Guerry Clegg

Malzahn speaks boldly, but Saban and Smart take a more cautious approach

Another SEC Football Media Days has come and gone, and here’s what we learned:


Not. A. Thing.

Well, we learned that Georgia offensive lineman Ben Cleveland picks his teeth with a hunting knife, this humorous revelation courtesy Georgia offensive tackle Andrew Thomas. What do you expect of a guy known as “Big Country?”

With 14 schools each bringing three players — all stylishly dressed, by the way — we learned various other tidbits about the players and their coaches, none of which will matter once instep meets leather in six weeks.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Media Days because they serve as a reminder that another football season is near. It’s the Groundhog Day of summer, both in the repetition of the tedium and the promise that if we just hang in there a little longer we will make it through the roughest part of the year.

There was breaking news Thursday. It was (are you ready for this?) …

“Media picks Alabama to win SEC in a rematch of the “championship game.”

Pause while you recover from the shock.

Speaking of not learning anything, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn took to the podium Thursday and made one of his grandiose — and highly unnecessary — pronouncements:

“Defensively, I believe we have a chance to be the best defense that we have at least in the 10 years I’ve been at Auburn.”

Maybe, maybe not. That’s not the point.

The bigger point is Malzahn just can’t help himself. He’s like a politician stumping for votes. Malzahn still hasn’t learned the value of under-promise, over-deliver. There’s no value in trying to win the press conference six weeks before the first game.

Then Gus goes on to say this:

“You know, this will be my 10th year at Auburn. During that time, we played for two national championships. We won one. We played for three SEC championships. We won two. And when I look at the team that we have this year, there’s some of the same characteristics that those championship teams had, and that’s what’s exciting for me. Now you got to win close games. You got to make plays when the games are on. You got to stay healthy. But I can tell you today the exciting thing for me — I tell my team — we got a chance. Not every team in the league can say that.”

Pump the hot air brakes on the Gus Bus. It’s July. You survived the attempted coup d’etat. Healthy optimism is one thing. Take a cue from Alabama’s Nick Saban.

“The key to our success is can we internally reestablish the standard of what we need to do to be the best team that we can be. And that’s got to be something that’s done on a consistent basis, and it has to be able to sustain the season. And that’s a challenge for all of us.”

Or this from Georgia’s Kirby Smart:

“Confidence is a word I think about a lot this time of year. Confidence is not about speak, about words. It’s really about actions taken by someone. It’s not given to anyone. It’s earned.”

That’s the downside to this time of year. Talk is all we have. Each season takes on an identity of its own. So while it’s nice to hear from the players and coaches again, the words mean nothing. Whether Malzahn regaining control of the offense will prove to be effective will be determined over 12 games in 14 weeks.

The recruiting rankings and NFL draft projections would suggest that Georgia has caught to Alabama in terms of talent. That’s not something Smart is going to allow himself — or his team — to even contemplate just yet.

“Well, the next step for us — and I don’t mean this to be trite — is Vanderbilt,” Smart said, referring to the season-opener in Nashville. “You have to get to that point because we don’t have Alabama on our schedule.”

Smart’s point: The Bulldogs can’t get past Alabama until they get back to the SEC Championship game. To do that, they have to get through a November that includes games against Florida, Auburn and Texas A&M, and only the latter is in Athens.

Preseason practice starts in about 10 days, the season in six weeks. It can’t get here soon enough.