve Spurrier has for quarterback Stephen Garcia.
“I don’t question it at all,” Robertson said. “He’s my boss.”
Spurrier joked that even Mississippi State has a jet to help with recruiting, and Dan Mullen fired back: ”But I’ve never played at Augusta National.”
ESPNU will create four one-hour documentaries on stories involving the SEC. The series will debut Sept. 7 at 8 p.m. with “Herschel,” about former Georgia running back Herschel Walker. Auburn’s T’Sharvan Bell and Georgia’s Aron White are two of the 132 nominees for the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team. The nominees are chosen for their community service. A Good Works Team of 11 players will be chosen later in the year. Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said that his team had its chances to beat Ohio State on the field in last season’s Sugar Bowl. He said Ohio State vacating that victory due to NCAA violations had no effect on the Razorbacks.
-- Staff writers Andy Bitter, Kevin Price and Michael Lough contributed to this report.