HOOVER, Ala. -- In another life, this might have been Mark Richt's first year in the Southeastern Conference.
Richt, 52, is now the league's longest-tenured head coach. He's entering his 12th year at Georgia this fall, but things might have been very different. While he was offensive coordinator at Florida State, he interviewed for the head coaching job at Missouri. Richt's first season at Georgia was 2001.
"It wasn't a decision that I turned down Missouri," Richt said. "It was a decision that Missouri, I believe coach Pinkel was the best man for the job. Obviously, they were correct."
Their paths will cross when Missouri hosts Georgia in the Tigers' first SEC game on Sept. 8.
Richt's path at Georgia has taken many turns over the last 11 years. He's won five division titles and two SEC championships after finishing 8-4 in his first year in Athens.
"After playing that season, even though we didn't win the East, I felt like we could have won the East," Richt said. "If we won a couple close games, we could have been right there."
Winning the conference is still Richt's goal. The Bulldogs were picked to finish first in the East by the media this week and received the third most votes to win the league outright a year after losing the SEC title game to LSU.
Some of Georgia's players, like linebacker Jarvis Jones, could have gone pro and would have been high draft picks. Instead, they're back for another shot at the conference crown.
"We said that we had some unfinished business," wide receiver Tavarres King said. "It's winning the big game of the SEC Championship."
That road starts with Missouri, where Richt might have been if not for a decision made long ago.
"I think Georgia has as good a chance as anybody to win it," Richt said.
Alabama steady in preparation of title defense
To describe Nick Saban as statuesque would be a slight to Rodane's Thinker. The stoic Alabama coach took the podium on Thursday morning after contending with a mob of Crimson Tide fans in the hotel lobby, showing no signs of the chaos he had waded through.
His team, though, is in flux. The defending national champions lose 13 starters from a year ago, including four first round draft picks. Alabama was picked to finish second in the Southeastern Conference by the media, but there's plenty of production to replace in Tuscaloosa.
"They're not really the 2010 team, they're not really the 2011 team," Saban said. "There's a lot of players on this team that this is the opportunity for them and their season."
The 2010 season is still fresh in Saban's mind and in those of many of his players. After winning the national title in 2009, the Tide were named preseason favorites to repeat the next year. But they stumbled, losing games to LSU, South Carolina and Auburn.
"The first time, Coach Saban said 'No complacency' and we talked about it and said it to each other but for some reason, we didn't buy into it," senior center Barrett Jones said. "This year, it's started with the older guys talking to the younger guys. It's not going to sneak up on us this year."
Saban learned from that season as well. Refocusing the team every day and focusing on details will be important to Saban this year, and he'll have to start early. Alabama opens the season against Michigan in Cowboy Stadium, likely a battle of two top-five teams.
Until then, thoughts of the Tide's last attempt at a title defense will linger in the minds of its players.
"As leaders, most of us now were there in 2010 and we saw what can happen, what complacency did to us," tight end Michael Williams said.
Warford on media's All-SEC team
Senior guard Larry Warford was Kentucky's sole representative on the media's All-SEC teams released on Thursday. He was a second team choice.
Warford was also named on the preseason watch list for the Rotary Lombardi award on Thursday, given annually to the nation's top linebacker or lineman.
LSU led the way with six players named to seven first team All-SEC spots (defensive back Tyrann Mathieu doubled as a returner). Alabama had five first team picks.
The media picked LSU to win the conference, with Alabama finishing second. The Tigers were picked first on 129 of 222 ballots submitted by the media. Georgia was picked to win the SEC East and finished third in voting for the SEC champion.
Kentucky was picked seventh in the SEC East. South Carolina, Florida, Missouri, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt were predicted to finish second through sixth in the division, respectively. Arkansas, Auburn, Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Ole Miss were picked to finish third through seventh in the West, respectively.
Ole Miss moving into Memphis
The city of Memphis has been good [db]Hugh Freeze over the years. He first gained notoriety while head coach at Memphis' Briarcrest High School, when future Ole Miss star Michael Oher gained national recognition.
Freeze, an Oxford native, is planning on spending plenty of time in Memphis as head coach at Ole Miss. The Rebels recently reached an agreement to play a four-game home-and-home series with the Memphis Tigers from 2014-17, it was announced this week. He'll also recruit the area heavily.
"(Playing Memphis) basically gives us eight home games," Freeze said. "I know it won't be labeled as a home game when we go there, but the benefit of that is that we have 85 players or 75 players, whatever we travel to away games, their parents will get there."
Junior Barry Brunetti, one of two players competing for the starting quarterback job this fall for the Rebels, is a Memphis native. A handful of other players on the roster are from the area, and several Memphis players have been important to the Rebels in previous seasons.
"I've made no bones about it, we consider that town to be in state for us," Freeze said. "We have great relationships with the high school coaches, alumni and friends there. It's very important that we recruit well there."
--Freeze responded to South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier's barb from Tuesday in his time at the podium. Spurrier quipped on Tuesday that if he made the schedule, "Georgia would be playing LSU and we'd play Ole Miss."
"I guess my thought would be 2013, they're on our schedule," Freeze said. "We will circle that date and maybe change his perspective about what he thinks about Ole Miss football."
--Saban floated an idea for Penn State to place a tax on tickets to athletic events with the proceeds going to organizations that prevent child abuse.
"We all think that discipline is punishment, how are we going to punish someone," Saban said. "What I always try to think of is, what do we want the outcome to be."
--Richt said LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who originally played for Georgia before being kicked off the team following an arrest, would have had a bright future if he'd been able to stay in Athens. Even with a Heisman candidate at quarterback in Aaron Murray, Richt said Mettenberger would either be starting this year or competing for the starting job.
"He's a great player," Richt said. "LSU is going to be excited that they have him."