HOOVER, Ala. — A year after picking Auburn as the SEC West favorite, the media dropped the Tigers all the way down to fifth in the division.
Predictably, defending national champions Florida and Alabama were chosen as the favorites to win their respective divisions, with the Gators earning 63 of 64 votes to win the conference championship game (Ole Miss got the other vote).
LSU, Ole Miss and Arkansas followed the Crimson Tide in the West before Auburn made the list, ahead of only Mississippi State.
“I don’t buy into anything,” Auburn defensive end Antonio Coleman said. “It’s all preseason hype. If you do this, they think that.”
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Florida was the unanimous decision to win the SEC East. Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee rounded out the top three spots.
Vanderbilt was fifth, and Kentucky was sixth.
“Everybody’s got an opinion. Everybody’s entitled to their opinion,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. “Last time I checked, I don’t think anything at the end of the year had anything to do with what they said at the beginning. It’s neither here nor there to me.”
After being tabbed as the media’s pick to go to Atlanta for the SEC title game last year, Auburn finished 2-6 in conference play, tied with Mississippi State and Arkansas for last place in the division.
The Tigers are 11 days from resuming the wide-open race at quarterback during two-a-days, but Chizik doesn’t feel rushed to make a decision on a starter.
“I’d like a guy to step up tomorrow,” he said. “We would love to get that thing cleared up, but just the fact of the matter is it’s not (clear). It’s open. It’s wide open. It’s kind of a unique dynamic.”
Kodi Burns and Neil Caudle finished the spring neck-and-neck for the No. 1 spot. In addition to two freshmen who arrive this fall — Tyrik Rollison and Clint Moseley — senior Chris Todd returns to the mix after sitting out in the spring following offseason shoulder surgery.
“He’s as close to 100 percent as he’s been since I’ve been here,” Chizik said. “There’s no question about that.”
Chizik doesn’t think the fact that Todd only took mental reps in the spring will be a major disadvantage.
“He would have a better chance than someone who doesn’t have that experience,” Chizik said. “He’s been exposed to a lot. He’s played a lot. He’s an older guy. All those things that come with you being able to adapt and adjust to an adverse situation. I think a guy in his shoes has a better opportunity to do that than a guy who doesn’t have that experience.”
Montez Billings will be ready for practice when Auburn reports on Aug. 4, but Chizik said the wide receiver still has to clear up some off-the-field issues.
Billings, who caught 24 passes for 277 yards last year, tops among the Tigers’ returning receivers, sat out of all of spring practice because of an academic issue. Despite that, he still graduated with a degree in public administration in May.
“He’s definitely going to play this fall,” Chizik said. “That’s for sure. We’re still working through some of the other issues, but he will be playing this fall.”
Long snapper Dax Dellenbach, a scholarship player who redshirted last year, is no longer with the team, Chizik confirmed. He’s the fourth departure this summer, joining defensive lineman Jomarcus Savage, safety Christian Thompson and linebacker Marcus Jemison, who were dismissed from the team for disciplinary reasons.
Two players whose status came into question during the summer — wide receiver Philip Pierre-Louis and defensive lineman Cameron Henderson — are still with the team, Chizik said.
Chizik had little to update on the injury front. He confirmed that safety Aairon Savage injured his Achilles’ tendon but did not comment on the severity of it, despite multiple reports that the senior will miss the entire year.
Chizik did not have any concrete updates on safety Mike McNeil (broken leg), receiver Tim Hawthorne (broken foot) or quarterback Barrett Trotter (ACL tear). Of the three, Trotter is not expected to play this season.
Coleman was a first-team All-SEC selection by the media. Left tackle Lee Ziemba and punter Clinton Durst made the second team, giving the Tigers three total selections. That tied them with Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee. … Tommy Tuberville pushed hard for fans to wear orange to games. Chizik doesn’t have a preference. “Navy blue and orange,” he said. “Those are the colors I vote for.” … Asked what SEC coach he’d like to play for other than Chizik, Coleman struggled to find an answer, thinking out loud to himself, “Ahh, Muschamp, why did you have to go to the Big 12?” Will Muschamp was Auburn’s defensive coordinator from 2006-07. Coleman eventually settled on South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier.