Urban Meyer had officially been the head coach at Ohio State for maybe 10 minutes when he was hit with his first question about his old conference.
So, is the Southeastern Conference better than the Big Ten, and if so, why?
“It’s obvious that the SEC right now is dominant,” the ex-Florida coach said in November 2011 at his first news conference as new head man of the Buckeyes.
“It’s a faster league than the Big Ten. Does it mean it’s a better league? Yeah, it’s the best conference in college football. Does it mean the Big Ten’s far behind? I don’t think it’s that far. I think you’ll see the game change again. It changes all the time.”
Since Meyer spoke those words the SEC has won two more national championships, stretching to seven its unprecedented domination of the college game’s landscape.
No conference had ever won even three consecutive titles since The Associated Press began its poll in 1936.
It was Meyer who lit the fuse on that string of success, winning the title after the 2006 season.
FLORIDA: Coach Will Muschamp has high hopes for the Gators’ offense.
Despite a bout with appendicitis shortly before preseason camp, Muschamp has seen exactly what he’s needed to from junior quarterback Jeff Driskel.
“I feel very comfortable where Jeff is right now,” Muschamp said. “I feel like there’s no question we’re ahead of where we were a year ago.”
The Gators’ passing problems in 2012 did not fall solely on Driskel. It’s hard to make quick decisions when no one is open. This season should be different. Redshirt junior wide receiver Quinton Dunbar has been a consistent playmaker in spring and summer, establishing himself as Driskel’s go-to guy.
TEXAS A&M: Announced game suspensions for cornerback Deshazor Everett and safety Floyd Raven, both suspended from the team since July following their arrests on charges of misdemeanor assault and criminal mischief.
Athletic director Eric Hyman says Everett will be suspended for half of a game and Raven will be suspended for one game.
At the time of their arrests, College Station police said Everett and Raven were charged after an April 7 fight at an apartment complex.
Police said two people reported being attacked by a group that included Everett and Raven. Police said they both had visible injuries from the attack, and a car was damaged.
The No. 7 Aggies open Saturday against Rice.
SOUTHERN CAL: The doctor doesn’t always know best.
In April, a specialist recommended surgery for Trojans safety Demetrius Wright, who had been diagnosed with a partially torn hip labrum.
Wright, hobbled during spring practice, contemplated for a couple days but elected to stay off the operating table, as the surgery would have kept him out for the entire 2013 season.
It seems to have worked out. After a summer of aggressive rehabilitation, Wright said he is pain-free and is in position to be a starter on Southern Cal’s rebuilt defense when the season opens Thursday at Hawaii.
“I don’t feel it at all,” Wright said of his injury. “I feel like it’s 100 percent. I haven’t felt it all throughout camp, so that’s a good sign. Rehab was a success.”
TENNESSEE: The Volunteers’ offensive linemen savor the challenge they’re facing and the attention they’re receiving.
Tennessee returns four starters from a line that allowed only eight sacks last season. Because Tennessee lacks star power at the skill positions, offensive tackles Antonio “Tiny” Richardson and Ja’Wuan James rank alongside linebacker A.J. Johnson as the Volunteers’ most recognizable names.
Richardson and James are part of the line that leads an offense without much experience anywhere else. The Vols have a new starting quarterback and must replace first-round draft pick Cordarrelle Patterson and second-round selection Justin Hunter in the receiving corps.
“It’s a lot of responsibility, but the biggest thing is there’s not any pressure,” Richardson said. “We’ve been together so long, the cohesiveness is there.”
Richardson, a junior, is the line’s lone non-senior starter and a potential first-round draft pick. James has started every game since he arrived on campus. Center James Stone has 27 career starts. Guard Zach Fulton has started 29 games. Alex Bullard, a Notre Dame transfer who started 12 games in 2011 and primarily worked as a reserve last year, replaces Miami Dolphins third-round draft pick Dallas Thomas at the other guard spot.
Stone says they want to establish themselves as the best offensive line in the country. Teammates believe that’s a realistic goal.
“They look like what everyone perceives them to be,” running back Rajion Neal said. “They’re animals. They’re straight beasts up front. That’s what we need, and that’s what we’re going to depend on.”
North Texas and Middle Tennessee were the only Football Bowl Subdivision teams to allow fewer sacks than Tennessee last year, yet the Vols didn’t have a single lineman earn first-team all-Southeastern Conference honors from the league’s media or coaches.
Tennessee’s linemen are getting much more attention now, but additional accolades will come with more victories. The Vols open the season Aug. 31 against Austin Peay.
“There is a chip on their shoulder with everything,” offensive line coach Don Mahoney said. “So much has been made about each guy and their skill set, what they’ve done and how talented they are. But still, in the end, as I’ve told them, it boils down to us as a team, as a school, as a program, all those things. They get that.”
Tennessee’s new coaching staff is finding ways to make sure this group doesn’t get caught up in preseason acclaim. Mahoney said the line must start creating running room as well as it protects the quarterback.
His linemen have taken heed.
“It’s always great to keep the quarterback clean, but it’s only half of the job, as everybody knows,” Stone said. “I feel like this year it’s an opportunity to go back there and prove we can run block as well as pass block.”
At one point in training camp, Tennessee coach Butch Jones complained that “too many people want to crown” the linemen and said they “need to step it up.” Just a few days later, Jones was marveling at how quickly and thoroughly they had responded to his message.
“They responded like I thought they would,” Jones said. “They’re very prideful.”
Now they’re ready to respond to suggestions that Tennessee will struggle to end a string of three straight losing seasons. The senior linemen have endured two coaching changes and plenty of upheaval. The one thing they haven’t experienced is a winning season at Tennessee.
They’re ready to change that.
“We’ve got to make the most of this,” James said. “This is our last four months playing on the same team. It feels like we’ve been here forever playing together. So we’re just trying to go out there each day in practice and work on something... so we can have no regrets at the end of the day.”